From the Bench: Already with Two Hall of Famers on Bench, BHS Baseball Adds to Coaching Prestige

By Jeff Toquinto on February 04, 2018 from Sports Blog via

Ever wonder why Bridgeport’s baseball team has won four-straight Class AA state titles? Ever wonder why they have six total championships, constant 30-win seasons, regional and sectional titles that can’t even be displayed they're so numerous?
First, of course, they have talent. Coach Robert Shields has never denied his kids are what make the program go from hard work to wanting to win and working to win.
Second is Shields. He’s not only a state coach of the year, but he’s in the West Virginia Baseball Hall of Fame and was recently named the regional coach of the year for several states. He’s done nothing but win for more than 30 years in the dugout.
Third, you have an assistant named Pete Iquinto. How many head coaches can turn to their right and have another hall of fame coach on hand who has his own state title to his credit? How many can turn around and find a person that knows every particular about the coaching profession inside an out? Few if any have the luxury Shields has with Iquinto and, again, he has no problem singing his praises.
Finally, you have a two-pronged attack with your younger players. The first prong is to develop a junior varsity program that gets young kids as many innings possible before they get called up to varsity where they’re already game-tested. The second prong is to find someone you can trust to lead that squad.
Enter Chris Colombo.
While many know Colombo as the assistant for the Tribe for the last eight years and an assistant for 25 years prior to that with Notre Dame, a lot of folks don’t know he’s the one that handles the junior varsity program. Because of that, it seems each year the Indians’ talent cupboard is never bare and Shields, yet again, has absolutely no problem singing the praises of Colombo.
“The most important thing with Chris is he’s a loyal assistant and that’s extremely valuable,” said Shields. “From a baseball standpoint, how he develops our kids through the jayvee program has been key to our recent success. People don’t realize that with a jayvee team Chris has to be there with them and they try to play a full 25-game schedule or more a year and then, if it doesn’t conflict with our schedule, he’s in our dugout. Chris loves the game and I hope people recognize what he means to our program here and what he’s meant to baseball in Harrison County and the state.”
Colombo’s peers are aware of his time giving to the game for the last 33 years. In fact, a week ago from Friday, Colombo was recognized as the West Virginia High School Baseball Coaches Association Dinner in Charleston.
There, he was named as the 2017 winner of the James Sexton Award. It is given, not necessarily annually and not necessarily to one person, to the person considered as a top assistant coach in the State of West Virginia. Shields said the honor is voted on by the Hall of Fame members and the Coaches Association Committee.
The honor is named after the long-time assistant coach at Van High School who passed away. The inaugural class was announced in 2009. Only one other local coach, Larry Ritter of Liberty in 2013, has been honored with the award.
“Any time you get an award, particularly if it comes from your peers that you work with and against day in and day out, it makes it a little more special,” said Colombo. “I was truly humbled to receive this.”
Colombo has been around sports in the area for years coaching football and basketball at various levels; most of it at Notre Dame High School as well as at Liberty.
“I coached baseball because I loved it. At Notre Dame my first two or three years I didn’t get paid, but that was fine because I did it to help Mark Starkey,” said Colombo. “When (the late) Joe Marra took over as principal he realized I wasn’t getting paid and told me they had to pay me something, which I was fine with too.”
It’s safe to say he gets a paycheck at Bridgeport. But like most coaches, the time involved doesn’t produce much of an hourly rate. For Colombo, that’s not a problem. And because of that, the Indians have benefitted.
“I can tell you that what he does speaks volumes to our success to give those kids the opportunity to not only play a full schedule, but to travel as well. Chris takes 13 or 14 kids all over the state,” said Shields. “Some years he’s had a volunteer assistant and a lot of times he’s on his own in places such as Charleston and Jefferson County.
“That does wonders for us because in our area a lot of teams don’t play a full jayvee schedule or even have a jayvee team,” Shields continued. “We play 20-plus and sometimes more than 25 as long as weather doesn’t become an issue. I can’t emphasize enough how much that helps this program.”
When told of Shields’ praise, Colombo shrugged it off. Basically, he deflected it back to the head man.
“We’ve had a lot of success and I can’t take credit for it because that’s Robert’s doing making sure the junior varsity program is always there,” said Colombo. “He has his hand in everything and makes it all work. Last year was one of our lowest amount of games at 21 and that was because our end-of-the-year tournament was rained out … The one thing all the coaches agree on is that it’s imperative to get those kids as much playing time as possible and I think you can see the benefit.”
Shields doesn’t disagree. And he added he’s a nice addition on the bench when the varsity is in action as well.
“He’s got knowledge of the game and as a long-time assistant he can handle things at times differently as opposed to the head coach, which has worked for us,” said Shields. “It’s nice to be able to ask him to work with the outfielders, or the baserunners or work alone with some kids on bunting and he just handles it and you don’t worry about it. I assure you I’m fortunate to have him as an assistant just as sure as I’m certain he deserves this honor. We’re glad he’s part of our team.”
The feeling is mutual.
“I can’t tell you how happy I am to be a part of Bridgeport’s baseball program and work with the kids,” said Colombo. “It’s also a pleasure to work with Robert and Pete every day too.”
Editor's Note: Top photo shows Chris Colombo, right, with Pete Iquinto, right and Robert Shields during a 2017 baseball game. In the second photo, Colombo works with J.T. Harris as the Tribe's first base coach and talks with an umpire during a game this past season. Bottom photo shows Colombo after receiving the James Sexton Award. Top three photos by Bottom photo courtesy of Robert Shields.

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