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High schools: Former big-leaguer Reggie Willits back in pressure situation as Binger-Oney baseball coach

Willits charged with rebuilding tradition-rich baseball program that produced Hall of Fame catcher Johnny Bench.
by Jacob Unruh Published: March 28, 2013

BINGER — Kirk Wilson wasn't sure what Reggie Willits' answer would be when he drove to Willits' cattle ranch.

Wilson, Binger-Oney's school superintendent, went to see the former major league outfielder in May, asking if he would take over Binger's once-elite baseball program.

“Didn't have a clue if he would be interested at all,” Wilson said. “With every position we have here at our school we try to get the best person available.

“I knew we had a former major leaguer 10 miles down the road, so I figured I'd start there.”

Willits, a Fort Cobb native, retired from professional baseball in 2012. Willits thought he had escaped the pressure, but he is back in a similar pressure situation as Binger-Oney's coach in hope of revitalizing the success dating back to the days of Johnny Bench.

But Willits doesn't have just a rebuilding project on his hands; he has a complete overhaul, complete with the prospect of ballpark renovations and the pressure of returning a baseball-crazed community to prominence.

“I don't really know how to describe it, but I guess I would kind of describe it like OU's football when they were kind of down in their years,” the former Oklahoma and Los Angeles Angels outfielder said. “But that tradition was already there for the guys of the past and it's the same here.

“It's a baseball town, and they want it to be an elite program again.”

The school has five state titles, the first dating back to Bench's junior season in 1964.

It's been 22 years since Binger-Oney last won a baseball state championship, though, and last spring featured just six victories.

With that in mind, Wilson set out in search of a coach capable of returning the winning ways. Willits, 31, was a logical but bold choice.

Willits' only previous coaching experience was coaching his sons' Little League teams.

His older sister, Wendi Wells, had gone through a similar transition. She moved from a WNBA career to eventually coaching Shawnee's girls basketball team to unprecedented prominence, including a state title in 2012 and a runner-up finish this season. So, Willits went to her for advice.

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by Jacob Unruh
Jacob Unruh is a graduate of Northeastern State University. He was born in Cherokee and raised near Vera where he attended Caney Valley High School.During his tenure at NSU, Unruh wrote for The Northeastern (NSU's student newspaper), the...
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