It's never easy for a coach to leave a good job, especially when it's a winning gig at the alma mater.
There has to be a little something extra to lure that coach away from home, and often that will tell a lot about just how highly they think of what's in front of them.
That's the case for new Midland Valley baseball coach Chase Bell, a four-year letterman at Barnwell who had coached the Warhorses since 2018. It wasn't easy, but he knew the Midland Valley job was too good to pass up.
"Barnwell is home. I played high school baseball there. I had my first coaching job there. I was a teacher there. They've been really good to me," he said. "But I think that speaks volumes of what I think about Midland Valley, the fact that I'm leaving my home to come start a new home at a new school speaks volumes of what I think Midland Valley can be and what it is right now. It's just a great opportunity."
Bell is familiar with Aiken County, as he went to college at USC Aiken and enjoyed his time in the area. He said he heard nothing but good things about Midland Valley, the administration, the students and the teachers, and he was excited about the opportunity to compete against the best of the best in Class AAAA.
It also didn't hurt that he's joining a program that has been one of the best of the best. The Mustangs won the Lower State championship in 2019 under Brad Richardson and were off to a hot start this year before the coronavirus pandemic torpedoed the 2020 season.
The Warhorses started fast too. Bell, who was part of four consecutive region championship teams and won three district titles from 2006-09, had Barnwell on a similar trajectory as Midland Valley. The Warhorses won the region and district in 2018, then followed it up with another region title and district title game appearance the following season. They were 6-1 and looking strong when the spring sports calendar was wiped clean in mid-March.
The current climate is a difficult one for a brand new coach, as so many have yet to have the opportunity to even meet their players. Bell has had the chance to get to know a few of his future players through football, where he'll coach the Mustangs' quarterbacks.
"Multi-sport athletes develop a lot of skills that way," he said. "The football mentality that comes over to the baseball field – I love coaching guys that get after it on the football field, also, so that's an exciting thing."
Midland Valley's baseball program celebrated its successful senior class back at the start of June, and it was impossible not to notice how large that group was. On one hand it could look like a total rebuild for a program that has established itself as one of Class AAAA's elite. On the other, maybe it's fitting to have a fresh start with a new coach who's used to that same kind of success.
"I've been fortunate to be around a lot of great coaches and a lot of great players," Bell said. "But everything I've been a part of has been successful. We've been first or second in the region in everything I've ever done. We've competed for district championships. I've helped with football and we played for Lower State championships and state championships. Everything I've ever been involved with has been successful, so I expect the same thing.
"I've heard that we've lost a lot, but a lot of hard work and dedication and a lot of blood, sweat and tears, and I think we'll be successful over there early. It's gonna be a fun year, you know? Playing in a really good region with a lot of really good baseball teams, quality programs and quality coaches. We'll definitely get to compete against the best, and that'll be fun to compete against them and see where we stack up."