Iowa’s winningest active high school baseball coach has decided he’s no longer going to be active.
Lewis Central coach Lee Toole has announced his retirement from the sport after an illustrious 37-year run at New Hartford, Thomas Jefferson and L.C. The 59-year-old finished with a career record of 909-474 (.657), which is eighth on the state’s alltime coaches’ wins list.
Toole will remain a middle school guidance counselor at Lewis Central. He said he’ll likely coach one more year of eighth-grade football.
The Titans recently completed a 23-14 baseball season and a Hawkeye Ten Conference championship.
“It’s been going through my mind the last couple of years,’’ he said. “It had kind of been getting stronger last summer, going into this one. I just felt the time was right. With the type of season we had and the success we had – winning the conference, kind of unexpectedly … it just felt like, hey, I’ve been doing this 20 years at Lewis Central. I just thought it was the right time, and I didn’t leave the cupboard bare for the next guy, whoever comes in, so I felt good about that.’’
A 1977 Mason City High School graduate, Toole earned his bachelor’s degree from Northern Iowa. He coached three years at New Hartford in northeast Iowa before a 14-year stint at T.J., which included a 1993 Class 4-A state championship led by the pitching of current Yellow Jacket coach Tom Giles.
Toole started coaching at Lewis Central in 2000, and led the school to state appearances in 2001, 2002 and 2005. He has been extremely active in the Iowa High School Baseball Coaches Association, which does an outstanding job of promoting the sport in the state.
Toole said he’ll miss many things about coaching baseball, even working on the field, as he had an interest in landscape architecture from an early age. But the kids are at the top of his list.
“The kids obviously are No. 1, working with young people and developing them,’’ he said. “The game of baseball has been my entire life. The people of Lewis Central have been outstanding. All the places that I’ve coached at have been outstanding and have supported me.’’
Lee and Jeanine Toole have three children: Justin, Eric and Lindsey. Justin and Eric both played baseball at Iowa and continued professionally in the minor leagues, while Lindsey also was a multi-sport athlete at Lewis Central. She teaches in Omaha and lives in Council Bluffs with her husband and two children.
Eric, 26, lives in Iowa City and is the operations manager at Diamond Dreams, an indoor baseball facility there. He has coaching aspirations. Justin, 32, is the hitting coach for the Class AA Akron RubberDucks and an assistant director of player development for the Cleveland Indians organization in the offseason.
“Obviously where I am today has a lot to do with him,’’ Justin Toole said. “He’s so unselfish when it comes to his contributions, not only to the city of Council Bluffs but also the state of Iowa with the coaches’ association. He really cares about the game and has done everything that he can to help grow the game.’’
Lee Toole said he hasn’t had a summer off since he got out of college, and is looking forward to the flexibility to travel and spend time with his family and two grandchildren.
But when you’ve done something for so many years, the transition will take some adjustment. Toole said when his coaching staff started with a player as a freshman, “we always hoped that we’d build a good young man that would be prepared for life beyond high school.
“It makes you feel good that you’ve had some influence on young people now in their adult lives. It’s cool, but yet it’s going to be missed.’’
The outgoing Titan coach said his current and former assistant coaches and players are too numerous to thank individually. He said he’s been humbled by their emails and texts in recent days.
Justin Toole said his father’s legacy stretches far beyond the field of play.
“I think sometimes the impact that he’s had on people will show up long after his career has ended,’’ he said. “As his son, I’m proud of him and I love him to death for everything that he’s taught me.’’