By Travis Hubbard
WAYNE -- Todd Ross found out Wednesday morning that a lifelong career goal had been achieved.
The sixth-year Wayne assistant baseball coach and former Pioneer all-state selection was officially hired to replace George Brumfield as head baseball coach at a Tuesday night Wayne County Board of Education meeting, ending a seven-month vacancy for the job. He found out when his father called him at 9 a.m. Wednesday to ask if the rumors were true.
Brumfield announced his retirement at the end of last season, his 27th of a Hall of Fame coaching career that included four state titles (1984, 1992, 1994 and 1995) and 516 career victories. The ballpark at Wayne now bears his name.
"My biggest challenge is going to be the comparisons to George Brumfield," said Ross, a two-year starter for Brumfield in 1989 and 1990. "I don't know that I'll ever live up to that, but my biggest immediate challenge is going to be experience. We have no returning seniors with much experience."
Ross inherits a 15-15 team that was depleted by graduation. From the view of Brumfield, who still remains at Wayne as athletic director, the job is still an attractive one, but consolidation and a dwindling student body has made the program less of a dynasty. The Pioneers compete in a region with other AA dynasties -- Chapmanville and Logan -- and have not been to the state tournament since 2002.
And with a smaller school competing against consolidated AAA teams, wins are harder to come by at Wayne. And the success of the Wayne football program has magnified the baseball drought. The Pioneer football program was winless as recent as 1997 but has enjoyed three undefeated regular seasons and two Class AA runner-up finishes since Tommy Harmon took over, but the baseball program's decline has coincided with that time frame.
Ross said that's not an indictment of the football program, just that he has to convince the athletes in the school to play baseball, too. He also said the decline of summer league programs has contributed to the overall decline in talent.
"Everybody loves a winner," Ross said of the successful Wayne football program that was once a doormat. "Hats off to Tommy Harmon. He has turned Wayne's little baseball town into a football town real quick."
Brumfield said getting boys out to play baseball is a bigger challenge, now. But he thinks Ross is the perfect fit.
"Things have changed. We're not as big a school as we used to be and the biggest challenge is getting all the boys to come out and play baseball," Burmfield said. "The past few years we've had some kids that could have played baseball that just didn't come out.
"Todd knows the Wayne system. He's a Wayne boy and has the credentials. I wouldn't have stepped down if I didn't think he was interested and could take over. I think he can take over, and he's always wanted to be the head coach at Wayne."
Ross may never replace the departing Hall of Fame coach, but he already has a state title to his resume. Ross played four years at Marshall and was a volunteer assistant under Brumfield in 1996 when an assistant coaching position came open at Vinson High School. At the advice of Brumfield, Ross applied and was hired and by the time the season rolled around he was the head coach because head coach John Griffin was suffering from failing health. The Tigers went on to win the 1997 state championship, but Ross' tenure there ended after two years when the school consolidated with Ceredo-Kenova and Buffalo to form Spring Valley High School.
After one year as an assistant at Spring Valley Ross returned to be an assistant under Brumfield. Now, he's replacing his mentor.
"I got to thinking that I played in the program, and coached for several years, and it's been a big part of my life," said Ross who nearly did not apply for the position because he wanted to spend time watching his son who is a Little Leaguer. "I just thought it was something I had to do. I'd hate to see all that Coach Brumfield built go in another direction."