Beecher coach Kevin Hayhurst didn’t make any bold predictions about his Bobcats before the 2014 season.
He did, though, have one pretty good hunch.
“This is going to be a fun team to coach and watch play,” he said. “This team has a lot of enthusiasm and works extremely hard.”
Few teams in Illinois had as much success, that’s for certain.
Beecher rolled through the River Valley Conference, flexed some small-school muscle against some Class 3A and 4A opponents and roared through the state playoffs all the way to East Peoria where they finished fourth in Class 2A.
“Yep, it was very much fun from the beginning of the year all the way through,” said Hayhurst, the SouthtownStar 2014 Coach of the Year.
“These kids were fun to be around. Their work ethic was first rate, and they had fun throughout the season. It was a fun year for both the coaching staff and the players.”
Hayhurst has been having fun coaching since 2003 in the town in which he grew up. In 12 seasons his teams have a 354-65 record and captured nine regional, six sectional and four supersectional titles. They won the Class A crown in 2004 and ’07.
Hayhurst, who attended Beecher, was happier for the people in the town than he was even for himself.
“It was just really nice,” he said. “You saw some people, some parents who you grew up with who had kids on the team that had never experienced a state title. So it was nice to bring that recognition to the town of Beecher.”
Hayhurst’s fascination with softball stemmed from his days as a player on a fastpitch men’s team in Beecher. One of his teammates was Gary Lagesse, the girls softball coach at Thornwood.
“He wanted me to come there and work with his pitchers since I was a pitcher on the men’s team,” Hayhurst said.
Hayhurst coached on the lower levels before moving up to the varsity as an assistant. He was on staff when Thornwood made its first trip to state in 1986, and when Thornwood won Class AA state crowns in 1990, ’91 and ’98.
He continues to teach algebra at Thornwood, but has had no regrets taking the opportunity to return home as a softball coach.
“Oh, yeah,” he said. “It’s always exciting to see the townspeople and everybody get behind you when things are going good. It’s just nice for the school.”
The key to Hayhurst’s success? He believes it starts at Beecher Junior High, where he coaches in the fall.
“It helps a lot to be the junior high coach also,” he said. “I get them in sixth grade, and it’s a big huge head start for the kids to get going right away, and try to work on fundamentals.
“Right there we’ve had a lot of success. We’ve won three state championships in junior high.”
Typical success followed often in the high school. This group, which finished 33-9, was no exception.
“They were all business, Hayhurst said. “It was like they had goals in mind and had purpose when they worked out all the time. You didn’t have to sit there and keep an eye on each individual, what they were doing at their stations.
“Teammates who were working together made sure they watched each other and helped each other to get better. It was fun as a coach to watch that going on.”