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By Jerry Hill, Baylor Bear Insider
Even more than the jokes, the dancing, the Lumisms – “nobody really knows what they mean” – Mark Lumley is respected as one of the greatest softball coaches in the game.
“I knew when I interviewed him that he certainly had a clue about the game,” Baylor head coach Glenn Moore said of the 64-year-old Lumley, who’s retiring on Wednesday after 20 years at Baylor and a 37-year career that included two seasons with Moore at LSU and 12 years as the head coach at Flowering Wells High School in Tucson, Ariz.
“It didn’t take me long to know that this guy has a gift when it came to the game and how to teach. It’s difficult to teach at the highest level. You have to know when to teach and when not to teach. That’s something we all struggle with as coaches because many times players come here having had incredible success, so they’re not coachable right away. I just think he’s an incredible teacher.”
Lumley, promoted to associate head coach in 2006, has helped the Lady Bear program make it to 13 NCAA regionals and four trips to the Women’s College World Series while compiling an overall record of 775-377.
“Lum brings a smile and laughter to so many people’s faces,” said pitching coach Britni Newman, a part of the coaching trio that has been together for the last 17 seasons, the third-longest tenure in the nation. “He’s taught me so much about life. He’s taught me so much about my faith, based on his actions and how he lives his life. And he’s very talented as a coach. That’s been his calling in life, and he’s definitely fulfilled it.”
Since an initial diagnosis in 2007, Lumley has now had four different bouts with cancer. He had his prostate removed in ’07, went through chemo treatments in 2015 when cancer was found in his lymph nodes, and then had surgery in November 2018 for colorectal cancer.
Back on the field coaching full-time during a 2020 season cut short by COVID-19, Lumley found out that the cancer had spread to his vertebrae in March. On the day the team was leaving for a trip to Houston and then Florida, he woke up and told his wife, Stacey, “My back is killing me. There is no way I’m going to be able to go anywhere.”
“I took him to the emergency room, and that’s when they found the cancer in the bone,” said Stacey Lumley, Mark’s wife of eight years. “Being in the bone, it’s horrific. It’s just overwhelming because I hate to see him hurt like that.”
One thing he’s never done, though, is give up. Every time the cancer has come back, he has continued to fight with everything he has.
“Honestly, it’s amazing, because he would come to practice and act like nothing was wrong,” said former Baylor outfielder Kyla Walker (2016-20). “The cancer came back when we were going to (College Station) for regionals my junior year. He got the news, still came to regionals and was like, ‘I’ll worry about it after.’ It was just amazing to see how he handled it and how he could fight. It made me realize that softball is something so small. If I don’t do well at hitting or outfield, it’s not that big of a deal. It gives you a different perspective.”
Moore, who’s had Lumley by his side for the last 22 years, said it’s been “unbelievable how he’s fought, at times when I believe I would have thrown in the towel.”
“He was out here at times when he shouldn’t have been here, when he should have been taking care of himself,” Moore said. “I’m not saying this because he’s about to retire, I’m saying this because that’s who he is. He has always put others ahead of himself. I admire him for how he’s been driven by doing that.”
Even within the last week, weakened by the cancer and groggy with pain medication, he told Stacey, “I still feel like I have stuff to do.”
“He’s just a fighter,” she said, “and he will be all the way through this.”
They’ve been together for so long, Moore said it would be like “cutting off my right arm” when Lumley retires.
“I’m not excited about it, but in this life, we’ve got to get tough and we’ve got to march on,” Moore said. “That’s what Mark wants and desires. He wants to be out there on the field, of course, but he loves our program. As a tribute to him and what he’s done for our program, it needs to carry on.”
A native of Tucson, Lumley graduated from the University of Arizona in 1985. As the head coach at Flowering Wells, he led the team to a No. 5 national ranking by USA Today, earned Coach of the Year honors from the Arizona Coaches Association in 1998, and from the Daily Star-Tucson Citizen in 1993 and ’97.
Obviously well-respected in the Arizona softball circle, Lumley was inducted into the Flowering Wells High School Athletic Hall of Fame in 2014 with former Baylor All-American Ashley Monceaux. University of Arizona coach Mike Candrea commented on a Facebook post, “Lum is one of the finest human beings I have ever known.”
When Moore went looking for an assistant coach in August 1998, Lumley showed up for an interview wearing a three-piece suit . . . with the temperature in Phoenix, Ariz., hovering around 110 degrees.
“I thought, this guy is serious,” Moore said in an interview earlier this year with the Waco Tribune-Herald. “Probably 20 minutes into the interview, Mark was asking, ‘Where do I sign?’ That was the beginning of a lifetime friendship.”
In his two years as the hitting coach at LSU, the Tigers won back-to-back SEC championships and came within one win of reaching the World Series in 2000. That year, LSU finished eighth nationally in batting average (.310), 13th in slugging percentage (.430), and 20th in scoring (5.07 runs per game).
