(Coach Meily passed away in Palm Harbor, Florida on Oct. 3, 2016, at the age of 94. This piece first appeared on Lebanon Sports Buzz in 2011.)
Funny how you never see Rich Meily and Tony Louwerse in the same place.
No, Meily and Louwerse aren’t the same person. They just have led strikingly similar and parallel lives.
They are existences built on service and mentorship to boys ages 13-15 who, developmentally, are going through the most difficult stage of their maturation. Between them, Meily and Louwerse have logged a full century of coaching and adminstrating in Lebanon County teener baseball.
For 50 years, Meily has served the Ebenezer program in the Lebanon County Teener Baseball League as its head coach, consultant, head groundskeeper, player chauffeur or any other capacity needed.
Louwerse has been in it for 51 years, heading the Cornwall entry in the Lebanon Valley Teener Baseball League. Not only has he touched hundreds of young lives directly, he has also been instrumental in the overall development of teener baseball locally, as well as on the state level.
“It’s all good of course,” said Meily, when asked what he has to say about Louwerse. “How many boys has he reached directly? He’s probably been instrumental in about 300 to 500 teeners’ lives. He’s just given them encouragement, and that’s what a lot of them need. You’d be surprised by how many broken families they come from.”
“What can you say about a guy who’s given 50 years to kids?,” said Louwerse. “Rich goes way back. That’s a long time. This is about a guy who has given his whole life to kids. He did it because he loved baseball and he like coaching.”
While the words coming out of Meily’s and Louwerse’s mouths about the other could easily apply to themselves, neither feels comfortable talking about their own roles in local baseball.
“How can you not respect a guy like that?” said Louwerse. “I do the same thing. I coach kids. You get a feel for what it’s about. I’m sure Rich was maybe asked to coach at another level. But he’s happy where he’s at. Just like I’m happy where I’m at.
“All of us are the guardians of people’s kids,” continued Louwerse. “It’s second nature. You just do it and think nothing of it.”
“I’d say he’s the premiere coach of Lebanon County teener baseball, and more,” said Meily. “He’s a very likeable person. He works great with young people. I can’t say anything bad about him, and he’s been coaching a long time. He’s probably been coaching teener and little league baseball for years. And he’s helped keep teener baseball going at the state level.”
When they first got to know each other, Meily and Louwerse were contemporaries, colleagues. But over the years their relationship has blossomed into a friendship through mutal respect.
Because of their work in rival leagues, they meet on the diamond but once a summer.
“We’re good friends,” said Louwerse. “I don’t pal around with him. I see him at baseball games. But over the years I’ve gotten to know him better.
“He’s always been a great guy,” Louwerse added. “He always asks about people. The thing is with Rich, I’ve never seen him with his hat on straight.”
“Yes, he’s a friend. A good friend,” said Meily. “And he’s a real good sportsman. He’s just one of those special people.
“I’ve known him for quite a few years,” added Meily. ‘He’s sort of comical.”
For years, it’s been all about the kids for Meily and Louwerse. But underneath their altruistic shell lurks the hungry hearts of a competitor.
Stressing fundamentals, awareness of game situations and an appreciation for the history of the sport, no coach has won more games than Meily and Louwerse in their respective leagues.
“It’s a different era,” said Louwerse. “If you can’t relate to kids, it’s tough. Years ago it was a little easier to do because most parents raised kids with more respect. And the kids brought it to the field. You can’t coach as long as Rich has and not get respect and not get through to kids. He had to be doing something right. And I’m not talking about wins and losses here.
“I got to know him when I started coaching teener baseball,” continued Louwerse. “He’s been all about baseball at Ebenezer. I have the utmost respect for him.”
“He’s a better coach than I am,” said Meily. “And he’s a good administrator. I would say he’s dedicated to the kids a lot. Any adjective you use wouldn’t be too much
Lost on some is the fact that Meily and Louwerse are almost a generation apart. At an amazing 88 years old, Meily still possesses a sharp baseball mind. Comparitvely speaking, Louwerse is a spry, 70-year-old pup.
“I have a bad knee and a bad back,” said Meily. “Gary Heisey is doing most of the coaching work. My role is mostly observation, and when we lose a couple they ask me what we can do. The body is weak, and getting weaker. But I try to keep the kids motivated, that’s the big thing.”
“Rich and I are two different people,” said Louwerse. “Rich’s a lot more easier going than I am. I’m sure Rich watches baseball at home like I do. Sometimes I’ll see a guy throwing to a wrong base and think to myself, ‘I just gave a 14-year-old kid (heck) for doing that’.
“You do it because you want to,” Louwerse continued. “You don’t do it for credit and you don’t do it for pay. If you could go back you would find players who could say, “Rich Meily bought me spikes. Rich Meily bought me a glove.’” Think about that.”
So how long can Meily and Louwerse continue doing the things they’ve been for 50 years?
“I don’t know if I thought about giving it up,” said Meily. “But the time is getting closer. I remember when I used to run with the kids. I don’t do that any more, for some good reasons.
“What I like about it is that kids want to learn,” added Meily. “And I think I have a little bit to pass on. Ninety percent is about the kids. The other 10 percent is probably anything you can pass on is a plus. Good sportsmanship is one of the main things, and you need that in life.”
“I don’t know,” said Louwerse. “When some of the older coaches in the league retired, I couldn’t believe it. I asked them, ‘How did you know you didn’t want to do it any more?’ And they said, ‘One day, I thought I just wanted to go to practice, and didn’t. I didn’t feel like it.’”
A sad day is coming.