Football may be the sport everyone associates with being the religion of the South, but no one should overlook baseball. Many of the top teams in the country call states like Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Arizona home. In fact, every team in MaxPreps current top 10 is from the South. All these teams are made up of extraordinary talent but we’re going to highlight one player from each team who really makes a difference.
Dylan Lesko is off to a hot start this season and has Buford ranked #1 nationally according to MaxPreps. The big righthander, a Vanderbilt commit, has a fastball that can touch the mid-90s and filthy secondary pitches. Lesko is going to be a problem for batters all season long.
Jack Walker is a master at making kids walk back to the dugout. Coming off Tommy John surgery Walker is rounding into form and his fastball is hitting the low-90s again. The Mississippi State commit has one of the better changeups in his class and is a threat with a bat in his hands as well. Walker has helped Barbe capture the #2 spot in MaxPreps rankings.
Wes Mendes is a true dual threat player. The sophomore at Jesuit is a balanced hitter who makes consistent contact and has strong exit velocity. Defensively, he’s got a quick release on throws and is accurate to every spot. Mendes, another Vandy commit, is helping power Jesuit off to a strong 11-1 start this season, good for #3 in MaxPreps rankings.
Brock Selvidge looks the part of every scout’s dream prospect and plays like it too. Standing 6’3” with a fiery fastball and a made-you-look-silly slider, he’s Hamilton’s ace this season and one of their most dangerous hitters. In a recent game against Chaparral he had two homers and struck out six to carry Hamilton to a 6-4 win.
Andy Painter is one of the most physically imposing pitchers in America. 6’7” and 230 pounds, the Calvary Christian Academy senior and Florida commit is the number one right-handed prospect in the nation and seems destined for the big leagues with a fastball that is already hitting the upper 90s. Calvary Christian Academy is currently sitting seventh in the rankings after a loss to Pembroke Pines Charter.
IMG Academy got thumped this past week by Calvary Christian Academy though Elijah Green certainly did his part to try and rally the team. One of the premier players in his class, Elijah displays the type of power that every coach loves. The future Hurricane has shown the ability to hit to all spots of the field with an easy swing and is solid defensively as well.
Madison Central is having a fantastic season so far as they sit fourth in the MaxPreps rankings and are still undefeated at 11-0. Braden Montgomery is a big reason why the Jaguars are playing so well. The senior has put together a strong season showcasing his versatility from both sides of the plate and a live arm in the outfield.
Stoneman Douglas has leaped into the top 5 of MaxPreps rankings with a 14-1 record. One of the reasons the Eagles are having such a strong season is Chris Arroyo. The outfielder displays two-way potential that makes him a threat on the mound and at the plate. He has a devastating slider that makes left-handed hitters look foolish and has a ton of power when he gets his barrel on the ball.
Jake Fox has powered Lakeland Christian into the top 10, despite being unranked previously. The lefty infielder has strong, quick hands and gets the barrel through the ball quickly. In the field he’s mastered the fundamentals. He charges the ball well and has a nice quick release to get the ball out in a hurry.
Calvary Christian round out the top 10 of MaxPreps rankings with a record of 14-2. Matt Rose has been one of their standout performers this season. The infielder, and South Florida commit, has been a force at the plate this season where his quick hands and angry swing give him gap to gap power.
What are the factors that go into creating a top-tier high school baseball program from a newly opened school in under five years? Clear Springs High School (just outside Houston) opened in 2007 and the school moved to varsity level with its junior class in 2009. Since their first playoff run in 2011, the Chargers baseball team has only missed the playoffs once.
Head coach Chris Floyd has led the Clear Springs baseball program since the school’s inception. The team started with just freshmen and sophomores, and played sub-varsity competition the first year. With the first clear springs class of four-year seniors in 2011, the team advanced to the regional quarterfinals.
“It’s interesting to start from scratch,” Floyd says. “As coaches, we took successful pieces from other programs we were with and tried to figure out how it would work with a different dynamic of kids.
