The term dynasty is thrown around a lot these days in the world of sports, but the one that Neil Bixler built as the head coach of the Bermudian Springs field hockey team is undeniable.
Nineteen years. Fifteen YAIAA-3 titles. One YAIAA Tournament title and 309 wins.
Bixler, who turned 69 in March and retired from teaching at the school two years ago, submitted his letter of resignation to school board on Friday.
“It just feels like it’s time,” he said of the decision to hang it up now. “It’s my second career. I stopped teaching two years ago and this current group of seniors talked me into finishing it out with them. But this was the right time.”
Bixler, who took over in 2001, had no prior field hockey coaching experience prior to taking the job.
“When I took the position field hockey was not anything that I had ever been involved in,” he said. “I took a teaching position at Bermudian and they asked me at the same time if I would coach. I had coached some other sports prior to taking the teaching job and my daughters had been involved in the sport, so I said I’d give it a shot.”
Bixler’s coaching career wasn’t an immediate success, having won four games the first season and five the second, but he says that with more experience came more success.
“I talked to Pat Rudy, the coach at Lock Haven, which is actually where I went to school. And I talked to coach (Bertie) Landes over at Shippensburg and learned what I needed to do to build a successful program,” he said.
A large part of that success started with Leeann Black, a 2009 graduate who left the program as the all-time leading scorer.
“It was very exciting to be around the program at that time,” Black said. “ We were known in the area as being one of the best teams and it gave us good goals to reach for. We knew that Coach Bixler was dedicated 110 percent to us. We were really a close-knit family.”
Bixler, who taught alternative education and then physical education and health at Bermudian Springs, says the decision to retire is one that he has contemplated for a while.
“I had been thinking about it, particularly when I retired from teaching,” he said. “ I got asked by some people and some parents and this current senior class if I would please stay. So I hung around for a couple more years.”
He added that one of the things he encouraged most was for his girls to play multiple sports.
Bermudian Springs athletic director Dave Orwig said that Bixler’s approach earned him respect from players, parents and fellow coaches alike.
“He was organized and honest, especially with the realities of his expectations for them,” Orwig said. “He never treated them like they were ‘female athletes,’ he always treated them like he would any other athlete and I think they respected that.”
One of those athletes was MacKenzie Farley, who broke Black’s scoring record in 2015 and is currently a senior playing at Lock Haven University
“It was really fun,” Farley said of playing for Bixler. “I knew him growing up because my sister played for him. It was always unique in a way because he had a background with his daughters playing. But everything he did or said had a purpose.”
Farley says that Bixler’s ties to Lock Haven made the recruiting process simpler and more enjoyable than it would have been otherwise.
“He helped a lot,” she said. “We looked at a good amount schools but it was nice because he knew I was going to Lock Haven to look and he went to school with the coach and knows her well so it made me feel really comfortable.”
She added that his support for his players goes beyond the field and has continued throughout her college career.
“He has made such a big impact. The stat books are great, but when he walks on the field he makes a huge impact. I don’t know how to put it into words,” Farley said. “He’s just so supportive. He continued to show support at the college level and would show up for games and he set the expectation for his players.”
For Bixler, that continued impact beyond the field is something he says he’ll remember fondly.
“What I’ll take with me the most, I think, is that myself and the coaches with me have had positive influence on kids we’ve coached,” he said. “Whether that be helping them choose a college or figure things out after high school. That type of stuff was always important to us.”
Clay Sauertieg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter at @ByCSauertieg