Imagine what runs through a first-year coach's mind when a state champion team from the previous season hits the skids.
That was the deal at John Hancock Academy this spring.
John Hancock started off 9-2 and finished 14-9 with another Georgia Independent Schools Association Class A title.
In the middle was the same sort of stuff that causes rubbernecks to pop out on an interstate highway.
"We had a mess," Wesley Harrell said. "We just nose-dived after a 9-2 start. It's not a few guys in a slump. It's the whole lineup and every kid in the dugout going wrong."
The team lost six games in a row to fall to 9-8. Harrell had a choice at that point. What he did earned him the honor as the 2004 Augusta Chronicle All-Area Private Schools Coach of the Year.
"Coach had a talk for all of us," senior catcher Ben Avant said. "He pulled all of the seniors aside and said 'Guys, I'm your coach but you guys are the bosses of the team'. Coach just let us know that this was our mess to fix and get things headed back in the right direction."
Modern managerial style might dictate that he pull his coaching britches up tight and go to work. Harrell knew better.
"I won't lie and say that doubts about the season weren't running through my mind," he said. "But I knew that wasn't the time for me to go all high-and-mighty and try to fix things with wholesale changes and according to some new plan."
Instead, Harrell sometimes told the team of old flames and dating stories gone terribly wrong to lighten the mood and keep the team's mind off the games.
"I just decided to trust in every one of these players," Harrell said. "They were the same guys that started out 9-2. Nobody changed my roster around. I didn't see the point with forcing my wills on this team. I just relied on these ballplayers."
These Rebels rallied for the repeat state championship.
"I'll just look back on this season and be real proud of the way these seniors acted like leaders, took over and handled our struggles. Ben Avant, especially, he's all guts and heart behind the plate. But he's also a big leader of these guys."
Reach Jeff Sentell at (706) 823-3425 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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