After coaching nearly 1,500 baseball and football games and overseeing the development of thousands of student-athletes at Gettysburg College, baseball coach John Campo has announced his retirement following the conclusion of the 2022 campaign.
Campo, who spent 36 of his 37 years at Gettysburg at the helm of the baseball program, leaves as the program’s all-time leader in victories with 644. His decision to retire did not come lightly, and was predicated on the development of his team this season following two disrupted campaigns as a result of the pandemic.
“Before I made this decision, I wanted to make sure things were back to normal and that the program was in good shape and on solid ground, and headed in the right direction,” stated Campo. “I’ve made the decision that this is the right time for me to move on because I believe those things are in place right now.
“I also wanted to make sure that I have an opportunity to enjoy time with my wife and my family,” he continued. “I wanted to make sure I have opportunities to spend plenty of time with them and do things with them that if I was still coaching I wouldn’t have.”
Campo’s name has become synonymous with Bullets baseball and his path to Gettysburg seemed destined thanks to a relationship with former head football coach Barry Streeter that dates back nearly five decades. Campo was a football player at the University of Delaware and Streeter was a graduate assistant with the Blue Hens before arriving in Gettysburg as the defensive coordinator in 1975.
As an assistant football coach at the United States Merchant Marine Academy in King’s Point, N.Y., Campo ran into the Bullets twice in 1983 and 1984 and it wasn’t long after that an opening materialized on Coach Streeter’s football staff, one Campo was quick to jump on.
“I remember every time I would come down here I would say what a beautiful place,” recalled Campo. “It was the middle of the summer and a position opened up and Gettysburg was looking for a defensive coordinator in football. So Coach Streeter called me and asked me if I would be interested in coming here and I said absolutely.”
Campo’s debut year at Gettysburg was memorable with the football team going unbeaten (9-0-1) during the regular season and advancing to the NCAA Division III semifinals. As the assistant baseball coach alongside Gene Hummel ’49, Campo helped the team claim the Middle Atlantic Conference championship, the program’s first in 24 years.
Following the 1986 season, Hummel retired and Director of Athletics Bob Hulton opted to move Campo into the head coaching role. For the next 22 years, Campo would balance his duties as defensive coordinator and head baseball coach, sliding in elements of each sport across the lines to make the student-athletes better in every conceivable way on the field.
“It has always intrigued me how coach brings that football mindset to the baseball diamond,” said Cory Beddick ’10, currently the head baseball coach at Washington College. “Coach felt that it was his job to make sure the players were prepared for every play and if a play happened in the game that we didn’t practice, coach took responsibility for it. As a team, we were always prepared for every situation that could occur.”
In Campo’s first season at the helm of the baseball program, the Bullets once again captured the Middle Atlantic Conference crown. The following year, 1988, Gettysburg won a then-school record 28 games and marched into the NCAA playoffs for the first time since 1962.
Over the course of his three-plus decades, Campo led the Bullets to a multitude of conference playoff games, several 30-win seasons, and a bevy of postseason accolades. He was twice named the Centennial Conference Coach of the Year (2013, 2014) and he coached nearly 100 all-conference selections and three Academic All-Americans.
Despite those lofty accomplishments, Campo’s focus has never been on the end results. He wanted his players to focus on the holistic college experience and develop a strong work ethic to hone and finely tune the little things that would make them better not only on the diamond, but also in their extracurricular and professional endeavors.
“I’ve always been more about the process because I think the wins and losses take care of themselves,” said Campo, who also served as facilities coordinator within the Department of Athletics. “I’ve always been about the process of building a competitive team starting with talent evaluation, individual preparation, team preparation, and then competition itself. What I’ve tried to impart with the players is to work hard, do their best and take care of the little things, and then the big things will take care of themselves.”
“Coach’s style has always been about 1) the fundamentals; 2) always putting the team’s goals first; and 3) focusing on hard work and competition in practice,” said former assistant coach Chase Straub ’07. “He cared a lot about giving everyone a fair shot. Coach took the time to get to know not only you, but your family as well. We have had some great turnouts to alumni games in years past and that shows the lasting impact he’s made.”
Whether they were former Bullets or hailed from other institutions, the assistant coaches working alongside Campo were given every opportunity to grow into their roles as they helped the program achieve its goals. Campo wanted his players to enjoy their four years as collegiate baseball players and he wanted the same for his assistant coaches during their stay in Gettysburg.
“It has been my privilege and honor to coach alongside Coach Campo,” said current associate baseball coach Justin Perry. “I can’t thank Coach Campo enough for giving me this opportunity. Besides coaching and working with him, he has taught me numerous lessons on and off the field. He has been a great mentor and an even better friend.”
“The way Coach treats his assistant coaches, empowering them, developing them, and caring for their future is something that I try to emulate as well,” said Beddick. “Finally, and on a lighter note, coach also taught me that coffee was a necessity for the job.”
It wasn’t just the young, up-and-coming coaches that sought Campo’s advice and mentorship. Many coaching veterans from the local area joined up with the Gettysburg coach through the years, adding their own unique perspectives to game strategy and helping Campo develop the Bullets into an annual playoff contender.
