Less than a year ago, they were assisting others, following orders and trying to help their respective teams do all the things they needed during playoff appearances.
And then Brent Bollinger was the head baseball coach at Denison. A little more than a month later, Chris Anderson took the same position at Sherman.
Both were given tasks that would hopefully end with the Yellow Jackets and Bearcats in the postseason. Bollinger’s charge was to get there for the fourth straight season, which would be the longest stretch by Denison since 1995-98. Anderson’s was to make it for the first time since 2017 after a couple of close calls saw Sherman end up just on the outside of the bracket.
The preparation to meet those goals started almost immediately. For Bollinger, it was a new responsibility because he was taking over for his father, Charles, but he had the advantage of knowing all aspects of the program since he had served as an assistant for six seasons.
“I really felt good where our guys were. We were in a good spot, had some momentum and we had fixed some things from the prior tournaments,” Bollinger said.
For Anderson, a former Sherman assistant in 2001, he was making the move from Denison, where he served as a softball assistant, and was working to put his own stamp on a group that was going to have plenty of new faces after graduating 10 seniors.
Both came from successful backgrounds. Anderson played at Murray State before spending his last two seasons at Southeastern Oklahoma State, including helping the program to the NAIA College World Series as a junior in 1995. The following year he led the team in home runs, splitting time as a catcher and outfielder. He was drafted by the Tampa Bay Rays in the 66th round in 1996 and also was in the Boston Red Sox organization as part of a four-year minor league career that ended with Amarillo of the independent Texas-Louisiana League in 1999.
Bollinger played for his father at Snyder and was the ace pitcher and shortstop as the team won the 2008 Class 3A state championship. Not only was he a first-team all-state selection but the 3A Player of the year after being second-team all-state as a junior. Bollinger spent one season at Midland College but then played football at Midwestern State for two seasons. He switched back to baseball, playing at Midland for a year before closing out his career at UT-Arlington in 2013, the last of two years there.
Things were right on track. The Bearcats and Jackets played with their summer league teams, went to camps and participated in other sports once the school year began.
Once the calendar turned to 2020, it was a matter of counting down the days until the first practice, which was on the last day of January. A little less than a month later, February 24, the first games took place.
But the date that will be most remembered for Anderson and Bollinger will be Thursday, March 12. It was the last day that Sherman and Denison took the field as co-hosts of the Grayson County Classic. The final two days of the tournament were rained out. That Friday, the University Interscholastic League — like many athletic governing bodies across the world — announced that because of the coronavirus pandemic which was just beginning, there would be no games for the next two weeks.
“I was kinda worried when the NBA shut down first, then March Madness. I thought it would trickle down. We kinda had a feeling they wouldn’t let high school play,” Bollinger said. “I’m going to stay optimistic that we’re going to be back until word that it’s cancelled. I’m going to have that hope and the guys are working like we’re going to play.”
Three days later the decree extended to all activities, including practices, workouts and use of school facilities. Last Thursday, the UIL announced the earliest any games might resume would be on May 4.
“The fact that we’re still having the discussion is good for us,” Anderson said. “There’s no specific time we have to get ready. Be ready for any kind of format. If they tell us to go, we’ve got to be ready. You’ve got to make sure you’re still throwing. I know they’re all working out, finding places to hit.”
The biggest concern for them surrounding all of this is how it affects their seniors.
Sherman has five — catcher Ethan Bedgood, infielders Dylan Cernero, Ryan Ortiz and Cade Cole and outfielder Kylar Gentry.
“This senior class is pretty special to me as a first-year head coach because they’ve all bought in to everything we wanted to implement and change the culture,” Anderson said. “They’re a really special group.”
Denison has seven — catcher Cayden Earnhart, pitcher Zander Ramey, infielders Luke Kirkbride and Coulter Maxson, outfielders Jack Condit and Garrett Poe and designated hitter Austen Patterson.
“I’ve coached them all from seventh grade to now. I couldn’t imagine if it was my senior year,” Bollinger said. “Four of them are baseball-only guys. This is all they’ve been working for all year long.”
Anderson and Bollinger had hoped to have memorable debuts in their respective dugouts. This is far beyond anything they could have imagined.
“The only thing I can relate it to is in the early 2000s is the swine flu. But that only shut down games for a week or two. We still had school,” Anderson said. “Luckily, one thing Coach (Ben) Beltran, my assistant head coach and I did starting back in August and September, we do a lot of stuff on Google Classroom with our baseball guys. Now we’re forced to use it so it’s familiar for them.”
District 10-5A play was about to get fully underway. The teams all played one district game before the shutdown — Sherman beat Princeton and Denison lost against McKinney North. There were 14 games left to go, including three against each other with the first that was to be this Friday and the last two coming in the final week of the regular season, which would have been the last week of April.
The Yellow Jackets were 6-7 when they learned about the delay while the Bearcats were 2-10, but one of those wins had them tied with Lovejoy and McKinney North in first place.
“We felt like we’re a team that was built for district. We have four or five guys to throw two games a week and that’s what we built up to,” Anderson said. “Everybody knew what their role was. I think we would have been in really good shape.”
Whatever final decision comes from the UIL — whether a shortened schedule or no return at all — both Anderson and Bollinger know from a lifetime in the sport that the thing about baseball is you can come to the park every day and see something you’ve never seen before. The situation is something every coach and athlete never sees again.
“This is one that you can’t plan for,” Bollinger said. “So many things no one can plan for. That’s the hard thing.”