Chesapeake College head softball coach Durrie Hayes chats with Courtney Stubbs, left, Kassidy Willis (2), and Anne Gerwitz (4) during a 2017 home game.

He could change a pitcher’s throwing motion, a batter’s swing, an infielder’s positioning, all for the good of the team.

His preparation gave his players the opportunity to change games and gave him the ability to change programs, taking them to places they’d never been before.

And on occasion, Durrie Hayes could even change a law.

“He applied to get a swimming pool and the (Oxford) board of appeals turned him down,” said David Thompson, who in the late 1980s was the town attorney for Oxford, where Hayes grew up and at the time still resided. “And so Durrie ran to be a commissioner, was elected commissioner, persuaded his two co-commissioners to change the law, and he then built his swimming pool.”

Thompson laughed at that memory of Hayes, his longtime friend — widely known for his softball coaching successes at Easton High and Chesapeake College — who passed away early Thursday, April 2, 2020, at Talbot Hospice after a brief battle with cancer. He was 70.

The son of Ruth and Louis E. Hayes, Jr., Durrie Allan Hayes grew up in Oxford, where he learned baseball under the tutelage of his father, who helped found Homerun Baker Little League. Durrie Hayes was forever playing baseball with his fellow Oxford boys, which included Tommy Bringman, Richard Colbourn, Turk Bradley, Tommy Cottingham, Buddy Loscomb, Glen ‘Rabbit’ Slaughter, Richard Abbott, Dave Bradley, Jim Sinderman, Jim Forrest, and Billy and Ronnie Baker.

“We went every day. Not most days. We went every day behind what’s now the community center in Oxford and we played baseball,” Hayes told the audience during his acceptance speech at the induction ceremony for Easton High’s inaugural Hall of Fame class last September. “Until it got too hot and then we’d go swimming. Next morning, we’re playing baseball. We had wiffle-ball leagues, et cetera, et cetera. Just (played) all the time and you get better when you’re doing that. That all laid the foundation of how to play the game.”

Hayes attended Easton High, where he played baseball and graduated in 1968. He continued playing at Harford Junior College and Chesapeake College before earning his degree and graduating from Salisbury State in 1974.

He returned to Oxford and was working at Oxford Boatyard, when he applied to have a pool built at his home, was denied, ran for office, and won a spot as an Oxford town commissioner in July 1989. Hayes served two terms in Oxford, the second as president.

“Fond memories of him running commissioners’ meetings,” Thompson said of Hayes during a phone interview from Denver last week. “Fond memories of him showing his mettle, his backbone in dealing with tough issues.

“A friend of ours, (Saints Peter and Paul High boys’ head soccer coach) G.R. Cannon, made the comment about Durrie as a coach,” Thompson continued. “He never sugar-coated anything. And I think that’s one of the reasons why he was such a good coach, a great friend and a great colleague. Because he looked at stuff, analyzed it and called it like he saw it. He didn’t pander. He didn’t sugar-coat. He was a straight-shooter.”

Thompson and Hayes often conferred after commissioners’ meetings. Sensing Hayes was getting restless working at the boatyard, Thompson offered him a job as a chief title examiner for the Talbot Title Company, a business started by Thompson and Sid Campen, who would go on to become a Talbot County circuit court judge.

“I said, ‘Well you know what? You’re a smart guy,’” Thompson said of Hayes. “‘You’re great with numbers. How’d you like to come work for my title company and be my chief title examiner?’ And he accepted the job. And for at least five years, he ran Talbot Title Company, did all the title work. Did all the settlements. He was a litigation paralegal with me on cases that involved title work and that kind of stuff. He was good. He had a brain in his head and he was a worker.”

Now retired, Campen agreed.

“He had no prior experience, but he was such a quick study he picked it up fast,” Campen said. “He did a good job; very intelligent.”

Hayes never lost his love for baseball. He played and coached in men’s modified-pitch leagues for several years, and was inducted into the Maryland Modified Softball Hall of Fame in 2001.

He also coached Little League in Oxford, and was coaching with Jimmy Greenhawk and Turk Bradley in 1989, when Greenhawk announced he was going to be the new head softball coach at Easton High. Hayes was bewildered.

“I was like, ‘What are you talking (about)?’” Hayes told the crowd during his Easton Hall-of-Fame speech. “‘Girls’ softball?’”

Greenhawk offered Hayes a spot as an assistant coach. Hayes accepted and remained in that role until 1994, when Greenhawk stepped down.

Though a strong candidate to succeed Greenhawk, Hayes initially didn’t apply for Easton’s head coaching vacancy because he had taken a new job as Director of Economic Development for Talbot County and didn’t think he could get the time off to coach.

“When Jimmy Greenhawk gave it up, I went, ‘Well who’s going to take the coaching job?’” Jay Cappa asked rhetorically. “So I put my name in and I’d asked Donnie Dulin to help me. Durrie said, ‘I can’t do it.’ He said, ‘If I can come out and help, I’ll come out and help.’

“By the first of the year (1995), Durrie came to me and said, ‘Look, I’ve talked to them (the county). I can do this.’” Cappa continued. “I said, ‘OK, I’m withdrawing my name.’ I went there and said, ‘I’m pulling my name back because Durrie’s going to do it.’ Then Durrie said, ‘Well how about helping me?’ And I said. ‘That works for me.’”

Hayes was named head coach, Cappa assistant. Over the next 13 seasons (1995-2007), the Warriors compiled a 232-46 record that included seven Bayside Conference titles, six regional crowns, three state championships, and three state runner-up finishes.

