By STEVE KRAH
Diligence and amusement don’t have to be mutually exclusive.
Not the way Garrett (Ind.) High School head baseball coach Jason Richards sees it.
“I do demand a lot from my players,” says Richards, who spent a decade of coaching in the Railroaders softball program then took over the baseball post prior to the 2020 season which was taken away by COVID-19. “At the same time, baseball has to still be fun for everybody.
“We want to still work hard for our goals.”
Richards was a softball assistant to Scott Bishop for eight seasons before leading the Garrett team in 2018 and 2019.
“(Bishop) demands perfection,” says Richards. “You’re only going to get that through hard work.”
Prior to Garrett, Richards was a baseball assistant at Central Noble for head coach Jim Sickafoose and baseball assistant Eastside for head coach Jason Pierce.
Richards says Sickafoose has an “old school” way of doing things.
“We had a good team,” says Richards, who helped the Cougars win an IHSAA Class 2A LaVille Sectional title and compete in the Whiting Regional in 2012. “(Coach Sickafoose) wanted to get the most out of everything you can do each day.
“(Coach Pierce) brought a fire for the game. He kept the kids on their toes, letting them know they can’t just go through the motions.”
A 1996 Churubusuco (Ind.) High School graduate, Richards played for Mark Grove.
“(Coach Grove) demanded perfection and hard work,” says Richards. “He was no-nonsense.”
Before class baseball, ‘Busco won Warsaw Sectional and Plymouth Regional crowns and competed in the Fort Wayne Semistate championship against eventual state runner-up Fort Wayne Concordia Lutheran at Fort Wayne’s Memorial Stadium in 1995.
Richards went on to be a student at Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne, where he earned a Education degree with a focus on middle school Social Studies and Science and later gained a School Counseling masters from the University of the Cumberlands in Williamsburg, Ky.
An attendee of several coaching clinics, Richards likes to run an organized practice.
Everyday players show up they know everything is thought out and in a certain order.
“Anything after 2 1/2 hours and you start to see bad habits,” says Richards. “In 1 1/2 hours, we can get in there, word hard, get good habits formed and have fun.”
Garrett (enrollment around 580) is a member of the Northeast Corner Conference (along with Angola, Central Noble, Churubusco, Eastside, Fairfield, Fremont, Hamilton, Lakeland, Prairie Heights, West Noble and Westview). NECC teams play each other once apiece plus there’s a conference tournament.
“I hope we have a season,” says Richards. “I think we have a lot to look forward to.
“We should be competitive in a really competitive NECC.”
The Railroaders are in an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Angola, Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger, Fort Wayne Bishop Luers, Fort Wayne Concordia Lutheran, Leo and New Haven. Garrett has won three sectional titles — the last in 1973. In recent years, the Railroaders have been rotating as a sectional and regional host.
At its size, the multi-sport athlete is the norm at Garrett. Many baseball players are on the football team and Richards is an assistant in program led by Chris DePew. That means Garrett had just a few participate in practices during fall IHSAA Limited Contact Period for baseball.
Winter workouts — bat and ball activities plus speed and agility and weight work — have regularly been drawing about 17 with the others involved in winter sports. Richards expects to have around 30 players for varsity and junior varsity teams.
Last March, Garrett was two days away from its first official day of practice when the pandemic caused a shutdown and loss of the 2020 season.
“What a crazy year,” says Richards. “We had like four kids play travel ball last year and no (Garrett Youth Baseball for ages 5-16).
“COVID can really hurt a small program.”
A third year as a guidance counselor at Garrett Middle School (he was a science teacher prior to that), Richards gets to see student-athletes grow and mature for six years — grades 7-12.
“I build a relationship with them in middle school and earn that trust,” says Richards. “In high school, we get them what they need.”
Richards counts Rudy Fuentes as a varsity assistant coach for 2021. Other assistants are Clay Evans, Steve Orth, Bobby York and Cody Camp. Joe Fuentes (Rudy’s son) is GYB president.
The youth league will base its draft on performance at camps held at the high school in February.
“We work really well together,” says Richards of the accord between GHS and GYB.
Garrett graduate Tristan Taylor is a freshman on the baseball roster at Earlham College in Richmond, Ind. Current Railroaders senior Gage Smith is expected to make a college baseball commitment and a number of juniors also have college diamond aspirations.
Jason and wife Emily Richards have three children — Kierra (19), Trey (16) and Brady (8). Kierra Richards is a softball player and Exercise Science major at Grace College in Winona Lake, Ind. Trey Richards is a junior football and baseball players at Garrett. Third grader Brady Richards, who tuns 9 next week, is involved in football, wrestling and baseball.
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