Bob Wright remembered as coaching icon, molder of men in Jackson community –

Posted: January 29, 2021 at 7:54 pm

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Bob Wright of Summit Township holds up a baseball in front of his coaching plaques and pictures of his children and grandchildren in his basement. (Jackson Citizen Patriot file photo/Jeana-Dee Allen).BPN

JACKSON If youve picked up a baseball bat or tried on a mitt in Jackson County in the past 60 years, youve probably run into Bob Wright.

The coaching icon and beloved baseball aficionado spent 57 years in the profession, helping create countless opportunities for young student-athletes across southeast Michigan while shaping the lives of generations in the process.

Wright passed away at age 92 on Jan. 21, leaving behind a legacy that reaches far beyond the baseball diamond.

He was Mr. Baseball around Jackson, said current Jackson Northwest athletic director Chris Galloway, who also played baseball for Wright at Jackson High. He gave kids opportunities through the game of baseball, whether it was high school, summer league or fall ball. He gave me tremendous opportunities when I played for him at Jackson High, which helped me in my future career. I learned so much between my time playing for him and then when I came back and coached with him when he was coaching the (Jackson) Wendys (summer-league) team.

He was someone you could look up to, someone that you definitely respected. Just by his demeanor, he demanded respect and he made his players want to play harder for him and excel because they appreciated how much he cared and the opportunities he awarded them.

Over the course of his life, I couldnt imagine the amount of hours that hes committed to the sport and the amount of lives hes touched through his compassion for people and his love of the game.

Wright was inducted into the Michigan High School Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame in 1988 and the Michigan High School Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 1995. During his team at both Jackson High and Jackson Lumen Christi, Wright won 336 games as a varsity baseball coach. His 1988 squad at Jackson High set a school record with 26 victories and won the first Capital Area Conference championship in program history.

The 2006 recipient of the Jackson Citizen Patriots Al Cotton Award, which is given annually to an individual or individuals who have made significant contributions to the Jackson-area sporting community, knew the sport of baseball inside and out and used the athletic endeavor as a chance to give back whenever he could.

There wasnt a situation on a baseball field that Bob Wright hadnt seen, said Jackson Lumen Christi baseball coach Phil Clifford. I would say that he was instrumental in my development as a coach because he had a hand in everything that we do currently. He meant a lot to our program. He was obviously a great coach, but he was even better human being. I really appreciated his mentoring and just general advice.

I knew I could always pick his brain and talk to him about anything. We would spend hours talking about the kids in our program, winter hitting, how the team was developing, and how other teams in our league were looking.

He absolutely loved the game and you could really tell by his passion. He was who he was, and he was just a very kind man and a huge friend of our program. Hes going to be missed by everyone in the Jackson Lumen Christi community.

Wright graduated from Jackson High School in 1945 and served two years in the U.S. Army of Occupation in Kyoto, Japan. He later attended Jackson Community College and graduated from Western Michigan University.

After coaching and teaching at Wyoming Lee High School for eight years, Wright came back to the Jackson community to coach baseball and basketball at Jackson High. During his 29-year tenure with the Vikings, his teams won several district and regional championships in both baseball and basketball. He would retire from coaching varsity sports in 1988 but went on to coach two additional seasons at Jackson Lumen Christi from 2004-05.

Even when he initially retired, Wright couldnt refrain from continuing to apply his passion to the younger generations of athletes in his community. He helped form the Jackson Wendys summer-league team, which compiled the best high school baseball players in the Jackson area and helped promote those student-athletes to possible opportunities at the college level while traveling to tournaments across the Midwest.

Jackson Wendy's coach Bob Wright talks to his players from the third base coaching box, during action in the Tom Conway Baseball Tournament against Mel's Indians at Northwest High School Field. (Jackson Citizen Patriot File photo/Bob Keyes).CITIZEN PATRIOT

According to a 2009 interview with the Jackson Citizen Patriot, Wright coached nearly 180 players from 28 schools in the area during his 20 years with the program. Two-thirds of those athletes went on to play baseball in college, including 17 in Division I. Four of his former players were drafted into the major leagues.

One of the players who has gone to enjoy a professional career in baseball is Ryan LaMarre, who was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds in the 2010 MLB Draft and has enjoyed an 11-year career in the big leagues.

Bob was unbelievable, LaMarre told MLive. He was definitely a special man and he had such a huge impact on baseball in the Jackson area. Its a unique, niche community, but anyone whos ever played baseball in the Jackson area knows who Bob Wright is.

