“I got all the good stuff from him:” Community remembers former Hampshire Regional coach Dave Grills

  • Former Hampshire Regional coach Dave Grills, shown here in an undated photo, passed away on July 25 at the age of 82. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/MARK BALDWIN

  • Former Hampshire Regional coach Dave Grills passed away on July 25 at the age of 82. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/MARK BALDWIN

  • Former Hampshire Regional coach Dave Grills, shown here in a yearbook page from 1978, passed away on July 25 at the age of 82. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/MARK BALDWIN

  • Earl Tonet, left, of Florence, and David Grills, of Northampton, are shown having dinner together at Miss Florence Diner in 2010. Grills died on July 25, while Tonet passed in 2015. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 8/4/2022 2:52:36 PM

Dave Grills slammed on the school bus’ brakes. His job as Hampshire Regional’s baseball coach interrupted his other job as the bus driver back from a game in Southwick. He stopped on a hill in Southampton on the way back to Westhampton, and went back to quiet down his rowdy charges at the back of the bus.

“He comes back to start yelling at everyone, and the bus starts rolling down the hill,” said Mark Baldwin, the longtime Northampton baseball coach who played for Grills at Hampshire. “It’s one of only a few times I ever saw him get mad.”

Grills managed to calm the ruckus in the back and prevent the bus from rolling into traffic or anyone’s front yard. He did a little bit of everything over nearly 40 years teaching and coaching at Williamsburg High School and its successor Hampshire Regional. He led his teams to Western Massachusetts championships in cross country (1967), basketball (1977) and baseball (1986), the only coach in the state to win sectional titles in three different sports. He’s a member of both the state baseball coach’s hall of fame and Western Mass Baseball Hall of Fame.

“Anything good I’ve ever learned, I got from him. I got all the good stuff from him,” Baldwin said. “He was kind, generous, fair, all those things you want someone to be.”

Grills died July 25 in Westerly, R.I., at age 82, leaving behind generations of students and players – almost all of which he could identify.

“He cared about us. He loved his students,” said David Bauver, who ran cross country for Grills at Williamsburg. “If anybody needed something from him, if he could do it, he would do it.”

Bauver first met Grills as an eighth grader in P.E. class after moving to town from Easthampton. Grills asked each student their name alphabetically to order his gradebook. The other students made fun of Bauver for his name not sounding like it was spelled. Grills surveyed the students and said,” What’s so difficult about that. His name’s Bauver.”

“He made a great first impression on me,” Bauver said. “He stuck up for me that day.”

Bauver ran cross country in high school for Grills, picking up the sport at first to be able to leave class early for away meets and become one of the school’s revered athletes. He joined the varsity squad by his junior year and became the manager for both the basketball and baseball teams after not making either squad.

“I was a skinny, gawky kid who would trip over the foul line,” Bauver said.

He was a self-described gym rat, though, and loved being around sports. And Grills. During baseball season, Grills’ primary responsibility as Earl Tonet’s junior varsity and assistant coach was to set up by the left foul pole and launch fly balls to the outfielders. Bauver caught the balls they threw back and talked to Grills about everything from Major League Baseball – Grills was a lifelong St. Louis Cardinals diehard – to his studies and everything in between. When Bavuer told Grills he’d been accepted to college his senior year and started talking about post-graduation plans, Grills reminded him he’d have to graduate high school before he could go to college. His voice carried a sternness.

“’My network of spies are telling me you’re not doing well in English,’” Bauver recalled Grills telling him. “’You have to pass English to graduate high school.’ It was a little pep talk, nothing mean about it. You could tell he was serious because he cared.”

He cared enough to let Jim Abel start in the basketball backcourt with his older brother Tom. Tom was a senior, so it would be their only opportunity to play together.

“That was a highlight of my high school sports life,” Jim Abel said. “Dave gave us that opportunity. I’ll never forget it.”

Another of Abel’s highlights was winning the 1986 Western Mass. baseball championship over Belchertown. For the entire two-week tournament run, after school let out, they still drove to the field for practice.

“His knowledge of sports, everyone’s going to tell you how smart he was,” Jim Abel said. “He cared so much about his kids. The kids on his team were like his kids and his family. He would stay as late as you wanted him to stay.”

Grills stayed at Hampshire until 1999, when he and Tonet retired on the same day. Tonet hired Grills as his in 1961 as a PE teacher and junior varsity coach. Part of that assignment included driving the morning bus route, which gave him the certification and suggestion to drive the bus to some away games. They both wore many hats in the school system, sometimes alternative varsity and JV, head coach and assistant positions depending on the demands of their other roles. Both rabid Cardinals fans, they watched their favorite team anywhere they could.

“We were the best of friends forever,” Grills said when Tonet died in 2015.

Baldwin lured him out of retirement in 2006. The Blue Devils had graduated their entire infield, and Baldwin appreciated Grills’ uncanny ability to envision positions. Grills said he’d just stay for tryouts – there was a lot of golf to play. He correctly predicted Northampton’s entire fielding lineup after just a few hours of practice. Baldwin asked if he would come to some practices. Only if he could show up late, Grills hated watching warm-ups and kids playing catch. He didn’t need to see more of it. 

Gradually Baldwin convinced him to come to games. Only the home games. Then, just the short road trips for away games. Grills showed up at every game that season and stayed with Baldwin for his entire Northampton tenure – as late as he needed.

“He was the best,” Baldwin said.

Kyle Grabowski can be reached at kgrabowski@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @kylegrbwsk.
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