Ayres made history in North Spencer County

Herald archival photo
Henry Ayres, right, shown coaching Heritage Hills on June 16, 1984. He went a combined 473-201 in his years coaching baseball for Chrisney and the Patriots. Ayres was inducted into the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame in 2014. He retired 20 years ago after 28 years as Heritage Hills’ first athletic director.

BY COREY STOLZENBACH
sports@dcherald.com

This year makes it 20 years since Henry Ayres retired as Heritage Hills’ athletic director, and the former longtime baseball coach for the Patriots is enjoying the good life all these years later.

“I highly recommend retirement,” Ayres said. “I enjoy retirement immensely. I’ve been able to do things with my family that I wasn’t able to do before.”

If the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, then it is certainly applicable in this case. Son Keith Ayres coaches at Plaza Park International Academy. His grandson, Zane Mauser, is an assistant baseball coach at Evansville North, with an emphasis on pitching.

However, he said his grandson has a mind of his own when it comes to the game, and he hasn’t interfered too much when it comes to his coaching, nor did he in his grandson’s playing days. Ayres touted his grandson for really enjoying what he does.

“He’s done real well,” he said. “He’s really conscientious about it. He works at it, and he’s gone to some camps and things like that and picked up some things. He’s been very successful there at North. He’s had some good pitchers there, and he was really looking forward to this spring.”

Heritage Hills has won seven sectional championships in baseball in school history, but its first five came with Ayres at the helm. He also guided the Patriots to a 24-3 record in 1984, leading them to their first-ever baseball regional championship as well.

The Pats scored 12 runs in the first inning against Pocket Athletic Conference rival Tecumseh for a 14-0 win and second straight sectional title after holding off Castle, 6-5, the day before. They also saw a 2-0 deficit against Evansville Central in the regional championship before stringing things together at the plate and capitalizing off of Central errors for a 9-3 triumph.

The time players put in playing American Legion ball and developing a seasoned group paid off.

Heritage Hills could not keep it going when it took on Jeffersonville in the semistate at Jasper. The defense committed four errors, while the Red Devils walked away with a 6-1 victory, and then won semistate later that night. 

“They were more mentally ready than we were,” Ayres said of the 1984 season-ending loss.

Winning five sectionals and going to semistate might impress when one looks at Ayres’ resume, but those championships are only part of it. He grew up in Kentucky, going on to pitch for Kentucky Wesleyan College.

However, he came to Indiana to join a semipro team, and got contacted by then-Chrisney principal Fred Ayer to coach at the school that was eight miles away. There was no state tournament then, but the Wildcats went a combined 44-0 in Ayres’ first three years. They were young, but their coach could see what they were made of.

“I’ve often said that I didn’t have a whole lot to do developing those kids’ talent because they were really, really talented whenever I came to Chrisney,” he said.

Ayres also spent six seasons as Chrisney’s basketball coach, winning sectional championships in 1969 and 1970. He had offers to go to bigger schools, but he decided to stay since his family was happy in the area.

“I was happy to stay here, and I never regretted it,” Ayres said.

Chrisney and Dale consolidated into Heritage Hills in 1972. Ayres no longer coached basketball, but remained on as baseball coach. He would be the first athletic director in school history — a role he had until his retirement.

Ayres got accustomed to long days, not getting home until 9 p.m. many days. In addition to his athletic director duties, he also taught in the early years, and didn’t have a secretary. Everything was on his shoulders, which left him little time to prepare. He estimated he remained in the classroom for the first 12 years, and was also responsible for dealing with middle school athletics. Stepping down as the baseball coach in 1993 allowed him to focus on “minor” sports more.

As Heritage Hills’ first athletic director beginning in 1972,  Ayres can also lay claim to longtime Pats football coach Bob Clayton being hired during his tenure. Clayton went on to deliver 320 wins, two semistate championships and one state crown in his 34 season manning the sidelines for the Patriots.

Clayton’s successor, Bob Ashworth, spent just one season as the team’s head coach, going 8-2 in 1977. Ashworth recommended Clayton’s hire. Clayton didn’t have varsity experience, but he was considered, among other candidates. Ayres thought Clayton got better as a coach the longer he stayed at it.

“He had a lot of good coaches working under him, so that’s one of the keys to the success Bob had there, too,” he said.

Ayres still attends many sporting events at Heritage Hills each season. He went a combined 473-201 in his years coaching baseball for the Wildcats and Patriots. Ayres was inducted into the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame in 2014.  He said former Jasper baseball coach and Hall of Fame executive director Ray Howard told him to make a five-minute speech, but he decided to just talk during his induction.

His talk went longer than just five minutes, speaking about his history and expressing his appreciation for the honor. He estimated 50 people from Chrisney turned out to see his induction, which was a big thing for him, and he remains in contact with many of the people he coached through the years.

“It was a good run,” he said.




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