“It was the best coaching experience I’ve had,” recalled Lee Rentzel, who spent two decades as Gettysburg’s pitching coach after a distinguished coaching career at nearby New Oxford High School. “Working with John was a great pleasure. We’ve become great friends and one thing about John is he’s loyal, and I mean to everybody. It didn’t’ matter if it was the 30th guy on the team or the first, everyone knew where they stood.”
Campo’s coaching career can be defined by the long-lasting relationships on and off the field, and the dedication and loyalty he showed to student-athletes and colleagues alike. One such relationship that stands out is the one he developed with the late Ray Reider ’53.
Reider was a fixture in athletics for nearly seven decades, first as an undergraduate student and then later as a coach and physical education instructor. He shared an office with Campo when the latter joined the staff in 1985 and the pair developed a close relationship. Reider passed away in 2016 and shortly after, Campo oversaw the addition of a memorial plaque on the side of the Bullets’ dugout to honor his friend and colleague.
“When I came to Gettysburg in 1997, my dad was getting to the end of his career,” said Steve Reider, Ray’s son and a former football and baseball assistant coach under Campo. “Campo said I want to have your dad come along on the Florida trip with us and be an extra set of hands there.
“Everybody was valued, and your role and contribution was valued. The people in the equipment room, the person that cleaned the locker room — John made sure the players knew who those people were by name. All those relationships were really important to him. That was part of the culture that he created.”
Campo’s legacy extends well beyond the borders of campus and the relationships with student-athletes and his coaching colleagues. He has remained invested in the local community, watching and helping his sons through their own sports careers and coaching the Biglerville Post 262 American Legion Team from 2008 and 2011. In 2007, he was inducted into the Adams County Sports Hall of Fame.
One of Campo’s lasting legacies was the creation of Take ALS Yard in 2013. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), better known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, profoundly impacted the Gettysburg baseball family. In late 2014, Bill ’63 and Jean ’64 Kirchhoff, namesakes of the baseball field, lost their son Tommy to the disease and not long after, Robert Borman P’05, father of former Bullets baseball player Rob Borman ‘05, also succumbed to ALS. Take ALS Yard has emerged as one of the top annual fundraisers across campus and has totaled over $130,000 to support Project ALS.
“I was very fortunate that Coach exposed me to all of the behind the scenes things that are required of coaches at our level,” noted said Westfield State University head baseball coach Nathan Bashaw ’03. “Seeing how much he cared about Gettysburg College and the athletic department spoke volumes to me about how important it is to have a bigger perspective beyond your own program.”
While he watched his student-athletes and assistant coaches grow and develop into college graduates, head coaches, and professionals, Campo’s own family was growing within the Gettysburg community. His oldest son, Mark, was two months old when they arrived on campus and eventually earned a degree while playing both football and baseball for his father.
Campo’s two other sons, Danny and Zach, worked on the college campus and all three spent large portions of their formative years running through the hallways of the athletic center, on practice fields, working as ball boys and bat boys during football and baseball games, and sitting in the stands at numerous sporting events.
“It’s a great place to work, a great area for our family to live, and I felt a great place for our kids to grow up,” said Campo. “So in many ways, we are very much at Gettysburg family and we couldn’t have been happier with the way it worked out.”
Through all the years, Campo’s rock has been his wife Regina. Regina began working at the College in the mid-90s and worked her way up the ladder in the Office of Human Resources, eventually retiring as Director two years ago. With Campo fulfilling his obligations as a two-sport coach for many years, Regina provided the support he needed behind the scenes.
“I owe so much to Regina for handling a lot of things that allowed me to pursue this career,” said Campo. “My biggest thank you is to my wife and my boys too. There were times when I couldn’t be at certain things because of my coaching obligations. So the biggest thing is the support I’ve always had from my family, and I’ll always be grateful for that.”
On his final day in the dugout as head coach, there was no retirement announcement or celebration. People may have had an inkling that this could be the final hurrah, but Campo wanted nothing to detract from his team’s goals that day, which were celebrating the seniors and going out to the field and pulling off two wins over Ursinus College. The Bullets did both, sending their leader into retirement with a 10-2 victory in the nightcap.
A national search will soon begin for the next head coach of the baseball team.
“John is a man of principle and consistent character who has always cared deeply about the players he coached, and believed strongly in the life lessons that competitive athletics teaches,” said Executive Director of Intercollegiate Athletics Mike Mattia. “John’s teams always competed with class, integrity, and respect which was a reflection on who he is as a coach and mentor. He has been a staple in the athletic department, and he will certainly be missed.”
Campo’s future will be full of family and friends, especially watching his grandchildren Mia and Mitch grow, following his daughter-in-law and former Gettysburg softball coach Samantha Campo’s team at Ursinus College, and watching his beloved Mets and Giants compete among the professional ranks. The Orange and Blue will never be far from his thoughts, however, and he’ll head off into retirement knowing the program and the people he leaves behind will be in good hands because of the standards he has set.
“I’m going to miss the daily interactions with my staff and my players,” said the coach. “I’m going to miss the games and the competition. I’m going to miss watching a team and individual players develop. It’s very, very gratifying to me to know that in some way, they found something positive out of their time and their experience here and to me, that’s a very rewarding thing about my job.”