By STEVE KRAH
Gene Smith has been coaching baseball in the community for more than three decades.
Now he’s the head coach at alma mater Prairie Heights Senior High School near LaGrange, Ind.
A 1991 Prairie Heights graduate, Smith played for Craig Reece.
“He was down-to-earth and he would teach you baseball,” says Smith of Reece. “He understood the game.
“He’s a good friend and a good leader.”
Reece instilled the desire in Smith to become a coach at Stroh Youth League at 18. He spent 28 years in that organization in various roles, including vice president.
The high school feeder system consists of SYL, Ashley-Hudson Ball League, Orland Tigers Youth League and South Milford Little League.
Smith was a junior varsity coach on T.J. Guthrie’s Prairie Heights staff in 2022 and was approved as head coach at the January school board meeting.
While some athletes have been involved with wrestling and basketball, Smith has been able to work with some baseball players during the winter IHSAA Limited Contact Period.
“They’re eager,” says Smith. “They’re really listening. They ask questions.
“I’m pretty happy with it.”
Prairie Heights (enrollment around 425) is a member of the Northeast Corner Conference (with Angola, Central Noble, Churubusco, Eastside, Fairfield, Fremont, Garrett, Hamilton, Lakeland, West Noble and Westview).
Hamilton is expected to play a JV schedule in 2023. The NECC tournament is April 24-29.
The Panthers are part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping in 2023 with Central Noble, Churubusco, Eastside, Westview and Whitko. Prairie Heights has won two sectional titles — 1977 and 1984.
Smith’s staff in 2023 features pitching coach/varsity assistant Dave Priestly, junior varsity head coach Bodie Rice and JV assistant Reese Smith (Gene’s son and a 2018 Prairie Heights graduate).
The Panthers play and practice on Kellet Field. A few years back, the field was overhauled while Prairie Heights played all its games on the road.
“It’s one of the best playing surfaces in the NECC,” says Smith. “We would like to upgrade the dugouts.”
In April, Smith will hit the 24-year mark working maintenance at maintenance at Cold Heading Company in Hudson, Ind.
Gene and wife Stacy Smith have eight children between them. From oldest to youngest there’s Shayntel Smith, Reese Smith, Malachi Malone, Courtney Smith, Jerica Malone, Isaiah Malone and Cheyenne Smith (Prairie Heights Class of 2023).
Elijah Malone is a junior on the men’s basketball team at Grace College in Winona Lake, Ind. Prairie Heights senior Isaiah Malone recently signed to play basketball at the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne.