The legacy of Bear River softball coach Calvin Bingham – Cache Valley Daily

Bear River Bears softball. Photo by Lorene Hale

GARLAND – Of all the accomplishments in sports, the most validating is undoubtedly becoming league champion, earning the right to hoist a trophy and craft a championship ring to keep as a reminder of that achievement. Most never fulfil that goal. Some are able, even fewer manage on multiple occasions.

Calvin Bingham

Calvin Bingham has done it 11 times.

In 24 years at the helm of the Bear River softball team, Bingham has led his team to 505 total wins and 11 Utah state softball championships.

“Kinda unbelievable isn’t it?” Bingham said in an interview on the Full Court Press on 106.9 FM, 1390 AM, The FAN.

In all of those years as coach, Bingham never had a losing season. Well, almost never. As his son dutifully reminds him, that COVID-19 season was cut short just after the Bears had dropped their season opener to Snow Canyon.

So that’s one 0-1 “losing season” to 23 years with a winning record, technically speaking.

But just prior to the start of the 2023 playoffs, Bingham met with the school’s principal, AJ Gilmore, and informed him that he planned on retiring at the end of Bear River’s run in the playoffs. Bingham wanted to keep it quiet for the time being, but it was essentially official. Win or lose in the playoffs, Bingham’s 24th as coach of the Bears would be his last.

As for why Bingham felt it was time, there was a simple answer, and a more complicated answer. The simple one?

“I’m tired of bus rides,” Bingham said.

The longer answer delved a bit more into how Bingham felt about how he wants to spend his time going forward.

“It just seemed like the job was getting bigger and bigger and bigger,” Bingham said. “I retired from Box Elder School District 13 years ago but kept coaching. I just thought it was time. I’d like to spend a little more time with my wife and my grandkids.”

It’s not just 24 years of softball Bingham is finally getting his rest from, it’s 41 total years of coaching both wrestling and softball. Bingham’s coaching career actually began in wrestling, which he also did for Bear River. He filled that role for more than a decade but it overlapped with his role as an assistant principal. Eventually he had to choose between doing the two and chose to focus on being an administrator. Fate wasn’t content with Bingham staying out of coaching, though, and years down the line, another opportunity opened up.

The predecessor to Bingham as softball coach retired in 2000 creating a job opening. The principal at the time, Karl Starr (a different one from the year Bingham stepped away from the wrestling job) offered the position to Bingham.

“[Starr] came to me and said ‘If you want to apply for this softball job, I’ll support you 100 percent,’” Bingham said.

As for why Bingham would be interested in moving from wrestling to softball, it’s because he’s always had a love for fast-pitch softball. At least since his early years, and it blossomed as he got older.

“I was introduced to it when I was just a young boy back when the LDS Church had a program, they used to have fast-pitch [league] for young men,” Bingham said.

So when Starr offered his support, it wasn’t too difficult of a decision for Bingham and he took over the program.

And 24 years worth of Bear River softball players are all the better for it. Bingham led the program to record-setting heights. The 11 championships are tied for the most by any softball program with the five straight titles from 2008 to 2012 standing alone as a record (along with the 24-game win streak in state tournament games that powered the five straight championships). Seven UHSAA records were set by Bear River players (two of which still stand) with the Bears as a team setting two records (one of which stands today).

In short, Bingham will be a difficult man to replace. But in the moments after he informally submitted his retirement there wasn’t time to get into that. There remained one more long bus ride and one last run in the playoffs. Bear River had to try and, unbeknownst to the players, win a final championship for their longtime coach. And they managed to pull it off, defeating Ridgeline in the 4A championship series. The Bears dropped the first game 3-2 but swept a game two/three double-header the next day by scores of 8-4 and 12-3.

That series went beyond a simple battle for a championship and even a battle between Region 11 teams. This year’s rivalry between the two 4A powerhouses echoed, or perhaps was a shadow or mirror of, last year’s matchups between the two sides. In the 2021-22 season, Bear River swept the regular season series between the Bears and Riverhawks, only to lose the championship series in two games. Of that upset loss to Ridgeline a year ago, Bingham sad he “had an impression” that his team hadn’t quite been ready enough for the state playoffs.

“It just seemed like we weren’t focused like we needed to be,” Bingham said. “And Ridgeline played really well and beat us. It was disappointing where we’d beat them both times in region.”

But getting back to the title game wouldn’t be as simple as running things back again. The 2022 runner-up team lost a lot of its talent to graduation and the 2023 team was forced to rely on a lot of underclassmen. Five of the team’s starters by the end of the year were sophomores, two juniors and the other two seniors.

“We were really young this year,” Bingham said. “It took us a while to get organized, find out where we wanted to put people.”

Bear River cruised through much of the regular season, only seeing major bumps with the pair of region losses to Ridgeline. But the Bears were the No. 2 seed in the 4A playoffs, courtesy of being ranked second — behind only the Riverhawks — in the final RPI rankings. And following a dominant playoff run, Bear River was again face-to-face with Ridgeline in the championship series.

After losing game one of the championship series, Bingham said he didn’t fret even though it meant his side had to sweep a Saturday double-header against a team they had now lost to three times this season without a single win. A lot of that confidence came from his many years of experience where he won championships in a variety of ways.

“The first year we won state back in 2001 we had to come through the losers bracket and we played Tooele [in the championship game],” Bingham said. “We beat them 1-0 in the first game and in the second game we beat them 7-1. Two years ago when we played Tooele we lost the first game 5-0. Beat them the next day 4-2 and then the last game we beat them 14-6. So, I felt like if we could get that first game on Saturday (against Ridgeline) I felt like we would win because we’d be on a roll. And that’s really what happened.”

As special as each season and each championship will be to Bingham in hindsight, the final holds a lot of significance. It allowed Bingham to go out a winner. Few are able to accomplish that.

“A great way to end, at least for me. It was very satisfying,” Bingham said. “We had a great season.”

When it comes to what’s next, there will be more softball but now it’ll mostly be watching it instead of coaching.

“I love to go to ballgames and take my grandkids and spend time with them. That’s kind of what we plan on,” Bingham said.

Bingham spent several decades of his life teaching the next generations the game of softball. And the next chapter of his life will give him the time to fully take in the fruits of those 24 years of work.

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