By Noah Dalton
MITCHELL — Following what was quite possibly Mitchell High School’s most successful baseball season in the program’s history, Bluejackets’ head coach Jerry Chaney’s contract was extended for another five years by a unanimous vote from the Mitchell Community Schools board on Monday.
Chaney, who began coaching the team in 2017, said the contract extension was a rewarding vote of confidence from board members, which echoed the support they’d shown for the team during his time leading the program.
“When you’re doing something and you feel like you’re doing what you need to be doing, and then school board members, email you or text you or call you and let you know, as well as administrators, it makes you feel good as a coach and as a person,” he said. “So. it’s a great feeling and it’s great to be recognized. And the team’s accomplishments helped out a lot. And I believe what we’re doing is helping a lot.”
Being able to teach and coach at Mitchell High School is an honor for Chaney, who said he’s thankful for the continued support of the community and district administration.
“I’m very thankful to the school board and the administration for extending that contract and the vote of confidence. It’s a great feeling for my wife and I to get that and we’re very thankful as well as we’re honored to be here,” he said.
Since Chaney took over the program, the team has continued to improve year-to-year, culminating in their historic run in this most recent season.
In 2022, the team finished with a program record 26 wins, losing just seven games and winning both sectional and regional championships before ultimately falling in the first round of semi-state.
The goal for Chaney and the school board has always been to focus on using the game to prepare players for life after high school, teaching them valuable life lessons along with helping them improve on the field.
“And our goals have always been the same. We weren’t necessarily trying to win championships. We’re really trying to turn men or boys into men we can all be proud of and improve the baseball program as we go and they’ve gone hand in hand with each other,” he said.
According to Chaney, achieving this level of success has been possible thanks to instilling a winning culture at the school.
He recalled his first season coaching at Mitchell when he said most of the team decided to skip out on the first week of practice over Spring Break.
“Every one of my players went for spring break except for three. And I was like, what? And they said, ‘Coach, we always go to spring break during the first week of baseball’, and I said they don’t do this in football. They don’t do this in basketball. Why in the world are they doing this in baseball?”
For next season, Chaney scheduled a game over the break, requiring the players to be present and focused on the sport from Day One, as just one of many steps taken by the coach toward shifting the program’s culture in a positive direction.
“We kind of changed that culture. If you want to win, you’ve got to be serious about what you’re doing here and the boys bought into that. And since then, most of the kids know you try to do your little vacation with families in the Summer and during Fall or during Christmastime and things like that,” he said. “And we’ve got boys who’ve bought into that system too. Way back, when my kids were there, they had to buy into that system. Hey, we’re going to take baseball important here at Mitchell High School now, and the kids have done that and that’s a culture change.”
Chaney has also worked to promote youth baseball skill camps, along with the district recently adopting a junior high baseball program to prepare the next generation of Bluejackets to compete at the high school level.
“When they get to high school, I don’t necessarily have to teach all the skills I did when I first got here. So the system is getting throughout. I would like to get it even farther down into elementary sometime with elementary baseball if we could, with hitting lessons and things like that. So, that’s the future thing. And we’ve got some travel teams going and things like that. So it’s helping and the culture has changed,” he said.
As the team has continued to work hard, the results have followed, with their season win totals climbing each year, reinforcing to the players that their dedication is paying off, while also those inspiring younger students that will eventually grow up to dawn the Mitchell uniform.
“I think success builds your culture as well. You know, we went from seven wins to 10 wins, to 13 wins, the first winning season in forever and then we had 17 wins and the breakout year with 26 wins. But even when we had those 17 wins, kids were showing up to the ballpark and we were inviting them to games and they were seeing the boys and that mentality changed the whole outlook,” Chaney said. “We’ve got little eight-year-olds screaming ‘We just won the sectional’ That’s exciting for Mitchell High School. I saw it on video, little kids running to the field to greet these players, who they see as heroes. I always tell the boys, everyone looks up to someone and someone looks up to you. And I think it was very evident this year.”
Along with preparing the players for the next stage of their lives and working to build the future of the program, Chaney will look to continue the team’s winning ways over these next five years, with their sights set on more Patoka Lake Athletic Conference, sectional and regional trophies.
“I want to take these boys, teach them how to be men of integrity, and help them be people we can all be proud of. The other goals aren’t going to change. We’re still going to try to have winning seasons, we’re still going to try to win the PLAC and we want to win sectionals and regionals. The future is, we returned several starters from this year’s squad and our goal is to win the sectional, regionals, and try to advance further than that, maybe get to the state championship. We get to the elite eight, that’s pretty big for Mitchell High School or any program, so I just want to continue what we started,” he said.
“I’d really love to build more travel teams. I’d like to get more coaches bought into that, right now I believe we have two or three of those. But get more kids playing, just build the interest, making my kids realize, hey, baseball is cool too. Basketball is king, I know in Indiana, but baseball is a cool sport too and it’s been around for a long time. I just hope kids can get back into it.”