Montgomery baseball was a program that Michael Starkey admired from afar.
Starkey, who has been on the coaching staff at Kingwood Park since 2009, has gone up against the Bears on many occasions, including as district foes over the past couple years.
So when longtime Montgomery coach Chris Morris stepped down to take the same role at Tomball Memorial last month, Starkey jumped at the chance to apply for the job. And last month, he was named just the third head coach for the Bears since the 1990s.
“There’s just something about the community that I like,” Starkey said of his observations whenever they played against Montgomery. “The fans are always engaged, the kids were engaged. The kids on the field were always respectful on the field and enjoyed the game. To be able to make this my first-in-a-long-time head coaching job...it’s really a blessing because of the people that make up the community.”
Starkey is a 2002 graduate of Franklin High School, about 40 miles north of College Station. He went on to Texas A&M in college and finished his masters at Sam Houston State. Starkey had cousins who attended Montgomery back in the ‘90s and always thought highly of the school and baseball program there.
Morris was the head coach the previous 13 seasons, won 230 games and led the team to nine playoff appearances. The program reached the state tournament in 2012 and even succeeded at the Class 6A level with a regional quarterfinal appearance in 2018.
Lake Creek High School opened the following August, taking from the Montgomery student population, and the program moved back down to Class 5A.
This past May, Montgomery finished fourth place in District 20-5A but went on a big playoff run to the regional quarterfinals where it lost to their budding rival Lake Creek.
“For me, it’s to continue to grow the legacy,” Starkey said. “It’s to take time during this first part of the long offseason that’s baseball and just kind of see where we are and where I can leave my mark on to improve it.”
Starkey didn’t play baseball in college, but he knew by his senior year in high school that he wanted to coach.
“It was one of those things with the coaches that impacted you — positively and negatively — I just kind of wanted to take all of that and make it better,” Starkey said. “Rather it be in the classroom or on the field, I wanted to take those lessons I was taught and learned from sports and try to make (student athletes) the best that they can be.”
He began his teaching and coaching career at Normangee High School and was the varsity baseball head coach there for one season there. He also assisted with football and basketball.
At Kingwood Park, Starkey worked first for coach Buddy Thames as a second assistant in charge of outfielders and junior varsity duties. Then Bruce Cox came aboard and the pair were together for about a decades’ worth of playoff appearances and a trip to the state tournament in 2018.
Montgomery reminds Starkey of Kingwood Park in a lot of ways.
“The similarity of program excellence,” Starkey said. “They understand excellence, the kids work hard and baseball is important to them. They play and they work and it’s a year round thing to these kids. That’s a similarity that kind of drew me to this place.”
Starkey said he’ll carry great memories of Kingwood Park with him. But his focus is on the future now.
“With an opportunity like this, you don’t pass it up and selfishly you don’t look back,” Starkey said. “You get an opportunity to lead a program like this and you go and do it to the best of your ability.”
A lot of things they preached at Kingwood Park will carry over, however.
“We want to throw more strikes, we want to play better defense and put the ball in play,” Starkey said. “That’s the formula I’ve grown up and the 15 years I’ve been doing this and it’s the formula we used at K-Park to be so successful.”
Starkey said he’s looking to getting to know his team better in the coming months before practice officially begins in late January.
“I’m very thankful for the opportunity,” Starkey said. “From (Montgomery ISD athletic director) Coach (Clint) Heard to (principal) Dr. (Andria) Schur and just everybody involved at Montgomery ISD, Montgomery High School and the community. The community has been great. The warm welcome has been pretty awesome and appreciated.”