April 4, 2018 at 5:30 p.m.
Schoen looks to life away from the diamond
When the Jets recently opened their baseball season on April 1 at Henryville, reality may have seemed to be an April Fools joke -- - For the first time in 18 years, Jerry Schoen was not present in Jets' third-base coaching box.
And, for the first-time in 18 years, Schoen was spending spring break with his family in a place where families go. Instead of the dugout, Schoen's newly found landing place was in the bleachers at Earlham College watching his son play for Franklin College.
Two tidbits for the record: Nate Long, Schoen's successor, directed the Jets to a twin-bill sweep; It is unknown if the coach's mind totally accompanied his body on this day in Richmond or was detached and had temporarily re-located two miles east of I-65 in southern Indiana.
After discussion of the dream-chase had subsided, the writer asked, "What flashes through your mind as you think back over your years here at Hauser? Why have you remained here? What has kept you here?"
With little hesitation, Schoen responded, "The first thing that comes to my mind is a picture of all the kids. Another is thinking back on all of the relationships I've had. When kids leave after four years of me, there is a pretty strong bond that has been built."
A good number of those "bonds" were double-strength. With numbers in the thousands, those relationships began in Schoen's classroom where PE class was conducted. With a good number of the guys, getting to know one another continued on the ball diamond. Some were built over a four-year period.
"I've told many of them that if they could make through their frosh and sophomore years with me, then they would be fine," he said. "I work them hard mentally and physically every day. For them, it is a 'real-world' situation. Some of them didn't make it through two years."
That is the "real-world" part of it. For many, it wasn't just a feel-good situation. More than likely -- whether it be in the classroom or ball field -- Schoen always told it like it was. And he did it with the effective and simultaneous use of a hug and a kick in the seat of the pants.
"For some, that is how they were weeded out of the baseball program," Schoen said.
Following a pause and with a minor shifting of gears, Schoen continued the sharing of deep but obvious thoughts.
"Number two? The number two thing in my thoughts would be the parents," he said. "I've had great ones that were great supporters."
But he freely admitted the "support" was not unanimous. The ride provided Schoen by the "surprising little town" of Hope, while for the most part, has not been totally without bumps in the road.
"Sure. There have been naysayers," he said. "But this has never been a one-man show. Without parental support, building a program would not have been possible."
"Number three? That would be the administrators," Schoen said. "I have always been allowed to do my job.
"They've always let me do what I needed to do. That means coaching the kids the way I see fit. That means handling the facilities the way I've seen fit."
Of course in the areas of teaching and coaching, administrators and those they supervise sometimes have differing views on the details of a job description. At times, creativity and thinking out of the box are frowned upon. At times, keeping everyone happy and protecting feelings from momentary harm are given higher priority than goal seeking and high achievement.
Schoen claims his path -- doing his thing, his way -- has never been blocked by administrative whims and/or insecurities.
"Since I don't go outside the boundaries, I've been easy for administrators," he said with a slight smile. "I have stayed within boundaries for the most part."
From the outside, Schoen has been viewed as an "old school" type of coach.
For those whose education doesn't include much knowledge of coaching styles and philosophies, "old school" simply means basic fundamentals are the focus. Frills, fancy uniforms, warm, fuzzy activities aren't priorities. Developing hard-nosed, competitive attitudes is at the top of the must-do list. "Play hard or go home" may be on the poster above the dressing room door. For many "old-schoolers," there is only one way to do something, and that would be the "right" way.
"Old school" can also include a bit of discipline. And when applied to the wrong kid (maybe to the son of a loud, influential parent complaining to an insecure, weak administrator) the end result can mean a coaching change. In Schoen's case -- and to the credit of Hope, its residents and the school personnel -- the coach has done it his way and left his coaching position when he (not someone else) thought the time was right.
While Schoen freely admits to the use of the "old school" approach, he would argue that those who judge a book by its cover don't see the whole story.
"People have seen me for the most part as a rough coach, the drill sergeant type," he said. "People have seen me when I'm on a kid at a practice or in a game. They haven't seen me at 8 the next morning when I have called the kid into my office to have a discussion about what we needed to talk about. I've always answered all the questions as to why I've been upset. Other than the kids, most people haven't seen that side of me."
