The Clay High Blue Devils baseball team honored former head coach Rob Thompson last week with a ceremonial first pitch before the team’s matchup against the Fleming Island Golden Eagles.
Clay High recognized Thompson on Thursday for his final year teaching at the school. Thompson retired from coaching before the 2015 season but has kept his job as a teacher through this school year.
Thompson started his career at Clay High as the head JV baseball coach in 1987. He coached the JV team with his brothers Glen and Terry as his assistants. Thompson only spent one season as the JV coach before taking over the program as the varsity head coach the following season. He would spend the next 26 seasons as the varsity head coach.
Before he took over as the head coach of the varsity, Thompson had to persuade the athletic director to give him a shot. The principal wanted the next head coach to have varsity experience, which Thompson did not have. Thompson wanted the position and had faith he could win with the players he had.
“Just get me in the door. If I can’t sell myself then it is on me,” Thompson said. “My selling point was if I don’t win the district title this year, I’ll give (the job) right back to whoever you want.”
Thompson fulfilled his promise, winning the district title in his first three seasons as the varsity head coach. Under Thompson’s 26 seasons, Clay won eight district titles and two regional titles.
Thompson also coached multiple players who would be selected in the Major League Baseball draft. Dane Dunning, a pitcher with the Texas Rangers was one of those players. Dunning made his MLB debut with the Chicago White Sox in 2020. Dunning played baseball at the University of Florida.
Thompson had a shot at winning the state title in his final year as the head coach of Clay in the 2014 5A playoffs. They lost the championship game against the Jesuit Tigers 5-2 in Thompson’s 26th season at Clay. After the season, Thompson stepped down from his coaching position and Josh Persinger took over the job. Persinger played for Thompson and was his assistant coach for 11 years.
Thompson said he is proud of his time as the head coach of Clay. He values the relationships he has built with all the players he has coached through the years.
“Coaching is about the relationships. I’ve got stories and memories about every kid, and those are my trophies,” said Thompson.
Thompson wants to spend his retirement with his wife, Shirley, and his pit bulls.