Milton Senter, Fuquay-Varina’s baseball coach since 1979, claimed his 600th victory Wednesday night, reaching a milestone few coaches have reached before.
The 62-year-old, known for his wins and his humility, downplayed it in a way that everyone expected. But when he acknowledged the milestone, it still drew laughs from his players.
“Y’all know me. I’m just glad I got that out of the way,” he said to his players.
He was still dripping wet from a surprise Gatorade dousing, following the 7-4 victory against Fayetteville’s Pine Forest High.
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Senter is still connecting with high school students, whether they’re on his team, in his social studies classroom or in his Sunday School class at Fuquay-Varina Baptist Church. That ability to connect has helped him stand the test of time and keep the Bengals as one of the premier baseball programs in the state.
He’s one of few baseball coaches in the state to reach 600 wins, though the number of coaches isn’t known. The N.C. High School Athletic Association record book only lists two coaches’ win totals – both are still active and both have more than 700.
Senter’s teams have won a state championships in 2002, and finished runner-up three times, in 1980, 2000 and 2013. They’ve been to the East regional final six times with 12 conference championships and 22 playoff appearances. That success has come across three different classifications – 2A, 3A and 4A.
He’s been there longer than the school’s baseball stadium. His first teams played their home games at Fuquay-Varina Middle School.
“He adapts with the times,” said Tom Hayes, who has been Senter’s assistant coach for 21 years. “Shoot, he can keep up with modern technology.”
Senter is on Twitter and uses it to help send out updates to the practice and game schedule.
When Senter first started teaching at Fuquay-Varina in 1977, he coached junior varsity football, basketball and baseball. For the most part, he worked with the same kids all three seasons.
“The players used to just change shoes from one season to the next,” Senter said. “Now most of the kids are specialists, and they only play baseball. But kids are kids. They’ll do what you want them to do if you make sure they understand what you want them to do.”
When Fuquay-Varina baseball coach Julian Riddle left for Athens Drive in 1979, when the Raleigh school opened, Senter was promoted from the junior varsity level. He has remained as head coach since then.
“I’m very humbled by the fact I never, ever expected to be in this position as a head coach,” Senter said. “I just got into because I thought it would be fun.”
Fuquay-Varina was ready for Senter’s milestone with T-shirts and a banner to commemorate the event.
But Senter doesn’t like the attention, and he won’t take the credit for the wins, either.
He told his team that 600 wins just means he started at a young age and is getting old. He also says he’s smart enough to surround himself with good people who make him look good.
He’s thankful for talented players, a supportive wife, good administrative support and good health.
But those who know him best think there’s more to it than just a supporting cast.
“He’s just such a sharp guy,” said former player Addison Braswell, who graduated in 2012. “He remembers everything. When he’s talking, you want to listen to every word he says and soak up every word.”
Fuquay-Varina Athletics Director James Mountford said Senter treats every player the same way, letting each one know he cares for him, no matter his role on the team.
“I don’t know exactly how he does it, but it seems like he gets the most out of every student or athlete,” Mountford said. “Whether it’s in the classroom or out on the baseball field. When I’m out in the community, everybody, when they talk about Bengal sports, they ask me about Milton Senter ... how he touched their lives.”
Senter is a Fuquay-Varina native, and his name is synonymous with the town. Senter was also the school’s athletics director for four years and boys basketball coach for 12. He’s taught school for 40 years and Sunday school for 39.
“He’s Mr. Fuquay-Varina, really,” Mountford said. “Everywhere he goes, everybody knows him. He doesn’t do anything for himself, it’s all for others, and everybody knows that.”
Some young boys in town, including current Bengals assistant coach Zach Boraski, grew up wanting to play for Senter. Boraski was a bat boy for the Bengals when he was 8 and played for Senter in high school.
“He’s the nicest man I’ve ever met in my entire life,” Boraski said. “Baseball is second to him. He wants you to be successful in life and school first.”
Hayes said Senter sets the example for his players on and off the field. Although Senter has adapted to the times, he hasn’t changed his principles.
“He’s such a positive role model.” Hayes said. “He’s consistently good in all facets of his life. It’s not just the baseball. It’s the way he lives, the way he teaches, the way he is with his family. He invariably does the right thing, which is what everybody wants to do.”
D.J. Burt, a 2014 graduate who now plays in the minor leagues, is just one of the players who looks up to his former coach.
“I look at him as a father,” Burt said in a phone interview. “I talk to him a lot during the offseason. He’s always been that other guy I could go to when I want to talk about baseball or like life-learned lessons.”
The 600th win
The Bengals trailed Pine Forest 4-1 going into the bottom of the fifth inning when the Bengals erupted for five runs to take the lead.
Justin Shelton said No. 600 was on everyone’s mind going into the game, which made it difficult to treat the game like any other. Once Fuquay-Varina got its five runs, all was well.
“Once we got going, we loosened up and started playing like we’re used to,” said Shelton, who homered in the third inning.
As Senter stood in the middle of his players, he freely gave credit to everyone but himself, then directed his players to think about Friday’s contest against Athens Drive.
After 600 wins, Senter continues to look forward to the next game, and he has no immediate plans to retire.
“I’m still enjoying myself, and that’s the most important thing,” Senter said. “I still have fun with the kids. I can still do, not as fast as, but I can still do the same things that I used to do.”
Words from Milton Senter
On the role of athletics in a young person’s life:
“I believe in participation. I believe that high school baseball is one of the last places where you actually get to teach the game. We actually practice. It’s not a show-and-go arrangement. We have expectations for behavior, we have expectations for grades and about the way we play the game.
“And below the college level, there’s not much of that left. This is all that’s left, and I think it’s important to be a teacher here at the school and be this coach. I don’t think it would be right to just be a coach and not be in the faculty. I feel very strongly that I need to be engaged academically with them just like I am with them in the field. That’s just my thoughts about it. I feel very strongly about high school athletics having a strong place.”
“Slicker than a peeled onion”
“Madder than wet-setting hen”
“If you’re not 15 minutes early, you’re late”
“What in the ham sandwich?”