NEW MARTINSVILLE -Mark Batton guarantees the next time he steps inside a stadium for a Magnolia High School football game it will be just as tough as having to inform his players he has decided to resign as head coach.
Following 15 seasons at the helm and another 13 years as an assistant coach with the Blue Eagles, Batton has called it quits. The 1977 graduate of Magnolia also is stepping down from his duties as head coach of the school's softball program.
"I'll make sure to come back and watch Magnolia football, but it will be a tough one," Batton said. "I don't think you will see me sitting. I'll probably be walking."
Batton will continue to be a key figurehead at the school. In October, he was named assistant principal.
"I had been contemplating about stepping down as a coach - when you have done something for that long of a time, it's a difficult decision," Batton said. "I spent a lot of time talking with my wife (Vicki) and my family. I've taken a lot of time away from them, so I need to give back and spend time with them. Family comes first."
As the head football coach at Magnolia, Batton won 68 percent (119-56) of his games. In 2010, his Blue Eagles snapped a 46-year drought between state titles after defeating Ravenswood 28-13 for the Class AA championship. The 2008 squad finished runner-up to Grafton.
This past season, Magnolia made the playoffs at 6-4 then eventually lost at Greenbrier West in the Class A state semifinals.
"I knew pretty well I was going to retire at the end of the season," Batton said. "So when I walked off the field at Greenbrier West, I took it in a little bit and knew I was at peace with my decision."
A loyal coaching staff enabled Batton to enjoy success on the gridiron. His assistants pretty much had an idea this past season was Batton's last.
"I've told people you surround yourself with good people and that's exactly what I was able to do," Batton said.
Batton also grew an attachment to his players through the years. At the football banquet, he could be heard referring to them as his sons. Probably because he already had three daughters.
"The football championship was a special year, but I could sit back and think of something special about all my teams," Batton said.
Batton's softball teams were always on the cusp of advancing to the state tournament. In his first six seasons, the Blue Eagles lost in the regional final on each occasion. Four of those defeats occurred in extra innings. Batton's seventh and final season ended with a loss in the Class A regional semifinals.
He had the pleasure of coaching each one of his three daughters (Abi, Danielle and Brittany).
Through his years of coaching what impressed Batton most about his players was the fact they were true student-athletes. Regardless of gender.
"Magnolia High School is blessed - whether they were male or female, the players I coached went hard at it and poured everything they had into it," Batton said.
As for what the future holds, Batton will devote his down time to his wife, his three daughters and their families, which includes a total of three grandchildren.
"The only reason I was able to coach was because of my wife and my three daughters," Batton said. "They always supported me.
"Now I am going to step back a little bit and enjoy what the good Lord gave me."