After spending almost a lifetime involved, in some form or fashion, with the game he loves, Johnny Vance is getting some recognition. The Barren County High School baseball coach, who begins his 38th year of coaching this season, has been chosen for the 2014 class of the Kentucky High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
“I never really thought about wins and losses. It never seemed really important to me,” said Vance, who begins his 25th year as a head coach in 2014.
“I was always more concerned about what we did that season and then once the season was over with, it was kind of out the window. That’s when I started worrying about the next season.”
The KHSBCA iduction ceremony will be Jan. 18 in Louisville.
“I think probably the biggest thing is the longevity of staying in it for 38 years, and really enjoying what you’re doing,” Vance said. “That’s the biggest thing. You hope, over a period of 38 years, one reason you’re still there is not only the love of the game, but that you’re doing a pretty good job of coaching the game. You can’t win them all, but I at least always felt our teams were competitive.”
And competition has always been a part of Vance’s life. One of the best all-round athletes ever at Glasgow High School, he went on to quarterback GHS to a 10-2-1 record in football and a regional title in the fall of 1965. He also played safety and did the punting and place kicking for the Scotties, throwing right handed but kicking left footed.
The memorable game was the regional championship against Murray, which led 13-0 at the half. Vance injured his back, but came back to lead a furious fourth-quarter comeback and a 14-13 victory.
Vance moved on to basketball where he started for coach Jim Richards’ Glasgow squad that went 32-2, won the regional championship and a first-round game in the Sweet Sixteen. In that game, Vance scored 18 points and outplayed Newport Catholic’s Dave Cowens, who later won two NBA Championships with the Boston Celtics and was named one of the 50 greatest NBA players of all time.
When basketball was over, Vance just moved right over to the baseball team which went 26-2, but lost to Ft. Knox in the regional.
After a stellar prep career, Vance went on play football and baseball at Western Kentucky University. He started at quarterback all four years, although his sophomore season was cut short by injury. He was among the national leaders in punting with a career average of 40 yards a game.
In his senior season of 1969, Vance was named All-OVC and led the Hilltoppers in total offense. He holds school records for plays in a game (69), pass attempts in a game (59) and pass completions in a game (37). He still ranks in the top 10 all time in 20 statistical categories. He is in WKU’s Athletics Hall of Fame.
“In the summer of 1969, I was drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers, but I passed that up and went back to play my last year of football because I thought I had a chance to be drafted in the National Football League,” said Vance. “I waited for the NFL Draft and actually had a phone call from the Dallas Cowboys saying they thought they were going to take me. I ended up not being drafted at all.”
Vance was drafted again in 1970, in the third round as a catcher by the Pittsburgh Pirates. He spent five years in the Pirates’ organization, making stops at Niagra Falls, Salem, Sherbrooke and Thetford Mines.
Unfortunately, he was in the Pirates’ minor league system at the same time as All-Star catcher Manny Sanguillen.
“After five years, I felt like I wanted to go back and get my degree at Western. And after that, I came back to serve as an assistant coach at Glasgow for nine years under Charlie Gupton,” Vance recalled. “Then Coy Meadows took over and I helped him. When he took the football job, I took the baseball job.”
Vance then coached a couple of years at Daviess County in Owensboro before actually leaving the game for some time. His time away from baseball didn’t last and he got back into coaching at Ohio County. He followed that with a long stint at Franklin-Simpson High School, where he coached current Major League pitcher Joe Blanton. Vance spent three years at Barren County before making stops back at Owensboro and Beech High School in Tennessee.
“After serving as an assistant at Beech High School, I came back to Barren County and this will be my fourth year back here,” Vance said. “It is my seventh year here, overall.”
Vance was quick to point out the KHSBCA Hall of Fame award wouldn’t have been possible without the help of talented assistant coaches.
“Everywhere I have been the head coach I have had good assistants,” Vance explained. “When you have good assistants, you have to give them responsibilities you want them to teach and then you let them do it. You’re just there to kind of oversee things. There are so many phases of the game you have to teach to have a good team, you have to have some good people helping you. You can’t do it all yourself.”
And after turning 65 in November, Vance said he’s thought a little bit about life away from baseball. He said he knows that day is coming, he’s just not sure when it will arrive.
“At the end of this past Major League Baseball season, I noticed (former Detroit Tigers’) manager Jim Leyland retired from coaching baseball. He said he didn’t feel like he had the energy he needed to get the job done,” Vance said. “And he had always said when he started feeling that way he didn’t feel like he could put the time in to do the job the proper way
“I have thought about that some. I have told myself when that time comes I will know for sure. There are times went it is rough and you have to fight your way through the day. But I still like the game and I look forward to putting the uniform on every day. I hope I have two or three more years to go.
Vance said he has so many memories of players and teams he’s had the opportunity to coach and he said they’ve all meant something to him.
“You hope your teaching the game the right way,” Vance said. “Everyone that’s ever played for me, I hope they took that with them when they left. There’s a right way to play the game and I hope I got that over to every kid that I’ve been involved with.”