Rules of upkeep trimmed, tweaked with timeMay 8, 2014
By JOE JASINSKI
Herald Sports Writer
With complete certainty, Brian Kirchoff pinpoints the culprit.
“It’s those dang Red Sox,” the 12th-year Northeast Dubois baseball coach says. “If it hadn’t been for those stupid Red Sox, we wouldn’t have this problem.”
See, Kirchoff is old-school. Always has been, ever since he played at Bloomfield under the sharp-eyed supervision of his coach, Rex Kirchoff, who just so happened to double as his father. And with an uncle as the athletic director and an aunt as the school secretary, “I had a lot of eyes on me,” Kirchoff jokes. “I had to be (clean-cut). I had to follow the straight and narrow.”
The rules he sets for his Jeeps reflect that watchful eye, in a sense. Boys must shave. “We’re supposed to shave,” Kirchoff clarifies. Full uniforms must be on (minus cleats) before players exit the bus at away games. If seniors decide socks will be worn up, everybody wears them up. Simple stuff.
But those dang Red Sox. With their dang beards. Those dense, unruly forests of whiskers on each player’s face that became the talk of last fall’s major league playoffs. Now his boys want the scruff, and it’s put Kirchoff into a little huff.
Therein lies the state of coaches’ personal upkeep statutes: a give-and-take of concessions and compromises on how coaches want their players to look and how players want to look themselves.
For most coaches, there are baseline standards. Just like in Dubois, uniforms must be on for Heritage Hills players as soon as they exit the bus. When it comes to facial scruff, most coaches don’t want to see the patchy patterns of a juvenile, though as Kirchoff alluded to, stubble has become perhaps the most breached decree.
Some rules point to the finer details.
Terry Gobert won’t let any of his Jasper ballplayers sport a flat-bill cap. And heaven forbid a Forest Park player decides to rock an undershirt that’s a different color from the one his teammates don. Jarred Howard will be none too pleased.
Yet with every tucked-in jersey, the beard of Southridge junior Connor Craig continues to grow another day. For every lap the Rangers run for changing into shorts after a game, Zach Keusch’s “Mississippi Mud Flap” (as Jasper assistant coach Phil Kendall coined it) continues to rage on, as the shaggy mop of hair flows savagely out the sides of his cap. And each time Kirchoff reminds Brayden Wineinger that, no son, you’re not exempt from the team’s shaving policy — “He’s feeling pretty good about his manhood this year,” Kirchoff says about the senior — Corey Ebelhar’s “scattery” facial fur, as Heritage Hills teammate Tyler Ward terms it, takes another walk on the wild side.
It all points to the opposing school of thought — a libertarian approach that embraces the beard and the oft untidy garb that lets players make the call.
Dave Schank would’ve never allowed it in his first coaching stint with Southridge more than a decade ago. Back then, the guy used a whistle at practice, commanding players from one drill station to another.
Now, the only rules he’s set are “play hard” and “have fun.” So Chad Meyer’s jersey hanging out in the on-deck circle during the Raiders’ recent game against Northeast Dubois? No big deal. Craig’s beard? Don’t care. Guys like Jeremiah Mundy take full advantage of the liberties.
“He’s got that curly hair he likes to show off and he’s got that eye black going, arm sleeves, arm bands,” Craig says of Mundy. “Whatever he thinks will get some eyes looking at him, he’ll put it on.”
While Schank has adopted a hands-off technique with upkeep, other coaches admit they’ve eased off a bit over the years.
When Howard started coaching in the Owensboro area where he’s originally from, “you had to push kids” a bit more than in Dubois County, he says, where his players tend to be a bit more disciplined. Now, Alec Hassfurther’s scruff yields more of a head shake than a berating from Howard.
“He loves it,” Hassfurther says with a grin.
“I’ve learned that you’ve got to let them have a little freedom,” Howard says.
And if the results follow, like with Hassfurther’s two-double, two-RBI night against Crawford County last week, maybe the razor can stay dormant a little while longer.
“If he continues to hit the ball like (that), then I would let him grow it a couple more days,” Howard says grudgingly. “But we’re not growing a beard and braiding it.”
There will be no dreadlocked do’s with the Wildcats either, though Gobert admits, “We are the sloppiest I’ve ever allowed, I think. … We were just talking about that, that I’ve slipped.”
He and Kendall scanned the team pictures and counted 10 guys with hair. Close to a new team high. “I don’t like it, period,” says Gobert, who once made a player drive to a gas station, buy a razor and shave in a restroom without any shaving cream before being let on the team bus.
One time, the 27th-year coach even decided who to start based on one kid’s hair. During an offseason, 1989 graduate Alex Simmers exchanged his mullet-looking “Kentucky waterfall” (again, Kendall’s words) for a high-and-tight look. Gobert gave Simmers the starting nod.
There will always be exceptions made by coaches. Last year, Jasper senior Nathan Leibering was allowed to keep his “neck beard,” as Gobert calls it, “because he was a senior and he came ready to play.”
And in a sport seeping with superstition, proper upkeep sometimes isn’t the answer. That’s what Heritage Hills’ Ward has found.
“A sneaky way to let it grow is just use an electric razor every once in a while,” Ward explains. “Just keep it halfway trimmed up and then win a couple games on the mound and just let it grow out.”
When Schank played at Indiana University, the discipline was what killed his love for the sport, he says. He wants to make sure that doesn’t happen with his group.
“You watch college baseball. Those kids, they’re wearing goofy sunglasses, flat bills and some of them have their pants pulled up and some of them don’t. That’s part of the game,” Schank says. “We’ve got some boys that think they’ve got swag. I personally think they’re dorks.”
At the end of the day, each coach’s style and rules vary. The key: Don’t be someone you’re not.
“You’re wrong as a coach to think, ‘I’ve got to have rules because this coach does or that coaches does,’” Gobert says. “You’ve got to be who you are and at the end of the day, you’ve got to know what you demand out of them and they’ve got to know what you demand out of them.”
Contact Joe Jasinski
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