A league of his own: Coach Kent Shelley reflects on 25-season career

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Kent Shelley (right) bats while players practice base running and handling the ball on practice at the college on March 28. Photo by Hannah Hunsinger

By Ben Markley

Head coach Kent Shelley has been coaching baseball at the college longer than any of his players have been alive.

Shelley played collegiate baseball at the University of Kansas and served as a graduate assistant coach for the 1982-1983 season before he graduated. After spending a couple of years in the world of business, he applied for a coaching position at the college as well as Kansas City Kansas Community College and Fort Scott Community College.

“All three offered me jobs and, luckily, I chose Johnson County Community College,” Shelley said. “I signed a lucrative contract for $700 a year. By the end of the year, I think I was making $13,500, but I was working six or seven different jobs.”

In the fall of 1986, legendary Hall-of-Famer coach Sonny Maynard stepped down as head coach of men’s baseball, and Shelley landed the position. In 2007, Shelley scored a spot of his own in the NJCAA Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame.

“I see hall of fames maybe differently than other people,” he said. “I believe 
hall of fames are not necessarily for the person going in, but
 it’s more of a reflection of your
overall body of work and those 
who’ve made it possible. So it’s really a reflection of those people’s work, and I was just very honored to be the one chosen to represent that entire body of work and those people that have made my job much, much easier.”

Shelley is no stranger to success, having taken his team to championships, including the JUCO World Series in 2008, with 49 of his players going on to the major leagues. His success in the NJCAA reflects just how much he loves junior college baseball.

“I’ve just always been a junior college guy,” he said. “That’s the level where these kids are here for a purpose. They’re here to develop, they’re here to play, they’re here for an opportunity to get their education. Definitely the downside is you only have two years to work with these kids, and that’s tough … two years just isn’t enough to be with them.”

When it comes to the sport itself, Shelley said it was the bonds formed through the sport that made it great.

“[The relationships are] what makes, in 
my opinion, the game of baseball America’s game,” he said. “Some of my greatest friends
 in life developed through the game of baseball. These are lifelong friendships.”

That might explain why, despite being the winningest coach in the college’s history with 719 wins, Shelley counts his players’ development as his greatest success.

“I hope to think that my greatest accomplishment is touching the lives of young people, not only in terms of their development on the baseball diamond, but much more importantly, their development as young men,” he said. “These kids are turning out to be tremendous husbands, but most importantly, these guys that I’ve coached are becoming some of the greatest fathers to walk the face of the earth.”

One of those young men, sophomore first baseman Evan Brummett, said his coach certainly pushes his team but never puts the sport before his players.

“He always says, ‘I may not like you some days, but I’ll always love you,’” Brummett said.

Assistant coach David Canary has been learning from Shelley since the spring of 2001 when he played Cavalier baseball as a freshman.

“He had me when I was 18, 19 years old, so he was a big part of me growing up,” Canary said. “I was eight hours away from home, so he was kind of my dad away from home. I came out here, 22 or 23, coaching, and I thought I knew everything. He kind of threw the reins on me and helped me grow up, not only as a man but also as a coach.”

Reflecting on many years coaching Cavalier baseball, Shelley felt content.

“It’s been a tremendous run,” he said. “I couldn’t think of a better college, a better community to coach in. You’re truly talking to a blessed man.”

Contact Ben Markley, sports editor, at bmarkle2@jccc.edu.

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