By STEVE KRAH
Dean Lehrman has been around the baseball program at Heritage Junior-Senior High School in Monroeville, Ind., long enough that he is coaching a second generation of Patriots.
Just at the varsity level, there are four players whose fathers played for Lehrman at Heritage. There are seniors Cody David (son of Chad) and Clay Gerardot (son of Matt) and sophomores Jackson Bearman (son of Wade) and Austin Buuck (son of Greg).
The 2021 season is Lehrman’s 43rd season as a head baseball coach — 34th at Heritage after nine at Woodlan.
At present, the 1973 Heritage graduate has 632 career wins. The ’21 Patriots are off to a 17-2 start.
“I got in this business because I love baseball and it’s a kids game,” says Lehrman, 66. “I wanted to pass that on to my sons and everybody in the neighborhood’s sons.”
Heritage (enrollment around 600) is a consolidation of Monroeville and Hoagland and that opened in 1969. The Patriots are a member of the Allen County Athletic Conference (with Adams Central, Bluffton, Jay County, South Adams, Southern Wells and Woodlan). ACAC teams meet each other one time.
The Patriots are part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Bellmont (the 2021 host), Marion, Mississinewa, Norwell and Oak Hill. Heritage has won nine sectionals (the last in 2015), three regionals and one semistate — all but a 1976 sectional crown on Lehrman’s watch.
“A bunch of blue-collar, hard-nosed, out-work-you kids” with no superstars earned a state runner-up finish in 2007 (losing to South Spencer in the 2A title game).
Lehrman’s Heritage teams have won numerous conference titles and he has often been chosen ACAC Coach of the Year. He has twice been Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association District Coach of the Year and was on the IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series coaching staff two times.
“In my mind we are still a 2A school although we’ve officially been 3A for several years,” says Lehrman. “It’s a numbers thing.”
Lehrman does not favor athletic specialization and embraces the idea of the multi-sport athlete. He enjoys a sense of cooperation between himself and fellow head coaches Casey Kolkman in football and Adam Gray with basketball and the sharing of athletes.
“I want my kids to be involved in as many sports as they can,” says Lehrman. “It seems that more and more they get funneled into one thing 365/24-7. That’s not good for kid. You get more kids getting burned out that way.
“We’re not pulling kids in different directions and telling them you’ve got to do this in the summer or you can’t play. I’m a firm believer that a kid has to be a kid. He’s got to be free to choose.
“He should be able to play football, basketball and baseball or whatever combination of sports you want to throw in there.”
Janice Lehrman has been a coach’s wife for all these decades.
“I can’t count how many uniforms she’s sewn back together and she still does it,” says Dean. “She just did it for a JV kid.”
Dean and wife Janice, who live in the country near Hoagland, have three children — Camryn, Derek and Ryne.
Camyn Klocinski is a social studies teacher at Summerfield Junior-Senior High School in Petersburg, Mich. She has traveled the world and is an expert on World War II.
Derek Lehrman is married with three children. He played football and baseball at Heritage (and was one of several IHSBCA all-stars coached by his father) and baseball at Eastern Michigan University and in the Detroit Tigers system.
He is now the Patriots hitting coach and serves on a staff with pitching coach Scott Lewis, a former left-handed pitcher from Van Wert, Ohio. Junior varsity coaches for 2021 are Heritage alums Jeremy Hullinger, Nick Bosler and Matt Saylor.
Ryne Lehrman (who gets his first name from Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg) played football and baseball at Manchester University in North Manchester, Ind. He and his wife are traveling physical therapists and have one child.
Youth leagues in Monroeville and Hoagland as well as the Harding and New Haven areas feed into Heritage.
A 5-foot-9, 170 pounds, Lehrman used his mechanics, wrist and forearm to generate velocity as a pitcher. His boyhood idol was Nolan Ryan.
Lehrman took the mound for four years at Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne (now Purdue Fort Wayne) for Hal Prickett and Dave Hey and drew attention from bird dog major league scouts.
As a coach, Lehrman encourages his pitchers to change speeds and the eye levels of batters.
“No matter how hard you throw if that’s all you do, they’re going to catch up to you,” says Lehrman. “Kids today are trained on pitching machine and you can se the machine to throw 90 or 95 (mph) and they can work on that — boom, boom, boom.
“To me, the change-up is the next-best pitch behind the fastball.”
Among the pitchers to come through Heritage are Andrew Saalfrank, a left-hander who hurled for Indiana University and is now in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization.
Branson Dossen, son of former pro Jarrod Dossen, played baseball at Heritage then Indiana Tech. The younger Dossen was a standout quarterback for the Patriots.
Dustin Butcher is the head baseball coach at the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne and just led the Cougars to a single-season school record of 34 victories.
The IHSAA has been observing a pitch count rule (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days) since 2017. Lehrman has been tracking numbers for 43 years.
“We’re never going to hurt a kid,” says Lehrman. “I keep them in by book. At the end of the inning, I can tell you how many pitches he threw and what his first-pitch strike percentage was.”
Lehrman’s father — Donald — ran his scorebook for three decades and Dean now keeps it while his assistants coach the bases.
A teacher of mathematics after college, Lehrman retired from the classroom in June 2020.
“I was very blessed there because I had calculus and trigonometry,” says Lehrman. “I had good kids that wanted to be there and wanted to learn.
“That’s a huge reason I stayed in it for 43 years.”
The East Allen County Schools administration asked him to stay on to lead the Patriots on the diamond.
“As long as I’m still having fun, I’m going to hang around and coach baseball,” says Lehrman.
For many falls, he was on the staffs of two Indiana Football Hall of Famers — Leland Etzler at Woodlan and Bob Yager at Heritage.
Lehrman was Yager’s defensive coordinator then served six years as Patriots head coach (going 40-26 from 2010-15) before stepping away from the gridiron.
He was coaxed back by alum Kolkman, who heads into his second season as Heritage head football coach in the fall.
“Casey was an eighth grader when I first started teaching here,” says Lehrman. “He asked me to help out. I said I’ll do it on one condition. I’m strictly a volunteer and as long as I’m having fun I’ll stick around and do anything you ask.
“Casey has turned the program completely around. Look for big things out of our football team the next couple of years.”
Heritage baseball’s full week began Tuesday, May 11 with a win against Bluffton. The Patriots are slated to visit Van Wert Wednesday, Jay County Thursday and Manchester Friday with a rare Saturday off.