Center Grove native Kent Thompson celebrates his 25th year coaching All-Star Little League teams
Through the first portion of his coaching years with Center Grove Little League, Kent Thompson was focused on teaching the youth about the game of baseball and giving them the best chance to win.
Now celebrating his 25th year coaching, that focus has transitioned into how he can best relate to the youth at Greenwood Little League, using baseball to help them succeed in their future life endeavors.
“For a shy little kid who grew up on a farm, how did I get to where I could coach these kids?” he said, “I don’t coach them so I can see them win a baseball game. I coach them because 10, 20 years down the road I want to see who they’ve become.”
Thompson grew up in Greenwood and played in the Little League for two years as a youth. He began helping to coach Little League in 1979 and ’80, before he even graduated from Center Grove High School in 1981. He learned from his baseball mentor, Larry Socks, who he coached under from age 17 to 19.
“We practiced in Center Grove High School parking lot,” Thompson said. “I would sit on the bench beside him, and he told me everything he was doing. That’s when I realized you don’t have to be a great player to be a good coach. You just have to be willing to learn and listen.”
In 1983, he received a phone call from the president of the Center Grove Little League, saying they needed coaches. So Thompson coached the Junior League, ages 13 and 14, from 1983 to 1990. He then began coaching the Senior League, ages 15 to 18, from 1991 to ’93.
“In 1992, we went to the World Series,” he said. “It was a unique situation that year. I wasn’t going to coach the All-Star team that year, but they said you should take it and I agreed. That team had never even won the district tournament. The more we practiced and played, the
better we got as a team. We won the district… I thought this team is really doing something. We made it to the World Series. It all came together. We finished third in the U.S. and sixth in the World.”
Thompson didn’t coach in ’94 or ’95, instead taking care of his family in a transition period of building a home. In ’96, he was asked to return to coaching. He coached his son in the Center Grove Little League for two years, then his daughter in softball for three years – both of which were new to him since those leagues were for the small children.
After his daughter stopped playing, he took a break from coaching, until his brother began getting sick in 2005. He needed to get his mind off of that, and a friend at church said he could help coach his team in ’06. He again took a break until 2011. He came to the Greenwood Little League, where he has been coaching an All-Star team ever since.
“When I was coaching at Center Grove, Greenwood was our main nemesis,” he said. “Since I’ve been at Greenwood, I feel like I’ve gained a family.”
Thompson serves on the board of directors and is in charge of the grounds. Although he has undergone a heart attack and surgery this past year and has to limit his physical activity, it hasn’t stopped him yet. He celebrated his 25th year of coaching with his Little League friends in May.
“The longevity is amazing to me,” he said. “You have to prepare yourself every year to do this again. 35 years is what could have happened if I stuck with it. I started at 20 years old. I’m now 55. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I love baseball and I love being around the kids. There are kids that ask for me, that want to play for me. That’s the reason I coach today.”
His 25th year has ended. The team won its championship on July 6, which brought them to the State Tournament in Anderson, Ind. on July 13 to 15. They won their game on Saturday, but lost on Sunday.
“My coach and I got the idea this year will be special,” he said. “I’m happy with it. You never know from one year to the next. We had some very good kids. It just takes one little thing to get you out.”
With his health, Thompson said he knows he needs to cut back, but has no plans to stop coaching altogether. He is deciding on whether or not to coach fall ball, but will return to coach the spring All-Star team.
“I love the kids too much to say I’m just walking away,” he said. “I don’t ever see me not having baseball in my life. That’s where I’ve been most of my life. There’s not a better atmosphere for me than the baseball field.”