Two state baseball championships, six conference titles and dozens of former Juneau-Douglas High School players who participated in college rank among the accomplishments of Crimson Bears head baseball coach Jim Ayers.
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After eight seasons at the helm, however, Ayers is ready to devote more attention to even greater opponents than Sitka or Ketchikan.
How about global climate change and cancer?
Ayers, 60, stepped down as Crimson Bears coach last week to concentrate full-time on his health and his work with the environmental advocacy group Oceana.
After battling prostate cancer in 1995, Ayers said he was diagnosed with cancer again last year. He underwent 38 radiation treatments last fall. He said his cancer is not in complete remission but is diminished and he's stable.
"The kids understand more than anybody that something had to go," Ayers said.
In addition to personal health issues, concerns of a more universal nature have drawn Ayers away from the diamond.
Ayers serves as vice president of Oceana for the Pacific region, an international ocean environmental advocacy group that has offices in Alaska, Oregon and California.
"I talked to the kids about this, and I believe my job is more important to these kids in the long run, working on global climate change and ocean habitat destruction," he said. "I decided what I'm doing right now with my job is probably the most important thing with the number of years of my life I have left. I decided this year that I couldn't quit working on ocean protection and climate change and habitat destruction."
During his time in Juneau, Ayers has been an eloquent and passionate advocate not only for environmental causes, but also for youth sports locally.
He's been a driving force behind the movement to put artificial turf on the baseball and softball fields in town. The fields currently consist of just dirt and rocks.
"He's very passionate about his work," JDHS senior and leadoff hitter Joe Kohan said. "He protects the ocean and loves to fish. He wants my kids, the future to be able to do what he got to do and not hear from old-times about how it used to be so great."
As for baseball, Ayers said he still plans to help kids improve and try to get them into college.
Ayers took over the JDHS baseball program in 2000, the first year it became an Alaska School Activities Association-sanctioned sport.
The Crimson Bears won state championships in 2002 and 2003 and finished second in 2000 and 2007.
"He definitely has a lot of fire and knew a lot about the game, but he knew that anything could happen," Kohan said. "So you never quit until the third out of the last inning because he's seen it all happen. He was very positive all the time, and it helped out. We had many come-from-behind wins."
In addition to the wins, a number of players have moved on to college and even the professional ranks during his tenure as head coach.
Garrett Schoenberger, a 2000 all-tournament selection, played baseball at Arizona State while Ayers' son, Joe, played at Stanford and Boston College.
Joe Ayers currently plays in the Arizona Diamondbacks' minor league system.
Jim Ayers also gives credit to his coaches throughout the years, including Mark Hickey, Bruce Scandling, Bill McCauley, Steve Bavard and Frank Barthell.
"I think we helped kids learn to respect and take care of one another," Ayers said. "That's a goal we always talked about. You win together, lose together and take care of each other. You never leave a teammate behind, emotionally or physically. ... By and far, we helped them purse their dreams by taking care of others, and that's as big a reward as any accomplishment."
A hallmark of Ayers' teams was the positivity surrounding the players during practices or games.
Music from a nearby pickup truck was a frequent sight during practices while loud, ever-present chatter from the Crimson Bears' dugout permeated every game.
"All those guys said when you were a crazy coach, we knew we were out there to have fun," Ayers said. "Rule one, only I forget sometimes, is to have fun. If you're not having fun, it's time to do something else."
Contact sports editor Tim Nichols at 523-2228 or email@example.com.
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