Gorches: Baker-Runyon has come ‘full circle’
By Steve T. Gorches 648-3141 or firstname.lastname@example.org June 4, 2012 11:22PM
Andrean coach Brooke Baker-Runyon, the 2003 Indiana State player of the year, talks with Nicole Steinbach during the regional championship against Griffith on Tuesday, May 29, 2012, in Griffith. | Mark Smith~Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 7, 2012 8:36AM
A couple things that I’ve learned over the years: You’re never too old to learn something new and you’re never too young to admit you’ve got plenty more to learn.
First-year Andrean softball coach Brooke Baker-Runyon has experienced both of those during this season as her team starts preparations for Saturday’s Class 3A state final against Edgewood.
During the first week of practice, she lamented not having enough girls at the time to field a JV squad. She thought it would get better once the word got out about the new coach and the optimism surrounding the program as it tried to return to the state finals. Turns out the numbers only got slightly better.
“We had four kids quit — some were coming out just to have fun,” she said. “At the end, we have the best players standing, the tough ones still giving it their all. Softball is supposed to be fun, but there are team rules and discipline and the kids have to understand they’re responsible for their actions.”
The former Miss Softball from Lake Central who won a state title in 2002 has stuck to her guns in being more old school than many older coaches.
Yes, the girls can relate to her better than some old guy, and she uses the word “family” to describe the atmosphere surrounding this year’s Andrean squad on the verge of possibly winning a title.
“The kids and I get along,” she says. “I’ve talked to the parents and I think the girls had fun this season.”
But with most families, there is discipline involved. There are authority figures (usually mom and dad) and subservient children who need to obey them. That’s the way Baker-Runyon learned under some pretty successful coaches as a player, and that’s the way these 59ers were going to learn whether they liked it or not.
“I treat them like young women because that’s what they are,” Baker-Runyon said back during that first week of practice. “I don’t want to treat them like 10-year-old kids.”
She talked about structure and life lessons and that she wanted kids who “want to play softball.”
In the end, getting back to the state championship game makes it all worth it. Seeing smiles on the faces of players after their 7-1 victory over Woodlan on Saturday at the Twin Lakes Semistate shows the ones who are “still standing” are the ones basking in the glory.
It’s glory Baker-Runyon has felt, but she admitted this time it’s different as a coach. It almost sounds like it’s better.
“As a player, I didn’t think it got much better, until (Saturday),” she said. “Seeing the girls having fun and celebrating after grasping everything we’ve tried to teach them, it was satisfying.”
And emotional, which was something the 27-year-old coach had to be careful about. Remember, she’s old school. You’ve heard the saying, “Never let them see you sweat.” Baker-Runyon couldn’t let her players see her emotion get the best of her after the last out.
“Honestly I didn’t think I would be that emotional and get choked up,” she said. “I had to keep my sunglasses on so the girls didn’t see (her crying) They look to me to be the calm and confident one.”
Unlike Tom Hanks’ character Jimmy Dugan saying, “There’s no crying in baseball” in the movie “League of Their Own,” it’s OK to cry a little in softball, especially if they’re tears of joy.
“It’s almost come full circle,” Baker-Runyon said, looking back at the path leading to this moment and opportunity. “I’m very lucky to have this chance as a coach.
“There was definitely added pressure (as a first-year coach). The only things that would make this year better are winning the conference title and win the state title.”
The 59ers did win the Northwest Crossroads Conference title and they’re back in the 3A final for the fourth time in six years under a fourth coach in those six years.
This time discipline is relished by the players instead of feared.
This time, a coach the girls can relate to is back in the state finals where she experienced glory.
It’s the new version of old school and it’s working pretty well for Andrean softball.