By STEVE KRAH
Nearly a decade after guiding a high school baseball program, Dan Thurston is back in that role.
Hired as School Resource Officer at Southwestern High School in Hanover, Ind., in January 2020, he became Rebels head baseball coach around mid-year.
Thurston was head coach at nearby Madison (Ind.) Consolidated High School 2009-11 while also serving as D.A.R.E officer in the junior high. He resigned as baseball coach when he became chief of the City of Madison Police Department.
Meanwhile, he headed up Long Toss Indiana LLC and the Indiana Rawlings Tigers LLC, helping players with arm care and Mental Toughness Training.
A few years ago, Thurston sold the businesses as a package. He was invited by head coach Grant Bellak to join the Hanover College coaching staff and had spent 2019 and 2020 with the Panthers when the opportunities came along at Southwestern.
“One thing I really enjoyed about Hanover was the personal interaction with players,” says Thurston, who played tennis, basketball and baseball at Mooresville (Ind.) High School and baseball at Hanove. “They knew where they were in life and where they were going to go. They were thankful to play more baseball. But it’s probably not going to be their profession after college.
“I learned so much in the last two years about how to run a program and how to run a practice. I think I’ll be a much better coach than I was before.”
As SRO, Thurston estimates that he spends more than half his time on relationships with the rest split between counseling and his law enforcement duties.
Until becoming coach, he got to know students as people and not as athletes.
Thurston took the coaching job in time to lead a few summer workouts in June and then guided IHSAA Limited Contact Period activities in the fall.
“It was intrasquad games, (batting practice), infield drills and arm care. We did long toss to stretch arms out,” says Thurston. “Looking back on it, it more about me getting to the know the kids and the program and them getting to know me and my style.
“My style has evolved over the years. At Madison — to a fault — I was a little bit of a control freak. Now I have really good assistants and I expect them to coach.”
Thurston’s Rebels staff includes Ethan Leach, Brian Crank and Brendon Bump.
Leach played at Madison Consolidated and Indiana University Southeast. Crank, who is dean of students and junior varsity boys basketball coach at Southwestern, played at Franklin (Ind.) College an was a JV coach for Thurston at Madison. Pitching coach Bump took the mound for Marshall University (Huntington, W.Va.) and was on Shayne Stock’s Hanover coaching staff.
Winter conditioning began at Southwestern last week. Thurston expects around 22 players for varsity and junior varsity teams in the spring.
Southwestern (enrollment around 375) is a member of the Ohio River Valley Conference (with Jac-Cen-Del, Milan, Rising Sun, Shawe Memorial, South Ripley and Switzerland County).
ORVC teams play each other twice on a home-and-home basis.
Though it may not happen in 2021, Thurston says he would like those games to come in the same week.
“That avoids team having one really good pitcher to space out their conference games and pitch the same kid in every game,” says Thurston. “You get more of a true team conference champion.”
Super ATV Field, located on the Southwestern campus, has a turfed home plate area. A new scoreboard — never used with the cancellation of the 2020 season — is expected to be in-place for the Rebels’ first home game of 2021.
Thurston says there’s talk of lighting the field and expanding the dugouts.
“Of course that comes down to that almighty dollar,” says Thurston.
The Rebels are part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Milan, North Decatur, South Decatur, South Ripley and Switzerland County. Southwestern’s lone sectional title came in 1999.
The Madison Cubs are on the Rebels’ schedule. Southwestern has never beaten Madison in varsity baseball. When the Rebels won the Class 2A Jeffersonville Regional in 1999, the Cubs and Indiana Mr. Baseball Bryan Bullington won the 3A state championship.
“I’m going to be low key,” says Thurston of this spring’s Southwestern-Madison meeting. “I’m going to treat it just like any other game.
“There’s no pressure for us to win.”
Thurston is also a regional scout for SportsForce Baseball — a recruiting service that helps players find the best fit at the college level.
Last summer, he was able to help athletes while serving as a tournament director for Pastime Tournaments.
“I often tell players to take baseball out of the equation,” says Thurston. “Is it the right fit academically, financially and socially? Is it the right distance from home and the right size of school?
“Check all the other boxes first. If baseball is important to you, let’s go somewhere we can play. Some are OK with being the program guy.”
With the COVID-19 pandemic has come extra years of eligibility for college players. Thurston says his gut tells him that it may be until 2023 before the trickle-down effect that hits younger college players — and even high schoolers — settles down.
There has traditionally been youth baseball run by the Hanover parks department. Southwestern schedules up to 20 games in the spring for its junior team of seventh and eighth graders.
Recent Southwestern graduate Bailey Elliott is on the baseball roster at Vincennes (Ind.) University. Thurston says he expects the Rebels to produce more college players in the next few years.
Dan and wife Jackie Thurston will be married 32 years in March. The couple has three children — Trey (29), Ryan (26) and Trisha (22).
Trey Thurston is in veterinary school at Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tenn.
Left-handed pitcher Ryan Thurston played at Madison Consolidated and Western Kentucky University and in the Toronto Blue Jays organization. He was with the independent Chicago Dogs and Gary SouthShore RailCats in 2019 and is expected to be back with that club in 2021. Gary did not field a team in 2020 and Thurston went with the indy Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks and Winnipeg Goldeyes.
University of Cincinnati graduate Trisha Thurston works for Fifth Third Bank in Cincinnati.