LISBON — He’s 74. And, according to one of his players, Bob Bunting is “chill.”
“He really is,” said Skylar Sadler, senior pitcher for the Lisbon softball team. “I was really nervous when I moved here (from Solon, after my freshman year). But through him, I was able to love the game again, find my passion.”
Bunting begins his 50th softball season — all at Lisbon — Thursday, when the Lions open with a Tri-Rivers Conference doubleheader at Central City.
“Sometimes my body tells me it’s been 50 years,” he said. “Or my arm tells me I’ve got to get it in better shape.”
Bunting was part of the last graduating class of Martelle High School, in 1962. There, he played baseball and basketball, the only two boys’ sports the school offered.
He went on to play baseball at Wartburg College, then was hired as a high-school math teacher at Lisbon in the fall of 1966. He never left.
In addition to serving as the baseball coach (starting in 1966), Bunting took over the softball program in the fall of 1969 “because nobody else wanted it,” and because he had fast-pitch experience, playing in the Major Open and Minor Open leagues.
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Bunting has compiled a softball record of 1,162-625. Behind pitcher Paige Stamp, the Lions won three consecutive state Class 1A championships from 1994 through 1996.
These days, he is coaching a lot of second-generation players.
“He coached a lot of our parents,” catcher Reegan Happel said. “They say he was a lot more amped up when he coached them.”
Now, he’s “chill.”
“I’ve probably mellowed a little bit,” he said. “I probably understand girls a little better than when I first started.”
Happel said, “He laughs at our jokes. Sometimes, he roasts us. It’s funny.”
Maybe Bunting has mellowed. But he’s not a pushover. The players call him Mr. Bunting.
And he’s never unprepared.
“He and his assistants went up to go see (Lansing Kee) play once or twice last year once he learned we were in the same region,” Happel said. “He had us so ready for that game.”
The Lions upset No. 1 Kee in a regional final, then went on to finish third in 1A at the state tournament, their first appearance in Fort Dodge in 14 years.
Nearly the entire roster returns.
“We could be great,” Happel said. “We’re hungry, for sure. We got a taste of it last year, and now we want more.”
In addition to coaching and teaching, Bunting served as athletics director at Lisbon for more than 30 years. Now he devotes most of his time to his 20-acre farm north of Mount Vernon, where he raises cattle and chickens and grows hay and oats.
He’s forever a small-town guy.
“Maybe once I gave slight consideration to a bigger school, but never anything serious,” he said. “I’ve just always been happy here.”
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