Jun. 11—Chris Basil still has his passion for the game, but it's time to take a rest.
Basil announced his retirement earlier this week after serving as East Union's head baseball coach for 29 years. He won 642 games and two state championships, and he led the Urchins to the Class 2A title series this season.
It's been a trying year for Basil, who was also the assistant principal. COVID-19 made that role even more challenging, and life itself became more challenging with three of his former players dying over the past year.
"I didn't see myself retiring either, but mentally it's taken a toll on me, and physically," Basil said. "They took a chance on me, and I owed it to them to give them everything I had. I'm getting to the age where I don't have the energy I once had. I'm still passionate about it and still love the game more than anything."
Basil, 54, was hired by East Union in 1992. While he was a young, unproven coach at the time, he'd had some legendary mentors.
Basil is a New Albany graduate who played baseball for Roy Cresap, football for Ben Jones and basketball for Harvey Childers. He then played baseball for Jake Gibbs at Ole Miss.
"I was so fortunate to be around those guys to mentor me," Basil said.
He led East Union to the state finals eight times, winning titles in 2016 and '17. The 2017 title was awarded retroactively after Loyd Star — which beat the Urchins in the finals — was found to have used ineligible players.
But all that isn't what Basil hopes to be remembered for.
"I guess the main thing is turning boys into young men and making them understand that failing is OK," he said. "It's not about what happens, it's about how you react to life situations."
Replacing Basil will be Jamie Russell, a longtime coach in the area who most recently served as an assistant for Mooreville softball. He was Smithville's head baseball coach prior to that and led the Seminoles to the 1A state crown in 2019.
He's also been a head coach at Ripley and Mooreville.
"I'm just excited to be a part of it, the tradition they've had," Russell said. "It's good to go into a place that's used to winning and good kids and kids that play hard."
Russell and Basil have similar personalities marked by a quiet intensity and a complete lack of flash.
"We're a lot alike, and I like that," Basil said. "Our kids are tough, and they want to be coached hard. We felt like Jamie's that guy, and we're super proud that he's going to continue our program in the right direction."
Basil will still try to stay around the game he loves so dearly. He plans to start working with Charles Brunetti, a former Boston Red Sox grounds crewman who now owns Diamond Design and Construction.
As he looks back on nearly three decades at East Union, Basil has nothing but gratitude for the experience.
"Lou Gehrig said it best, he said, 'Today, I feel like I'm the luckiest man on the face of the Earth,'" Basil said. "That's how I feel."