Passion for his field, love for his players were driving motivators for coach

Hesston College baseball action photo

by Andrew Sharp

For the next six months or so, anyone needing to track down the Hesston College baseball coach is advised to first check Oswald Field, home of the Larks since the 1997 spring season. There, one man has dedicated countless hours maintaining one of the finest baseball facilities in the region. Following the 2011 spring season, however, a new coach will take the reins of the Larks’ baseball program, marking the end of a remarkable era that saw tremendous growth on the field and touched the lives of countless players on the Hesston campus.

Longtime Hesston College athletic director and baseball coach Art Mullet will retire at the conclusion of this academic year, his 30th on the Hesston campus. During his time at Hesston, Mullet taught a variety of classes in the physical education department, witnessed drastic athletic facilities expansions and improvements, gave precision and care to a baseball field, a program and its players, and developed lasting relationships with numerous coaches, players, parents, faculty and staff.

This job was not Mullet’s first in intercollegiate athletics. Following a four-year professional baseball career in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization, he lived in Harrisonburg, Va., where he pioneered the first intercollegiate baseball program at sister institution Eastern Mennonite University. After his days in Virginia, Mullet moved to his hometown of Berlin, Ohio, where he taught and coached a variety of sports at Hiland High School.  Then, in the fall of 1980, Mullet came to Kansas to help resurrect a baseball program that had been dormant the previous season.

The move to Kansas took us away from family, which was difficult, Mullet said. But we had friends here and I was anticipating a new challenge. There was the anxiety that comes with starting a new job, but the role was similar to the one I held at EMU so I had confidence it would be a smooth transition.

Upon arrival at Hesston, Mullet first took office in Hess Hall, one of the earliest buildings on the Hesston campus that would soon be taken down. Yost Center, home of Larks’ basketball and volleyball, opened two years later. From his new office, Mullet witnessed several athletic facility upgrades that he lists as the most significant changes to the athletic department during his tenure. The Campus Activities Center, a multi-purpose gym that compliments Yost and serves the general student body as much as athletes, was the next major project, completed in 1991. On-campus tennis courts, baseball and soccer fields were also significant additions. The number of athletic programs itself has grown, from five in 1980 to the current total of 11 following this year’s reintroduction of men’s and women’s cross country.

The growth of the athletic department and his baseball program has been gratifying. Improvements and upkeep of facilities speak to Mullet’s care and precision, and it is in the care of the baseball facility itself that one can see his passion for his players and the game intersect.

Since I was a young boy I’ve enjoyed working with lawns and ball fields, Mullet said. As a player, I recall how much I enjoyed playing on a great diamond, and I’ve always wanted my players to have that same privilege. To maintain a facility at a high level requires a huge amount of time and effort but the rewards have been well worth it. In some ways it’s been a form of therapy for me.

The baseball field dedication in the fall of 1996 was a highlight of Mullet’s career. Other memorable moments include his 1992 team winning a school-record 24 wins and coming within one win of the National Little College Athletic Association championship. His teams later took home National Junior College Athletic Association regional titles in 1998, 1999, 2000, 2002, 2006 and 2007. The 2002 team defeated Phoenix (Ariz.) College in the first round of district play and finished one win shy of the NJCAA national tournament.

Undoubtedly the most gratifying aspects of his job, however, have been found in the shared experience of the more than 300 players he coached.

Coaching kids who genuinely enjoy the game, who work hard, and care about their teammates has been an extremely gratifying part of my time here, Mullet said. We’ve had several players come through the program who came to us with a limited baseball background but who worked hard and developed as players. To see them enjoy the game and experience a certain degree of success has been rewarding for me.

Mullet’s love of the game and his players has rubbed off on countless numbers of his young men who laced up their spikes for the Larks. For many, Mullet served as a mentor and friend as much as a coach.

To say that playing for Art changed my life would be an incredible understatement, said Dave Gora ’99, Charleston W.Va. He took a kid who had begun to lose his way and made me the man I am today. I knew from the moment I met him that he was a special man. Art was a friend, coach, mentor, and a father to me during my time at Hesston. There is no doubt in my mind that God led me to Hesston so that Art could change my life. His love for the athletes he groomed and the entire Hesston family is irreplaceable.

Over 30 years Art has had a significant impact on Hesston College athletics at all levels, said vice president of student life Lamar Roth. “Many count it a privilege to have worked with and developed close personal relationships with him, and I include myself as one of those. Art will be missed, but has a well-deserved transition in front of him.”

So what’s next for someone who has given the majority of his professional career to working with student athletes?

My wife Sharon and I have been basically operating on an academic calendar for 43 years, so it will be nice to have some flexibility in the spring and fall, Mullet said. We’re looking forward to traveling more, visiting our children and grandchildren. Recruiting, mentoring, counseling, and coaching my players has been very satisfying, yet it also involves a lot of stress and energy, and it will be nice to have days without schedules.

In a few short months, Mullet will lead the Larks through a spring schedule for the last time. Until then, another offseason awaits – and with it time for evaluation of the fall season, planning for the spring and maybe a little fieldwork before the winter sets in.