He invited me into his very cool office at NHS to talk about how is golf team is shaping up, what we can expect on the baseball diamond, how he got into coaching and the future of high school sports in general.
Kick back, grab some coffee and enjoy this week’s Saturday Conversation.
Jake Furr: Let’s talk about golf first, what can we expect out of the Norwalk Truckers? You had quite the group last season, will it be a lot of the same?
Wes Douglas: Yeah it should. We won the last two years of the Northern Ohio League and that nucleus is back as we just graduated one senior from last year’s team. Though that was Max Berry who was the 2-time NOL Player of the Year and just an incredible leader for us. But this group is ready to go. Braden Nunez will be a 4-year letterman, Jarod Kessler will be up there, Cam Nickoli had an awesome season last year. We are going to be 6-deep in our senior class. Jonah Mersereau, Grant Fisher and Owen Rhodes will make up the rest of our seniors. The underclassmen will have to crack one of those guys if they want a spot in the rotation. We have one junior (Noah Scheel) and six sophomores back with four or fave freshman so on paper, we are the team to beat. I hate saying that, but on paper we are.
High school golf in general if you ask coaches and golf course owners, the talent level is down across the board. Everyone still has a good player or two, but back then everyone used to have three studs. I think we are in the category of the old days. We have three of the best players in the league from what I see coming back. I just think with the recession, the age of technology and the cost of golf, I think youngsters coming into the game of golf isn’t what it used to be.
JF: You said you have six seniors coming back, to me, that sounds like a double-edged sword. It has to be great to have all of that experience coming back to help teach these younger players, but on the other hand, you are losing everything the following year.
WD: Six is very rare in golf. That was more than I had on my baseball team this spring. I said this at the parent meeting the other day and that is that coaches are always looking toward the future. Obviously, our big focus is this year and what we can accomplish, but we still want to develop these kids for the future that way there isn’t that overlap after you lose a senior heavy class. I think this sophomore group along with Noah Scheel, who is our only junior, really enjoy the game. I don’t know if there are any All-Ohio players there at this point, but they are looking like they will be a very sold group for our future.
Eagle Creek does so much for us too. They give our high school players summer jobs and they work with them as much as anyone. I call myself the “Golf Coordinator” because they get more help from Dave Morgan and Dustin Lieber than they do me at times. I focus on developing guys because I can help them a lot more. As a golf coach, my strength is giving my guys the competitive edge and course knowledge rather than the mechanics of the swing. If you want me play, I am a bogey golfer at best. I have been around the game my whole life, but I still learn a lot from listening to those guys out at Eagle Creek.
JF: Just having those kinds of resources out at Eagle Creek, that alone has to be a huge part in the reason you have a good program here at Norwalk.
WD: Absolutely. There is no doubt about it. I will be blunt, I don’t see these kids a whole lot in the summer. I follow them around and track them through communication, but I let them go do their thing in the summer. Braden Nunez was just player of the year in the Lake Erie Junior Golf and Jarod Kessler finished third. That is where I try to direct them to those kinds of situations. It is a great learning environment where you can play in tournaments with a little bit of pressure. The price is very reasonable and those situations are what make players better. Braden is a kid who has been dedicated to the game. I used to go play Eagle Creek and before I started my round he would be chipping and putting on the practice green and four hours later, he would still be there when I finished my round.
We have a new league, but we have seen these teams just as much as our old NOL opponents. We see Edison, Perkins, Clyde and all of these teams at different events throughout the year. It will be interesting to see how everything shakes out, but it won’t change a whole lot.
JF: Since you brought it up, I don’t think this new league will have an impact in golf, but it just might in baseball. I think we will see a big difference in everything.
WD: I don’t disagree. We are trading out Ontario and Willard for Perkins and Clyde in baseball. Ontario is every bit as good as both of those teams and Willard has had some struggles lately. It will make the depth of the league a little better. We already play all of those guys in our nonleague schedule. We play all of those guys every year. It will be a little bit different, but again, it probably won’t be that much different. They are still shaking out some details looking ahead to the next couple years and the rumors are already starting to fly, but we will just continue to focus on us.
JF: Talking about baseball, you guys did lose some talented individuals, but you still bring back some impressive younger players.
WD: We will be back in the hunt again, I have no doubt we will be. My standard line has been this: In the last two years, we are 38-13. Not too bad. No NOL titles, one sectional title, but of those 13 losses, four were to Bellevue, four were to Shelby, two to Lexington. So 10 losses to three teams. You take those three out and we have a pretty darn good record. We graduated four and the year before we did the same. There are some big talents coming through the pipeline. We have kids who play all summer long from our incoming freshmen to our seniors. Jake Roth played 47 games for a premier team out of Strongsville. We have a lot of dedicated players coming in. We have great facilities that lets us work out in the winter. We have some good pitching and everything up the middle coming back so we will be fine.
JF: You have been in coaching for close to 30 years, to be able to stick around in a day and age where coaches are in a vicious rotating cycle, how have you been able to stick around for so long?
WD: Well the two sports I do are not high-pressure sports. We are very proud of a very good baseball program and we walked into a program than had four wins in two years. We had no where to go but up. We turned things around. In golf, as long as you are not violating any rules, they are not going to run you out. We have shown some success. When I took over, I inherited the best team in school history and broke a 50-year league championship drought. We won everything that year. I was just in the right place at the right time and I think that was the majority of the reason why I have been able to stick around. Plus I am a Norwalk guy. People know what to expect from me and that is another reason why I have been able to hang on so long.
JF: Why do you think there is all of this pressure on coaches in other sports? It seems like if there isn’t instant success, then it is the coaches that take the blame.
WD: It isn’t everywhere, but it is in most places. With the instant success, we live in an age of technology where people can get the answer right away and they get instant gratification. There is also travel ball at every sport. I also talked to the volleyball coach about this, they are going somewhere on a Tuesday night and they know they are going to win in straight sets by a sizable margin, and three weeks ago, the girls were playing in New Orleans for a national title and they all wonder why there isn’t much energy in the gym. It is no one’s fault. It is the same with travel baseball. I had kids playing in Atlanta, Myrtle Beach, Nashville. When I grew up, we played in Lakewood one month out of the year and that was a big deal. The VFW gave me a chicken sandwich, a bag of chips and a pop and I was excited because I could come back and play the next day. We thought that was a big deal and now kids are playing in unbelievable situations.
But back to your question, parents spend so much money on their kids and time. So if they are not seeing what they want to see, then there are people waiting outside the dugout. There is good and bad out of it. But I could see, maybe in your lifetime, high schools are going toe wipe their hands with all sports other than football. It will be AAU basketball, JO Volleyball, travel baseball, wrestling will have clubs, track will have clubs, tennis will be at the racket club, golf will just play a circuit in the summer and fall, I hate to see it. Schools could lose bussing and insurance, then there will be no field maintenance. I am old school and still believe sports are the heartbeat of the school. Even academics could go that route too and just do online classes for everyone. It is sad, but it wouldn’t surprise me at all. There is a lot of money being spent on sports and I coach two sports that do not bring in any money.
Sports Editor Jake Furr is sitting down with a player or a coach every week for a Saturday Conversation. If you have a suggestion to who he should sit down with next, email him at email@example.com or tweet at him at @JakeFurr11.