The week that Wes Rincker became school-board official as the new head baseball coach at Shoals (Ind.) High School, he attended his first Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association State Clinic (Jan. 14-16, 2022). “I learned a lot at that clinic even after coaching all these years,” says Rincker, who guided players for 14 years in various travel ball organizations in Missouri before moving to Martin County in 2018 to work as a supply technician at Naval Surface Warfare Center Crane Division. “I talked with (Jasper head coach) Terry Gobert and (Shakamak head coach) Jeremy Yeryar, picking up every little tidbit I can. “I know baseball. We’ll work on fundamentals, drill work, mechanics and conditioning and see how many guys have the tools we have to succeed. As an outsider I have a very open mind as who should play at what position. I just want to get them ready for the field. I’m excited to get it going. “(Athletic director) Bryson Abel and (assistant AD) Danielle Cornett taking a chance on me and I appreciate that.” Shoals (enrollment around 200 is a member of the Blue Chip Athletic Conference (with Barr-Reeve, Loogootee, North Knox, Northeast Dubois, South Knox, Vincennes Rivet, Washington Catholic and Wood Memorial). In 2021, the Jug Rox were part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with Barr-Reeve, Loogootee, North Daviess and Vincennes Rivet. Shoals has not yet earned a sectional title. The Jug Rox have not won a sectional game in more than a decade. Rincker is a 1988 Shakamak graduate. He did not play baseball in high school. He retired from the U.S. Air Force after 26 year total in the military, including time in U.S. Army and U.S. Army National Guard. He was at Whiteman Air Force Base in Knob Noster, Mo., and did did four combat tours — Somalia in1993, Iraq 2006 in 2008 and Afghanistan in 2011. Rincker coached baseball for American Legion Post 131 in Warrenburg, Mo., and the Lee’s Summit (Mo.) Saints — a Christian-base travel team then featuring former major leaguer Les Norman — and in Sedalia, Mo. He also officiated high school basketball and football. Wes’ parents — Lana Bush and Charles Rincker — are from Shoals. “It’s a quiet area,” says Rincker, who enjoys hunting and fishing with his father. “I just love it here away from the city hustle and bustle.” Wes and Amy Rincker are empty-nesters. Daughter Chelsea and husband Jerril Eisenbeck are in Fort Campbell, Ky., where he is an Army sergeant. They have two boys. Oldest son Luke Rincker recently graduated from Iowa State University and moved to San Marcos, Texas. He is in the Air Force Reserve. Youngest son Caleb Rincker lives in Sellersburg, Ind., and is in the Air National Guard. He is also on his father’s Shoals coaching staff along with Kent Hall and Adam Showalter. The first official practice date on the IHSAA calendar is March 14.
Dawson Estep counts it a privilege to play baseball. So even though he considers himself a middle infielder, he’ll go wherever coaches want to use him. “I don’t write the lineup,” says Estep, a 2019 graduate of University High School in Carmel, Ind., who is preparing to return to Connors State College in Warner, Okla., in mid-August. “I’ll play anywhere as long as I’m on the field having fun. “I’m just excited to be out on the field playing.” This summer, the 21-year-old has been primarily been used at second base by Moon Shots head coach Kevin Christman in the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. Estep and Christman go way back. “I’ve know him known since before I was 10,” says Estep. “He’s watched me grow up. “It’s fun playing for him in the summer.” Christman, a retired San Francisco Giants scout, has helped Chris and Sue Estep at RoundTripper Sports Academy in Westfield and the Indiana Mustangs travel organization and is very familiar with the Estep children — Tron, Dawson and Jasmine. RoundTripper/Mustangs founder Chris Estep is a master instructor and University High head coach. He played at the University of Kentucky. Sue Estep was a cheerleader at UK. Indianapolis Cathedral High School graduate Tron Estep played football at Elon (N.C.) University, where he has earned underrate and masters degrees, and is about to go to U.S. Army National Guard boot camp. Competitive dancer/cheerleader Jasmine Estep is heading into her senior year at Carmel High