Whoever takes over the job as head coach for the Chaparral High School baseball program had better come with a boat load of confidence because his performance will be graded by the number of state titles he can accumulate.
The Scottsdale school has only had two head baseball coaches in the program’s 43 years. And both were extremely successful in building one of the most respected high school programs in the state.
Sam Messina is stepping away from his role as head coach of the storied baseball program to take over as Chaparral’s new assistant principal and athletic director, filling a vacancy that opened when Tommy Eubanks left to take a similar position at Desert Vista High School in Phoenix.
Messina served seven years as head coach, but that tenure pales by comparison to his predecessor. Jerry Dawkins started the program back in 1974 and stuck with it until leaving in 2010 to join the Yavapai College staff as pitching coach.
But the Chaparral program didn’t skip a beat when Messina took over after spending three years on Dawson’s staff. Messina actually improved the team’s record in his first year in charge, going from a 20-12 record in Dawson’s last season to a 24-9 finish in 2011.
Only once, in 2015, did Messina fail to post at least 20 wins. He went 18-12-1 that year.
Messina set the bar high right from the start, winning consecutive state titles his first two years. And he left on a high note; in his final season the Firebirds went 23-7-2 and 11-1 in conference play.
He is leaving the job with a 168-65-3 record at Chaparral.
But he understood when he took the job what would be expected of him. Dawson had left behind a legacy that left Chaparral fans expecting big things each season.
When Dawson ‘retired’ from the high school game he had become the state’s all-time winningest baseball coach with 773 victories. His teams dominated the early years of a new century, winning state championships from 2003 through 2006 and during his career at Chaparral his teams won or tied for 24 region championships, captured eight state titles, and finished runner-up for four more titles.
In 2007, Dawson had knee replacement surgery and then surgery on his ankle less than two years later. It was the ankle surgery and the follow-up pain that he dealt with using prescription medications that finally took its toll and prompted his decision to give up the strenuous life of a head coach.
There’s no chance of turning the program back over to Dawson since he moved to Prescott when taking over the Yavapai coaching job and, at 77 years of age, it’s unlikely he would have any interest in getting back into the high school grind.
As the new athletic director, Messina will be able to hire his successor. That’s a daunting task in itself because he knows he will be handing over the keys to a program that is steeped in tradition – with a fan base accustomed to filling its trophy case with championship hardware.
That responsibility might be almost as stressful as his last seven years on the bench.