In case you haven’t heard, Tony Louwerse decided that 60 years of coaching the Cornwall 13-to-15 year old baseball teams in the Lebanon Valley VFW Teener League was long enough. That means nearly 900 boys played for him, plus hundreds more when he was either the head or assistant coach in the VFW Pennsylvania state and national tournaments.
During those years, the Lebanon Valley all-stars won eight VFW state championships (1965-67-72-77-79-81-85-88), the 1965 national championship and the 1967 national runner-up.
It all started in the early 1960s, when Louwerse moved to Cornwall from Scranton and got involved in coaching when Tom Starry, Leo Tice and Walt Long were coaching in the league, then along the way Tom “Ace” Pierce joined him and they worked together for many, many years.
“Starry was the league president for many years and he had Artie Whitman as his assistant for the Hebron team, then later on I took over as the league’s president and then Lem Landis, who coached Annville’s team, was president for some time,” said Louwerse. “The success our league had was because all of the coaches had a baseball background. Landis pitched in the minor leagues. Walt coached Cleona and I had Cornwall, but we spent a lot of time together during those years when we were winning state titles. He knew so much about the game and I learned a lot from him because he knew how the game was to be played and that’s the way he had his kids play”.
Louwerse was one of the coaches of the 1965 team that won the VFW national championship, a team that included Ted Dissinger, Mike Smith, George Ruth, Don Bowman, Rich Henning and Tim Feeman. Two years later, they finished second in the tournament with Rich Miller, Ed Bouchette, Doug Yingst and Gene Holbert in the lineup.
Over the year, a number of those kids went on to play in the minor leagues. That list includes Rich Miller, Matt Knox, Derek Fisher, Adam Keim and Brandon Naples. Ed Bouchette went the media route and was inducted into the writer’s wing of the NFL Hall of Fame, and Bob Engle won two World Series titles as an executive with the Toronto Blue Jays.
When informed of Louwerse’s announcement, Engle said, “I salute Tony for his time, energy and dedication to all the young men, families and the Cornwall community. He molded his players, not only on the field of play, but his loyalty and direction allowed each baseball experiences that could be later transferred to everyday life. Sixty years of commitment and dedication is a great example for others to follow.”
Knox, who played in the minors five years and is now the head baseball coach at Cedar Crest, admitted, “As a 13-year-old player, I was scared to death of Tony. He demanded 100 percent from his players and wasn’t afraid to be hard on you and that helped me to want to get 100 percent from myself. He was old school and wanted to win and had a way of just looking at you when he wasn’t happy with you.”
“All of that helped me become the player that I was,” Knox continued. “During my three years with him, I learned a lot about the game of baseball. The fact of the matter is that without the help of Tony, Ace Pierce and Todd Galbraith, I wouldn’t have become the player that I became. I wish him the best and thank him for his time as a coach to the many players that he has helped.”
Rich Miller, who reached the Triple-A level then spent 30-plus years as an instructor, minor league coach, manager and instructor said, “I was always glad my son got to play for him because he taught his players to play smart, play the game the right way, always hustle and run everything out, have fun but play to win, not horse around. He really knew the game inside and out and could have been a very successful coach at any level.”
It was Lyle Krall, who has also spent the last 60-plus years, some as a paid and others as a volunteer, coaching high school and American Legion baseball, who perhaps summed up the situation best.
“For 60 seasons Tony spent an immeasurable amount of time molding teenagers, not only into baseball players who later who played at the high school and college and pro level, he did it for the love of baseball and without seeking monetary compensation,” said Krall.
“Tony and I did not compete against each other since we coached different age groups, but we bonded at the Lebanon Valley College baseball camps where I saw a person who loved coaching baseball as I did,” added Krall. “I saw a coach who was a stickler for detail and wanted drills to be done precisely and was not hesitant to correct a player, and at the same time get the player to believe in his coaching methods.”
Krall then offered a suggestion that the Cornwall field where Louwerse coached be named “Tony Louwerse Field”, which would keep his name alive for what he has contributed to the lives of so many young people.
Louwerse was the Central Chapter of the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame’s recipient of the community service award in 1980 and was inducted into the chapter’s hall of fame in 2011.
“I never thought about being involved for 60 years,” said Louwerse, “but it was fun because of all the other coaches and kids that I came in contact with over all that time. I’d like to think I was a part, however small it was, and felt good about the success we, meaning all the coaches, had over the years.”