“He was a great leader,” said Jay Chance, who was an assistant to Hayes at Easton and Chesapeake. “He inspired them. He wasn’t easy on them. He was hard on them. He got the best out of them. He was straight up with you and told you what your assets were, and what you needed to work on, and where you stood in the pecking order of things. But he could see talent and he could put the talent where it needed to be.”

During the bulk of those 13 seasons, Hayes was also handling the job as the county’s economic development director.

“It was a really difficult role when he had it; it’s probably still really a difficult role,” said Dr. Blenda Armistead, who was county manager while Hayes was economic development director. “But it was political in the sense that there were all kinds of different opinions about what should be done, or whether anything should be done. We still have an ongoing debate about growth in this county.

“And there wasn’t a strong consensus about what should be done,” Armistead continued. “Some jobs you walk into and it’s really clear what you are to do and how you are to do it. Durrie’s job was much more open-ended. So he had a tough road to navigate in terms of dealing with lots of opinions, and lots of different kinds of people. The nature of his job was that he was always running into obstacles or issues, and he would just keep a positive attitude, maybe just taking a little different direction and keep working at it. And he never gave up. If he were trying to accomplish something, he was persistent. He would keep at it.

“But I thought the world of Durrie.” Armistead said. “He had a really big heart and he truly cared about serving the county. I mean he was full-in, committed all of his energies to doing the best he absolutely could. He’s a great person to work with. He was willing to help other people and he didn’t need to get all the credit. He was very passionate about what he was doing. He was just totally committed to getting the job done.”

Phil Foster, who served on the Talbot County Council for 12 years, including five years while Hayes was director of economic development, said the Oxford native was the right fit during that period.

“He was the right person at the right time, with the right personality,” Foster said. “Because economic development was transitioning from a kind of trophy hunt, where the more businesses you got, the more developments you got, the more shopping centers that were built — those were all trophies — to a different view that, OK, we need to be more selective. We can’t just have unlimited building, particularly in the commercial side, because there aren’t enough people to support massive numbers. There’s only so many McDonalds that a community this size can support. He was really there during that transition, guiding the county through that transition, and I think was a good person to be in that position.”

Hayes resigned as Talbot’s director of economic development in November 2003 and eventually went to work for Venture Title. In May 2007, he coached his final game as Easton’s head softball coach. The Talbot County Board of Education had a policy of giving faculty within the school system first preference when it came to coaching positions. Jan Greenhawk applied and took over as head coach in 2008.

Hayes wasn’t away from the diamond for long. A longtime professor at Chesapeake College, as well as a veteran baseball and softball umpire on the Eastern Shore, Dr. Ed Baker heard of Hayes’s potential availability and quickly told school athletic director Frank Szymanski. Hayes and Szymanski met and the Skipjacks had their new softball coach. Seven years later, Hayes and Szymanski were inducted into Chesapeake’s Hall of Fame.

“Clearly the best thing that ever happened to the Chesapeake program,” Chance said.

The Skipjacks went 6-17 in Hayes’s first year. They never had another losing season under Hayes, starting in 2009, when he led Chesapeake to the Maryland Junior College and Region XX championships for their first appearance in the National JUCO World Series. From 2008-18, Chesapeake went 285-133 under Hayes which included two Maryland JUCO titles (2009, 2006) and a share of two other state championships (2010, 2018).

“I have umpired for over 52 years,” Baker said. “I’ve worked major college games. I had an offer to do the Orioles back in ‘79 when the umpires went on strike and I turned them down. In my tenure, I was able to umpire for two of the absolute best coaches that are around: Brian Femi in baseball and Durrie Hayes in softball.

“What I think of them so much is, number one, their knowledge of the game is second to none,” Baker continued. “And then the key is their ability to get that across to their players so they can execute what they’ve been taught. And that’s an art in coaching that most people don’t realize. You can study and you can learn the sport, and you can do this and you can do that. But can you get your players to execute what you know, what you have taught them? And if you do that then you’re going to be a great coach. And that, in my opinion, was one of Durrie’s absolute greatest strengths. He was the best softball coach that I have seen in my tenure on the Eastern Shore, and beyond that.”

Hayes stepped away as Chesapeake’s head coach after the 2018 season, but returned for this season. He had put together a strong recruiting class, and was preparing for the team’s annual trip to Florida when he was diagnosed with cancer in mid-January.

On Thursday, March 5, Hayes entered Talbot Hospice. He had a steady string of daily visitors that included his brother Lou, Cappa, Jay and Shelley Chance, and Debby Urry, who Hayes said, “turned the last 20 years into the best of my life.”

“He was a true friend,” Campen said. “(My wife) Patti and I were fortunate, when we heard he was not well, we were able to visit with him. He knew he was not going to live much longer and he said, ‘Well Sid, I’ll see you on the other side.’ And as I was leaving I said, ‘Durrie I’ll see you on the other side brother.’ And he said, ‘Don’t be in any hurry.’ His sense of humor was still good even though he knew he wasn’t going to be here much longer.”

Hayes was preceded in death by his parents Ruth and Louis E. Hayes Jr., and sister Shirley Heineman. He is survived by his brother Louis E. Hayes III (Donna) and sister Carole L. Paugh.

To keep Hayes’ legacy alive, the family has established the Durrie Hayes Endowed Softball Scholarship at Chesapeake College. If you would like to contribute, please make checks payable to the Chesapeake College Foundation, PO Box 8, Wye Mills, MD 21679. On the memo line of the check, please put: D. Hayes Scholarship.

Follow me on Twitter @Bill_Haufe. Email me at bhaufe@stardem.com

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