Before spring break, Neah-Kah-Nie’s baseball team had never been to Arizona. Head Coach Rob Herder changed that when he took 15 members of his varsity team to play in the Coach Bob Invitational in the Phoenix area that hosted 113 different high schools from New York to Alaska.
During the Invitational, the Pirates, the sole 2A team in the entire competition, went 0-4 against teams that dwarfed their own high school student population of less than 200. The student populations of the teams they played against ranged from 715 to 1780. But for Coach Herder, the tournament was not about the final score. “It wasn’t about winning or losing, but the experience we could gain and bring back to our school,” Herder said, “our biggest takeaway has been perspective. We’ve learned the difference between losing and being beat.”
Portions of the annual fundraiser for the baseball program went towards the cost of the trip, “our community really got behind it,” Herder said, “They knew the gravity of what an event like that would. It felt like a village effort.”
“These kids have a great mentor and coach in Herder,” said Paul Erlebach, superintendent of the Neah-Kah-Nie School District, “he’s a dynamic and charismatic coach that took these kids away from what they know, dropped them 1,000 miles away from home and says ‘hey, learn from this experience.'”
Last year, Herder’s first year coaching at Neah-Kah-Nie, the baseball team won 11 games, 11 more than the previous year. Herder explained that they played against smaller schools and wants to challenge the boys further. So 0-4 means experience. It means knowing what other types of teams are out there. It means growing individually and as a team. Herder specifically saw growth in two of his sophomores, catcher/pitcher Sean Harth and first baseman Sam Holm, “These two rose to the level of competition they saw,” he said.
When not playing baseball, the Pirates watched an MLB spring training game that featured the defending world series champions Kansas City Royals and an Arizona State University baseball game. But unique from the sport, Herder took the team for a hike in the Phoenix Mountains. As a team, the boys climbed the range to the peak, Herder added “it’s thematic of this program reaching new heights.”