January 23 marks the first open gym date for girls’ fast-pitch softball at Central Kitsap High School. But perhaps more important, it will mark the beginning of the end for head coach Bruce Welling.
Welling is the only fast-pitch coach Central Kitsap has ever had. He started coaching slow pitch at the school in 1982 when CK started a fastpitch program in 1990, Welling took it over.
When he first began coaching fast pitch the game wasn’t even played throughout the state. His teams had to travel west and south playing teams in Olympia and Thurston County for two years. But in 1992, Washington began running a state tournament and the Cougars showed the rest of the state they were there to compete. The team went as far as the quarterfinals.
That team, Welling said, was composed mostly of freshmen. So when his team made the trip back to state in 1993, with another year of experience under their belt, they dominated. Central Kitsap won its first-round game against Snohomish 14-0, going on to beat Richland in the championship and securing first place in the state.
CK took second the next year and third in 1995. In fact, under Coach Welling, Central made it to the state tourney every year from the tournament’s inception in 1992 through 1998, a seven year streak.
Welling has taken Central Kitsap to 12 state tournament appearances, the most of any school and won more games in those appearances than any coach in Washington. Welling’s total win/loss record is 533 to 181.
But more than all the wins and records, he holds most dearly the bond he shares with his players, past and present, Welling said.
“Being a coach, yet being a friend,” he said, of what is most important to him. “Educating and treating players as adults, and (teaching them) to respect the game.”
Welling said he still talks to many of the players he coached over the years. He receives Christmas cards each year and has gone to a number of his former players’ weddings.
Welling teaches all his players the fundamentals, but most of all he teaches the mental side of the game.
“If you make a mistake, I never say a word to you,” Welling said. “Once you make a mistake you’re the first one to know you made it, so why do you need someone telling you, ‘Hey, you made a mistake.’”
Compounding mistakes by over-thinking them is the last thing Welling wants his players to do.
“It’s all right to make mistakes,” Welling said. “I make them every game. I tell my kids, sooner or later after a hundred years, there might not be any mistakes left.”
As for his career as a coach, he will have to settle for a quarter of a century. But a large number of mistakes have certainly been culled in that time.
Players Tiffani Ferrell and Sam Williams, both juniors at Central, said Welling’s coaching helped the mental side of their game. But his coaching goes beyond just helping players on the field.
“I feel like he has the answers to everything,” said Ferrell, who plays right field. “You can go to him with your problems.”
As helpful as his coaching, the two players said, is his ability and willingness to listen.
“He’s like a grandpa,” Williams said, who plays third base. “He’s a father figure, somebody to look up to.”
Both Ferrell and Williams said they’re sad Welling is retiring. Because they’re juniors, they’ll have to play without him next year. But his coaching, they think will leave them with a strong team to carry on without him.
All the mental training Welling has taught his players will likely be useful next season, when they have to do what no Central fast-pitch team has done: play without Bruce Welling.
Ferrell and Williams hope to see Welling attending their games next year and hope to stay in touch with him when they join the long list of graduates he has coached.
Among that list of players is South Kitsap High School fast-pitch coach Jessica Cabato. She coached at Olympic College and Central Kitsap the last two years before being hired by South Kitsap.
When talking about his former player, Welling offered a bit of wisdom that has helped him during his career at Central Kitsap.
“If respect is there you’re going to do well,” Welling said. “Doing well doesn’t mean you’re going to win. If you’re doing your best and the respect’s not there then it’s never going to happen.”