Balling Retires After 17 Seasons
Longtime Cassadaga Valley Coach Won 238 Games, 10 League Crowns, Three Sectional Titles
SINCLAIRVILLE — For those around Cassadaga Valley high school and the Cougars athletic department, going into the next school year may feel like something’s missing. It may feel like they’ve lost a teacher, a coach and even a friend. But one thing that won’t be missing is the legacy that Ken Balling left behind.
The Cougars softball head coach retired following the school year, not only from his coaching duties, but from teaching, as well.
“I’ve coached JV football and modified basketball. But softball is my love, my passion,” Balling said. “I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of fond memories and a lot of fun.”
For those who haven’t heard Balling’s story of how he ended up at Cassadaga Valley, here’s a quick review.
Balling arrived in teaching late. He worked for Cornell Cooperative Extension for about 16 years before teaching. Then one day when he got a phone call.
“I never planned to be a teacher,” Balling said. “The school called me. I was a director of 4-H here in the county, and I was working with kids then. I had to go back and get my master’s degree (in education at Cornell University). I student taught and then I just went back to my job.”
The call came from the school’s superintendent, who asked Balling if he’d consider taking a technology position that had opened up. Balling and his wife struggled on the decision, but at the end of it, he said, “I’m going to try it.”
The rest is history — as far as teaching goes. Balling completed his 25th year as the technology teacher at Cassadaga Valley earlier this summer.
As for softball, Balling started coaching in 2002 after receiving a letter about opportunities to help out coaching within the school. Diane Ellsworth was the JV softball coach, and she got promoted to head coach after Paul Cooley and Mark Petersen stepped down. Balling wanted to help out however he could, so he took the JV softball coaching job.
Balling served as JV coach for four years, then he took two years off from coaching so he could watch his daughter play varsity ball as a junior and senior. The year Balling’s daughter graduated, Ellsworth took a principal position, leaving the varsity softball head coaching job open. Balling applied and later accepted the job. He held the post for the past 17 years.
As far as coaching softball goes, Balling made a lasting impact on everybody that came through the program. Balling won 238 games during his time as head coach, including his 200th victory on April 22, 2016 after a 16-0 win over Brocton. Cassadaga Valley had only one losing season in 17 years under Balling. In addition to that, they won 10 league titles and three sectional titles over that span.
Balling coached some dynamite players over his time at Cassadaga Valley, including Alyssa Hahn, who won the Chautauqua Cattaraugus Athletic Association Division 2 West Pitcher of the Year in 2016 and 2017, and current star Brittyn LeBaron, who won this year’s Player of the Year in the division. Balling won Coach of the Year during the 2016 season as well as this past season.
In recent years, Balling has enjoyed sustained success from his team. In 2016, the Cougars went 14-3, in 2017 they went 14-4, and this season his team went an undefeated 15-0, until they were defeated by eventual state champion Chautauqua Lake for the Class C sectional title.
The list of accolades for Balling continues, but one thing people forget is that he was an exceptional teacher who was respected by all. He even says it contributed to helping out his coaching.
“I think as a teacher, coaching gives you a whole new perspective on these kids, a whole new relationship,” Balling said. “That’s pretty awesome. You get to really know them and be with them outside the classroom. I know it benefits me in the classroom. The middle school students know you as a varsity coach and you can talk different stuff besides classroom.”
Looking ahead, Cassadaga Valley is poised to compete next season. With LeBaron coming back to the circle, Balling fully expects her — and the team — to take the next step.
“It’s not just Brittyn — they have a lot of seniors and pieces coming back to surround her.” Balling said. “She’s devoted to softball and I know she’ll work hard this offseason to be even better.”
In addition to LeBaron, three other Cougars were selected to the league first team this season — catcher Hannah Edwards, shortstop Bella Ruiz and left fielder Holly Crandall. All four Cassadaga Valley players on the first team were juniors, setting the Cougars up for success next year.
Cassadaga Valley played this season in Division 2 West, but next season the Cougars are jumping to Division 1, and Balling thinks that is going to make a big difference.
“As a team, I thought we were disciplined all season,” Balling said. “That loss to Chautauqua Lake hurt. We didn’t get to play a lot of close-run games until then. I think the jump [to Division 1] will help tremendously with that.
“I’ll miss the kids, the girls,” Balling added. “A lot of people can’t believe I coached girls as long as I did. And people forget I was a teacher too. We’ve had a great 17 years. I really loved my job.”
Balling has left a lasting impression on plenty of students, parents and teachers that have come through Cassadaga Valley. But one thing’s for sure, he won’t ever be forgotten for the lives he mentored for the last two decades.
“I’ve been so lucky coaching,” Balling said. “I couldn’t have done this without successful teams. … I had the pleasure of coaching some really, really good athletes and some really, really good girls.”