Standout Coach Don Axtell
Wore #14 Since High School
•By LIBBY CUDMORE• Hometown Oneonta
When Don Axtell stopped by ex-Major Leaguer Jim Konstanty’s Main Street sporting goods store, he didn’t just pick up equipment – he got the advice that would seal his place as one of SUNY Oneonta’s top coaches.
The former Phillies MVP pitcher passed along a few tips to Axtell, who had just arrived in town to take a job coaching the SUNY Oneonta Red Dragons baseball, basketball and soccer teams. “He told me that if I wanted to have a winning season, I had to have good pitching,” said Axtell.
That first year, 1965, the Dragons were 14-14, but Axtell kept putting Konstanty’s tips into practice, and in 1968, set the team on a four-year conference championship winning streak. “That was a pretty exciting time,” he said.
Axtell’s jersey, No. 14, was retired in a ceremony on SUNY’s Red Dragon Field on Sunday, Sept. 14, the first number retired in the college’s baseball program. “It’s the number I wore when I played center field in high school,” said Axtell.
“It was my good luck charm – I wore it while I was coaching.”
Axtell played baseball at Waverly High School, as well as winning accolades in track & field and basketball. He played basketball at Duke for a year before being drafted into the Army, and when he returned from the Korean War, finished his physical education major at Ithaca College, graduating in 1960.
During his 30-year tenure, Axtell’s teams won more than 400 games, including 10 SUNYAC titles and two ECAC championships in 1974 and ‘75. He was named the SUNYAC Coach of the Year four times, and in 2007, the conference Pitcher of the Year award was named for him.
In 2001, he was inducted into the Oneonta athletics Hall of Fame, and in 2002, into the Waverly High School Hall of Fame.
“My kids played with respect,” he said. “We didn’t use bad language, there was no smoking or drinking during the season, they kept their hair cut above their ears. They said it helped them become better people.”
Among his star players were Roger Weaver, who pitched in the 1980 season with the Detroit Tigers and Steve McMullin, who pitched for the Oneonta Yankees after pitching that first conference-winning game.
And athletics carry on in his family. His son, John, played baseball in his freshman year at Cortland. “I used to tease him that I left one weak spot when I helped him with his hitting,” he said. “Just in case my team ever had to play against him!”
Axtell retired in 1995, but he can still be found on the sidelines, watching his grandchildren play soccer and basketball. “They keep me busy!” he said.