Three-Peat: Once again, Rantoul baseball excels in the classroom with academic award

RANTOUL — The legacy, foundation and identity of the Rantoul baseball program is set — and baseball has nothing to do with it.

For the third year in a row, the Eagles baseball program was honored with the American Baseball Coaches Association’s Team Academic Excellence Award.

The Eagles had a 4.4 overall team grade point average on a 5.0 scale. To qualify, a team must have a 3.75 GPA on a 5.0 scale, or a 3.0 GPA on a 4.0 scale. Rantoul’s team consisted of 16 players on the roster, including John Frerichs (5.4), Nolan Roseman (5.2) and Adam Crites (5.1), who each finished with a 5.0-plus GPA. Anyone who played at least one inning of varsity baseball was included in the nomination.

“I’m extremely proud of the guys in this program, players that have graduated and laid the foundation for our academic culture, an administration at RTHS that stresses the importance of a strong educational leadership within the school setting and blessed to have supportive parents year in and year out that are the foundation that allows these young men to value academic success,” head coach Jon Donovan said.

The importance of this major academic feat is not lost among the players, either.

“It’s definitely a huge accomplishment for the team. Coach Donovan has put such a strong emphasis on striving for academic excellence in addition to on-field excellence that we’ve become accustomed to things like team study halls,” Frerichs said. “We’d help each other with struggling topics that another person might excel in, and it’s just a great culture to be a part of because personally, although I decided not to pursue sports in college, my academic accomplishments got me into a good university.”

The RTHS baseball coaches have implemented a system that heavily stresses the importance of staying focused in the classroom, and it has especially paid off the last three years.

“Being an athlete and a student is a lot more difficult than what a lot of people give it credit. Being in honors and AP classes, we are expected to do hours’ worth of homework every night while also maintaining other activities outside of school such as clubs or sports,” Crites said. “Coach Donovan has always been on us about getting all of our work in on time and getting good grades; otherwise we can’t play. I don’t think there is a single player on the team that doesn’t want to play, so we all do our work, and we do it to the best of our capabilities.”

Teams from every level of college and high school were recognized. RTHS was one of a record 294 college and high school programs given the honor by the ABCA for the 2017-18 academic year, including 94 high school programs and 18 college teams from Illinois. It was also one of six high schools in Illinois to receive the award, and Kankakee Community College — which has housed several Rantoul grads on its baseball team — also received the honor.

It starts at home

For his program to meet the same academic success as last year, Donovan said it shows what the players are capable of — but it always comes down to the family support at home.

“When talking about John, Nolan and Adam, it has to go back to the foundation, which is the family support system at home,” Donovan said. “I know the families well enough to know that the expectation growing up academically and from an athletics standpoint was that was an expectation to do well, not a suggestion, and if any one of those three boys started struggling academically, then athletics would have taken a backseat for a while.

“All three played high-level baseball growing up, and it’s no coincidence that the three have excelled on the field and in the classroom. The work ethic has been engrained into them at an early age by their parents, and now they are starting to reap the benefits of the work habits that were created early on. You hear a lot that ‘hard work pays,’ and I think it’s an adage that truly helps any young person become successful.”

Donovan sees the honor as not just a baseball award, and much of the credit should go towards everyone who helped along the way.

“You have to have a community and family structure that supports education, and I think for kids do to well in school, a huge responsibility is from parental guidance, but also we as coaches have to inculcate the value of education,” Donovan said. “When you have a support system at home and coaches saying, ‘I expect you to do well in class; I expect you to get an education,’ rather than stating it’s a suggestion, kids are going to work harder.

“When kids start to mature, and we start talking about a vision for the future and where they see themselves in 10 years, then that gives them fuel to persevere when they are hit with obstacles and, yes, there are many because we have all gone through them. Having sports in their lives and a love and passion, doing something they enjoy will also help them overcome fear and the many negative factors they are dealing with day to day.”

For Frerichs, who recently graduated, there has been an abundance of on-field successes. But when it comes down to it, the star shortstop always listed his classroom work right up there with anything that took place on the diamond.

“I’d say it ranks pretty high in my accomplishments at Rantoul because of how important academics are to me,” Frerichs said. “I thank God for the ability to play and the many accomplishments during my career in Rantoul, but one of my top ones was a compliment Coach gave me about how I’d progressed defensively since my freshman year, putting me on a list with other great Rantoul infielders.”

Teaching a man to fish

Over the winter, Donovan attended a baseball convention and heard a presentation from Sam Houston State baseball head coach Matt Deggs. In the presentation, Deggs said that you can give a man a fish by making him do something, or you can teach him to fish by getting him to want to do something.

“That really hit home with me, because early in my career I would go the first route, and we got the results. But at times it was temporary and had little value,” Donovan said. “The second path where you teach them to fish has staying power with eternal values. So when we talk about where they want to be professionally in 10 years and what it’s going to take to get there, they must want to do it, take ownership and have a clear vision.”

Donovan said the baseball culture in Rantoul is always evolving, and the coaches placed more responsibility on the players this past season, which held them more accountable.

The coaching used a system called “Boat Crews and Swim Buddies,” another philosophy learned from Deggs and the Navy SEALs. It’s a system that develops discipline, accountability and trust within the group. The Eagles had team and boat crew leaders throughout the season, allowing for the coaching staff to relax a bit more and giving players more freedom to manage each other.

“People sometimes say, 'Gosh that's a lot to place on these young men,' and my response is, ‘Not really because all of these take absolutely no talent, just a lot of want to,’” Donovan said. “That is the ultimate goal — having guys in the program that have the mindset of ‘want to,’ not ‘have to.’”

The system — which is bounded by what Donovan called the “Three Ms” —  manage your time, master the routines and make a positive impact — expects the players to obtain the highest GPA possible, serve the community, practice hard and play hard, compete and love each other. Implementing this strategy has been a success, with the coach rarely having to talk to the team about misbehavior in the classroom or grades slipping.

“There’s only been a handful of times where coach has had to pull players off to the side and sit them down to say, ‘Hey what’s going on here?’” Crites said. “Rantoul baseball is all about getting good grades and winning on the field. If we can’t do well in class, then we can’t win games, and nobody wants that.”

With this being the third straight year Rantoul baseball has received the award, perhaps an expectation of winning it for a fourth consecutive time — and maybe more years down the road — is on the docket.

“Having this be our third year winning this award, it is definitely an expectation for the upcoming years,” Crites said. “Like I said before, Coach Donovan has always been on us for getting good grades and staying out of trouble, so in my eyes we’ve always gotten this award — we are just getting recognized for it (now).”

“It’s very challenging to perform well both in the classroom and on the field. But because Coach Donovan and my parents have expected it from me for many years it’s become second nature,” Roseman said. “Coach Donovan has always stressed being a great student over the focus of baseball. And he expects every athlete to perform as good as they do on the field in the classroom as well. So achieving this award will be a goal for each year.”

Whether the Eagles win the award in 2018-19 remains to be seen, but either way, the foundation has been set for the coming years.

“I’m extremely proud of our team for achieving this award and proud of each group of guys that have won it during my time in high school,” Frerichs said. “This is something I hope becomes a legacy for Rantoul baseball, and I’m definitely blessed to be a part of each group of guys that achieved this and, God willing, future generations can do the same”

Contact Zack Carpenter at zcarpenter@rantoulpress.com and on Twitter @ZackCarpenter11.

Categories (3):Prep Sports, Baseball, Sports

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