Sometimes small towns are blessed with special people.
Such is the case with Jason Duey.
Four years ago, Duey came to Seymour from Norwood as a middle-school history teacher and assistant baseball coach, taking a demotion of sorts to become a Tiger.
Previously, he had been the head baseball coach at Norwood, where he guided two teams to the elite “Final Four,” reaching the state-championship game once.
His first year here, he was the assistant coach for former head coach Sam Berg as a young Seymour team struggled through a losing campaign, although improvement was very evident.
Duey inherited the top job the next year.
And the improvement continued.
His first Tiger team finished the spring season with a .500 mark at 12-12.
The next year, Seymour went 20-6 in the spring and 30-10 overall, setting a school record for season victories and capturing the program’s first Summit Conference championship since 1987.
This year, the Tigers won the program’s first-ever district baseball crown, taking top honors at the Class 2 District 5 Tournament last Wednesday, May 15, with a thrilling 4-2 win over perennial state power Mansfield, a program that won the 2017 state title and finished second in the state a year ago.
As we enter this week, Duey’s ballclub has a 29-9 overall record and an energized community hoping for a long run in the state playoffs.
Funny thing is, success on the field isn’t what impresses me the most about Jason Duey.
Yes, he’s a great coach.
But he’s a stellar person.
He’s a natural leader.
A man of impeccable character.
And a wonderful example to a generation of young people who he leads not only as a baseball coach, but as the principal of Seymour High School.
Just over a year ago, that character came into full display when the Tigers played a Summit Conference game at Price Cutter Park in Ozark against rival Conway.
Seymour won the game.
But minutes after the victory, Duey realized that he had allowed his starting pitcher to throw two too many pitches in the contest.
He discussed it with Conway’s coach, who said it wasn’t an issue to him.
However, it was an issue to Duey, because rules are rules, so a self-reported violation was made to the Missouri State High School Activities Association (MSHSAA).
MSHSAA’s verdict was rendered a few days later.
Seymour had to forfeit the game.
“This was something that’s 100 percent my fault,” Duey said at the time. “My boys won the game. My mistakes then lost it for us.”
To win the league title, Seymour had to win all of its remaining conference games.
The end result on paper was that the Seymour Tigers ended a 31-year drought for a conference baseball title.
The end result that mattered was that Duey’s ballclub learned an important lesson about honesty and simply doing the right thing.
That integrity has been the foundation of his program.
It translates to the field.
It translates to the lives of the kids who play for him.
Anyone who has been around the program over the past few years can see the respect Seymour’s baseball players have for their leader. Above that, also evident is the desire they have to perform for their coach ... to please a person that they love.
When the Tigers won last week’s district title, it was very evident the players were as excited for their mentor as they were for themselves.
Tiger assistant coach Scott Nicholson once confided to me that working with Duey on the baseball diamond every day made him a better person.
“I feel blessed to be a part of this,” Nicholson told me.
The nearly 20 kids on Duey’s baseball team likely feel the same way.
Personally, I’ve been fortunate to cover this team in an up-close manner the past three seasons, sometimes traveling with Duey and his ballclub on road trips.
I’ve watched how he handles each child in his program.
I’ve also seen the little things he does, whether it be finding a glove for a kid who doesn’t have one, buying shoes for a kid who can’t afford them or purchasing meals for many kids who would go hungry after a game without his help.
I’ve also watched how he follows their personal lives, looking out for them as a second parent. Once, when I told him how a former player was working out as a stellar worker for the city, Duey’s eyes beamed and he donned a huge smile, much as a parent would when hearing their child had experienced success.
Simply stated, Jason Duey’s been a special addition to our small town.
Let’s hope he never leaves us and closes his career here as a Tiger.
That would be a long-term blessing to Seymour.
Dan Wehmer is the Citizen’s editor, publisher and owner. He can be reached at 417-935-2257 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.