C-LV Recognizes Its Longtime Coach, Who Is Retiring After 46 Years At The Helm
EDITOR’S NOTE: The following article on Cattaraugus-Little Valley High School baseball coach Chuck Senn originally appeared in The Post-Journal on May 20, 2018, not quite a month after he recorded his 600th career victory. Since Senn, who decided to step down after the just completed season, was recognized at the school’s spring sports awards ceremony Wednesday night, it was deemed appropriate to run the story again.
Nobody knew 45 years ago that the then-Cattaraugus and now Cattaraugus-Little Valley school district would only have one varsity baseball coach for the following four-and-a-half decades.
Not Kenny Stevens from Youngstown, New York.
Not the Cattaraugus superintendent who made the hire in 1974.
Not even Chuck Senn himself, who has been the man at the helm of the Big Red and Timberwolves program for the previous 934 games — 601 of them wins.
Senn, who earned his 600th career win on April 27 with a dramatic 3-2 victory over Pine Valley, arrived in Cattaraugus via Lewiston-Porter High School with no scholastic experience in baseball.
Not during high school in Zelienople, Pennsylvania. Not in college at then-Edinboro (Pa.) State College.
But his degree in education ended up taking him to extreme northwest Niagara County — almost to Canada — where he landed a job teaching math at Lew-Port.
“How I got that job, I have no idea,” Senn joked Friday night after picking up his 601st career win in Cattaraugus-Little Valley’s final game of the season — a five-inning no-hitter thrown by Austin Baker. “I never applied. I got a telephone call and my mother told me somebody by the name of Kenny Stevens from Youngstown, New York called and wants you to call him back.”
He added: “I called back and he said, ‘We’re interested in you. I want to meet you.’ So we met in the parking lot at Clarion University and I was hired. When I got (to Lew-Port), the whole math department was Edinboro State graduates.”
Senn taught math for two years at Lew-Port, starting his first coaching job in year two as the junior varsity soccer coach. While at Lew-Port, Senn met a fellow math teacher whose father was the superintendent at Cattaraugus. Senn applied for and was hired for a math and coaching position in September 1966, but the job was coaching varsity football and JV basketball.
“I took over baseball in 1974, because nobody else wanted it. I decided I’ll give it a try,” Senn said. “Obviously it must have been a marriage made in heaven because 45 years later I’m still doing it.”
The only experience Senn had up to that point with the sport of baseball was playing during the summer because neither his high school or college featured the sport.
“Once I got started I guess I fell in love with it. I did everything to improve my knowledge of the game — talking to high school and college coaches, going to clinics, watching tapes. I did that for probably 20 years,” Senn said. “I worked summer camps, worked at the LeMoyne College summer camp for three or four years. It just grew on me.”
It turns out, Senn has been pretty good at it, too.
In 45 seasons, his teams have played in 26 Section VI semifinals and 11 championship games. Cattaraugus won sectional titles in 1986 and 1988 while the Timberwolves won in 2003.
“My first season was great. It was great because I had two or three great baseball players back then. They came from dads who played great town-team baseball in the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s,” Senn said. “This program, until recently, we’ve been pretty lucky. It’s been a pretty good program for several years — like 40.”
When a coach wins 600-plus games, it would seem difficult to pick out a few that stood out more than others, and Senn’s memories are no different — although his recollections of the sectional championship games are more vivid than most.
“Our first sectional title we beat Brocton at Diethrick Park. In my opinion, that was a big upset,” said Senn, who was inducted into the Western New York Baseball Hall of Fame last September. “We thought on paper and from what we knew about that team that they were much better than us.”
The 1986 season began a string of three seasons during which Cattaraugus won 60 games and played in three straight sectional finals. After losing to Westfield in 1987, the Big Red beat Franklinville for the 1988 crown.
“Again Franklinville, in the 1988 season, was on paper a much better team,” Senn said. “We just played a great ballgame.”
The Timberwolves’ championship in 2003 came over a stout Frewsburg team at Diethrick Park in Jamestown. That Cattaraugus-Little Valley team lost an opportunity to go to the state Final Four with a loss to Oakfield-Alabama at Dwyer Stadium in Batavia.
“Bob Schmitt was retiring and his team was loaded,” Senn said about the Frewsburg win. “We knocked them off. That was a really big victory.”
Although Senn admitted he loved coaching when his son, Chuck Jr., was on the team at Cattaraugus, he also said those were some of the hardest years to be a coach.
“You’re raising a teenager to begin with. You’re in school teaching where he goes to school and then you try to coach him on the field,” Senn said. “Sometimes that can create some problems — and they weren’t always baseball-oriented. It could just be a teenager doing something he shouldn’t or having trouble with another teacher. It was all part of growing up.
“But I wouldn’t give those days up.”
Senn retired from teaching in June 1999, but has continued to coach for 19 seasons to follow — something a lot of teachers don’t do after retiring from their profession.
“I have a love of the game and a passion for it,” Senn said. “I love to work with young kids and try to make something out of them.”
The just-concluded season was one of Senn’s hardest as he missed many practices and some games due to a lingering illness throughout the weather-shortened season. At the age of 75, Senn wonders — as recently as following the Timberwolves’ final game — if this season was his last.
“It could be any time. It’s one year at a time. If I have that passion and my body says I can still do it then I would love to continue,” Senn said. “I enjoyed coaching (the final game) because I could get into the ball game, say things and do things.”
When Friday’s game was over, Senn and the Timberwolves’ players, coaches and scorekeepers posed for pictures — something Senn said he wished he could’ve enjoyed more following his 600th win last month.
“It could’ve happened,” Senn said about the possibility that he coached his final game. “We had some pictures taken because when we won our 600th game, I was sicker than a dog. I wanted to get a new picture to include everybody. They are all part of my program.
“Who knows, this could be my last team picture. Normally I would never say that, but (Friday) it came out of my mouth.”