By STEVE KRAH
Eric Foga has witnessed a good deal of intrigue in the gridiron game during his time at South Decatur Junior/Senior High School near Westport, Ind., and would like enthusiasm to increase for the diamond.
Foga is a football assistant and is entering his second season head baseball coach for the Cougars in 2019.
“South Decatur has been a football school for years,” says Foga. “The interest in baseball at South is not as high as I would like it.”
“Within my first two years, I’ve received a lot of support from parents, administrators and players,” says Foga, who is also in his fourth year as a fine arts and digital design teacher. “We’ve tried to implement a lot of things they were not used to. It’s made that process of who’s in charge and how it’s run much smoother than I’ve expected.
“I’ve gotten buy-in from the kids.”
South Decatur, located 13 miles southwest of Greensburg, plays its game on its campus located along Indiana 3.
That field has been re-edged. Dirt and field conditioner have been added and it’s been rolled to get truer ground balls.
A long-term project is replacing fencing.
“We’re making small improvements every year,” says Foga.
Conference teams play each other twice in home-and-home series, usually on back-to-back days.
The Cougars are in an IHSAA sectional grouping with Hauser, Jac-Cen-Del, North Decatur, Oldenburg Academy and Rising Sun. Jac-Cen-Del has lights and has been the host site in recent years. South Decatur won its two sectional championships in 1972 and 1976.
Foga says 26 boys have signed up for tryouts and 16 will be kept for a varsity-only season. As is the case at most small schools, pitching is at a premium.
“Everybody that plays starts out pitching,” says Foga. “Of our potential roster, 10 to 12 guys will pitch for us throughout the year.”
Foga, who is assisted by Anthony Jarvis, Ben Vanderbur and Joe Storm, says his team has benefitted from the new IHSAA limited contact rules (two days of baseball activity two days a week during certain periods).
“Not having a true feeder system in place, it has allowed me to get in the gym and work on those fundamentals early,” says Foga. “We can keep moving and progressing forward.”
The start of spring break at South Decatur coincides with the first official day of practice (March 11).
“Kids will practicing on spring break to be able to hit their (IHSAA) practice count before the season begins,” says Foga.
To create a feeder, a junior high baseball club is starting this spring. Games will be played against many of the schools in the Mid-Hoosier Conference.
There is a local youth league, but it does not play by high school rules. There is no leading off etc. That’s why the junior high program was started.
Foga sees players on his squad with the potential to play college baseball, including senior center fielder Nolan Storm (Joe Storm’s son), senior right-handed pitcher/shortstop/third baseman Brogan Howard, junior catcher/outfielder/first baseman Charlie Frensemeier and right-hander/outfielder Riley Peele.
A 2002 Jennings County High School graduate, Foga competed in football, wrestling and baseball for the Panthers.
His baseball coach was Bob Howe.
“The huge thing I learned from him the idea of structure,” says Foga of Howe. “It allows you to focus on what needs to happen and fundamentals.
“He’d tell us that everybody not he team had potential to play at the collegiate level. But potential doesn’t mean anything unless you are able to work for it. I’ve applied that to general life experiences.”
Foga was 5-foot-5 and 125 pounds in high school.
Jennings County football coach Jerry Bland told him not to make that a deal-breaker.
“Coach Bland really pushed me to look past my size and not let that hold me back,” says Foga. “I could take on any challenge.”
He remembers wrestling coach Howard Jones more for what he did off the mat than on it.
“He approached sports in general and coaching almost as a father figure,” says Foga. “He really looked out for the best interests of every kid on the team.
“He wanted you to really strive for what we want in life. He was a really good mentor for all aspects of life.
“I really try to implement that here at South. I want to be a mentor to them, guide them through life’s issues and be a positive role model. A lot of kids we have don’t have that in place.”
In football, Foga has assisted former South Decatur head coach Garry Sauley and was at the junior high level when Tony Bell was varsity head coach.
“For (Sauley), it was always trying to do the right thing and always taking the higher path no matter what the situation was,” says Foga. “(Bell) was passionate about football. He talked about having a passion for something and pushing it.”
Foga, a 2011 graduate of Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis, is married to Tiffany with five boys — Roman (11), Drake (10), Ayden (9), Hudson (7) and Grayson (5). They are all involved in hockey or soccer. Baby No. 6 is due in July.
Eric Foga is head baseball coach at South Decatur Junior/Senior High School near Westport, Ind.
Head coach Eric Foga with his South Decatur Junior/Senior High School baseball team.