“The biggest key to our success is having a coaching staff that has been together for 10 years now,” he says. “In no way is this a one-man show. I have former head coaches as assistant coaches, and that’s a huge plus.”
THE ROUND ROCK CHALLENGE
One of the developments was the unique offseason program that eventually became known as the round rock challenge. The team plays through the spring and players move to elite and select, then play July through September.
“When the players come back to school in the fall, we lift and begin rebuilding the body from the first day of school through thanksgiving,” Floyd says. After thanksgiving break, the team begins the Round Rock Challenge.
Events are determined for each day over the subsequent 3-4 weeks and include tire-flipping relays, weight room challenges, sprints and distance races, obstacle courses, and a talent show. The 36 players in the baseball program vote on four captains, and the captains “draft” the players they think will best benefit the team based on the upcoming events. Individual times become part of each team’s overall score, and teams and individuals with the best scores are recognized.
“We try to get them comfortable at being uncomfortable,” Floyd says. “When you get to the playoffs and you’re facing the best of the best, you’re going to run into a lot of uncomfortable situations. We’re teaching them how to compete and how to be a good teammate.”
“The challenge can be easier or harder for each kid, and the competition by design doesn’t focus on baseball skills,” Floyd says. “Captains have to draft kids who are strong in different areas, so they have to be able to envision what each teammate’s skill set is. It gives them a taste of what it’s like to be a coach and how to rely on teammates.”
The challenge also helps identify leaders, Floyd says. “They have to learn how to communicate with each other, how to plan, and how to help coach one another,” he says. “There are a lot of lessons outside of training to be bigger, faster, and stronger.”
WISDOM FOR YOUNG COACHES
“Coaches have to be in it for the kids,” Floyd says. “Helping kids develop into the best people they can be needs to be the focus of any coach. As a coaching staff, we focus on preparing these players for life after high school to be a good father, a good husband, a responsible citizen. I believe winning will take care of itself if this is our focus. Winning a state championship is always a goal, but what good is that goal if you aren’t developing young men? If you’re just pursuing a championship to pad your resume, the kids will see right through that. They want to know you care first.”
One change over the past 10 years is that almost every athlete has a personal coach outside of school. “We’ve tried to find people who have similar coaching philosophies as we do, and point parents and kids in the right direction if they ask for a recommendation,” Floyd says. “For us, it’s a way to connect them with someone who preaches what we preach. And we do remind them personal coaches are not free.”
Every offseason, Floyd sets up a time to take his staff to visit with a college coaching staff. They’ve visited the University of Houston Texas, Texas A&M, Sam Houston State, and the University of Louisiana at Lafayette (ULL). “We pick their brains, ask them about their experiences and apply what we learn to our program,” Floyd says. “We don’t need to see them taking batting practice or fielding grounders. We’re interested in how they coach and communicate with their kids. One year, coach Tony Robichaux at ULL, who passed away in July, spent three hours talking with us on character development. That has had a huge impact on our program. If you’re a young coach out there, read the tributes from coach Robichaux’s players. They all talk about how he has impacted them as men.”
When a school has a focus, it succeeds. Oak Ridge succeeds, and its focus? Right where it should be — the students.
At first, it seems the attention of the El Dorado Hills, Calif., high school is focused on athletics. Athletic director Steve White boasts confident programs that seem to always find success. This past year, only one sport did not make it to the playoffs. One. That’s impressive. But with a little digging, it soon becomes apparent that athletics at Oak Ridge serve as the glue that links different populations of students.
With athletics, White feels there is a unique opportunity to bridge gaps within the school. Athletics serve the students, and the students serve athletics.
“We try to involve as many aspects of the school culture as possible,” White said. “We have a sports marketing club made of kids who may not even play sports but write about them, produce video, and take live-action shots. They put together marketing plans for special events and in return develop their skills in business, marketing, producing, etc. We work closely with the band, we have a cheerleading squad — we want to get as many people involved as possible. We make it a community.”
