WALLINGFORD — Lyman Hall has turned to a Meriden great to guide the Trojans baseball team this spring and beyond.
Former Platt standout Billy Rich was formally appointed as LH’s new head coach on Monday night.
“I’m excited to be the next head coach at Lyman Hall,” Rich said Tuesday. “I want to give credit to Chuck Burghardt for giving his heart and soul into this program for many years. I am excited to get things going.”
Rich, 42, takes over for Chuck Burghardt, who coached the Trojans for 26 years and, prior to that, managed Wilcox Tech baseball for 11 seasons. Burghardt was forced to step down due to health reasons.
Rich, a 1994 Platt grad, was a star with the Panthers and later with UConn before being taken in the MLB Draft. The Huskies’ record book is still checkered with his name even though Rich amassed his totals playing just three years in Storrs after transferring from Quinnipiac following his freshman year.
Rich was drafted twice while at UConn. He returned to finish school after being drafted in the 12th round by the Boston Red Sox in 1997. In 1998, he was drafted by the Detroit Tigers in the 10th round and signed with the Tigers.
In the Tigers’ system, he hit .271 with five homers and 34 RBIs in 62 games at short-season Jamestown of the Class A New York-Penn League in 1998. At West Michigan of the Class A Midwest League, he had a .251, nine-homer and 50-RBI season in 108 games. The Tigers released him after spring training in 2000.
Rich spent the next three years in independent ball. He was with the Waterbury Spirit in 2000 and the Bridgeport Bluefish in 2001 before his best pro season with the New Jersey Jackals in 2002. That year, he hit .342 with eight dingers and 63 RBIs and his team won the league championship.
After a year off, Rich spent the 2004 season with the New Haven County Cutters before retiring from baseball.
“As a player, I always had a drive to make myself better,” Rich said. “I wanted to compete at the highest level. I want the kids to have fun out there. I also want them to dig down deep within themselves and work has hard as they can. I want to be a motivator for these kids. I want to make them believe that they can achieve anything.”
Rich has spent the last six years teaching. This is his first year teaching at Lyman Hall.
This is also Rich’s first high school head coaching job. He was a volunteer assistant with the Trojans last season and has coached at various levels and age groups since 2005.
“I have some rapport after being a volunteer assistant last year,” Rich said. “I want to grab their attention and I want to get them to buy into what I want to build at Lyman Hall. As a player, when my confidence was high, I coudn’t be stopped and I could compete with anyone. That’s what I can pull from a player into my new role as a coach.”
Former Maloney assistant Mark Julius will be Rich’s top varsity assistant. Brian Casey is a volunteer assistant. The Trojans have yet to name JV and freshman coaches.
Rich said his coaches throughout his career helped him reach success and he wants to have that same impact on his players.
“Ernie Carr and Mark Julius Sr. coached me in Post 45 Legion ball and Rich Katz at Platt,” Rich said. “I was lucky enough to play for Andy Baylock at UConn. I was fortuante enough to have all of them believe in me as a player as I rose through the ranks.”
Katz, the athletic director at Platt, Rich was an excellent player. He played right field in his days at Platt.
“He was extremely coachable and knowledgeable,” Katz said. “He also had great skills and was just a wonderful person. He will do well taking his experiences from his playing days as a coach.”
Lyman Hall AD Steve Baker said Rich was selected from a strong pool of candidates.
“I’m excited to have him. The kids really like him and he’s a teacher in the building. He has a lot of baseball knowledge and loves the game,” Baker said. “I think he is going to do a great job.”
Baker added that Burghardt’s absence has been notable, not just on the diamond.
“Chuck was always there for us doing the chain gang and supervising at our basketball games,” Baker said. “He always wanted Lyman Hall to do well.”
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