By STEVE KRAH
Baseball doesn’t have to be complicated.
“In high school, you need to three things very well. It’s simple — throw strikes, make plays and put the ball in play.
“We do our very best to keep things as simple as we can. If we do the simple things, then we’re pretty successful.”
The Forest Park Rangers have found themselves ranked among the top IHSAA Class 2A schools in many of the seasons where they grasped and executed the simple concepts emphasized by Howard.
At a school of about 400, there are occasional downs mixed in with the ups. But Forest Park has won about two-thirds of games.
A member of the Pocket Athletic Conference (along with Gibson Southern, Heritage Hills, North Posey, Pike Central, South Spencer, Southridge, Tecumseh and Tell City), the Rangers and other PAC schools play each other once.
Forest Park competed in 2018 in the 2A Tell City Sectional (which also featured Evansville Mater Dei, North Posey, Perry Central, South Spencer plus host Tell City).
Schools in that field have made 11 state championship game appearances and won it all seven times — South Spencer 4, North Posey 2 and Mater Dei 1.
Forest Park has won four sectionals (1975, 1976, 1984 and 2002) and one regional (1976).
The 2018 squad went 10-11 and featured Trever Zink, who was team player of year, co-Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association district player of the year and participated in the IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series in South Bend.
Senior Daniel Lusk earned a defensive and mental attitude awards. Freshman Gage Hasenour took the lowest earned run average/pitching award. Sophomore Gavin Knust gathered the hitting award for the highest batting average and was named most improved.
Zink and Lusk were all-PAC and Knust gained honorable mention all-conference.
The Rangers gave Howard his 300th career coaching victory April 30, 2018 against Evansville Bosse.
With proximity and Howard’s ties to Kentucky, Forest Park played some of its games against schools from the Bluegrass State.
Howard says it often makes scheduling easier than in Indiana since a statewide assigner matches umpires with games in Kentucky.
Being a smaller school, Forest Park relies on many multi-sport athletes. Baseball players are asked to get in their work when they can and the coaching staff, which also includes former Howard players Kyle Greulich, Brent Wendholt and Jesse Hagedorn plus volunteers Darren Weisheit and Andy Rohleder are all willing to help.
Greulich played at Oakland City University, pitching coach Wendholt at Vincennes University and then at the University of Southern Indiana, Weisheit at Southeastern Illinois College in Harrisburg, Ill. and Rohleder at the University of Evansville and in the Florida/Miami Marlins organization and with independent Gary Southshore RailCats.
“Our player development has been very good,” says Howard. “The summer time is a big deal. We do as much as we can.”
Howard has sent nearly 20 players on to college baseball. The most recent ones are Zink to Olney (Ill.) Central College and Eli Knust, who played at Vincennes University and is now at Huntington University.
Forest Park fields varsity and junior varsity teams with about 24 to 26 players in the program.
Both squads generally practice together.
“I want them to be able to understand what I’m doing,” says Howard. “I want them to get used to how I handle situations.”
Ranger Field, located on the school campus, sports Bermuda grass.
“Our playing surface is phenomenal — very fast,” says Howard, who reports that the program is looking into updating the backstop and adding visitor seating to get a chance at hosting a sectional or regional.
Feeding the high school program are the Forest Park Youth Sports. In this summer’s Indiana Little League tournaments, FPYS advanced its 10- and 11-year-old teams to the state semifinals while the 12-year-olds bowed out in the district finals. The latter group took the state title when they were 10.
There are seventh and eighth grade baseball teams at Forest Park in the spring.
“We’re excited about the next four or five years coming,” says Howard.
The 2018 Rangers had two seniors. On many days, there were as many as seven freshmen and sophomores in the lineup.
A 1993 McLean County (Ky.) High School graduate, Howard played for Rockport American Legion Post 254 then coaches John Hayes and T-Ray Fletcher at Oakland City. Howard was an assistant to Fletcher for two years before going to Forest Park.
The holder of a business education degrees with two masters (business management and school administration), Howard’s day job is as director of the Patoka Valley Career and Technical Cooperative. He has an office in Jasper, Ind., but spends much of his time on the road overseeing the 17 programs based at 10 high schools.
Jarred and Natalie Howard have three children — sons Drew and Reid and daughter Bree. Drew is heading into the ninth grade, Reid the seventh and Bree the second.
Both boys play for Ironmen Baseball travel organization.
Forest Park Senior/Junior High School head baseball coach Jarred Howard (left) accepts a plaque commemorating his 300th career victory from Forest Park athletic director Doug Louden.