By T. Scott Boatright
Baseball coaching styles can be either proactive or reactive.
Proactive coaching is a philosophy for coaches and teams to help intentionally create character-based cultures to develop a roadmap for leadership and strong-minded confidence to create players who are fearless competitors in whatever they face in life.
Grambling State Legend Wilbert Ellis is a College Baseball Hall of Fame coach just as well known for his work in the community and especially youth, conducting clinics teaching hardball skills at the same time as offering instruction on the importance of life skills such as staying in school and completing their educations, staying away from drugs and alcohol and becoming productive citizens upon entering adulthood.
And it’s that proactive approach in working with youth that has led Ellis to become named as one of the incoming inductees into the Louisiana Justice Hall of Fame.
Induction day is set for June 3 in Baton Rouge. The festivities will be at 9:30 a.m. with a free, open to the public reception at the Angola Museum, located just outside the gates of the historic prison at the end of Highway 66 in West Feliciana Parish.
Then at 10 a.m. that morning, a ribbon-cutting ceremony will occur at the museum to reveal exhibit cases on the lives and accomplishments of the inductees.
The awards banquet and formal reception will be held starting at 5 p.m. at Lod Cook Alumni Center, located at 3838 West Lakeshore Drive, Baton Rouge. Pre-purchased $100 tickets are required to attend the banquet and formal ceremonies (ticket price includes catered meal).
For tickets and information, contact Rolanda Robinson at the Angola Museum at 225-655-2592.
Ellis was an assistant under Grambling President/Coach Ralph Waldo Emerson Jones for 17 seasons before taking over as head coach in 1978 and guiding the Tigers to eight divisional championships, three Southwestern Athletic Conference championships and five NCAA regional appearances while amassing a record of 745-462-1 over 26 seasons and becoming the fourth all-time winningest college coach in Louisiana behind Jones, LSU’s Skip Bertman, and Southern’s Roger Cador.
The seven-time SWAC Coach of the Year (1978, 83, 84, 85, 91, 98 and 99) won numerous other awards over the years and was recognized by the Louisiana State Legislature on five occasions because of his outstanding coaching record and service to Grambling State University.
Ellis will be making his 31st trek this summer to the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska, where he will be conducting his annual youth baseball clinic that also includes teaching life skills to the young people attending the camps.
“I knew I wanted to coach since I was 9 years old,” Ellis said. “At that age, my mom was always cooking food and having me bring it to shut-ins and those in need. My dad was always doing everything he could to help others. They taught me that.
“Then the College World Series in 1990 asked me to come up there and conduct a YES clinic as part of the World Series. It was about teaching the sport, but it’s also about teaching those campers how to do the right thing and become good citizens and never get into any kind of trouble where they would have to face legal issues. Then I started conducting the Wilbert Ellis Baseball Clinics here at Fraser Field in Ruston.
“We’ve been doing that for about 10 years now and hope to finally get back out there this summer after missing the last two because of the COVID pandemic. It still goes back to 9-year-old me wanting to coach my friends and help them be better people. Helping direct youth in the right direction is just who I’ve always been.
Retired educator and Grambling graduate Dr. Huey Perry, a member of the Louisiana Justice Hall of Fame Board of Directors, long knew of Ellis’ work with youth and along with Michael Wynne (Chair of the Louisiana Justice Hall of Fame Committee for the Louisiana State Penitentiary Museum Foundation Board) nominated Ellis to earn the honor he will be presented with in June.
“Coach Ellis’ nomination for induction into the Louisiana Justice Hall of Fame is based on the decades of work he has done with the young people of Lincoln Parish through his baseball clinics to provide them wholesome opportunities for recreation and life skills development,” Perry said. “These are valuable contributions to young people in their own right. But add to that that these opportunities steer young people away from getting involved with criminal activities and Coach Ellis’s work in this regard becomes a monumental contribution to society. Coach Ellis provides his clinics predominantly in Lincoln Parish but he also conducts clinics throughout Louisiana and the nation.
“With his highly successful clinics, he provides a deterrent to young people from becoming involved in the criminal justice system. But he also helps young people get their lives back on the right once they are incarcerated. Coach Ellis has a long-established tradition of being invited by the Sheriff of Lincoln Parish to talk to the inmates in the Lincoln Parish jail.
“He tells young people that they are not forgotten and tells them what they need to do to turn their lives around and become productive, law-abiding, tax-paying citizens, and that starts with accepting Christ in their lives. Sports celebrities can be more effective in delivering that message to the incarcerated — perhaps better than law enforcement officials, family members, and sometimes clergy.”
For Ellis, it isn’t about the glory.
“I don’t expect to be honored for doing what I believe is the right thing to do and the way I try to teach youth to act,” Ellis said. “I feel the same about my work with the Boys and Girls Clubs of North Louisiana and the Men Standing Strong for DART. I am humbled and honored to be presented with such a prestigious honor. But that isn’t why I do what I do. I do it for the youth and their futures.”
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