When the Ottumwa softball team finished its consolation game Wednesday at the state softball tournament, it wasn’t just the end of the Bulldogs’ season.
It was the end of an era.
After the game, longtime head coach Frank Huston gathered his players to break the news: after 53 seasons, 46 of them in Ottumwa, he officially announced his retirement. The result of the consolation game, a 4-1 loss to Indianola, hardly seemed to matter. Many players were left in years, and yet still proud that they were able to earn Huston a trip to the state tournament in his final season.
Huston is the only head coach Ottumwa has ever known, having started the program in 1974. He spent 53 years coaching softball, compiling 1,853 wins. The vast majority of those victories–1,698 of them–came in his 46 years coaching the Bulldogs. Huston ranks second nationally all-time in wins, trailing only longtime Cedar Rapids Jefferson coach Larry Niemeyer. Ottumwa’s appearance in Fort Dodge this week gave Huston his 28th trip to state, which tied Niemeyer for the most in the state of Iowa.
Ottumwa captured two state championships during Huston’s tenure, winning in 1976 and again in 1995. Before this season, the Bulldogs’ last appearance at state came in 2013, which was the second of back-to-back trips.
Huston has received numerous awards in his lengthy career. Those include:
- inducted into the National High School Athletic Coaches Association Hall of Fame (2015)
- inducted into the Iowa Softball Coaches Hall of Fame (1994)
- National Softball Coach of the Year (1990)
- IGHSAU Golden Plaque of Distinction (2013)
- OHS Dan Staggs Award (2019)
Huston was more than just a successful softball coach. He’s also a member of the Iowa Girls Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame, and has 396 career wins in that sport. At 76 years old, he was able to go out the way he had often hoped, with one more trip to Fort Dodge.
Ottumwa High now faces the task of replacing the only softball coach it’s ever had. One obvious candidate would seem to be longtime assistant coach Matt Mishler. “Mish” has been Huston’s assistant coach for 20 years, and was named the Iowa Girls Coaches Association’s softball assistant coach of the year in 2017.