After 12 years leading the Reed softball program, Ray Charles stepped down but he's not leaving the east Sparks school. He will take over the Raiders previously vacant head baseball coaching job.
“I've been thinking about coming to baseball,” Charles said. “I've been waiting to see how it would go. Two years ago, I was going to do it and that ended up falling through. I've kind of been waiting for the opportunity again and it came through. The biggest reason is, if I'm going to continue to coach, I want to be where I can see my kids.”
Charles, who lives in the Reed zone, has two sons: Web, 13, and Rylan, 8. He takes over a Reed baseball program that lost its coach when Nick Royle was fired last month, after just two years on the job.
“It's a new challenge and one I'm definitely excited about,” Charles said. “Initially, when they offered me the job, I kind of had a feeling of deja vu, for lack of a better word. I thought, ‘Should I take it or should I not?’ But each day, I'm more excited. It's important in life to have challenges and I've got some.”
Charles, who is a teacher at Reed’s feeder middle school, Mendive, may be new to the high school coaching diamond but he's a coaching veteran. In addition to coaching Reed's softball program the past 12 years, he has coached JV girls basketball for the Raiders in recent seasons as well as a handful of prep summer and youth programs.
The long-time softball skipper has produced success at Reed that is unmatched in northern Nevada over the past decade-plus. The Raiders never missed the postseason in his softball tenure. They advanced into the state tournament six times under his leadership, were the state runner-ups three times and finished third on two other occasions.
“It was really hard to walk away from softball,” Charles said. “The baseball job came open on the (May) 28th and it closed on the 15th. It took me a week and a half to put my application in. I talked to my wife daily, kind of pondering it and making sure it was the right decision. I've got a lot of memories and had a lot of good times with softball.”
The RHS administration wasted no time in hiring in Charles. With the application deadline closing earlier this week, the hiring process was a quick one.
“Ray's outstanding coaching record, dedication to Reed athletics, commitment to education and extensive baseball background as a player and a coach made him a clear choice to lead the Reed baseball program,” Raiders athletic director Ron Coombs said in a press release that went out Thursday morning.
Charles knows there will be a bigger time commitment in coaching baseball. Local baseball coaches are not only coaches for their schools, but they're the groundskeeper for their field(s) as well. Charles believes his top priority is improving the playing conditions on the Raiders main and practice fields.
“The biggest thing is to continue to get that field squared away,” Charles said. “I want a playable field that everyone is proud to be a part of. That's the biggest challenge. ... There's an area in right field that seems like it is always under constant work. It's always being used, year round. We've got to get it so it doesn't wear down. We want it strong enough to sustain all practices. It's really chewed up.”
Another priority for Charles is hiring a first-class staff. John Phenix headed up the RHS baseball program for 20-plus years and built the Raiders program into one of the region's best during the 1980s and '90s. Phenix has helped Charles with the softball program in recent years and Charles said Phenix is set to serve as an assistant back on the baseball diamond.
“I'm bringing the old guy out of retirement,” Charles quipped about Phenix helping out. “We've worked together in softball for five years and I'm so excited he wants to come back and help — pending all the paperwork, of course.”
The Raiders baseball program did not miss the postseason for a stretch of 25-plus years. However, the run of success came to an end the past two years as the Raiders watched the regional playoffs from the bleachers.
Charles admitted that's the ultimate goal: to return the program back to its days of being a traditional Northern 4A power.
“Anytime you go into a season, you want to qualify for the playoffs,” Charles said. “That should be a main focus. We want to get back to the playoffs and continue to get better.”