EASTON — Durrie Hayes, the Oxford boy who became a coaching legend, leading the Easton High and Chesapeake College softball teams to heights they never before reached, passed away early Thursday, April 2, 2020, at Talbot Hospice after a brief battle with cancer. He was 70.
“He was one of a kind,” texted Jay Cappa, an assistant coach for Hayes during his entire 13-year career as head coach at Easton. “As long as we speak his name he will never truly die.”
“There’s a huge hole in my heart right now,” former Easton and Chesapeake assistant coach Jay Chance wrote in a text yesterday morning.
“I think it’s safe to say Mr. Hayes put Easton softball on the map,” said Chance, who presented Hayes during the induction ceremony for Easton High’s inaugural Athletic Hall of Fame class last September. “I know from being in softball circles, Easton’s softball team was feared state wide. I think Durrie had a lot of talent. He had a lot of talent in his players. But I think what he did, he was the catalyst that put in all together to make it happen.”
Hayes was forever playing baseball in his native Oxford as a child, starting in the morning and then taking a break for an afternoon swim. A 1968 graduate of Easton High, Hayes was a longtime player and coach in men’s modified pitch softball on the Eastern Shore. He was coaching Little League baseball in Oxford in 1989 with Jimmy Greenhawk and Turk Bradley, when Greenhawk announced he was going to Easton High to coach girls’ softball.
“I was like, “What are you talking (about)?’” Hayes told the crowd during his hall-of-fame acceptance speech. “‘Girls’ softball?’”
Greenhawk asked Hayes to be an assistant. Hayes agreed. When Greenhawk stepped down after the 1994 season, Easton Athletic Director Ted Johnson hired Hayes as head coach. Over the next 13 seasons (1995-2007), Hayes led the Warriors to an impressive 232-46 record that included seven Bayside Conference titles, six regional crowns and three state championships.
Embedded in that 13-year span was an eight-year stretch (2000-07), where the Warriors compiled a 162-18 slate that included a 23-0 season in 2004 — that unbeaten streak was extended to 30 games the following year — three state championships, and two state runner-up finishes.
“It takes a lot to put a team together,” Chance said. “But then on game day you have so much more to manage. You’ve got the situations that happen and players get hurt. But he was always ready and he had always done his homework. So I dubbed him the best damn game-day coach ever.”
Hayes had an sense he would not coach at Easton after the 2007 season because Talbot County’s long-standing policy of giving teachers within the school system first preference when it came to hiring coaches. Jan Greenhawk took the helm of the Warrior softball program in 2008.
Dr. Ed Baker, a longtime professor at Chesapeake College and Bayside Conference umpire, had just finished an Easton game in 2007, when he learned Hayes might be available to coach.
“I didn’t think anything of it at first,” Baker said. “But then the next day I bumped into (Chesapeake Athletic Director) Frank Szymanski and he said, ‘We just lost our softball coach.’ She had just given him her resignation and he said, ‘I guess we’ve got to get a committee together.’ I said, ‘No. You don’t need any committee.’ I said ‘I will have for you the best softball coach you will ever want to hire.’ And he said, ‘Who?’ And I said, ‘Durrie Hayes at Easton High School.’
“I said, ‘I’m going to call him and see if he can come up here today after work. And if he comes, you’ll hire him no questions asked,’” Baker continued. “And then he said to me, ‘I don’t really know Durrie.’ And I said, ‘Well, you know me. And if you know me then take my word for it and hire him.’ And he came up and walked into Frank’s office and talked to him, and did all the stuff you’re supposed to do, and signed the papers right then and there. And of course we were blessed to have him.”
Chesapeake went 6-17 in Hayes’ first year as head coach. It would never have another losing season under Hayes’ direction, beginning in 2009, when he led the Skipjacks to the Maryland Junior College and Region XX championships for their first-ever appearance in the National JUCO World Series.
“I didn’t really know Durrie until Doctor Bake introduced us,” Szymanski said. “Obviously he took us to the next level. We had some teams prior to his arrival that were competitive, did a lot of good things. And then when he arrived he took us to the next level.”
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).
Hayes stepped away as Chesapeake’s head coach for the 2019 season, but returned for this season, and had already put together an outstanding recruiting class when he was diagnosed with cancer in mid-January. Russell Miles was coaching the team in Hayes’ absence until the season was ended in February because of the coronavirus.