For 37 years, Jack Gillis has been happy to stand in the shadows, while those around him receive honors and awards.
But that has changed for the longtime hitting and third base coach for the Blue Springs Rod’s Sports A’s.
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas City (Blue KC) and the “C” You in the Major Leagues Foundation (CYITML) honored Gillis as the June Blue KC Coaches with Character honoree.
A new venture this season for Blue KC and CYITML, the Blue KC Coaches with Character program spotlights amateur coaches who, through their leadership on and off the field, are helping to grow youth sports in the Kansas City area, and making the community a better place to live, work and play.
“My son Ryan nominated me, and I didn’t know a thing about it,” said Gillis, who has been with the A’s the past 16 years. “He said, ‘Dad, are you sitting down? I have something to tell you.’
“And I’m thinking, “What’s this all about?’ And he told me, and I was glad I was sitting down. What a great honor – especially when you’re nominated by your son. I’m honored to be selected as a Blue KC Coaches with Character honoree.”
Gillis began coaching in 1984 when he took over Ryan’s T-ball team. He started his American Legion baseball coaching career as an assistant with Blue Springs Post 499 Fike 19 years ago and has been the third base and hitting coach for the crosstown A’s the past 16 years.
“I ask my team to give 100 percent all the time and to be man enough to admit when you make a mistake,” said Gillis, a coach who is universally respected by his players and his peers. “I expect them to be good sports and respectful of the umpires, coaches, other team and the game of baseball. At the same time, I try to be respectful of the other team and recognize their successes. I try to be friendly with the other coaches as an example and to reinforce that behavior in the dugout.”
When longtime A’s manager Mike Rooney was asked about Gillis’ selection, he simply said, “This is the first I’ve heard about it. Jack never does anything to bring attention his way. He’s been a good friend and an important part of our team for many years.
“And the kids really respond to him, which seems to be getting tougher and tougher every year to get through to them. But they always listen to Jack and follow his advice. They couldn’t have picked a better man for the award.”
Selected from nominations submitted online at cyouinthemajorleagues.org, with one honoree announced each month throughout the 2017 Major League Baseball season, each Blue KC Coaches with Character honoree will receive a VIP gift package and will be invited to meet Royals general manager and CYITML Founder Dayton Moore at an event in September at Kauffman Stadium.
Blue KC will make a $2,000 donation to CYITML in honor of each selected coach.
“I’m so proud of coaches like Jack Gillis who work to teach athletes not only the fundamentals of their sport, but also how to be good men and women off the field,” Moore said in announcing Gillis as the winner. “It says a lot about Jack and the authentic relationships he’s been building with baseball players for more than 30 years when his son is the person who nominated him for this honor.”
Ryan said it’s difficult to go anywhere in Eastern Jackson County with his father without being stopped for a baseball conversation.
“It amazes me the way his former players admire him and look for his advice in baseball and in life,” Ryan said. “He has given countless hours into teaching and learning how to play the game the right way. He preaches no shortcuts and that hard work will get you where you need to be. Yes, he is my dad, but I would imagine that all of the kids he has coached would agree with me that he is much more than that.”
When it comes to the payoff, Gillis says that his gratification comes from seeing players begin to reach their potential both on and off the field.
“I try to make sure they know I care about them personally,” Gillis said. “I care about their home life, their grades, their dreams and about what they want to accomplish.”
Blue KC and CYITML will select three more area coaches to be recognized as Blue KC Coaches with Character this season. All honorees will be chosen based on nominations from the public, which will be accepted until early September. Grain Valley High School baseball coach Brian Driskell won the award for April.
Those who would like to nominate an amateur coach for the Blue KC Coaches with Character program are encouraged to visit CYouInTheMajorLeagues.org/bluekc.