Absence helped make Ahlbrand grow fonderMay 14, 2020
BY JONATHAN SAXON
JASPER — Jason Ahlbrand is a Jasper lifer. He was a three-sport athlete in high school (baseball, football and basketball), and won a sectional championship in basketball before graduating in 1989. He loved the strong sense of community support that went along with being a Jasper Wildcat. Fans would pack the seats, local media flooded the press boxes and those things created a competitive and successful environment.
In hindsight, Ahlbrand felt he might have taken his circumstances for granted when he was growing up. He assumed the supportive environment he found at Jasper was universal among all high school sports programs.
“Back in those days, there weren’t as much travel sports — you didn’t really get out a whole lot,” Ahlbrand said. “You just assumed everyone else had what you had as far as the facilities, the sports coverage and all that goes with that.”
But Ahlbrand soon learned that wasn’t the case. Ahlbrand became a health and physical education teacher at Washington Catholic High School after graduating from the University of Southern Indiana in 1993. He also took up coaching while he was there. Ahlbrand coached baseball, basketball and volleyball, and it was a challenge trying to cultivate a competitive culture. Washington Catholic is a small school, so the pool of athletes to draw from was limited. Couple that with limited success, and it was an uphill battle to bring life to the athletics program.
“My first year, we had two boys in the entire student body that were seniors,” Ahlbrand said. “We had 11 or 12 kids come out [for baseball], and the program had been struggling. There was so much to work on. Every year, you pick a couple of things and hopefully build on those every year. The big thing was changing the culture and expectation level.”
That started with taking care of the sports facilities around the school. The baseball field was overgrown during the offseason, and Ahlbrand took it on himself to mow and maintain it so the field could be a source of pride for the team. He also talked with Wildcats baseball coach Terry Gobert about how to structure practices and drills to develop the team. Ahlbrand and the Cardinals won only five games his first season, but moved up to .500 before he left after the 1996-97 school year to return to Jasper. The experience has given him a lot of perspective over the years.
“When I went to Washington Catholic, it was humbling,” he said. “You didn’t have the facilities and the athletes. So, it made me appreciate what I had a lot more being from Jasper.”
Ahlbrand was grateful to return to the black-and-gold sidelines, where he’s been coaching basketball and baseball for 23 seasons. He’s been a part of three baseball state championships and four basketball sectional championships, which includes a semi-state appearance in 2002.
Ahlbrand has had to sacrifice a lot to be a part of the Wildcat tradition, as his coaching responsibilities meant his family has had to share him with the greater Jasper community. His wife, Susan, and his four children (Elisabeth, Mallory, Grant and Jack) all support his efforts, however, and he looks forward to many more years of contributing to the Wildcats. In Ahlbrand’s case, absence certainly made his heart grow fonder.
“It’s been rewarding to give back to a special place,” he said. “Having gone away for a couple of years and coming back, that was a good experience for me to realize how special this place is.”
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