by Olivia Martin
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — It’s rare to find a coach who can claim 10 state titles, four single-season state records and a 45-game winning streak in his career. Or a 352-135-1 overall coaching record.
And it’s nearly impossible to find one person who can claim all of the above.
But Dennis Hurla can.
Hurla is the former head baseball coach for the Bishop Ward High School Cyclones, a matter-of-fact man whose personality and 20-year coaching career have become integral to the fabric of the Ward baseball program.
In fact, Hurla is so much a part of Ward that the school has decided to rename its baseball diamond in Kansas City, Kansas, after him.
On April 12, the Dennis Hurla Diamond was officially dedicated before a game against the St. James Academy Thunder, with Hurla throwing out the first pitch before the game.
More than winning
It’s clear Hurla’s coaching success is astounding. And for those who know him, the honor of Ward naming the diamond after him was overdue.
“He deserves this honor,” said Zach Mark, a Church of the Ascension, Overland Park, parishioner.
Referring to Hurla’s coaching method, he added, “It’s more than winning state championships; it’s instilling personal discipline, integrity [and] doing things the right way on and off the field.
“I think that’s key to his enormous success he’s had over the years coaching baseball.”
Mike Beaven, the athletic director at Ward, agreed.
“His building of character in his young men, I think, stands out the most,” he said. “Everything he did in his approach to the game relays over to how you can approach your life.”
Mark graduated from Ward in 2006 and played baseball for Hurla all four years. Each year, they won the state championship. Now an attorney in Mission, Mark can see how playing for Hurla has impacted his work ethic.
“[He taught us] to approach one thing at a time,” said Mark. “For me, that’s one client, one case at a time and not trying to get too far ahead of myself.”
Hurla was also a notable supporter of his players’ academic performance.
“The thing he got across to us was that professional baseball may or may not be in the cards, but we would always have our education,” said Mark. “That was something to be valued and work toward.”
Faith education was always in the foreground for Hurla as well.
“During the baseball season, we would go to Mass as a team every Friday morning,” said Mark. The players even took turns as altar servers.
And for Hurla, coaching at Ward provided him an occasion to grow in his own faith.
“Coming to Bishop Ward reignited a lot of activities and beliefs in me that . . . had become dormant,” said Hurla. “Being there every day was an opportunity to re-engage and pass that along to the players.”
Honor of the award, history of field
One thing that has made this honor particularly touching for Hurla is the history of the diamond itself.
“The field has been there since the 1940s,” said Hurla, “[and] I had a little slice of it for 20 years. It’s a humbling honor to be a small part of that tradition and history.”
Even baseball great Satchel Paige, a Negro League baseball and Major League baseball pitcher, said Hurla, once played a game at Ward’s 14th Street diamond — a crown jewel in its history.
“Just to be associated with that field and its history is really exciting to me,” said Hurla. “I’m really grateful for that.”
Though his time coaching baseball at Ward has ended, Hurla does not intend to give up the sport quite yet.
He has been helping to start a college baseball program at Kansas Christian College in Overland Park, which will launch this coming fall with Hurla as the assistant coach and his son Tony as the head coach.
Fundamentally, Hurla said, the people he has met through the years have been his favorite part of coaching — especially at Ward.
“It was just a great experience,” he said. “It really enriched my life.
“I’m glad I was a part of it.”