Gage Bley and Bryce Fordyce both attended Wilmington College to play baseball and get a college degree. From opposite sides of the state, Bley is a graduate of Harrison High School on the west side of Cincinnati while Fordyce graduated from Cuyahoga Falls High School in the Cleveland area.
Both were recruited by former WC head baseball coach Dan Cleaver and decided to stay when Tony Vittorio took the reins prior to the 2019 season.
“Coach Vittorio came in and changed a lot of things about the program,” said Fordyce. “He wasn’t the easiest guy to play for, but I have taken a lot of how he runs his program and applied it to my current position.”
More on that later.
Bley played for Vittorio one year, his senior campaign in 2019. Bley put together one of the best single offensive seasons in program history, hitting .395 with 33 RBIs and 19 doubles. The accolades, however, are not what he takes away from that season.
“There was a big perspective switch and culture change for my senior year,” said Bley. “During my first three years, both on and off the baseball field, I felt like I was just going through the motions. I just wanted to get by, academically, athletically and socially.”
After graduating with a degree in education in the spring of 2019, Bley stayed on coach Vittorio’s staff for the 2020 season that was shortened to just eight games due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He then left Ohio for a graduate assistant position at Messiah College, an NCAA Division III institution located in Mechanicsburg, Pa. There, Bley worked under two different head baseball coaches and graduated with a master’s degree in intercollegiate athletic leadership in May of 2022.
“Moving away from where I grew up was one of the more challenging decisions I’ve made, but also one of the best ones,” Bley said. “I grew a lot professionally and personally during my time at Messiah, and it opened a professional door to become a high school athletic director.”
Fordyce’s journey to his current role as head baseball coach at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Akron did not require a move away from home. Fordyce, also an education major, moved back to Northeast Ohio after graduation and, through a connection of Vittorio’s, started working in travel baseball.
“I got connected with coach Marconi and Midwest Stars, and it sort of went from there,” Fordyce recalled. “Coach Marconi was very influential in my development as a baseball coach.”
The experience with travel baseball led to Fordyce’s full-time position in special education at the Stow Monroe Falls School District. Between Fordyce’s two positions and Bley’s as athletic director at Riverview East Academy, the two Quakers have landed in ideal positions that align with their career goals and aspirations.
What’s been the biggest reason for this? Both men answered the same way – the mentorship they received while at Wilmington College.
Both were obviously impacted by Vittorio. For Bley, the coach’s impact is most seen in how he carries himself daily.
“Coach V made me a better player and, more importantly, a better man,” said Bley. “He’s going to tell you how it is, whether you like it or not.”
For Fordyce, how Vittorio ran his program has had the longest-standing impact.
“Tony helped me learn how to be a better teammate, how to battle adversity, how to instill a winning culture and how to lead a group of men,” said Fordyce. “He encouraged us to attend sporting events of our fellow student-athletes at Wilmington and I do the same with my program at St. Vincent-St. Mary.”
Both men also cited the education department, more specifically Martha Hendrickson and Jane Bogan, for helping them balance the demands of a student and an athlete as well as setting them up for a career after college.
“Both were so helpful whenever I had concerns balancing schoolwork with athletics or thinking about career paths post-graduation,” commented Fordyce.
Another two individuals – Associate Director of Athletics Stacey Conley and Head Softball Coach Beth Floyd – were there for Bley during his time as a student.
“Both Stacey and Beth were both there for me whenever I needed someone to talk to or bounce ideas off of,” said Bley.
Both Bley and Fordyce are using their Wilmington experience to mentor the younger generation, and doing so using the vehicle that is athletics, something that was a integral part of their development.