By Tris Wykes
LEBANON – Just don’t call him a rookie.
Chauncey Wood has been at the helm of the Lebanon High varsity baseball team for less than a week, but he owns a wealth of coaching experience. The Canaan resident ascended to the program’s top spot after three years guiding Raiders JV squad and following the recent resignation of Travis Pelletier, who has been charged with domestic assault.
“The game’s still the same,” said Wood, whose players are scheduled to begin workouts Monday. “I love the community here and I think the baseball program can grow to endless measures.”
Wood said he applied for the varsity job after head coach Doug Ashey died of cancer in the fall of 2019. Pelletier, with previous head-coaching stops at Rivendell Academy, Kearsarge High and the junior American Legion Post 22 team, was selected but never coached a game at his alma mater. The 2020 season was canceled because of the Covid-19 virus.
Wood, who started the Lebanon wrestling program several years ago, stuck it out with the JV baseball team. He’s also a para-educator at the school, often working individually with students in challenging situations. The 40-year old’s burly physique, bushy beard and gruff exterior mask a rare ability to reach young people, a skill he’s practiced since leaving the military in his early 20s.
“I have no control over what people assume about me,” Wood said. “I bring discipline and support for the athletes and I have expectations, but I have kids come to me every day with problems, because they know I’ll listen.”
Wood is a native of Corinth, N.Y., a town of roughly 6,000 southwest of Glens Falls and north of Saratoga Springs. He played football and baseball and wrestled for Corinth High, soaking up the wisdom of longtime Tomahawks baseball and basketball coach Tom Rentz.
After four years in the Air Force security forces that included two deployments to Afghanistan, Wood returned to his hometown and began coaching baseball at the youth level while working as a conductor for the Canadian Pacific railway.
“I did everything but push the buttons to make them go back and forth,” Wood said of his time with the iron horses. “Everything from the bill of lading, to switching cars, inspecting the train and making sure it got to where it needed to go.”
Laid off from the railway in 2008, Wood took landscaping and tree-work jobs before moving to New Hampshire two years later. When he departed Corinth, he’d been its high school’s varsity baseball assistant and its summer-league team’s boss for four years. He also coached six years of football.
Wood’s first Upper Valley coaching stop was at Newport High. He helped guide the JV for five years while founding the Newport River Dogs program, which competes in the summer and fall. Seeking a chance to coach at a bigger school, Wood took the Lebanon JV job in 2016. Along the way he worked as a tow-truck driver and as a residential supervisor at Orion House, a Newport residential treatment center for 11- to -19-year olds.
Married with three young children, Wood has still found time to coach summer and fall baseball, guiding Lebanon Babe Ruth teams and last year patiently enduring a rough ride with the Upper Valley Anglers junior team. The squad was the youngest in its league but impressed with collective resolve and resiliency.
“I’ve always enjoyed the teaching of the game, getting kids ready and helping them improve,” said Wood, adding that he’s turned down several opportunities to coach varsity teams at smaller high schools. “I wanted to shoot for higher ground by coming to Lebanon and I have to give myself the opportunity to do that now.”
One of the last times Lebanon’s baseball players gathered was to visit Ashey at his home not long before he died. It was a sobering but special moment and a bonding experience Wood wants to build upon.
The Raiders’ opener, scheduled for April 12 against visiting Mascoma, will be their first with a new face in the third-base coach’s box. Lebanon was 10-8 and reached the NHIAA Division II quarterfinals in 2019.
“This is a unique situation,” Wood said. “These boys need something they’re familiar with and hopefully I can provide that. These kids love the sport and we have to get past everything they’ve been through and do it together.”
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