School. “She’s probably the best athlete in the family,” says Dawson of his sister. “She can do 10 straight back flips.” Cousin Chase Estep, who played with Dawson on the Indiana Mustangs, played his second season at Kentucky in the spring and is with the Northwoods League’s Kenosha (Wis.) Kingfish this summer. Dawson Estep helps out at RoundTripper when he’s not working out, honing his skills or playing in the CSL. At 5-foot-9 and 175 pounds, Estep has added about 15 pounds of muscle since going to Connors State in January. A catalyst for University’s IHSAA Class 1A state runner-up and state championship teams in 2018 and 2019, Estep went to Rend Lake College in Ina, Ill., and played for the National Junior College Athletic Association Division II Warriors in the spring of 2020, a season shortened to 12 games by the COVID-19. After the shutdown, Estep took online classes and worked out back in Indiana. When there was a change in the Rend Lake coaching staff and uncertainty about the 2021 season, he began looking for other opportunities. “We were at the height of COVID and I didn’t know what was going to happen,” says Estep. “I didn’t want to get stuck and not have a place to be.” Estep posted Twitter videos of himself on offense and defense and Connors State reached out. He visited and ended up going with the Perry Keith-coached Cowboys. “I’ve found myself as a ballplayer,” says Estep. “It’s the right spot for me. “I’m in the right environment where I can grow as a player and a person.” Keith has been at Connors State for more than three decades and amassed more than 1,600 wins. His teams have made five JUCO World Series appearances. “He’s a legend in the coaching world,” says Estep of Keith. “He’s one of those coaches that makes you go the extra mile. He gets the best of everybody. He’s honest even if you don’t want to hear it. “He’s the guy you want to go to battle for and he’ll go to battle for you.” Estep credits Keith for helping him mature and grow. Estep has embraced the “JUCO Bandit” approach to baseball. “You’re on your own but you’re not on your own,” says Estep. “You have to grow up fast. “You use the resources you have and come up with things on the fly. You have a lot of ingenuity and use what you have. When I’m back home I have a lot more things at my disposable. It makes makes me appreciate them.” Estep says junior college baseball — for those who work at it – provides a chance to play right away and find their niche in the game. In his first season Connors State, he worked out at many infield positions in a utility role. In 17 games, he hit .324 (11-of-34) with seven runs batted in, 11 runs scored and two stolen bases as the Cowboys went 37-18. In the fall, JUCO players are often at the field up to 10 hours a day. “The fall is where the boys become men,” says Estep. “It’s the grind. “Once they move on to a four-year school they’re prepared for anything.” Since he was 14 or 15, Estep has been a switch hitter. “I liked hitting left-handed when I played wiffle ball with my friends,” says Estep. “I started becoming comfortable (in baseball).” Estep explains the advantage of hitting from both sides of the plate. “I don’t have issues hitting a breaking ball,” says Estep. “Everything comes into me. I go after the fastball and stay back on the change-up. “I don’t see lefties a lot. I’ve had maybe 10 at-bats right-handed this summer. So I work even harder on the right side.” For either side, Estep does plenty of tee work and sets the pitching machine at high velocity to get ready for game speed. He does drills that concentrate on his lower half. “I sometimes get antsy with my feet and try to kill the ball,” says Estep. “I try to be a fundamentally-sound as possible.” He likes to take the same amount of cuts righty and lefty since he does not know who is coming out of the bullpen if the starter should leave. Dawson was born in Indianapolis and spent his whole life in Carmel. While he and his father probably talk about baseball everyday, there’s also conversations about school. After he gets his basic classes completed and lands at a four-year school, Dawson sees himself pursuing a degree in sports management or business. “I want to get into coaching and help younger kids,” says Dawson of his post-playing ambitions. “This game has helped me so much. “I might as well do that for the rest of my life.”