All-Bee Athletes

Baseball Coach of the Year: Chad Thornhill, Bullard

He's qualified because: Marched through arguably the toughest schedule in school history to go 26-7, win the program's first Central Section Division I title in 13 years and finish ranked No. 11 in the state by Cal-Hi Sports. Went a combined 9-2 against opposition from the section's strongest leagues, the Tri-River Athletic Conference and the Southwest Yosemite League. Also won the County/Metro Athletic Conference at 14-1, including three victories over eventual D-II champion Edison. Thornhill, a 1990 Bullard graduate, is 144-67-3 in seven seasons with the Knights.

"We traveled to San Diego (for the San Diego Lions Classic) to see some of the best teams in the country, but Central Valley baseball is without equal," Thornhill says. "Baseball is so good around here, regardless if it's Bakersfield, Clovis or Fresno. So it's a very tough road to win the big trophy."

CMAC and beyond: Bullard has won five of seven CMAC titles under Thornhill. But those have been only secondary goals.

"Winning conference championships, even in my own mind, is not adequate," Thornhill says, "because the standards in this program and community are to beat Clovis schools and win Valley titles. I'm not sure relief is the right word; this is more absolute pride and the historical value for the Bullard program."

Just sort of happened: Many athletes graduate from college with designs on returning to the high schools from which they attended to coach.

That wasn't the case with Thornhill, who's married (Deanne) with two children (Chase, 10; Taylor, 7).

Primarily a shortstop, he played at Bullard, Fresno City, Cal State Northridge, two years in the Cleveland Indians organization and then three all-star seasons in the independent Northern League.

He then remained in the Northern League and launched his coaching career by assisting two years under former 10-year major leaguer Hal Lanier (eight years with San Francisco Giants).

Thornhill then assisted coach Mike Batesole at Fresno State for three seasons while completing a degree in Spanish and a master's in kinesiology and sports administration.

At the same time, by chance, Bullard's baseball job opened, and Thornhill received a phone call: "It just sort of worked out. It was one of those once-in-a-lifetime opportunities and, after assisting for so long at different levels, I didn't know what to expect.

"This is the place I cut my teeth as a player under (coach Mike Noakes). And it's amazing the memories of what baseball is supposed to be like. It's worked out wonderfully."