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Harry Tholen Field: Santa Fe College honors legendary baseball coach

The field where Harry Tholen spent decades, honing the baseball and life skills of Santa Fe Saints ballplayers, finally has a new name.

It’s his.

Over 100 current and former Santa Fe athletes, students and alumni gathered at the college’s gymnasium Saturday morning to celebrate Tholen, who in 1981 established Santa Fe’s baseball program. The renaming ceremony was moved indoors Saturday due to a weekend of inclement weather in Gainesville.

It’s just the latest of a long line of accolades for the 80-year-old Tholen, who is a member of four separate halls of fame recognizing his ongoing 38-year career on the Saints coaching staff. He spent 22 of those years as the head coach from 1982 through 1985 and again from 1989 to 2006. He has been a volunteer assistant coach under current Santa Fe skipper Johnny Wiggs since 2009.

Tholen racked up 782 wins as the program’s leader and established Santa Fe as one of the top junior college programs in the nation. The Saints won five conference championships and made their first JUCO World Series appearance in 1985 under Tholen. All but 59 of the over 1,100 wins in program history belong to Tholen and Wiggs.

“It hasn’t sunk in yet,” said Tholen, whose entire family joined him for the occasion and looked on as his two grandchildren, Jack and Sophia, tore away a white cloth to reveal a 6-by-10-foot sign emblazoned with “Harry Tholen Field.”

Tholen addressed the crowd and reflected on a life well-spent educating young athletes and ushering them toward successful futures.

“The biggest thing for me is I was able to help players on and off the field,” Tholen said. “Junior college can be a place for a second chance…I want them to become the best people that they can become that do things the right way.”

It was a second chance for Rick Kosek, a pitcher recommended to Tholen in 1981 out of Struthers High School in Ohio. A steel mill worker in high school, Kosek never considered playing college baseball until he was urged to give Tholen a call.

Tholen invited Kosek to Gainesville for a tryout before Santa Fe even finished laying the foundation for its new baseball field. Kosek was offered a spot on the inaugural Santa Fe squad and also pitched in on the construction effort. He became the first member of his family to go to college and went on to win a national championship with the University of Miami in 1985 after his stint at Santa Fe.

Clutching a baseball in his right hand, Kosek held back tears as he recounted his story to the man who altered the course of his life. It was the baseball Tholen gifted to him after his first career pitching victory at Santa Fe, a ball that will soon be 42 years old. He wished to return it to Tholen.

“I hung on to that ball,” Kosek said. “This is the third time I’ve brought it here, trying to give it to the school and see if they would put it in the trophy case. I say they'll take it this time.”

The 42-year-old baseball from Rick Kosek’s first Santa Fe pitching victory. The inscription reads “First college win on March 2, 1982 SFCC vs. Vincennes 10-5 9 K’s” and is signed by Kosek, who offered the ball back to Tholen during the ceremony. (Ethan Eibe/WUFT News)
The 42-year-old baseball from Rick Kosek’s first Santa Fe pitching victory. The inscription reads “First college win on March 2, 1982 SFCC vs. Vincennes 10-5 9 K’s” and is signed by Kosek, who offered the ball back to Tholen during the ceremony. (Ethan Eibe/WUFT News)

The mentorship Tholen provides extends across the Santa Fe athletics landscape and deeply touched Wiggs, who served as Tholen’s pitching coach in 1992 and was hired as his successor in July 2006.

“He’s been my father figure away from home,” Wiggs said. “You knew when you walked into a room with him that you were around greatness, and that he was a guy that was going to be loyal and care about you.”

As Wiggs put it, Tholen’s legacy is not about wins and losses, but affecting lives.

“The stories are endless,” Wiggs said. “He cares about the players as a person before he even starts talking about baseball, and that's what I think our guys appreciate the most about him.”

Chanda Stebbins, Santa Fe’s athletic director and former women’s basketball head coach, said Tholen helped her make the transition to the athletic director role.

“Just by watching him the way he handled himself and the way he handled his players…he definitely poured into me administratively,” Stebbins said. “He’s like a grandfather to all of us.”

Santa Fe President Paul Broadie II believes that Tholen’s integrity is not just emblematic of the college’s athletic program, but all of Santa Fe. Broadie II met Tholen for the first time shortly after beginning his tenure in February 2020 and was blown away by his commitment.

“You are a living legacy,” Broadie II said to Tholen. “You see these youth, they come here with dreams and aspirations and goals, and it’s people like you that help bring them to reality.”

The dreams reflect generations of stories. They’re stories grounded in the lessons taught on the diamond that Tholen helped to build, manicure and maintain over the years.

A diamond that now, fittingly, bears his name.

Ethan is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing