Buford’s Chester reflective after his 600th coaching victory

Stuart Chester talks to an umpire during last year’s Buford playoff series against Flowery Branch. (Photo: David McGregor)

BUFORD — There were plenty of elements of Buford’s baseball game with Loganville to make Wednesday a special night at McQuaig Field.

Amidst a night in which the Wolves’ 3-2 win on Joseph Salvo’s walk-off fielder’s choice grounder in a rematch of last year’s Class AAAAA state championship series and gave them an early leg up in the Region 8-AAAAA standings, as well as a surprise appearance by Buford football star Derrian Brown, there was plenty of emotion to go around.

But perhaps the most emotion came at the end, as Buford players and fans celebrated the 600th win of Stuart Chester’s head coaching career.

The milestone runs his career record to 600-157 in 26 seasons as a head coach at Pickens, Cartersville and now Buford.

It leaves him as Georgia’s ninth all-time winningest coach and fifth winningest active coach, and highlights a career that has seen plenty of success, including six state titles.

But the way the 54-year-old coach sees it, it represents longevity more than anything else.

“Yeah, I’ve been in it a pretty long while,” Chester said following Wednesday night’s win. “It is special to reach something like that, but the crazy thing is, I haven’t picked up a bat or thrown the first pitch. A guy told me a long time ago that great players make a great coach, and I’m blessed to be here at Buford.

“To go through the past that I’ve gone through in my coaching career and just so many people that have done so much for me and allowed me to have a platform (is gratifying).”

While only in his second season at Buford after succeeding longtime friend Tony Wolfe, who is now the school’s athletics director, Chester has already earned as much admiration from his current players as he has from former players at his previous two stops.

That much was evident when the Wolves (9-4, 1-0) donned specially made T-shirts adorned with the number 600 to take a team photo with Chester following Wednesday’s game.

And if that gesture wasn’t enough to get his emotions flowing, recalling the moment earlier in the evening when Brown, the Daily Post’s 2018 Football Offensive Player of the Year, was introduced to the crowd following his first day back at school after undergoing emergency brain surgery last month only intensified the love he has experienced in his short time in the Buford community.

“(Wednesday) night had so much emotion,” Chester said with tears welling up in his eyes. “To have Derrian Brown walk into that lunch room and them having him be here — to me, that’s special.

“(Wednesday’s game) could’ve gone either way, but you know what? For that young man to walk in that lunch room and show up here tonight, we’re blessed and we’re better people for it.”

Of course, the milestone win also made Chester a bit reflective about his career, including the fact that Wednesday’s win wasn’t the first milestone he has experienced at McQuaig Field.

“Actually, the 500th win was here (in a game against Buford), too,” Chester said. “There’s quite a few (games that are memorable). Of course, the first state championship was huge for me and Cartersville at that time. There have been so many wins, and really some losses, that (stand out).

“But I’ll tell you one (moment) that really stands out, and I don’t want to be cliche, but the first win I got here at Buford last year was very special. I came in, I’d been at Cartersville for 21 years, and just to make that change to come here, and we changed dugouts (from the third-base side to the first-base side), my biggest fear was … if we come out here and go 0-10, I’m fired. We joke about it, but when we got the win, I’m like, ‘OK, now we can play.’”

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Graduated from GSU in 1990. Have worked in sports journalism for the past 28 years, covering a variety of sports at the Gwinnett Daily News, AJC, Lafayette (La.) Daily Advertiser and Marietta Daily Journal before returning to Gwinnett at the Post in 2007.