Commentary: 'H' stood for Hellie and Pierz coach with big heart
"H." That's all you have to say and anyone who ever played or coached or was associated with or was familiar with Pierz baseball knew to whom you were referring. "H" was John Hellie and Hellie was Pierz baseball. The Pioneers' longtime head coach...
That's all you have to say and anyone who ever played or coached or was associated with or was familiar with Pierz baseball knew to whom you were referring.
"H" was John Hellie and Hellie was Pierz baseball. The Pioneers' longtime head coach, and caretaker of all levels of the Pierz baseball program, died Friday, June 29, at his home in Pierz. He was 72.
Hellie was Pierz's head baseball coach for 29 seasons and retired with a career record of 350-139 (.716). His Pioneer teams won 19 conference titles, seven district titles and one region title and played in the 1986 Class 1A state tournament.
He also dedicated thousands of hours to coaching Pierz youth baseball. For 27 years, he ran Pierz's summer baseball program for youths ages 6-15. He started the Pierz American Legion baseball program in 1972 and coached that team to the 1995 state tournament.
In 2011, Hellie was inducted into the Minnesota Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
He also was the Pioneers' head boys basketball coach for 13 seasons and was an assistant football coach for 30 years. He was the first non-athlete to be inducted into the Pierz High School Hall of Fame.
In May of 2017, Hellie was honored by having the baseball field in Pierz named after him.
Dave Rocheleau, current Pierz activities director, played baseball for Hellie and eventually succeeded him as the Pioneers' head baseball coach and as the line coach in football. Rocheleau said when he replaced Hellie he coached all levels of Pierz baseball one summer.
"I just couldn't do it anymore as it was exhausting yet John did that for 27 years," Rocheleau said. "He truly loved baseball and one of his best attributes was to make sure every player had fun being on his team."
Rocheleau said Hellie had many sayings which became known as "Hellieisms."
"Boys, look sharp, play sharp and don't be a hayshaker."
"Boys, act like you've been out of Pierz before."
During indoor baseball practices, Rocheleau said Hellie would have players run a lap and say, "Boys, if we wanted to run, we'd join track."
Rocheleau said Hellie once said to Leo Pohlkamp, Pierz's head football coach, during a lopsided victory, "Leo, you should let them score. They drove a long way."
"He was a great mentor/coach but yet he was a better person, a man with a big heart," Rocheleau said.
Rick Sczublewski assisted Hellie in baseball and coached football with him.
"He had a big heart," Sczublewski said. "He loved ball. He loved to compete. He did so much for so many people.
"We're going to miss him around here because he's the guy who got baseball going in this community. ... He was just a good guy. When you teach with a guy year after year, you learn a lot about them. We spent a lot of time together. He was a good friend."
Sczublewski said few realized how good of an athlete Hellie was at Morton High School in the 1960s. Hellie was a three-sport athlete and a 1,000-point scorer in basketball, many years before the 3-point line was introduced. Hellie also played basketball and baseball at the University of Minnesota-Morris.
"I know he was a good shooter," Sczublewski said. "John never met a shot he didn't like-he always said that. He was a lefty who liked to put it up from outside before the 3-point arc."
Rick Grammond of "You are There Sports" has spent years broadcasting Pierz sports. He announced countless football and baseball games that Hellie coached. Grammond said Hellie's influence on baseball in Pierz remains evident today.
"What strikes me about John is the incredible impact I see, even after all the time he's been retired and not involved, the impact he still has, his legacy," Grammond said. "His players that are now coaching their kids in youth baseball I see the same influence that John had. They still like to bunt. Of all the things I remember, when I first came to Pierz and watching John coach baseball, the system he ran is still pretty much in place."
Grammond said Hellie's voice on the sideline at football games projected quite a distance. Grammond recalled a game he was broadcasting in the early 1990s.
"I remember the press box was on the opposite side of our sideline," Grammond recalled. "I was doing the game and I could hear this great big booming voice. I don't know if I've been able to hear that since. I couldn't hear anyone else from the sideline but I could hear John. I asked Leo after the game who was that and he said that was 'H.'"
And, Grammond shared a story that Sczublewski told about Hellie missing the first few innings of one baseball game.
"John always threw (batting practice)," Grammond said. "One of the boys hit a comebacker that hit one of the balls laying in front of the 'L' screen. It deflected up and hit John right in the eye and he said, 'Rick, take the boys over to Milaca, I'll go to the hospital and I'll see you later.' John showed up with blood on his jersey, his eye was swollen totally shut, about the second inning."
Danny Saehr, the Pioneers' current head baseball coach, didn't play for Hellie at the varsity level but was coached by him during youth baseball.
"If he didn't know your name, he knew your relatives," Saehr said. "One of the famous things about John was he would be throwing BP to you and he would say, 'You must be related to so and so.' He had been around for so long he coached so many kids and probably coached your uncles and your dad."
Saehr said Hellie's imprint on Pierz baseball remains. A few years ago Pierz started a John Hellie youth baseball tournament.
"His typical summer day started with T-ball in the morning, typically for kindergarten through second-graders," Saehr said. "Then he would have PeeWees for maybe the next two grades, then it was Little 6, then it was Legion.
"He oversaw the whole thing. He was part of every level. He did have some high school players helping but he went from the top all the way down to the youngest player."
Saehr said Hellie made the game fun to play.
"I think that's one of the main things you hear from people that were around him, that you always had a good time," Saehr said. "He understood the importance that it's a game and it's supposed to be fun. His players definitely had fun playing for him."