BY STEVE KRAH
Along the way he decided he’d like to be a head coach in one of those two sports.
The opportunity came first in baseball. After earning his Industrial Technology degree at Ball State University, LaDuke spent one year teaching and leading the baseball program at Springs Valley Junior-Senior High School in French Lick, Ind.
Bill Pierce, his baseball coach at Floyd Central, let him know about a teaching and coaching opening at Floyd Central and LaDuke came home. After a few years as an assistant, the 1984 FCHS graduate has led the Highlanders on the diamond since 1999.
LaDuke also spent about 15 years on the Floyd Central football staff — most of those with Ron Weigleb, a man he had been a wide receiver, kicker and punter for as a player (LaDuke played one season at Kentucky State University before transferring to BSU, where he decided on an education path as a junior and graduated in 1990).
“He’s my big influence as a coach,” says LaDuke of Weigleb. “Some of the things he instilled into the football program we try to do with the baseball program — things like discipline, responsibility and keeping kids accountable. There’s more to it than just playing the game.”
It’s the life lessons that last.
LaDuke appreciated how Weigleb created a family atmosphere. When his coaches went to a clinic, the wives came along and everyone got close.
Dora LaDuke, a 1986 Floyd Central graduate and former Highlander athlete, died after a long battle with Leukemia in 2012 at age 45. Casey and Dora’s daughter, Sydney, is now a senior Elementary Education major at Indiana University Southeast in New Albany.
Floyd Central is in the New Albany-Floyd County Consolidated School Corporation (along with New Albany High School) and serves Floyds Knobs, Galena, Georgetown and Greenville. Locals like to say Floyds Knobs is on the “hill” overlooking New Albany in the “valley.”
Built in 1967, FCHS was formerly called Floyd Central Junior-Senior High School until the opening of Highland Hills Middle School in 2004.
Floyd Central (enrollment around 1,900) is a member of the Hoosier Hills Conference (with Bedford North Lawrence, Columbus East, Jeffersonville, Jennings County, Madison Consolidated, New Albany and Seymour).
Bedford North Lawrence, Jeffersonville, Jennings County and New Albany all have turf on their home diamonds.
Floyd Central plays at spacious Highlander Field.
“It’s one of the biggest fields at the high school level,” says LaDuke. “It’s one of the best natural surface fields in the area. We take pride in it.”
LaDuke, his assistants and players have put in many hours maintaining the field.
“It’s my place to get away,” says LaDuke.
The FCHS sports complex includes two fields each for baseball, softball and soccer next to a stadium used for football and track and field.
Tennis courts are less than a mile away at the middle school, which has club baseball with two eighth grade squads feeding the three at the high school — varsity and two junior varsity teams.
LaDuke says 72 players signed up for fall activities. About 60 participated in tryouts this spring, leaving about 45 players.
The coach says the numbers going into tryouts were higher since cuts were not made prior to the 2020 COVID-19 shutdown and loss of season and many of those players came out again in 2021.
Highlander Youth Recreation sponsors baseball teams from age 5 to 13.
Floyd Central is part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with Bedford North Lawrence, Jeffersonville, Jennings County, New Albany (the 2021 host) and Seymour. The Highlanders have won 13 sectional crowns — the last in 2015.
The 2013 squad was ranked No. 1 in the state. The Highlanders lost to Jeffersonville in the Bedford North Lawrence championship game.
Tell City, Fort Wayne Carroll, South Dearborn, Corydon Central, South Spencer, Owensboro (Ky.), Castle, St. Xavier (Ky.), Columbus North, Trinity Lutheran, Lanesville, Brownstown Central, Evansville North, Evansville Mater Dei, Providence, Seymour, Charlestown, Heritage Hills, Bloomington North, Bloomington South and Clarksville are also on the 2021 slate.
LaDuke’s main 2021 assistants are Floyd Central graduates Jamie Polk and Chris Hogan. With a hiatus as head coach at North Harrison High School in Ramsey, Ind., Polk has been with LaDuke since he took over the Highlanders. Hogan came on board about three of four years in.
Tristan Polk is planning to attend Marian University in Indianapolis to play quarterback on the football team.
There are many recent Floyd Central graduates on college baseball rosters, including Philip Archer (Southern Illinois University), Alex Lozado (University of South Florida), Max Meyer (Indiana State University), Jon Cato (Bellarmine), Adam Spalding (Bellarmine), Joel Archer (Oakland City, Ind., University), Joe Harrington (Oakland City), Daly Skees (Hillsdale, Mich., College), Blake Barrett (Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill.) and Josh Gross (Glen Oaks Community College in Centerville, Mich.).
“I take pride in helping kids find schools,” says LaDuke.
He notes that college coaches — particularly at the NCAA I level — are reaching out to players at earlier and earlier ages while recruiting on the travel ball circuit.
Says LaDuke, “Coaches don’t like it, but that’s what their competitive is doing so they have to do it to keep up.”