Prep baseball: New Spartan coach Hendry focused on whole athlete
Ryan Hendry knows his team has a lot of talent, but for him coaching is about “life lessons before baseball” lessons.
SUPERIOR — Rain and snow the past two weeks have prevented the Superior baseball team from taking the field — despite having four games scheduled this week.
Still, new head coach Ryan Hendry is in the Spartan gym or weight room with the team getting ready for the season.
After nearly 15 years as an assistant for the Superior baseball and boys hockey teams, Hendry is taking on his first head coaching role this season. Hendry knows the job is a tall task, but he feels like he’s had some pretty good mentors in former baseball coach Don Dembroski and recently-resigned hockey coach Jason Kalin.
“Their longevity was really beneficial to me because I was able to stay with the same regime — if you will — for that many years,” Hendry said. “I was able to watch both of them evolve.”
A 2003 Superior graduate, Hendry not only coached with Dembroski and Kalin, but also played for them.
“Ryan’s got so much experience in our program,” Dembroski said. “He’s watched a number of kids start as freshmen, then leave and graduate. He’s helped them become better players during their four years with us and he’s definitely aware of how important a role we have as coaches in developing those kids throughout their high school careers.”
Hendry wants to develop his players, but he also wants to ensure they have their priorities in the right place — including putting family and academics before sports.
“It’s not a right to play high school sports — it’s a privilege,” Hendry said. “You’ve got to take care of your academics before you’re able to play and both of those guys were very, very tough on it.”
Kalin sees a lot of himself in Hendry, especially in their commitment to developing their players into caring and kind adults.
“Ryan and I are a lot alike in the sense of how we approach coaching,” Kalin said. “It’s about the kids and we want to provide the kids the best experience possible, let them enjoy the sport that they love, but also teach them a little bit about being a good human being and taking care of others.”
Hendry knows that not all of his players — or even most — will move on to play baseball at the next level and so his focus is on working with his players to be resilient in the face of adversity.
“What you say and do and model to these kids is something that they’re going to take with them for life rather than sports,” Hendry said. “It’s life lessons before baseball or hockey lessons. You’re going to go through adversities in sports, obviously, but even more so, you’re going to go through adversity in life. Everything is how you overcome that adversity and how you get knocked down and get back up again.”
Spartans’ cupboard isn’t bare
While Hendry’s focus is developing his players as people, Superior has most of its starting lineup back from 2021 and four that will go on to play baseball at the collegiate level.
Starting pitchers Mason Stenberg and George Hanson will play at Ellsworth Community College in Iowa Falls, Iowa and catcher Carter Kalin will play at Itasca Community College in Grand Rapids.
“The fact that Don left when he did was probably one of the most unselfish things he could have done as a coach,” Hendry said. “It’s made my job a heck of a lot easier walking into a team with this amount of talent.”
Dembroski said after more than two decades guiding the Spartans, he wanted to be sure he didn’t leave the next coach — whether it was Hendry or a face new to the program — with a “bare cupboard.”
“Whether it was Ryan or somebody from the outside, I felt good about leaving the program in a place where a new coach has to go through some growing pains or new ways of doing things would have the benefit of having some skilled athletes around them,” Dembroski said.
Hendry said he’s going to “lean” on those four seniors this season, but said juniors Nathan Maki and Hayden Smith will both be contributors as well.
Big Rivers Conference opponents will be key for Superior for seeding when it comes to the playoffs, according to Hendry. After a strong regular season, the Spartans ended up on the road last season in the playoffs and they haven’t won a playoff game since 2011.
The goal this season is relatively modest, get that one playoff win and then see what happens.
“You’ve got to win one before you win two,” Hendry said.