Exits leave 3 teams under new managementJune 22, 2017
By MICHAEL HUGHES
These weren’t sudden or simple decisions. For Dave Schank and Brian Kirchoff, the choice to cede control of the Southridge and Northeast Dubois baseball teams were brewing for some time.
But both included one similar, major factor — after manning their respective dugouts, both are retreating to the stands so they can watch their children play. The Heritage Hills baseball program will also be under new direction next season after coach Greg Gogel recently resigned after three seasons to become the athletic director and assistant principal at South Spencer High School.
Tucker Schank will be a junior for the Raiders next year, and Dave simply wants to watch him play baseball, not analyze a performance. That’s why he stopped helping out with the football team when Tucker started high school. Dave will still coach his son on the wrestling team and continue teaching at the high school.
“A lot of people don’t understand that being a head coach isn’t just standing down at third and calling signals,” Schank said. “You’re a T-shirt salesman and there’s just so many things behind the scenes that take so much time. To do the same thing in wrestling and turn around and do the same thing in baseball, it’s very difficult to teach and I didn’t get anything done at home.”
This spring, Schank’s lawn was mowed by a neighbor who felt sorry for him, since he could never find the time. He took the baseball job four years ago, when he said no one else was stepping up to accept it. At the time, he planned to coach only two years until his daughter, Elli, graduated.
“I thought, ‘OK, I know these boys, I know they’re talented, they’re good kids, so I’ll coach them for a couple years and I’ll get out,’” Schank said. “That’s what I should’ve done and I didn’t. I kept with it and I told myself that I would just coach until Tucker was out.”
In the end, the hours did him in. Even after he got home from games late at night, he would still be running sequences through his head and trying to conjure a way to turn a loss into a win.
Schank calls himself a “baseball guy.” He pitched at Indiana University, and for a time thought he might play professionally. He also had an initial coaching stint at Southridge, first as an assistant, before taking over as the head coach for a few seasons in the early 2000s. This time, though, he’s confident this is it.
“I’m not leaving the cupboard bare,” said Schank, whose teams finished 55-36 over the past four seasons as the Raiders also captured a sectional crown in 2014 to end a 22-year drought between titles. “There’s a great freshmen group coming in and there’s a great nucleus plus those two sophomore, now junior, pitchers that pitched for us most of the year. We’ve got a great team coming back. I’m not getting out because we’re not good, not at all. We’re going to be a pretty solid team next year.”
Kirchoff is stepping down after a more extended run in charge. After spending nine years coaching at Heritage Hills, Kirchoff has been running the Northeast Dubois baseball team since 2003. But eventually, he stopped living and dying with every pitch, he said. That was one of a growing pile of “little things that added up and made sense,” which led Kirchoff to his decision.
In past years, those same hints popped up, but Kirchoff said he was able to push them aside.
“This year for whatever reason those feeling kind of stuck,” Kirchoff said. “I don’t consider myself old, but the timing of everything — I’m sitting here thinking I could make it another year, but there are other things I just need to put more focus on.”
He’ll still continue teaching at Northeast Dubois and said he plans to stay active in the state baseball coaches association if the right opportunity presents itself. Thirteen of Kirchoff’s 15 Jeep teams finished at or above .500, including this year’s group that secured a conference title and advanced to the regional championship for the second straight season. Even when Kirchoff’s teams were flourishing, he started to feel the tug in another direction.
His daughter, AJ, was a sophomore on the Jeep softball team this year and his youngest, Betsy, is a second-grader just starting to play the sport. Kirchoff made it to five of AJ’s 23 games this year.
“Going in I knew I wasn’t going to get to see very much,” Kirchoff said. “I probably saw more of her games this year than I expected to see. That probably played into it a little bit. Things I used to be really excited about getting ready for didn’t have the same excitement. I was excited, but I didn’t find myself dwelling so much on losses.”
In this year’s sectional opener, when Northeast Dubois was trailing Tecumseh 6-3 in the sixth inning before storming back for a 7-6 win, Kirchoff said he was at peace with the fact the end might be near. Entering the tournament, he had more or less made up his mind this would be his last run in charge of the Jeeps. When it looked like it might end prematurely....
“I felt no remorse and I didn’t second-guess my decision at that point,” said Kirchoff, who’s coached eight of the 10 sectional-winning teams in program history as the Jeeps also reached the semistate in 2005 and ’07 under his watch. “I felt at peace with my decision. The kids did a heck of a job coming back in that game to give us some more days to play, but heading into the tournament I was pretty much set on what I was going to do.”
At Heritage Hills, Gogel guided the Patriots to records of 18-11 and 15-10 in his first two seasons, and in the recently concluded spring campaign, the Pats went 13-14 with a team that included just one senior but won nine of their last 12 games, including an upset of Class 3A No. 7 Evansville Memorial in the sectional opener.
Heritage Hills athletic director Jay Burch said Gogel has had his administrative license for a few years and had been looking for an administrative job during that time period. “I don’t think he was going to take any job, but one that was in the area,” Burch said.
Heritage Hills already has Gogel’s successor in place, hiring Andy Fischer as the new head baseball coach. Fischer has spent the last nine years as an assistant coach and played for the Patriots in the 1990s. He was also named head coach of the girls soccer team in the winter.
“At this time I think it’s the right move to keep him in both positions,” Burch said. “He’s already started some transition type things as far as the coaching staff and working with the girls soccer team, so we already had that in play. Then obviously with his experience he’s had in the baseball program, and he’s done some really good things in the nine years. We won a sectional title while he was an assistant coach and we’ve had some really good players in that time.”
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