There’s a reason why West Point has such an enriched baseball tradition, and why success is sustained year after year.
That reason — Bruce Schlecht.
Schlecht has 41 years of coaching under his belt, including 26 years as West Point’s American Legion baseball coach.
Schlecht has been the face of West Point baseball, and has created an incredible foundation for his Legion teams.
That foundation has been built upon discipline and fundamentals. Schlecht hammers both of those attributes into his players. Bruce is a fierce competitor who is constantly coaching up his players.
“I’m probably not the easiest guy to play for, but I just want to make them better. I just want to make them a better player, and I want to make them a better person too,” Schlecht said.
“For years, I have always told my players they represent the name on the front of their jersey. They represent West Point.”
Schlecht’s standards are awfully high. He is a hard-nose coach who demands greatness and seeks to produce every ounce of potential out of his players.
And while Bruce is fiery on the ball field, he truly does care deeply about his players. He wants the best for them, both on and off the field. Bruce produces winners on the field, and transforms players into men off the field.
“He doesn’t just want to make us better ball players, but he wants to make us players better people and better men,” current West Point Post 70 player Bryant Rief said. “All in all, he wants you to be the best you can be in baseball and life.”
Being his grandson, Rief has a unique insight into what it’s like playing for Schlecht.
Ever since picking up a baseball at a young age, Rief has seen the strict side of Schlecht, who makes darn sure you’re doing the right thing.
He’s also seen the laid back side of Bruce, a guy you can laugh with and have a good time.
But most of all, he sees a guy who has treated all of his players like his own kid or grandkid.
“He will do anything for you if it’s necessary,” Rief said.
That willingness to go the extra mile is so impactful, and produces such a lasting effect on players’ lives.
For former West Point Post 70 player Shawn Emanuel, Bruce’s impact on his life has been immense.
“He’s obviously very passionate about baseball. He enjoys teaching the game. He is hard on his players when he has to be, but he was one of the most fun coaches I’ve played for,” Emanuel said. “It was very easy to respect him.”
Emanuel is now a head baseball coach himself, and Bruce played a huge role in that.
Emanuel coaches for Platte Valley in the spring and Ashland in the summer. But it was his time as an assistant coach for West Point that directed Shawn into a coaching career.
“After my Legion career was over, he called me up and asked if I wanted to help coach the Juniors and Seniors,” Emanuel said. “He gave me my first opportunity to coach, and I really appreciated that.
“I’ve learned so much from him. He baptized me by fire. He trusted me with some of the coaching responsibilities, and that really sparked my interest in coaching. He helped me out as much as he could, and he still does today.”
That’s what is so incredible about Schlecht. He never stops mentoring. He never stops caring.
“I have a lot of memorable stories about Bruce, but one that really sticks out is my first game facing him as a head coach. He gave me a call the next day,” Emanuel said.
“Of course, he had to do some bragging that he beat me, but he told me how proud he was of me. He said he was impressed with how I coached the team, and that I’ll get there some day.”
Teaching and mentoring is an aspect of coaching Legion ball that Schlecht absolutely loves. And seeing what he’s instilled into players like Emanuel is something Bruce takes pride in.
“Now that Shawn’s a coach, I see him do so much of what I taught him, and he says so many of the things I always say while coaching,” Schlecht said. “Even when I watch the Bombers play today, you still see your former players doing the right thing. They continue to have great work habits that were instilled into them.”
Success has followed the long-time manager no matter who he’s been coaching. He’s been a Legion and high school coach. He’s coached the Bombers’ town team. And he’s been an assistant for 14 years at Wayne State College.
As a Legion coach, the numbers speak for themselves. Schlecht has won two American Legion state titles. His first came in 1981. He’s also won three runner-up titles.
Bruce has taken West Point to state 18 times in 26 years of Legion coaching. Four times, including this summer, both Juniors and Seniors qualified in the same year.
For Schlecht, there’s nothing more gratifying than seeing his players succeed.
Bruce has coached several teams, and he’s coached a ton of players, including dads of current West Point Post 70 players. No matter where he’s coaching, or who he’s coaching, the bottom line is that Bruce wins — a lot. He is currently sitting at 1,097 career wins as a head coach.
A lot of that comes from the type of kids he’s coached.
“One thing about coaching in West Point is that the kids come from such good families. These kids are so disciplined, and it all starts at home,” Schlecht said.
A lot of that, however, is the work ethic and discipline that Schlecht has instilled in those kids.
Schlecht is a hall-of-fame type coach who eats, sleeps and breathes baseball. Baseball is a better game with Bruce on the field. He coaches with a fiery passion. And that’s contagious.
His passion for the game, and his passion for the players he coaches, continues to drive him.
“Once we get on the field, the competitiveness and desire to win just takes over. That’s what gets me going,” Schlecht said. “No matter who we’re playing, I always feel like we can win every game as long as we compete. You just have to go out, work hard and do your best.”