Newman, an All-American pitcher at LSU, said Lumley “taught me how to advance my game as a player way back when I played for him many years ago.”
“One thing I loved about him is he just knew how to connect with athletes,” she said. “He’s such a people person, and he has just such a personality to where he could connect with different athletes.”
Lumley’s success elevated to an even higher level in his 20 years at Baylor, coaching multiple All-American hitters.
Jordan Strickland, who hit 14 homers and drove in 49 runs for the 2014 World Series team, said Lumley was “just super encouraging, loves softball more than anybody and just wants his players to be the best and to have all the tools.”
“His passion for softball drove him to know so much about the sport, and he just loved hitting,” Strickland said. “I think because he had coached so long, he always tried to have these innovative drills or ideas and never wanted us to be bored with anything. He wanted us to constantly be growing.”
Walker, who has known Lumley since she was in the third grade when Baylor started recruiting her older sister, Kayce, said he was always available for a little extra batting practice.
“If I ever felt like my hitting was a little off, I would just text Lum,” said Walker, who set a program record with a .409 career batting average. “He’d say, ‘Well, I’m at the field, you can come whenever.’’’
After struggling at the plate in a midweek game against Texas, Strickland went to the batting cage at around 10 p.m., and Lumley “came in there and started hitting with me.”
“That was just the epitome of him,” she said. “He was always helping out players, never said no to a hitting lesson. But at the same time, he was the light spirit of the coaching staff.”
Ever ready with the jokes, Lumley played good cop to Moore’s bad cop at times.
“We all have our roles, and he always knew what was the best way to go about fulfilling that role,” Newman said. “If Coach Moore got on the girls, Coach Lumley sensed, ‘OK, we’ve got to lighten the mood up here a little bit.’ He had kind of a sixth sense of when he needed to step in, when he needed to press a point a little firmer, of if he needed to tell a joke and get everybody laughing.”
Moore said, “Typically, whatever we were doing was well-planned out, but he has certainly helped me be a better teacher because of playing the role he’s had to play.”
After meeting and becoming friends at Bridgepoint Fellowship church 12 years ago, Mark and Stacey started dating four years later and were married on Dec. 28, 2012.
Mark proposed at a softball team dinner, because “he felt like he had a better chance of me saying yes if he did it in front of the whole team,” Stacey said. “He said he knew I wouldn’t want to let the girls down.”
“His reasoning was that if she said no, she would have 18 of his girls to answer to,” Strickland said. “It was just so sweet and so special, and of course Stacey has been amazing throughout all of this. That was my junior year, so getting to meet her and spend time with her those two years left in my playing career, it was neat just to see him so happy.”
Stacey, who has three sons (Trey, Mason, and D.J.), said Mark “had a heart for a single mom because his mom was a single mom.”
“He said he had always hoped that his mom would try again and she didn’t,” Stacey said, “so he kind of opened my heart to ‘Maybe it is OK to try this love thing again.’ I had already made up my mind, both of us had. Mark was really that way. He was set in his ways and he had his world moving smoothly. There was nobody to take care of, other than his dog. That dog was his world. We were both kind of at that point where this is what it is and God just wants us to be by ourselves. But, obviously, that wasn’t the truth. It’s been a blessing for both of us.”
Moore said Stacey has been a “godsend.”
“This guy would spend five hours at home and the rest of the time in the office, and it was just unhealthy how he was so absorbed by the job,” Moore said. “Certainly, she balanced him out and has been a godsend for him, looking after him and giving him great joy.”
Arranged by longtime friend and local softball enthusiast Kyle Heard, a drive-by parade in Lumley’s honor back in April attracted an estimated 200 cars and 1,000 people to show support for Lumley in his latest battle with cancer.
“Kyle told Coach Moore that there would be maybe 10 to 15 cars,” Stacey said. “Mason had gone up to get in line, and he called and told me how long the line was. So, I knew probably 10 minutes before they got here that it was going to be that big. Mark went out front and saw the police car, and he said, ‘Somebody’s in trouble.’ I think it took him a minute for it to register that this was for him. And then he started bawling like a baby. He was so overwhelmed.”
Moore said he couldn’t even make eye contact as he drove by, instead just flashing a thumbs-up sign to his longtime friend.
“That’s just the effect that he’s had not only in Waco but nationwide,” Moore said. “Someone called him a rock star when we were at a convention one time, just because when he walks up, everybody starts yelling at him and coming up and making jokes with him. He’s just very much loved.”
His feelings for Coach Lum, Moore said, are “tough to put in words.”
“He’s closer to me than my brothers, and I have a close relationship with them. But, he’s just been my side for so long now. I have to say, he’s the best man I’ve ever met in my life. I’ve never seen someone so unselfish and giving and loyal. He just has a heart for people and, in particular, for all the players we coach.”