May 27, 2015 (Ashburn, Va.) — Sam Plank, in an exclusive interview with VivaLoudoun, announced that he will resign his post as head baseball coach for Stone Bridge High School, effective at the conclusion of the Bulldogs’ ongoing postseason run.
Plank, the only head coach in Stone Bridge’s 15-year history, also confirmed that he will assume the duties of the same position for Riverside High School, a Lansdowne institution set to open for the 2015-’16 academic year. The Rams will play in the 3A classification of Virginia High School League sports.
The official announcement was made via press release issued by Riverside’s athletic department on the evening of May 26. Plank said he informed his players in a closed-door meeting May 21.
Additionally, Plank told VivaLoudoun that his day job as a physical education teacher is set to transfer next school year from Creighton’s Corner Elementary School to a teaching position in Riverside’s P.E. department.
When listing reasons for the decision, Plank cited the benefit of “being in the building” at the genesis of Riverside’s program as a factor, along with a return to the challenge of starting up a newborn baseball club, though with a more mature mindset for himself, he said.
In nearly 15 full seasons guiding the Bulldogs as his first head coaching gig, Plank has racked up a mark of 240-107-1, winning eight regular season championships and seven district or conference championships while making the regional tournament every spring since 2003. His teams have produced ballplayers for the University of North Carolina, West Virginia University, Virginia Tech and dozens of other collegiate programs. He was recognized as the regional Coach Of the Year in 2008 and 2014.
Stone Bridge went into the Conference 14 championship game May 26 versus Broad Run with a 17-5 mark. The Bulldogs will enter the 5A North region tourney May 29 as its defending champ.
VivaLoudoun has more of Plank’s thoughts concerning his decision in this Q&A, an edited transcription of VivaLoudoun’s interview with the outgoing Stone Bridge helmsman.
VL: What factors went into making this decision?
SP: It was a tough decision. I have such a great relationship with my players, it was a very tough and emotional decision. I think the key factor for me is getting a chance to build another program and be in the building [as a teacher]. If I ever wanted to do this again, that was big for me, to be in the building, around the kids all day, every day.
I’ve taught at elementary schools for 22 years. I’m going to miss being an elementary school teacher. You get treated so great by the kids. But I said, you know what, it’s time to try something a little different. I think I can simplify my life by being in the same building where I coach.
At this point in my life, if I’m going to build another program, I’m going to do it a lot faster if I’m in the building.
Also, I’m a big community and family guy. The chance to build that at Riverside, that sense of family, I think I can play a key part of that. That motivates me too.
VL: How did this opportunity come about?
SP: Matt Oblas [Riverside athletic director] and I have a great relationship. That helped as well, having a familiar face that you know and respect. He and I talked this fall, the first idea of this possibly happening.
The first thing I had to decide was, if I was going to do this [start a new program], I had to be in the building. If I was going to go down this road, I had to make sure I was in the building.
VL: You use the phrase “being in the building” repeatedly. What do you mean by that, and what’s the importance of it?
SP: You know, being a teacher at the high school where I’m coaching would allow me to do so much more. You know, elementary school starts at 7:30 a.m. I could never ever do anything before school. Now I have the option to do conditioning or weight room or practice before school. If I need to talk to my players, I’m in the building, I could go find them. It’s not that you have to be in the building, but as I get older, I think being in the building is very important for the head coach. I feel like we could do so much more.
VL: When did you finally make this decision?
SP: I thought about it for a while, but the date got pressured because I had to put in for the first-round teacher transfer in January. So I had to decide in December, real late in the process.
VL: In what ways have you evolved from the 29-year-old coach who started Stone Bridge’s program to the 45-year-old coach who will start Riverside’s?
SP: I think I’m a lot smarter than I was 15 years ago. Hopefully I’ve learned from all the mistakes I’ve made so I don’t repeat them. When I first started coaching, I was obsessed with winning, very high energy guy, very driven, and I was very tough on my players. As I’ve grown and matured, I’m all about relationships now. Once I started focusing on relationships with the kids, we started winning more. I don’t yell as much any more – I still have high expectations, still very driven – but once I figured that out, it’s made me happier, made my players happier, made my coaches happier. And we’ve won more games. I think it’s important that young coaches hear that.
