Baseball fans young and old watched last month as a gritty team of kids represented North Carolina in the Little League Baseball World Series.
It was a captivating story, with a group of 12- and 13-year-olds with the Greenville North State All Stars making it all the way to the championship round. A North Carolina team hadn’t made it to the series since 2004.
One of the team’s coaches, 33-year-old Michael Vaughn, had his own story to tell, although he has been reluctant to share it. Vaughn was shot in the chest at close range when he was 19, and doctors had to remove his lung. Recovery was hard – he had to learn how to walk again – and he was bitter. He faced several criminal charges in the years that followed.
But Vaughn, now a husband and father, said he turned his life around, and coaching baseball has given him direction.
Vaughn has coached the All Stars for nine years now. Here, he talks about baseball, his purpose in life and how the game keeps him moving forward.
Q: North State lost to a Texas team in the championship round, after leading 5-0 after three innings. How did you and fellow coach Brian Fields help the boys cope with the loss?
A: A lot of people don’t know this, but when they were 9, they were runners-up in district. When they were 10, they were runners-up in state. When they were 11, they were runners-up in regionals. Now this year, they’re runners-up in the United States. Honestly, I think it just keeps them hungry. They keep doing better every single year. They keep working hard.
Q: How has coaching Little League changed your life and perspective?
A: They made me grow as a person. Sports teaches life lessons. One thing I tell my kids, we don’t use the word “fair.” There will be points in time where life is not always great. I tell my kids the difference between a good player and a great player is how you handle things when things don’t go your way. These kids have learned something each year they lost, and they strive to get better.
Q: You’ve described yourself as a “wild child” in your earlier years.
A: Oh yeah. I was a fearless kid. I was a daredevil; things didn’t scare me. The older I’ve gotten, the more things do scare me now. I do think about consequences. I have to set an example. Every year, I’ve held myself to a higher standard. Right now I’m at an all-time high. I can’t afford to do anything stupid again.
One thing I believe in deep down in my heart is I believe people really don’t change, but people hold it together better. What I mean by that is I still have parts of me that can be wild, but that’s not who I am anymore. Even having this interview is not something I like; I don’t like going backward. Once you leave that dark place, you never want to go back to that.
Q: How do your past experiences help you as a coach?
A: When you’re coaching kids, you have to be able to relate to all of them. You have to treat everyone the same, but you can’t coach them the same way. You never know someone’s upbringing or what they have to live in. And I guess that’s what I’m pretty good at – relating to kids at every different level.
Q: When you first started coaching in 2009, some people weren’t supportive because of your past. How did you handle that?
A: I wear my heart on my sleeve. I tried not to think about it. Were there days I was embarrassed? A little bit. But I wasn’t out there to please such-and-such. When I’m out there, my main concern is the children.
I ... didn’t wear the (ESPN) microphone when we were out there (at the series). That’s not why I coach. I only coach for the kids. What I talk about with those kids, and what we have, stays between us. The whole world doesn’t need to hear it.
Q: Is the community supportive of you now?
A: Absolutely – even though I don’t go out there and play the buddy system. That’s why Brian Fields and I work so well together. Brian is so diplomatic and political and says all the right things. He’s the nicest guy. I tell him all the time he needs to run for mayor.
Me, on the other hand, I don’t really care as much. I couldn’t do any of this without my coaches I coach with. Three guys: Jake Allen, Norm Bryant and Brian Fields. They’re lifelong friends.
Q: How has your faith played a role in your life?
A: A lot of times people live by the theory that “I’ll pray about it, and God will take care of it. If it’s not meant to be, it’s not meant to be.”
I disagree. I tell the kids I coach, “You can pray all you want. But what God does, if he puts you in a situation, you have to make the best of it. It doesn’t mean that that’s all you have to do – that you don’t have to work.”
I think God put me in a situation to coach. He gave me an opportunity, and I made the most of it. I’m not the best baseball coach in the world. I don’t know more than everybody else. But I give it 110 percent because I know that’s what God wants me to do.
Q: What have been the biggest challenges of juggling coaching, family and career?
A: Staying motivated to keep doing it (coaching). It takes a lot of time. We’ve been going at it since March – six months out of the year, and we practice almost every day. It’s a huge commitment for me but also for my family. My wife loves it, and they love my son being out there. He yells, “Go boys!” all the time.
This is why God’s got me here, why he’s left me on this Earth. He wants me to be a good husband, good father and good coach. And I wouldn’t be the husband or the father that I am if I wasn’t coaching.
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Born: July 28, 1984
Career: Construction superintendent
Family: Wife Elisa; son Kyzer, 20 months
Passion: Coaching Greenville’s North State All Stars