Youth sports volunteer: After 60 years at Dover LL, Coker keeps coming back

Ed Coker, left, who’s been a volunteer since the 1960s, presents a plaque to Jim Pappas on Dover Little League’s opening day a few years ago. Delaware State News file photo

DOVER — Ed Coker was only 16 when his life changed forever.

That’s when his family’s Dover home burned down.

Everyone made it out OK but the accident, in 1951, meant that Coker had to quit high school and start working.

The second oldest of 11 children, he had to get a job to help support the family.

While Coker later earned his GED, he never did return to school.

“I would have liked to have finished high school at least,” said Coker. “Back in my day — we’re talking about the early ‘50’s — to finish high school was an accomplishment, let alone going to college. Who knows? Maybe I would have went to college.”

Most people would say that Ed Coker’s life worked out pretty well anyway, though.

He and his wife sent three kids to college while Ed worked as a salesman for Sears for 48 years. He then still found time to work for Wyoming Concrete for a dozen years after he retired from Sears.

The fact that the 84-year-old Coker has also spent six decades as a volunteer at Dover Little League only seems like icing on the cake.

After starting out as a coach at Dover in the early 1960s, Coker hasn’t missed a Little League season since. Only the coronavirus pandemic has stopped his consecutive-season streak.

Even with Dover not playing this summer, though, Coker is still trying to help the league get its numbers up so it can have fall ball.

Dover Little League really has been a second home for his family. Coker’s three kids, Chuck, Shelly and Eric, were usually out there with their dad.

“If I wasn’t playing baseball, I was practicing with the kids, every night,” said Coker, who managed two squads to the Big League World Series in the 1970s.

“When I was young, grade-school age, we played baseball all the time,” he said. “It just got into me and never got out of me. I just went right on through with my children and then my grandkids. And then I got into softball with my grand daughters. I’ve been involved in baseball and softball all my life.”

A 2004 inductee into the Delaware Baseball Hall of Fame, Coker grew up playing in various local leagues. He was a pitcher/first baseman for the Cheswold Tigers, which played against teams from the Eastern Shore Baseball League.

Coker just wishes more kids were playing baseball these days. At its largest, Dover had around 1,000 players on its fields.

Lately, however, it’s been no more than three hundred.

“When I was coming along (as a coach), everybody played baseball,” said Coker. “In the ‘70s, ‘80s and even ‘90s, everybody was playing baseball.”

Of course, having the season wiped out by the pandemic doesn’t help things.

“It’s a strange season for me,” said Coker. “I’ve lived baseball all my life.

“I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished,” said the longtime board member. “I never came close to missing a season. … The biggest enjoyment I ever got was watching young kids develop.”

Coker still would like to see some more young players work their way up through the ranks. He used to joke that he was still out at Dover because he simply couldn’t figure out a way to retire.

“I guess you just don’t know how to get out of it,” he once quipped.

Now, though, Coker figures he’ll still be going out to the Dover ballpark as long as he’s able to.

“I don’t see myself walking away from it,” he said. “I’m good friends with a lot of people out there.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Delaware State News would like to feature some of the volunteers who keep youth sports going downstate.
This week, Ed Coker of Dover Little League was nominated. If you would like to nominate someone, e-mail their name and some background information to sports@newszap.com.