By JOHN JAMES MARSHALL, Journal Sports
Second in a series
He hasn’t coached a game in 30 years, but Clay Bohanan is still having an effect on high school baseball.
For more than a decade, Bohanan was in charge of one baseball field at Airline High. Now he is in charge of about three dozen as Bossier City’s Director of Parks and Recreation. It’s a job he’s had since 2005, and his legacy in that position can be seen with the improvements that have been made, mostly notable at Tinsley Park, and with the construction of the Field of Dreams playground.
But that’s not the only legacy that Bohanan, 78, will leave when he decides to retire.
What Bohanan accomplished in 13 years as Airline baseball coach is bar-setting stuff. Not only did he win 239 games, but he also played for two state championships in the state’s highest classification.
“Coach Bohanan was the first baseball guy to coach at Airline,” says current Airline coach Toby Todd. “He made baseball relevant.”
And he still does. Bohanan’s teams never had a losing record and perhaps more significantly, the Airline baseball program has only two losing seasons since Bohanan started coaching in 1980.
“Everything has changed obviously, but the part you miss when you get out of coaching is not the every-day grind,” Bohanan said. “But the special games, the big games in the playoffs … now that part you do miss.”
He had plenty of those, particularly in a three-year stretch in 1989 when the Vikings were in position to win a state championship each year, but never did.
In 1989, Airline was 22-9 and reached the state finals – the first Shreveport-Bossier school to do so in 19 years – but lost to Rummel 10-1.
In 1990, with the tournament being played at Fair Grounds Field, Airline lost in the quarterfinals to Acadiana in a game that lasted 14 innings and was played over a three-day span due to weather. The game ended when a steal of third resulted in a ball being thrown into the outfield.
In 1991, Airline reached the state championship game again — this time with a 30-0 record — to play St. Amant, once again at Fair Grounds Field. Airline had rolled over its first two state tournament opponents and St. Amant had squeaked by, winning both games by one run.
“After five batters they had scored five runs,” Bohanan says. “I told our assistant coach to call Barksdale to shoot down those bombs they were hitting.”
It didn’t get any prettier as the Vikings lost 18-4 and finished 31-1.
“I had a feeling that was going to be a special group,” Bohanan says. “They were winning JV tournaments as freshmen. Turned out to be a pretty stout bunch.”
You might say that. Led by Todd Walker, who would go on to be one of the greatest players in LSU baseball history and a 12-year major leaguer, the Vikings won 76 games in three seasons.
Not only did he coach Walker, but he also had B.J. Ryan, a two-time All-Star and an 11-year major leaguer.
But Bohanan has always had a way of being around future major leaguers. In high school at Bossier, he was a catcher for Cecil Upshaw, who had a nine-year major league career.
Part of what Bohanan built at Bossier was more than just successful teams. He also began facilities improvements that can now be found in almost every high school in Caddo-Bossier. But Airline was the first to start the process.
“We had a cyclone fence at Airline,” he says. “Nobody had lights. We had to turn the dirt over just to be able to play. We gradually made improvements to restrooms and concession stands and the press box. I wanted the best facilities we could provide for our kids to play. And I wanted it to be top shelf so that when teams came to play us, they knew we were serious about playing ball.”
He says he still watches games as if he were coaching.
“I was watching the Super Regionals last weekend and I found myself telling my wife what was going to happen,” Bohanan says. “You always think like a coach and how you would do things. I don’t miss the cold weather in the early season freezing my tail off. I do miss developing kids and working with them, and getting them coached up to be the best they can possibly be.”
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