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Cherokee coach Haessler is in his final season

After 26 years, the longtime Chiefs mentor will be retiring and moving with his wife to Florida.

After 26 years, more than 400 wins and numerous championships, Bill Haessler is in the final stretch of a brilliant career as Cherokee's baseball coach.

Haessler, one of the most successful coaches in South Jersey history, confirmed yesterday that he will resign after the season. He and his wife will also step down from their teaching positions at Cherokee and will move to Vero Beach, Fla.

"There's a buyout available in our district, so we both can go out at the same time," Haessler said. "If not, I probably would have stayed three or four more years. Sometimes, something comes along at just the right time."

Haessler, 56, said he would have a difficult time walking away from coaching.

"It's the best part of my life," he said. "I'm going to miss the kids and the spirit of the game. I've made so many friends in South Jersey over the years. The players have been great and the parents have been great. It's been a blast."

Haessler, who purchased a home in Vera Beach about 11/2 years ago, didn't rule out coaching at a Florida high school. "And we'll be living right around the corner from Dodgertown," he said, referring to the Dodgers' former spring-training site but one that still runs sports-related clinics. "So maybe I can work some camps.

"But I'll still be following Cherokee on the Web."

This year, Cherokee is 12-7 overall and in the Olympic American title hunt with a 4-2 division record. The Chiefs, seeded 12th in the South Jersey Group 4 playoffs, have won five straight and will play at fifth-seeded Millville Monday in the NJSIAA tournament.

During his tenure, Haessler's teams have compiled a 413-240 record, won seven league titles, three sectional crowns and one state championship (1985). He was named The Inquirer's coach of the year after the '85 season. The 1985 team, which scored a 5-4 upset over Elizabeth in the state final, finished No. 15 in USA Today's national rankings.

"That's something we're all proud of," said Haessler, whose teams have had just four losing seasons in his 26 years.

"Bill is one of the good guys of South Jersey," said Joe Hartmann, an Overbrook assistant and director of the Diamond Classic. "He's going to be missed."