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North’s Schmidt resigns after 22 winning seasons

North’s Schmidt resigns after 22 winning seasons
North’s Schmidt resigns after 22 winning seasons
Danny Schmidt, 49, has stepped down after skippering the North Harrison Cougars to 22 straight winning seasons on the baseball diamond. (File photo by Alan Stewart)

The last time North Harrison had a baseball coach not named Danny Schmidt, the cost of a new home was not quite $98,000, a first-class stamp was 20 cents, a gallon of gas was $1.21, and George Bush (not that one; his dad) was vice president under Ronald Reagan.
Twenty-two years later, George Bush’s son is the president, and the Cougars are looking for a new coach.
Last week at a regular board meeting by the North Harrison School Corp., Schmidt, 49, officially stepped down from a position he’s held since 1984.
He actually made the decision in the second week of August. The first group he told was his players, who were understandably dejected about the resignation.
‘It’s been something I’ve been thinking about for a couple of years. The way we do things here with our baseball program, there’s the spring season, the fall season and the summer season. When I start with our baseball team in February, my baseball year doesn’t end until November,’ Schmidt said. ‘It’s just so time demanding and I’m looking for a break. I love to coach. I love to coach baseball, and it’s not out of the realm of possibility that I might like to get back into coaching again.
‘This is my first spring off in 23 years. Nothing bad happened, and no one ran me off. I’m just tired.’
In his first season at North Harrison, Schmidt served as an assistant coach under Jerry Cook. From there, the teacher at North Harrison Upper Elementary went on to string together 22 years of head coaching for the Cougars, and none with a losing record. Amazingly, out of nearly 600 baseball games, Schmidt was never tossed from a contest.
During his tenure, Schmidt posted a record of 407-180, won 11 Mid-Southern Conference championships, six sectional titles (’89-’92, ’94, ’05), one New Albany Invitational title, and he had nine players named to the North-South All-Star team.
‘To have that many says a lot about our program. Floyd Central, New Albany and Jeffersonville have had their share, but none of them have had as many players on the all-star team as us,’ Schmidt boasted.
When Schmidt took over the baseball program, the summer league consisted of about 15 players taking to the field in a total of about a dozen games. The league now has about 65 players ranging in ages from 13 to 18. The high school-age division plays about 15 games, while the 13-15 year olds play a schedule of 30 to 40 games.
Also, along with other coaches and players, Schmidt helped raise money to make additional improvements to the North Harrison baseball facility, the latest being the addition of a set of batting cages. Two fund-raisers were working an Ehrler’s Ice Cream booth at the Kentucky State Fair and for University of Louisville football games.
‘(The cages) have an Astro-turf surface and are certainly one of the finest in the state of Indiana for a high school facility,’ Schmidt said. ‘They cost $13,000. We took two shifts working from 10 a.m. to midnight for four or five days in a row for years to be able to get some of the things that we have. We have a tremendous group of players, parents and coaches who worked hard to put those cages out there, and now we have something other schools’ teams are blown away by.’
When asked to reflect on his 22 years of coaching ‘ the second-longest run of any current head coach in Harrison County (Richard Clipp at Corydon Central has been the head wrestling coach since 1979) ‘ Schmidt said there were a few teams that stood out, but none more than the group he just guided.
‘I don’t want to slight anyone over the past 22 years, but the kids we had this season were just remarkable after losing so much from the year before. We lost a ton of pitching, a good part of our offense, and the pitchers we were starting with had been our No. 3, 4, and 5 the previous season. We didn’t have a guy who threw in the mid-80s like in past seasons. But the pitchers did a super job all year. We had a run where we beat Jeffersonville, Floyd Central and Providence and the team developed a character about them,’ Schmidt said. ‘I felt like we were a sectional competitor, and we made it to the sectional final before losing to Madison. The kids absolutely played their hearts out.
‘Then, with the season over, no one on campus, summer vacation has started and everyone is down, the team came back to play Brownstown for the conference championship. The kids showed so much character in that game, and with Brenden (Zellers) getting a base hit in the bottom of the last inning to win the game, it just doesn’t get any better than that,’ Schmidt said. ‘Every year there are four teams that end their season with a win (by winning a state championship). This year, there were five.’
Since his decision to step down, Schmidt said he’s been inundated with e-mail and phone calls from parents, players and coaches ‘ both former and current.
‘It’s really been a humbling experience,’ Schmidt said.
‘Just getting on the lawnmower to cut grass in our field was enjoyment enough for me, but to be able to work with the assistants and kids that we’ve had come through our system has been the most rewarding thing,’ Schmidt said. ‘I’m humbled by the expression given towards me.’
There’s no way Cougar baseball could have been successful over the years without a dedicated group of helpers, Schmidt said.
‘We’ve had very few teachers as assistant coaches. Most of them worked other jobs and then came here until 9 or 10 at night and every one of them to a T has worked on the field, pulled grass out of the dirt and done everything else. Paul Akridge and Danny Dunn have been with me for 16 years.
‘Also, the kids have been great. That’s what it’s all about. I’ve done some coaching, obviously, but the kids have done it for me. If it weren’t for them and their dedication, I’m just another coach.’
While baseball hasn’t changed much over the years, Schmidt says the exposure of the game and collegiate exposure (and myths), have.
‘We’ve had around 14 kids go on to play college baseball, which is a pretty good number, actually,’ Schmidt said. ‘College scouts, when they come to look at players, they are looking for arm speed and foot speed and that’s it. They don’t care about who hits the most home runs. It’s just a numbers game at the college level and a lot of parents don’t realize that. It’s tough to tell a kid that because they don’t throw in the mid-80s or they don’t run a certain speed to first base that they probably don’t have the numbers to go on to college baseball.
‘I felt like Darren Oppel was the best player and best hitter I ever coached. A college coach stayed for an inning or two and left, saying he wasn’t interested. I couldn’t believe it. Then, U of L gives him a shot and he becomes one of the best hitters in their conference. That right there tells you it’s not Danny Schmidt’s decision on who goes to college and who doesn’t. It’s the college and their scouts.’
Schmidt won’t entirely disappear from the sports scene as he’ll hop on board as an assistant coach for North Harrison’s girls basketball team, under varsity skipper Hal Pearson.
‘Hal needed a coach, and we’re great friends, so it was an easy choice,’ Schmidt said. ‘Obviously, there’s a difference between head coach and an assistant, so the time involved won’t be nearly as much as it was for baseball.’
Schmidt served as head coach for the Lady Cats for three seasons (1995-1997), winning two sectional titles during the stretch.