HALLSVILLE - Hallsville baseball coach Barry Koeneke will retire at the end of the 2021 season after a 46-year career.
Koeneke's impact on the Hallsville community spans generations. He taught in the school district for 32 years, and Koeneke estimates he's coached about a dozen father-son combinations in his career.
"Yeah, it's kind of special and I do end up comparing them once in a while. Almost all of them are better than what their dads were," Koeneke said with a laugh.
Among those father-son combinations are Benjamin and A.J. Austene. A.J. is a junior first baseman and outfielder for Hallsville and his dad Benjamin played for Coach Koeneke in the 1990s.
Benjamin Austene said the two of them talked about Coach Koeneke a lot when A.J. was growing up.
"We talked about what his style was going to be and what it meant to play for an icon like Coach Koeneke. He's a pillar of the community and been around for a long time. Certainly, we're going to miss him but we're glad that he's able to do what he needs to do on his own terms."
"We just have so many stories. He's just a very big part of our lives, because baseball is very big part of our lives," A.J. Austene said.
Koeneke has led Hallsville baseball to three state championships, eight final fours and 16 district championships over his career. The Hallsville baseball program was inducted into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame in 2019.
His plans for retirement reflect just how much he loves the game.
"I'll get to see more Cardinal games. I'll get to go to a spring training, that's never happened. I want to go to Cooperstown. They all sound baseball related, don't they?" Koeneke said.
But Koeneke has always preached to his players that there are some things that are more important than baseball.
"It's not just about the baseball. It's about helping young men mature and grow up and and making sure that they're attending to everything that's important in their life. Right now we talk about academics ought to be number one, and right there with it is your family, and then baseball," Koeneke said.
The Austene's said they're happy for Coach Koeneke and thankful for all the ways he's impacted their family.
"[I'm] happy for him and his family that they were able to make the decision on their own terms. That's important. He's ready for the next chapter and we certainly wish him the best," Benjamin Austene said.
"I was happy for him that he has been able to do this for 40 some years. But at the same time, I was kind of sad to see him go and that he can't go one more year for our senior year," A.J. Austene said.
Over the course of his career at Hallsville, Koeneke has built lasting relationships and influenced hundreds of people like the Austenes in the community. He said it's these relationships that he will cherish in retirement.
"They still call me Coach and so that does my heart good. Several of them have become really good friends. I think they give me too much respect because I'm not the one making all this happen. It's the kids themselves. The idea that 'hey my dad did this or my mom was one of your students and I really want to play for you.' Those are the things that make me feel good about being here for so long."