As four all-star teams from the Parsons Babe Ruth League compete in state tournaments this weekend, the development of baseball as a whole from Parsons High School all the way down to the youngest throngs of PBR have to be taken into account.
Two younger groups, the Parsons 10-under and 12-under, are among the best in their age bracket in the state in Babe Ruth. A year ago, the 10-under group as 9-year-olds won a state title.
Gerald Beardmore, the head coach of the Parsons Vikings at the high school level, knows what lies beyond the horizon for his program.
“Knowing what groups we have coming up through the system is very exciting,” Beardmore said. “You have to have great dads that put in the time. There’s been several age groups over the last few years that haven’t had that kind of commitment. The 10-under group now probably have up to eight parents helping out. Being the high school baseball coach, it’s very exciting.”
Beardmore’s Vikings just went through a peak and valley with one of its most celebrated classes. In 2018, Parsons finished third at the KSHSAA 4A-II State Tournament. But a year later with all but one crucial piece — pitcher Noah Chalker — returning including the likes of Luke Wolgamott and Joel Schibi back on the roster, the Vikings won just three games and lost in the first round of the regional tournament.
Now Beardmore is tasked with retooling the Vikings’ roster from the top down following the graduation of some of the program’s most accomplished players.
An effort has been made among the thought leaders in town to start that rebuild not when the kids reach high school but rather when they are playing in Babe Ruth.
“We want the high school coaches’ fingerprints on all the age groups,” Rexwinkle said. “Gerald always answers his phone if we’re struggling with something. He’ll be there at the next practice.”
Rexwinkle, who’s in his second year as president of the league and also has a son who plays on the accomplished 10-under team, said one of his points of emphasis since taking on the role as league president was to build one synergetic brand from the top down.
“In the postseason, one of the board’s goals has been to make Parsons baseball a brand,” Rexwinkle said. “All the groups have the same uniforms. I want all the kids to buy into the brand. Making small changes like that and celebrating our success all helps build momentum to building a program with a brand.”
Of course, winning helps too.
Andy Hopper, the head coach of the 10-under group that is defending its state title, feels the success of his kids has ignited their love of the game.
“It builds their confidence. It definitely helps that they have a love for the game,” Hopper said. “Everybody is having fun when they’re winning. We don’t want to be content with where their skill level is at. We always want to push them to the next level and pushing forward.”
Hopper saw what happened with the Parsons High School team this spring — the Vikings lacked true depth on the mound — and made it his own mission to load up his roster with quality pitchers.
“We always think about the bigger picture,” Hopper said. “Whether it’s developing more than one or two pitchers — a typical all-star team only goes two-deep of consistent pitching. But we go six-to-seven deep without much of a drop-off from our top three.”
Beardmore has taken a proactive role in providing instruction for the Babe Ruth players during his team’s offseason. He also feels the pitch-count rule in Babe Ruth is healthy for the game’s development.
“I really believe the pitch-count rule is good for the high school level,” Beardmore said. “It makes them develop more pitching at the younger levels. You have to develop a lot of arms, and that was our hiccup this year. We had to start a freshman on the mound in the first game of the year. If you don’t have the pitching, you’re not going to have the success.”
There’s even whispers that Beardmore may take over the 10-under team as it ages through the league to give the group an even bigger head start en route to high school.
“There’s been talks of turning them over to Gerald or another coach moving forward because we want to make sure we get to enjoy our sons playing and not always having to coach them,” Hopper said. “In the short term, we’re going to keep coaching them. But there will be a time when we look to hand them off to a group that’s more knowledgeable than us.”
At nearly every Babe Ruth state tournament, one or more squads will essentially serve as regional teams — Western Kansas for example in the 10-under and 12-under tournaments is a conglomeration of various small towns.
Leadership in Parsons, however, values keeping its teams confined to city limits.
“The temptation when we’re a small town playing in bigger tournaments, the temptation is to make it a Southeast Kansas all-star team,” Rexwinkle said. “But Andy Hopper has been steadfast in keeping the Parsons kids together. That’s the crux of how some of these programs started.”
Parsons High School athletic director Rob Barcus, who also has a son on the 12-under all-star team, feels the baseball scene in Parsons is healthy.
“Luke Wolgamott, Joel Schibi and all those guys came up through our Babe Ruth program,” Barcus said. “That gave us a solid baseball foundation throughout the town. We have coaches there that know the game of baseball. Hopper is even married to a coach at the high school. It’s a good situation for Parsons baseball.”
Parsons Babe Ruth’s focus on keeping kids in town is another sentiment echoed by Barcus.
“Our biggest fear is that some of them might fragment out to St. Paul or Labette County,” Barcus said. “We want them all to stay together.”
As Beardmore aims to keep the high school team competitive in the SEK League landscape, he knows he’s got accomplished talent on its way that’s been tended to by a league with the future as a priority.
“We’re making a concerted effort to focus on the bigger picture,” Rexwinkle said. “We want to have a winning culture. The more you win, you start get accustomed to it. We talk about it a lot. It’s not just on the back burner.”