Jasper, Southridge success rallies communitiesJune 18, 2021
By COREY STOLZENBACH
Terry Gobert has seen a lot since his first season as Jasper's head baseball coach in 1988 — but he hasn't seen this.
Gobert will be coaching the Wildcats in their 10th state championship game, but in the team's previous nine appearances, all local eyes were on Jasper. This year, however, it's different, as the Wildcats will share the stage of Victory Field with Southridge on Tuesday.
"I think it's great," Gobert said. "They're a class program, class act and they've got a hell of a run going."
It's the first time ever the two teams have simultaneously made it to the state championship game, and the rabidity that exists within the sports fans of Dubois County may reach unprecedented heights Tuesday — especially if both teams win championships in their respective classes.
Raider coach Gene Mattingly has encountered people in the community while out and about and he's anticipating a wave of support on Tuesday.
"I've talked to a ton of people since Saturday (June 12) that they're going to come up Monday night, spend the night Monday, stay and watch us, be there to watch us at five o'clock and then stay and support their Wildcats Tuesday night," Mattingly said. "So, we'll have a lot more support as a result of it from the other part of the county, but for us, I think it will be very similar."
Gobert, a history teacher at Jasper High School, will forever be known as a history maker with his baseball program. There's winning the final two single class baseball state championships, and he presided over the only repeat champions in a single class system. When class baseball came in 1998, the Wildcats were the first-ever state champions in Class 3A and the first team in the state to three-peat as state champions.
Yet, the Wildcats haven't won a state title since 2006, but even then, they're so accustomed to being in this spot where the expectations are high among those around them.
"I get a kick out of reporters saying when we won the semi-state, 'You're going back for the first time since 2017,'" Gobert said. "I'm sitting there thinking, 'Well, there's only '18 and '19. Every third year is still pretty good, but I know how you mean it.'
"The other team, it had been since '71 that they had been to the semi-state — Mount Vernon," he continued. "I'm not knocking Mount Vernon, I'm just saying people are putting expectations there, and you have to make sure you kind of just take that out of the way for the kids, take the heat, take the whatever, because if you're not careful, you take the fun out of it."
The makeup of their teams greatly contrast, with four players signing to play NCAA Division I baseball for the Raiders, a luxury the Wildcats don't have. However, Gobert noted that his players are giving everything for Jasper, and that's an advantage that not too many communities have these days.
He told The Herald that he went out for a mound visit with two outs in the top of the fifth of the semi-state game on the verge of run-ruling Mount Vernon. Gobert thanked his seniors, and he wanted his players to look around. The crowds he had when he played at Greencastle paled in comparison to what turned out to Ruxer Field on Saturday.
"There are people in the stands that don't know anything of these baseball players," he said. "But they know they play for Jasper. There are people that were here for Southridge that don't know any of these kids, but they know how they represent the Raiders."
"The amount of support we get is truly unprecedented," Mattingly said. "You take the county schools — any of them — Dubois, Forest Park, us, Jasper and the school is the cornerstone of the community."
An evolving relationship
If somebody had asked Brandon Reese, a 2000 Southridge graduate, during his high school days about Jasper baseball going to state, he wouldn’t have cared.
“We didn’t like each other, Huntingburg and Jasper,” Reese said. “But now, I think it's awesome."
Him and fellow members of the community appreciating both county schools is a far cry from the generations of yesteryear.
"I think most of the people around here certainly pull for each other," Gobert said. "The old days, that wasn't the case. You talk of some of the grandparents of these kids, and you would never have found a Happy Hunter, as what Huntingburg used to be, cheering for a Wildcat, or Wildcats cheering for them."
"I'm as old school as they get, but I don't look at it as a rivalry between Jasper and Southridge any more because either team cannot end each other's season," said Kurt Gutgsell, a 1986 Jasper graduate who serves as a broadcaster for both teams. "I know Southridge has bigger games on their schedule in athletics, and I know Jasper has bigger games that they need to take care of in athletics. I just think there is support for the two schools that's not been there in the past, but they don't play each other very much, especially in the tournament."
Gobert noted that in his experience as a longtime coach at Jasper, the Wildcats have players whose parent(s) went to Southridge, or there are Raiders whose parent(s) went to Jasper.
Kurt Fuhs, a 1993 Jasper graduate, exemplifies this as his junior son, Brayson, has helped the Raiders make it back to state this year. He'll have the luxury of cheering on his son and cheering for his alma mater to win state championships in the same sport on the same night. Something that was once impossible when he was in high school is now very much possible.
"This would've never happened, obviously, in a single class situation because one of us would've lost in a sectional round versus not having to face to each other at all and making it all the way to state," Kurt said. "So, you always have that rivalry with Southridge. They're obviously next door, so it was always fun playing them and beating them I guess was kind of the process at that point in time."