While maybe "not seen," people have never-the-less been aware of his "other" side because of the bonds he has built over time with both the kids and their parents.
"I have always treated the kids the way I would want to be treated or the way I would want my own kids to be treated," explained Schoen. "I have never physically abused a kid. I may have said a thing or two that was a bit outside the box. But it was never done because of dislike. It was always done because I've cared. And certainly, there may have been things said at a baseball practice that I would never say in a PE class.
"Certainly, it's a bit different in baseball than it is inside the classroom. The baseball kids are there because they have wanted to be. They have been out there because they wanted to learn and get better. I've always told them, 'If you don't want to be here, then I don't want you here.'"
While the advantages of teaching and coaching in a small school are numerous and obvious, so are the disadvantages. In coaching, having enough kids to field a team and being competitive may mean not having the luxury of running kids away due to the use of the preferred "old school" approach.
"Certainly, that is true," said Schoen. "But, if the coach isn't going to change and the kid is going to be a cancer on the team, then why would we want the kid in the program?
"I've always made it clear that this is a team. Whether it is hitting the baseball, raking the grass or putting up and taking down the windscreen -- It is hard work. And for kids that haven't wanted to do the work, they have always known where the door was."
If the truth be known, it would be this writer's guess that the number of kids who have walked out the door over the past 18 years could probably be counted on one hand.
He was asked about his patience. Specifically, he was asked where he might rank on the Patience Scale.
"My patience has grown over the years," he said. "I have some who played several years ago who have come back and told me that I had grown too soft. I understand what people might have been thinking 10 years ago compared to now. I began to understand that it is a bigger picture than just baseball. Some of these kids are playing three sports and they need time off. And others need time off just to be a kid."
Schoen is quick to point out why his attitude changed over the years.
"I've gone through it with my own family," he said with a slight smile. "It comes with the maturation process. Patience comes with maturation. I certainly haven't lost my fire. It's just that it (in recent years) hasn't been lit as fast."
But there remains one thing that has continued to ignite the fire, immediately.
"That would be laziness," Schoen said. "I can't stand it. It was never to be found anywhere on our field."
And when "Jerry's Kid's" displayed the opposite, Jerry was provided some of his best moments.
"Seeing the kids get the field ready without me saying a word was really big for me," he said. "That spoke to their work ethic and their pride. They knew what needed to be done and they did it."
One of Schoen's all-time highlights was injected next into the interview agenda. He recalled a rainy spring day when Hauser's softball team was scheduled to play at 5 p.m.
"The kids came to me after school to ask if they (the members of the baseball team) were going to go out and get the softball field ready," he said. "We did. That is a real fond memory. That is what being at Hauser is all about."
The interviewer then turned the conversation slightly toward a subject that can be to this writer (and former teacher/coach) what "laziness" is to Schoen. That would be the use of pronouns. The notion that Schoen had ever been or is "a one-man gang" was dropped into the interchange. It was noted that the use of "I" and "me" had never entered into the several hours of our sharing. All references requiring a personal pronoun that had come from Schoen, to this point, had been with the use of "we."
"Nothing about Hauser baseball has been about me," he said, getting a bit emotional.
Hauser has been his Oregon
Schoen was asked about his shaky voice and watery eyes.
"I get emotional with the kids because of our bond, but this isn't about the kids," he explained. "This (pointing to his eyes) is about my dad."
Schoen offered further explanation. He said that one of his dreams had been to move to Oregon, take a little program and build it into a success.
"Right before my dad passed away, he asked me again what I wanted to do," explained Schoen with measured tones. "I told him 'I guess Hauser is my Oregon.' I'll never forget that conversation."
And then the conversation and discussion of 'pronouns' and ego continued.
"It's about the kids and the program," he said. "It's not about me. I guess there are things I could possibly toot my horn about. I did this. I did that. Maybe I could toot a bit about helping kids get a chance to play at the next level."
Reflection went back two decades. It was 21 years ago that Schoen and recently retired basketball coach Bob Nobbe had been hired.
