Don Sutherland thoroughly enjoys going to the ballpark every day.
It provides an avenue to teach and mold and compete. The Cary-Grove baseball coach thrives on competition.
The wins, unmatched by any other area coach, are a by-product of all those things. But a wise man once told “Suds,” as everyone around C-G calls him, there is much more involved with coaching than wins.
“My dad [Jim] taught me that,” Sutherland said. “He enjoyed it so much. When I was young, I saw that. I can remember when he could swing a fungo bat again for the first time [after being sick]. There are so many things more important than winning, like just being at the baseball diamond.”
Jim Sutherland, a coaching legend in Ottawa, died in 1994 after a long bout with myasthenia gravis, a neuromuscular disease that leads to muscle weakness and fatigue. The lessons Don learned have carried him through 26 seasons of baseball to his 500th win Saturday as C-G defeated Grayslake North, 12-1, in five innings.
The victory put Sutherland at 500-363 for his career, adding him to an elite group with 37 other coaches, according to the IHSA website. Locally, Marian Central’s Gregg Wikierak, who retired two seasons ago at 400-235, is within 100 victories of Sutherland.
“I don’t go by milestones,” Sutherland said. “I’m blessed to be teaching at a good school with good athletes, I’ve had great assistant coaches and all those things make such a huge difference.”
While Sutherland downplays his role, others grasp the impact he has made.
“He’s everything you want coaching your kid,” said Crystal Lake Central athletic director Jeff Aldridge, the Tigers’ former baseball coach. “He’s the epitome of what high school sports should be all about. I don’t think it’s about the 500 wins to him, it’s about all the games he’s coached and lives he’s touched and will continue to touch. I can’t say enough good things about him.”
After Saturday’s game, the Trojans (10-3 overall, 5-0 Fox Valley Conference Valley Division) handed Sutherland a card they had signed to commemorate the victory. Right fielder Zach Marszal, who pitched four innings Saturday, said Sutherland’s rapport with his players goes a long way to C-G’s success.
“He’ll never really get too down on you about anything,” Marszal said. “He’s always trying to get you to improve as a player and as a person off the field. He just tries to treat each player the same.”
Shortstop Jeremy Vasquez was honored to be there for Sutherland’s No. 500.
“I don’t think he expected us to know that much about it,” Vasquez said. “He wants to win and do what’s best for the team. Today we let him do the breakdown after we talked. Usually he chooses a player who yells, ‘We be …’ and the rest of us yell, ‘C-G!’ Today, he did it. He deserved it.”
Sutherland, 56, says people assume he will retire when his sons – senior Michael and sophomore Matt – graduate. That’s not in the game plan, and at the current pace of 20-plus wins a season, he should go well past 600.
“With Matt being a sophomore, I can’t imagine college costs are going to go down,” Sutherland said. “So it makes no sense for me to retire and then pay for college with a lesser salary. Besides that, I enjoy my [math] teaching job and enjoy my coaching job. There’s no end in sight, I love what I do.”
• Joe Stevenson is a senior sports writer for the Northwest Herald. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You also can follow him on Twitter @nwh_JoePrepZone.