I think the first thing you have to do as head coach is put good people around you. I’ve been blessed over the years with some great assistant coaches who put in a lot of time. High school coaches don’t make much money. These guys are committing their summers, their falls, off-season stuff, weight room, and that’s why we’ve won. We’ve also been blessed to have really good players we’ve had a chance to develop at Stone Bridge as well.
You have to build a program where kids believe they can win. Then the seniors teach the freshmen, those freshmen become seniors and they’re teaching the next freshmen, and we kind of have a good thing going right now.
Building that kind of thing is going to be tough, but it’s something I’m motivated to do again.
VL: How did you come to be the head baseball coach at Stone Bridge?
SP: Yeah, it’s funny. I’ll never forget that. [Then-principal] Mr. [James] Person and [athletic director] Dave [Hembach] interviewed this young buck coming in, and I was nervous, nothing was coming out the right way. So at the end of the second interview, I said that every coach that’s coached – high school, college, pro – someone gave that young person a chance. I said, I’m just asking for a chance. I’m going to work hard to build this program the right way, I just need someone to give me a chance.
I’m very fortunate that Mr. Person and Mr. Hembach believed in me and gave me that chance as a young coach. And they both still have their hair, which is a good thing.
VL: What was the reaction of your players when you informed them of your decision?
SP: I told them before practice. They were quiet, but they understood. We went out and had a great practice, had a great game against Briar Woods [10-0 win in the conference semifinals May 22].
I told them, a lot of you guys are going to move on, you’ll have new coaches in college, you’ll have new bosses one day. Change happens in life, but you’ll be fine. These guys are going to carry the legacy on, keep playing the right way. Whoever’s the new coach next year, they’re getting a great group of kids and they’ll keep this tradition going.
VL: Once you have assumed the role of Riverside’s head baseball coach, what will be on your to-do list?
SP: Well, until the last pitch of the last out at Stone Bridge, I’m not going to focus on Riverside at all. I owe it to these boys to focus on them 100 percent. I’m coaching this team to the last pitch.
But the first task will be to get to know people. I don’t know a lot of the kids. I’ll need to find out about who they play for so I can go see them a little bit this summer. I don’t even know who my players are going to be yet. There will be a lot of new faces.
VL: What difference do you see in opening up Riverside in 2016 versus opening up Stone Bridge in 2001?
SP: When we opened up at Stone Bridge, we had no press box, no cages, no bullpens. We might have had dugouts. But [the Bulldog booster club] put the bases on the field, built the mound, built the bullpens, built the press box. We had to literally build the program from scratch. They’re opening schools now that already have press box, sound systems, a lot of stuff we had to work hard to incorporate in our program. So that’s going to save a lot of time and energy and fundraising efforts, having those facilities already there. So that’s going to allow me to really get into teaching the boys right away.
VL: Will you continue to wear No. 8 in a Riverside uniform, as you’ve done for 15 years in a Stone Bridge uniform?
SP: Yes, sir. My favorite player growing up was Cal Ripken, Jr. He’s what baseball’s all about, and I’ve worn that number since the first day I got a head coaching job, just as a reminder to always respect the game and play it the right way.
VL: What do you most want the parents of the Riverside kids you’ll be coaching to know about you and your way of running a baseball program?
SP: The first thing I tell them is, there’s no one who’s going to outwork us. In any new school, there’s growing pains, especially in sports like football and baseball, because you don’t know who’s going to be there, and it’s going to be a young team anyway. So the message is, we’re going to build this the right way, and to do that you have to have the players and the parents on board. We got to create that family. It takes a group effort.
VL: What do you most want the parents, alumni and other members of the Stone Bridge family to know?
SP: The really neat thing is all the relationships. When we dedicated the press box [May 14] to [former assistant baseball coach] James Timbers and I saw all the old players and the parents, it was awesome. I tell my guys all the time, it’s about the memories. You come back 20 years from now, your picture is on the wall because of what you accomplished.
We’ve had great kids come through our program, kids that work hard and have goals, and that’s a compliment to good parenting.
There are just so many stories, but it’s about all the friendships in the community, building what we’ve built here. I tell the parents, what we’re doing here is going to benefit the kids forever, going to give so many other kids an opportunity, and that means a lot to me.
Disclaimer: Diamond Elite, a Dulles-area baseball academy for which Plank serves as Director of Baseball Operations, is a sponsor of VivaLoudoun.com.
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