"When I got here, there hadn't been a lot of consistency with the kids or the field," he said. "I think Bob and I kind of changed the athletic persona a bit just by being here for a long time."
When baseball was the topic, there was little talk of X's and O's and scorebook results.
Like in any small-enrollment high school, success for sporting teams is somewhat cyclical.
But during Schoen's tenure, during which the Jets won 56 percent of their games, the ups-and-downs never evened out. His teams performed consistently on the field and were never easy for the "big" schools to beat up on. More than one "big" school avoided scheduling "little" Hauser for the fear of being upset.
Schoen's program earned the respect from all corners of the state. While in the midst of four consecutive sectional championships, the Jets made it to the final game of the IHSAA state tournament in 2006 before dropping the championship tilt to Ft. Wayne Blackhawk. Many in this area considered Schoen to be in the "coaching" category of the late Lou Giovanani whose "Hall of Fame" accomplishments at Columbus East are well documented throughout the mid-west.
While successful seasons far outnumbered the opposite, Schoen -- without hesitation -- preferred to talk about the personal side of coaching. Admittedly, he was free to share his experiences and what he had learned in his early years with his high schoolers. The coach has always been quick to encourage his players to think about thinking big.
"I've always told kids if they don't try it (college ball), they'll never know if they could have made it," said Schoen. "Many good players had no interest at all and that was fine. But if they had the ability and the gift, I always told them that 'now is the time.' Give it a try. It's always bothered me when they come back to visit and ask the question, 'What if?' I never wanted any of the kids to have to second-guess themselves if I could help it."
As the interview was beginning to wind down, there were some obvious and specific questions remaining on the interviewer's mind.
Schoen was asked what compliment he gets the most pleasure out of hearing.
"That's easy," he said. "When someone suggests that (maybe with a little bit of my help) a kid has given the most he was capable of giving. That's a good feeling."
The next question was intended to probe Schoen's memory bank for the clearest memory during his reign. Perhaps, could it have been a highlight of his 18 years?
"It is not the state championship game, if that's what you're thinking," said Schoen. "It's all the little things. It's all the little things that have added up that have made most everyday a satisfying one. We've already talked about the kids, the parents and the administrators. They've made it all possible."
What does the future look like for the educator who will no longer spend time in the dugout or the third-base coaching box?
Schoen will continue to do this thing on a daily basis. Now, his motivational game plan will all be executed in his indoor classroom and in his Driver's Ed car. An important part of his itinerary is sure to be spent with wife Becky watching their son Jared on the pitching mound at Franklin College and next year watching their daughter Sydney showcasing her volleyball skills at Eastern Kentucky University.
What about Hauser baseball? Many passionate and devoted retirees find it necessary to disappear and go cold turkey in retirement's early stages. Several weeks ago (prior to the start of the current high school baseball season) Schoen was a bit non-committal as to how he would handle that topic.
"I don't know the answer to that yet," he said. "Here is what I do know. Nate is already doing a good job. He has already held a garage sale. But that's one of the nuts and bolts of a program that is easy to mimic."
The next question was "What are you going to do if you are sitting in the stands when coach Long flashes a hit-and-run sign in a situation you believe calls for a straight steal?"
"I will continue to enjoy watching the game just like any parent does that doesn't agree with the coach," he said. "I will remind myself that I haven't been to every practice and won't know what each kid is capable of.
"Nate will make decisions based on what he knows and I will sit there and support him and tell him later what a good job he is doing," Schoen said. "I will not be there looking over his shoulder. But . . . that's not to say that I absolutely won't call him later and ask what he may have thinking in a certain situation."
Schoen continued to maintain he had not made up his mind how many games he would attend. If he were to stay away, might coach Long notice and wonder why his mentor wasn't there?
"If he notices," said Schoen trying to hide a smile, "then it will be obvious that he isn't focused as much as he should be on the game."
Once a coach, always a coach.
As of the writing of the this story, Schoen reports he has watched parts of three baseball games in running back-and-forth between the diamond he knows so well and the softball diamond where his daughter participates.
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December 07, 2023