This is the second in a series of articles about the Plymouth baseball program.
PLYMOUTH - There have been only three baseball coaches over the past 53 years of the program in Plymouth and while nobody may ever exceed Bill Nixon's 33 years at the helm, each, in turn, has left a mark in the history of Plymouth baseball.
The current boss of the Pilgrims, Ryan Wolfe, is striving to continue to do that. This season would have been just his eighth in charge, and while that eighth season will have to wait for a year, Wolfe already has a pair of NLC championship and a personal milestone of 100 wins to go with the long success of Plymouth baseball.
Wolfe was a North All-Star as a pitcher at Hamilton High School just outside of Angola and played college ball at Manchester College along with Plymouth standout Nick Chaney. He then went to West Central to start his head coaching career and moved on to Rochester to coach their JV program, anticipating replacing long time Zebra head coach Brian Hooker on his retirement.
"I'd heard of Plymouth but when I came to Rochester we played a JV game at Plymouth and we got to play at Bill Nixon Field," he said. "I remember thinking to myself 'A high school team plays here?' The job came open later that year and I applied for it."
Getting the job, Wolfe was a quick study of the history of the program.
"As a member of the Coaches Association you knew there were certain prominent programs in the state over the years," said Wolfe. "My dad coached football at DeKalb for 11 years and so, of course, I knew (Hall of Fame coach) Bill Jones."
"I didn't really realize there had only been two other coaches (at Plymouth) before me in the last 50 years and it felt good to be considered and it was really humbling," he said. "When I got here I found out very quickly how supportive the people of this community are, not just of winning but about using the program to teach life lessons."
From the start, Wolfe didn't feel he needed to re-invent the wheel but in an ever-changing game, he looked to the past to help out.
"I was a very new head coach so I knew I had a lot of things to learn, but at the same time I'm the type of person that I wanted to come in and really get after it too," he said. "I knew the first thing I wanted to do was put together a coaching staff that had been around and knew the game, and there were plenty right here. Coach (Ron) Sissel, Ryan Welch, Coach (Brent) Corbett, Marc Adams, they had those ties to the past, they knew their stuff and that together seemed like the best of both worlds to me."
While Wolfe has used "modern" technics he says there are some things that do not change with the times.
"The biggest difference to me is all the technology that's available to the modern coaches," he said. "We use all that. But I looked at the things that had made this program what it is, competitiveness, a fire, and an intensity to compete all the time and believe in winning every time you walk on the field. Those were all the things I believe in too. We want that in our kids so our goal is to take the tools we have today and mix that with the things that never change."
"Even over the years as we've added coaches I feel like we've been very fortunate," he said. "We have Coach (Tony) Plothow back on the staff, and we still have that mix of past with the present. I've been fortunate to have all those pieces to the puzzle."
Another thing that hasn't changed in the Plymouth program is the strength of schedule that has always pitted the Pilgrims against many of the state's best.
The NLC sports several teams that can claim the title of prominent programs and in the past seven years a sectional that at one point or another has featured Penn, LaPorte, and Mishawaka isn't without prominent opponents.
"If you want to win the tournament you have to beat the best at one point or another," said Wolfe. "We've been really close quite a few times but we keep building that belief in winning. It's fun to compete against those programs."
Wolfe has continued the tradition of outstanding players coming through the Plymouth program. This season, while not even played, will remain in his mind and especially those seniors who won't have a final season.
"The biggest part of it is watching kids develop from the time they are freshman until they graduate," he said. "It has been special to watch our three seniors, Tommy Dolan, Kam Vanlue and Dex (Grant Dexter) do that, to continue to work to make themselves better. I'm really proud of Grant. He started out knowing he was going to have to make himself better and over the years he's worked very hard and taken advantage of that opportunity. He did all that for himself."
"It's really hard on me to not be out there right now. It's worse for them. But it's something that we try to teach kids. Things don't always go your way, what will you do about that? Quit or get up and keep fighting?"