Assistant Sports Editor
BENNINGTON -- In the coming weeks, Mount Anthony Union High School must do something it hasn't done since the Jimmy Carter Administration: Find a new varsity baseball coach.
After 34 seasons in charge of the Patriot program, Al Plante, the longest-tenured head coach in Mount Anthony history, stepped down Friday afternoon.
One of only a handful of baseball coaches in Vermont's 400-win club, Plante leaves the diamond with a 429-187 career record and four state championships.
"It was hard, it was hard," said Plante, 63, of the trip to activities director Tim Brown's office to offer his letter of resignation. "It's been a long time of getting up and doing the same thing.
"It's been hard to get away from it."
Brown, entering his 25th year heading the MAU athletic program, now has to hire his first baseball coach.
"It's not something I've been looking forward to," Brown said. "It's pretty overwhelming -- Al has been such a fixture. He's been the epitome of what you look for in a coach."
Plante said he still plans to continue coaching the MAU junior varsity boys basketball team -- another job he's held for 30-plus years. He said it was "bad knees" that ultimately pushed him to hand over the reins of the baseball team.
"[The knees] don't let me do what I want to," Plante said. "Your body can't do it, you can't do the pitching in batting practice ... I figured it was time."
Under Plante, Mount Anthony collected four Division I crowns in nine title-game appearances, the most recent coming against Rice in 2011. The Patriots reached the state final seven times between 1988 and 1997.
To put Plante's tenure into perspective, since he took over the baseball program:
* Mount Anthony has had 10 different head football coaches, five different boys soccer coaches and three different boys basketball coaches.
* He has ridden the bus to away games with six different softball coaches.
* When Plante started, the MAU wrestling program owned one state championship. It now has 26, including the last 24 in a row. (With 27 years under his belt leading the wrestling team, Scott Legacy is the school's longest-serving current head coach.)
"Nothing ever seemed to faze him and, as a player, that rubs off on you," said Pete Estes, a 2007 MAU graduate, who played baseball and JV basketball for Plante. "I really enjoyed playing for him. He put a lot of trust in his players and let them go out and play their own game."
When he first took over the baseball program, Plante said, he didn't know how long he would do it. Fast-forward to the end and it was a career that touched five different decades across 616 games.
"All the kids you work with, you like to see them go on and do something," Plante said. "To see kids successful in what they choose to do -- it didn't have to be baseball -- was the best."
Brown said he was consistently amazed at the large rosters, usually full of seniors, that Plante carried year in and year out.
"He always found a role for a kid and that's one of the things I admire the most," Brown said. "He always tried to find a place for kids who came out for baseball."
Even with all the changes that have swept through the game in the past three and a half decades -- the introduction of a pitch count, improvements in equipment, year-round fundraising efforts to support teams -- certain aspects remain the same. The basepaths are still 90 feet, pitchers still throw from 60 feet 6 inches and teams still play a 16-game regular season
And it's the latter that makes the 400-win milestone a distant one for all but a select few high school coaches. Former Essex coach Steve Ferreira is Vermont's all-time leader with over 500 wins, while Northfield coach Frank Pecora, who retired in June, is second with 488 victories.
Mount Anthony will look to assemble a search committee to find Plante's successor once the fall sports season is in full swing, Brown said.
"I think we definitely have some candidates who would like the opportunity to coach baseball at Mount Anthony," Brown said. "There might be some people who have been waiting for a long time."