Jeremy Schepers, a 1997 Southridge graduate who played linebacker and defensive end on the football team, knows quite well it's a rivalry between the Wildcats and Raiders when they compete against each other, but that's not so much the case when they go their separate ways.
The way he sees it, the two teams want to beat each other when they're going head-to-head, but when they're playing for state titles, the support for the teams grow, as is also the case for Forest Park and Northeast Dubois.
The fact that Jasper and Southridge are simultaneously going to state leaves Schepers at a loss for words.
"That's every county's dream, isn't it?" he asked.
It never occurred to him until recently, however, that both Jasper and Southridge could represent Dubois County at Victory Field at the same time. He was following along to Jasper's June 5 regional championship game against Center Grove, bummed that the Wildcats were trailing, 4-0.
"I was like, 'Oh, man,'" Schepers said. "So, our little group of friends that we call football friends all kind of started rooting for Jasper. 'Come on, Jasper, pull it out!'"
He was confident in his alma mater taking care of business in its regional championship game with Evansville Memorial, but he really wanted the Wildcats to win, too.
"Suddenly, (Jasper senior) Eli Hopf hits that grand slam like, 'Holy cow, they're going to pull it off,'" he said. "It was like, 'Wow.' We all got excited this is going to happen, we're both going to go to semi-state, and maybe, just maybe, both teams will make it to state. We were really hoping for it to happen, and it's like a dream come true that it happens."
Both teams also have a culture now, too. When Schepers played high school football for the Raiders, they had only won one sectional championship, which came in 1982, and another wouldn't happen until 2002. They've now won 10 sectionals in their history, one of which included the Class 2A state championship in 2017, and the most recent happening in Class 3A in 2020.
In baseball, Southridge had never won a regional championship before 2018, but the Raiders will now compete in a state championship game for the third consecutive season after winning their third straight regional and third straight semi-state title in 2021.
"This community, in the last few years, (has) been baseball crazy," Gutgsell said. "Jasper has always been like that, but since Coach Mattingly's taken over, baseball's a serious deal at Southridge now. They're very proud of their team no matter what sport it is. Jasper, Southridge, they'll support their team no matter what."
Craig Popp knows what it feels like to be on both sides of the coin. The 2015 Jasper graduate is now a teacher for Southridge and an assistant varsity basketball coach. He's now giving the same community support he once felt as a team manager when Jasper finished as the 2015 Class 3A state runner-up.
"I remember when I was a senior," Popp said. "The week of state, we had meals being provided for us from different people around the community, and so many people reaching out and wanting to come talk to us and come to practice. After you win sectional, regional, semi-state, everyone's out there on the field with you taking pictures, all kinds of things like that.
"And then even after losing in state, just the applause that everybody got from the crowd that night was still just amazing," he continued. "And we had three rain delays that night, and nobody went home early.
"Everybody stuck around and watched them. It was really cool."
Scott Sollman knows the feeling of having ties to both schools. The 1980 Southridge graduate has been the longtime public address announcer at Raider home games, and partners as Gutgsell's color man when they call Southridge games on the radio.
Sollman texted The Herald on Wednesday that he grew up to be respectful, wear the red, black and white with pride, and of course, beat Jasper. However, in some instances, he's learned to put the rivalry aside, since he'll be cheering on both Dubois County teams at state. But that's not all. Scott married a former Jasper volleyball player, Sherry (Eishenhut), who went to state with the 'Cats in 1983.
Scott considers convincing his wife to move to Huntingburg being his biggest state championship, but he's hoping for two more to come to Dubois County on Tuesday.
"To see these two communities with so much passion for sports, actually supporting each other is just a remarkable, historic time," Scott said in his text.
Popp believes the support the area offers for its student-athletes stems from how close-knit it is. He added that everybody knows everybody, and they love supporting their kids in everything, be it in baseball, other sports or other activities. Popp saw a lot of Jasper people cheering for Southridge at semi-state, and a lot of Southridge people cheering for Jasper.
"I know it's a Tuesday, but go up and watch both games, and let's bring home two state titles to Dubois County," Popp said.
"I think it's going to be just a huge crowd," Gutgsell said. "Possibly other programs and other teams won't know what hit them after that."
Cheering for the neighbors
Southridge's game is set to be played first, followed by Jasper's, but the Raiders will be sticking around after their game in hopes of the Wildcats winning it all in Class 4A.
"Hopefully, we're walking around with blue ribbons around our neck, and we'll be able to get to see our friends and neighbors up north do the same thing," Mattingly said.
"I know they have everything they need to win, and if they do win, it will be fun to be right there," Gobert said of the Raiders. "And if they don't, it's an honor to be around them."
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