I got to play for him for one of his two seasons at Lumen Christi, and I felt like I got to know him pretty well. His knowledge of the game was insane, and he just cared for the players that competed at Lumen. There are some lessons that he taught us that I still think about and he kind of had a hand in shaping how I approached the game.

I remember how much work he put in just to make us better players. He would set up practices in the gym in the winter, organize practices during the fall, and I think just to see kind of that dedication to his craft was something that Ill never forget.

The little things often loomed large for Wright and some of those minor details are still entrenched in present-day major leaguers.

I remember to this day that he didnt like when outfielders took a knee during a pitching change, recalled LaMarre. He thought that made you look like you either didnt care about the game, you were too tired or you werent interested in playing anymore.

Even now, I could even be in the major leagues, and I dont think Ive ever taken a knee during a pitching change even when all my teammates are resting or trying to get off their feet. I think that was just ingrained in me by Bob and thats something I just kept me with all these years. Its small in the grand scheme of things, but its a lesson that I took to heart and something Ive used throughout my career.

Wright often went the extra mile for his players and their families, as he tried to make travel baseball a more reasonable venture for anyone in his community with the same passion for the game.

He did everything within his power to make baseball an affordable sport for any kid in Jackson who was interested, said LaMarre. He would put on fundraisers to help lower the cost for players families and lessen the financial burden of uniforms, equipment and travel expenses and he just genuinely cared about his community.

It wasnt about wins and losses with him. It wasnt about whether or not you went on to play in college or not or played in the pros. All he cared about was what kind of person did you become after playing for him. I think thats what made him so special to a lot of people.

Jackson baseball coach Bob Wright. (Jackson Citizen Patriot file photo/Marcia Butterfield).CITIZEN PATRIOT

Building relationships was critical in Wrights eyes, which is why he spent most of his energy promoting young athletes he saw potential in.

Ill never forget the time he came over to my parents house my freshman year and met with me and my parents, said Galloway of his initial encounters with Wright. He talked with me and my parents about a plan he had for my baseball career and giving me opportunities to not only play in high school, but summer ball, and trying to get me to the next level, because he saw potential in me. Ill never forget that because coaches dont do that. Ive never heard of a coach coming to the house of a freshman and talking to him and his parents.

I dont think there are any former Jackson-area baseball players from ages 28 to 70 that dont know who Bob Wright was or what he stood for. Hes helped mold the lives of several generations of men and helped create memories for a lot of families.

If Wright did see potential in you, he was bound to push you in practice and demand a level of consistent effort that helped create a winning culture in the Jackson baseball community.

The first word that comes to mind when I think of Bob Wright is class, said Mick Kalahar, a former player and coach under Wright at Lumen Christi. He always did everything the right way, whether it was in relation to baseball or just treating people with class and respect. He was also a fiery competitor, but he wasnt someone who was going to scream at you or talk down to you.

He was going to push you hard during practice and maybe get after you a little bit if you were loafing or not giving your best effort to prepare for the next game, but he was never a big yeller during games. He always believed that how you play is a direct result of how well you prepared during the week at practice, so there was no need for him to yell and scream at you. He let your play do the talking.

Even when a player would hang up his cleats for good, Wright continued to keep an eye on what his former standouts accomplished off the diamond.

He took a lot of pride in what his players went on to do, said Kalahar. He took a lot of pride in what they were able to accomplish after their careers were over. He wanted all of his players to contribute to their community and a lot of them have become leaders in different ways.

Whether its a superintendent, a school administrator, leaders of companies or coaches, he wanted to create a generation of leaders. I think he really had a widespread impact on the whole community in Jackson and I think that reaches beyond sports in a lot of ways.

Wrights legacy will live on for generations to come due to his personal commitment to making his community a better place and the relationships he established, often from the backseat of the dugout.

You would think it would be difficult for a guy who was 87 years old to relate to a teenager, but Bob had a way of connecting with young people, said Clifford. He would talk to kids about baseball, but hed spend even more time talking about life. He would sit in the dugout and talk to kids about how school was going, how life at home was going and just really made everyone feel important and I think the players really respected him for that.

This will be my 11th year as a head coach at Lumen this spring. Weve won five district titles, a couple of regional titles, and a state championship, and I believe that a piece of all of those championships are Bob Wrights.

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Bob Wright remembered as coaching icon, molder of men in Jackson community -

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