End of a good ride

Ken Campbell retires as Walters State's baseball coach

Ken Campbell, who won 650 games at Walters State (Tenn.) Community College — including the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series in 2006 — retired Tuesday. Campbell coached baseball for 39 years, 13 for the Senators.

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Ken Campbell, who won 650 games at Walters State (Tenn.) Community College — including the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series in 2006 — retired Tuesday. Campbell coached baseball for 39 years, 13 for the Senators.

Ken Campbell spent his first two days of retirement on the golf course.

The Walters State (Tenn.) Community College baseball coach informed the school Tuesday morning he was retiring. That afternoon, he was on the golf course with his buddies.

“Yesterday was a great day, I shot a 72,” Campbell said Wednesday after a nine-hole round. “Today I just played nine holes and was so tired I couldn’t even finish.”

Three back surgeries will do that when you try to play back-to-back rounds, the 69-year-old coach said.

Campbell, whose Senators won the 2006 Alpine Bank Junior College World Series championship, completed a 39-year coaching career with 1,200 victories, 650 at Walters State.

“I just felt it was time,” he said. “I couldn’t do things physically that I needed do, and when you can’t do it physically, it’s time.”

He said reaching the 2013 JUCO World Series finalized his decision.

“It was one of the hardest decisions I’ve had to make in my life. I hadn’t done anything else in my life than this,” Campbell said. “I’m really gonna miss the competition more than anything.

“That’s basically what I was telling my assistant coaches, I want to go to Grand Junction one more time and if we do, I’m gonna retire. If we didn’t go this year, I would probably coach one more year to try to get out there again.

“Since we did make it out there, it was icing on the cake for me.”

His Grand Junction farewell didn’t last as long as Campbell hoped — the Senators lost a
19-11 slugfest against Spartanburg (S.C.) Methodist College in the first round, then fell 7-5 to Navarro (Texas) College and were eliminated.

The 2006 tournament, though, was one to remember for Campbell, with his then-2-year-old grandson, Kevin, by his side. High on Campbell’s retirement list is spending more time with Kevin, now 9, including watching his baseball games.

The 2006 NJCAA championship team was led by MVP pitcher Jack Tilghman, who went 2-0 with a 1.00 ERA.

Justin Pickett, now an assistant coach at Walters State, hit an eighth-inning home run to break a 5-5 tie in the title game against Yavapai (Ariz.) College, which had beaten Walters State 9-0 the night before. The Senators won 7-6, scoring their final run on a suicide squeeze in the eighth.

Campbell started his career as a high school coach at Eau Gallie, Fla., where he coached Tim Wakefield and Jeff Tam, both of whom played in the major leagues. He and Wakefield were inducted into the school’s hall of fame together, another career highlight from his 15 years there.

He then rescued East Tennessee State’s NCAA Division I program, which was on the verge of elimination.

Ten years later, he left with a record of 223-249-1 to take over at Walters State in 2000.

Campbell never had a losing season at Walters, and only twice failed to win at least 40 games, his first and last seasons. The Senators won 37 games in 2000 and 2013.

His 2006 team finished 61-8, winning the title the third of Campbell’s five trips to Grand Junction.

A member of the Tennessee Community College Athletic Association Hall of Fame, Campbell went 650-162-1 at Walters State.

He’s hoping the Senators win the East Central District again in 2014, so he can be their biggest fan in the stands. Grand Junction, he said, will always be special.

“I do want to thank all the people out in Grand Junction,” he said. “Golly, what a great place, and everybody is so nice out there. I’ve got some memories from out there that’s going to stick with me for a lifetime.”

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