Sam Kitchens still loves coaching after 50 years

Published 1:43 pm Thursday, April 11, 2024

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This year, Sam Kitchens entered his 50th year as a baseball coach and he doesn’t plan to slow down any time soon.

Kitchens – who grew up in Decatur and then Indiana – came to Troy with his siblings in 1972 after the passing of their parents. The Kitchens children were raised at the old Alabama Baptist Children’s Home in Troy, where Sorority Hill on the campus of Troy University now resides.

“Looking back on it, it was great,” Kitchens said of growing up at the children’s home. “You had a ball game every day. We had all variety of ages there from first grade all the way up to seniors in high school. It was great, people cared about you and the community cared for you.”

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Kitchens played all sorts of sports growing up but said that it was basketball that was his first love. Upon graduating from Charles Henderson High School, Kitchens had the goal of one day being a teacher and high school baseball and basketball coach. His coaching journey, though, began much earlier than most, at just 19 years old.

Kitchens led his teams to two World Series during his time as a youth baseball coach.

“My youngest brother was 12 years old in Dixie Youth (Baseball) and Don Sasser was his coach,” Kitchens recalled. “I didn’t know Don, he didn’t know me and I didn’t know anything about coaching, but I went by their first practice and he didn’t have anyone helping him. I asked him if I could help with anything and he said yeah. I started helping him that year and have been coaching ever since.”

While coaching his brother was Kitchens’ first motivation for getting into youth coaching, he quickly realized it meant much more to him.

“Having lost my parents when I was 15 I was a very bitter teenager all through high school,” he recalled. “I had people that helped me and people that had strong influences on my life. If it hadn’t been for those people I don’t know what I would have become, because I was an angry young man.

“So, when I started coaching baseball and time went on, I realized that it sometimes felt like I was helping someone and I wanted to help kids to try and be better people and learn things in life. As I got older, it meant more and more to me and it was something I just wanted to do. I loved it and I loved the kids so much. I tell them all the time that they are all like sons to me.”

His brother, Doug Kitchens, said that Sam Kitchens was more than just a brother or baseball coach to him.

“Sam really stepped up for me, not only as a brother but he became a father figure in my life at a young age and he did so in a lot of ways,” Doug Kitchens said. “He focused on my general upbringing and athletics because that’s where we connected the best, in athletics.

“He would drive me from the time I was eight years old until I graduated, he pushed me and gave me a lot of encouragement. Having a brother like that throughout our personal misfortune of losing our parents meant a lot. Having a brother that would step up and give every effort to be a father figure and giving good guidance meant so much.”

Kitchens has also helped win a State Championship at the high school level with Charles Henderson. (Photos by Josh Boutwell)

Despite never coaching one of his own children, Sam Kitchens went on to coach youth baseball for 40 years. During his time as a youth coach his teams won a pair of Dixie Youth World Series Championships and he was inducted into the Dixie Baseball Hall of Fame. At one point, in the 1980s and 90s, Kitchens even coached his usual Dixie Boys (13-14 year olds) and a Dixie Majors (15-18 years old) team at the same time.

“My fondest memories would be the friendships I made with the parents, players and coaches,” Sam Kitchens said. “The other night I went to Franklin (Field) to watch a 9-10 year old game and one of my former players came running up to me and grabbed me and hugged my neck. When I see kids like that that I’ve coached it makes me feel good.”

In 1998, Kitchens was asked to coach the junior varsity team at Charles Henderson for a season and was once again tasked to do so in 2008. He went on to coach junior varsity at CHHS for 10 years along with still coaching his Dixie Boys before stepping away from youth baseball in 2014. Since then, he’s been a varsity assistant coach at CHHS. All in all, he’s spent the past 50 years as a baseball coach in the Troy community.

“Through the years, I learned from our relationship that Sam not only loved coaching me but he loved coaching children in general,” Doug Kitchens said. “I’m often asked why does Sam love baseball so much and even to this day I give the same answer; Sam doesn’t love coaching baseball, Sam loves to teach children and it just so happens to come through coaching baseball.

“He’s been a mentor for so many children over the years and anyone would have the greatest level of respect for someone that has devoted so much time as a volunteer when he did not have his own child involved. He’s been very successful but has also touched the lives of so many people and I’m proud of him for what he’s meant to me and so many others’ lives.”

Sam Kitchens said that credit had to be given to his wife, Roxie, and daughter, Samantha, for the support they’ve shown him over the years.

“My wife and daughter have shown me so much support over the years. My wife has followed me to ballgames and fields all over the South,” he said. “I couldn’t ask for more support from my wife than what I’ve gotten. Any coach will tell you the same thing, if you don’t have a good wife to put up with the long hours and late nights and hot dogs and hamburgers at the ball field it’s tough. My daughter grew up at the ball fields and she loved me coaching.”

While Sam Kitchens said he doesn’t know how long he has left in the coaching world, he isn’t planning to step away anytime soon.

“I still love it and I love the kids. I like to think I can keep doing it as long as I’m helping the program,” said Sam Kitchens. “If I ever feel like – and I tell Chase (Smartt) and the other coaches this – if it ever seems like I’m not helping the program let me know. I don’t know want to be hanging around just to be hanging around.

“I want to be able to contribute and help. The kids keep me coming back. Seeing them, joking with them, seeing them at the movies, seeing them at restaurants and seeing them around town, I love being around them. I’ve coached so many kids and now I’ve coached the kids of their kids. The kids are what keep me going.”