This community, built by students and supported by teachers, coaches, and parents, promotes an environment within Oak Ridge that cultivates learning, expects progression, and embraces forward thinking. Students are given the opportunity to excel not only athletically but academically, musically — wherever they find ambition.
“I want everyone to have a positive experience,” White said. “When the name Oak Ridge is mentioned, I want people to have a positive reaction whether it stems from memories in the performing arts, different clubs, or athletics. I want everyone to have a healthy experience in which they’ve learned life lessons, hard work, and the value of being a part of something special.”
But how are true life lessons taught? To White, sports offer a certain version of life that can be applied to future jobs, relationships, families, and life in general.
“Life is not easy,” he said. “Nor are athletics. Competing at something and persevering when things get tough can be applied beyond the field. In athletics, students get a condensed version of life. Students experience the steady pace of life — the highs and the lows. One thing that’s hard to learn is that hard work doesn’t always pay off. Working hard doesn’t always mean you get to win. There’s a whole team working hard; but if the students apply themselves, they will eventually find their answer. We don’t want to put pressure on winning. We ask our coaches to mold young adults into great citizens and teach them the value of working hard. Winning is a byproduct.”
This philosophy has led to winning results for Oak Ridge, athletically and beyond. However, there are shortcomings with modern trends that sometimes make it difficult to maintain a positive athletic environment. These days, kids have more access to outside influences that have the potential to shape them. Also, kids are beginning youth sports at ever-earlier ages. And not only are they beginning at a younger age, they’re also specializing at a younger age. This adds pressure to a child’s development that could have negative consequences.
Therefore, it’s more important than ever for White to work tirelessly toward a sense of community. The students run the show, the adults facilitate. But they don’t just facilitate — they open their minds and give students the chance to explore projects.
“Last year, we auctioned off a car and one student put together a 15-second commercial, using a drone and following the car through the hills,” White said. “The kids — I shouldn’t say the kids — the young adults, they create the content here. There’s so much talent. If you give students the opportunity to be part of something, they just get better. They build. And that’s what we’re all about: a creative community that keeps building.”
By W. Keith Roerdink, Eastbay Team Sales Staff Writer
When Larry Bull tells you that the Cherry Creek School District mission statement is “to inspire every student to think, to learn, to achieve, and to care,” you can tell that’s also been his personal mission across 30 years as a Colorado educator.
Major renovation projects for athletic programs are almost always complicated projects.
Redondo Union High School (Redondo Beach, Calif.) began the process about 10 years ago. In an added twist, the school changed athletic directors shortly after the project was underway.
Around 2008, Redondo Union received a grant for about $90 million, with about $45 million earmarked for athletics. The previous athletic director left in 2010, and Andrew Saltsman took over as the renovation ramped up.
The money went toward new locker rooms, a new gym, the remodel of an existing gym, a new aquatics center, and several other major and minor modifications across the campus.
Of the many concerns Saltsman has to track, one of them surrounds coordinating with coaches and school officials on the scheduling of practice and event venues so the athletic teams don’t miss a beat.
“Our water polo and swimming teams had to travel to another school site to find some pool time, and wrestling had to go to another school for a period of time,” Saltsman says. “They did the construction and renovations in stages so we could schedule around some of it, but there were always some challenges with walkways and getting around in addition to finding time at alternate facilities. We had to move some people around, but at least we have two gyms. While one gym was being built, the other was being used, and vice versa.”
Redondo Union has become a force in California athletics. The girls’ volleyball team won state titles in 2014 and 2015, the boys’ and girls’ water polo teams each won their first California Interscholastic Federation titles under Saltsman’s watch, and the baseball team also won its first CIF title in 2015.
“We’ve had a lot of first-timers recently,” Saltsman said. “Baseball started in 1915 and we won our first CIF title in 2015, so that was a pretty historic year and pretty cool to win it 100 years later.”
Strong Academics Make For A Strong Athletics Program
Redondo Union emphasizes school first and sports second, and Saltsman can point to the academic performance of Redondo Union athletics. Student-athletes average between a 3.3-3.4 GPA while non-athletes average between a 3.1-3.2 GPA.