One of the top stories we’ve had recently was Frank Huston’s interview looking back at his career. It hit the paper Friday, and the online readership underscores the effect he had on generations of Ottumwans.
His record of service to Ottumwa, specifically to the girls’ high school softball team, is almost difficult to believe. In 2019 it can seem the existence of girls sports can almost be taken for granted. That wasn’t the case a couple generations ago. Frank Huston’s career spans that change from a time when girls sports were fighting for existence to a time when they are recognized as athletes in their own rights.
That would be enough of a change for most to be able to say they had seen a lot. But Huston has literally been involved in every step of that transition for the softball program. Ottumwa softball has never known another coach.
Would Ottumwa have a softball team without Huston? The answer is most likely yes. But it would not be the Bulldogs as we know them. It would more likely have been a program that, by this point, had gone through a couple coaches, one that more closely resembles the generic experience of a softball program in Iowa.
Instead, we speak of the Bulldogs as being a team with a distinct legacy. It is the heart of the Huston coaching tree: former players and assistants who learned the game from him and went on to become coaches elsewhere. And in that fashion Huston has had an outsized effect not just in Ottumwa, but on softball in Iowa.
Last week, Huston was back at the field that bears his name. He said the decision to retire was not a sudden one, that the arguments for retirement were becoming stronger each year. He knew his decision before the season, but chose not to place that weight on his players.
The decision to hold off on an announcement shouldn’t really be a surprise. Huston guessed, probably correctly, that knowing ahead of time would have made the season a sort of farewell tour for him, rather than a special season for his players.
Huston won 1,698 games as Ottumwa’s coach. His teams made the state tournament 28 times. Two ended in titles.
What people will remember won’t be the numbers, though. They’ll remember stories, tales about their years playing for Huston or coaching alongside him. There will be more than a few coaches from other schools with stories about how Huston got the best out of his team, squeezing a win here and there where it just shouldn’t have been possible.
The legacies people leave are more than just facts and figures. Numbers don’t tell you personalities. Winning percentages don’t either. The true legacies are far more often in those stories, in the memories you created for people. Legacies are people you have influenced.
And, viewed in that light, Huston has left as big a legacy as anyone.