A life ‘dedicated to youth sports’

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By Grant Lucas
The Bulletin

Not long ago, Kenny Macy sent a letter to his grandfather and former coach, Dick Souers. More than 15 years since last playing baseball for him at Culver High, Macy began reflecting.

“Today I realized that it was more than sports,” Macy wrote. “It’s more than a game, more than winning, more than everything that I had always thought it was. It was about life, what to expect after the days of our childhood have passed. It truly is about others and pouring into the lives of so many other people and doing it the way that you knew best, as a coach. You were a coach to me, my brothers, my friends, and so many more that I have never met.”

On March 1, two days shy of his 85th birthday, Souers died after battling Lewy body dementia. He had been living with his daughter, Bonita Souers, in Eugene for six months before succumbing to the disease.

“His body was really healthy,” Bonita recalls, “but he was done. His mind just shut down.”

Yet the influence of Dick Souers — like it has for more than 50 years — lives on.

The man widely credited for the establishment and development of youth sports programs in Jefferson County, Souers has left a lasting impression on those with whom he crossed paths.

“He was such an awesome guy,” says Margaret Sturza, the Madras High athletic director when Souers coached White Buffaloes softball in the 1980s and ’90s. “To the kids,” she adds as she begins to laugh, “he was like their grandpa.”

James Macy, Kenny’s brother and another of Dick Souers’ grandsons, notes that it was Souers’ family-style support that made him such an effective coach for more than 40 years.

“He was passionate about the game and he knew the game about as well as he could, and he was able to transfer that to his players,” says Macy, a Culver graduate who during his college years would return home during the spring and help Souers coach the baseball Bulldogs for the last few weeks of the high school season. “He wasn’t intimidating at all. He was pretty soft-spoken. But he did a good job of getting across to players and helping them learn the game.”

Some may remember Souers as the coach who began Jefferson County Little League in the 1960s, who in 1964 coached the league’s 11- and 12-year-old baseball all-stars to the Oregon state championship. (That squad was the only Central Oregon team to accomplish such a feat until Bend South won state in 2011.) Souers coached Madras High softball for 15 years before scooting over to nearby Culver to coach baseball and softball — and even basketball — for three years before returning to Madras for one final stint.

At each stop — whether at Madras, where he coached current White Buffaloes softball coach Shawna McConnell, or at Culver, where he coached his grandsons in baseball — there was a quality in Souers’ coaching style that few have forgotten: He wholeheartedly believed in his players’ potential, even when the players themselves might not have.

“We played teams when I was in school that we probably had no business beating, and we beat them,” recounts McConnell, a 1995 Madras graduate. “We won league my junior year and beat out (one of state’s top pitchers) at Riverside. He was so savvy, so game-savvy and smart. He definitely made a big impact, and not just when I was playing. … He’s pretty much the reason we have Madras softball.”

After being a star athlete at Chiloquin High, from which he graduated in 1950, Souers went to the Oregon Institute of Technology in Klamath Falls, where he played football, basketball and baseball. He moved to Warm Springs with his wife, Dorothy, in 1957 and helped start Jefferson County Little League a few years later. He helped build softball and baseball fields in Warm Springs that still stand. According to Bonita Souers, he was instrumental in constructing the first baseball field in Madras and the ball fields and track and field complex in Culver. Yet that was not enough for Dick Souers, who devoted much of his energy to helping young athletes improve their games until he was 75 years old.

“My dad just had a really kind, giving heart,” says Bonita. “If people wanted to work on sports, and they wanted to do anything, he would be there for him and work with him.

“Every day, he would go down to the high school and help girls learn how to pitch. He just spent endless, unlimited time. If someone wanted to learn something, he would tell them, ‘Show up and I’ll help you.’ He did that. He just loved helping people get better at whatever they wanted to work at.”

Souers had his players’ interests and potential at heart, Sturza says. She could not even estimate how many of his players went on to play collegiate softball and baseball, many of whom may not have made that next step without his assistance. She recalls how Souers would take video of his aspiring collegians in action and send that footage to college coaches. That support, that belief, is what made Sturza’s recent encounter with Facebook unsurprisingly surprising.

“When he passed away, on Facebook, I posted something on there,” she says, “and a bunch of his former players and my former students were like, ‘He’s the reason I am where I am today, the reason I went to college.’ … His whole life was dedicated to youth sports.”

Souers was the reason why daughter Bonita, who was inducted in the Madras High hall of fame earlier this year, went on to coach. The same goes for McConnell, now in her ninth season with the softball White Buffaloes, and Macy, who taught and coached at Culver High for eight years.

“He was always my favorite coach growing up, because he was a kind soul and so smart about the game and so supportive,” says McConnell. “I ended up quitting playing in college, and I just got right into coaching. I started volunteering at La Grande (High School). Everything he did is how I’ve always tried to do it: Stay positive and care about kids. He was definitely, 100 percent, that influence.”

It is fitting that the celebration of his life on April 1 will be held in the Madras High gym. Rather than accepting flowers, Souers’ family has requested donations be made in his honor to Madras, Warm Springs or Culver school athletics. Also fitting. McConnell is working on a bronze plaque to those who have donated to the Madras softball program but will be dedicated to Souers for his service and commitment to Jefferson County softball. Someday, she would like the White Buffaloes’ softball field be named in his honor.

In his letter to his grandfather, Kenny Macy closed with a sentiment with which many of Dick Souers’ former players and colleagues can surely relate:

“Thanks for the time you invested in me, thank you for being the coach that has made me who I am today.”

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