Veterans lead RCHS baseball, softball and track into spring

JUNIOR PANTHER coach Brad Barnes, left, and varsity coach Jake Kezele cut-up on the elementary school baseball field while their players warm up their arms before practice last week.Alex Sharp VIII | Rappahannock News
JUNIOR PANTHER coach Brad Barnes, left, and varsity coach Jake Kezele cut-up on the elementary school baseball field while their players warm up their arms before practice last week.

By Jimmy Swindler
RCHS Athletic Director

As our faux winter winds into a real spring, the crack and ping of bats and the pounding of running feet can be heard on the diamonds and track of Rappahannock County High School. Leading these young athletes through their training paces are some returning veteran coaches and some exciting new ones, all of whom promise to bring a renewed level of dedication and purpose to RCHS athletics.

Jake Kezele heads up the boys’ varsity baseball program this year, his latest chapter in a 30-year saga of playing and coaching this most American of sports. Coach Kezele has instructed hundreds of kids of all ages, from t-ball to college, with a constant focus on the fundamentals of the game.

As a player, Jake was a standout high school athlete in Mt. Carmel, San Diego, and headed to San Diego Mesa Junior College to play ball when a shoulder injury derailed that dream. He stayed with the game as a player, finally going to coaching full time when he ended his playing three years ago with the Blue & Gray Semipro League. Since then he has owned and operated a 10,000-square-foot baseball training facility and has managed a highly talented travel baseball team, playing throughout Virginia. He has worked with the Rapp ballplayers in a fall ball league and looks forward to regaining some of Rappahannock’s past glory on the diamond.

Brad Barnes will head up the Junior Panther baseball program, a natural progression from the Babe Ruth coaching he has been doing since 2006. Coach Barnes too focuses on the fundamentals and on player motivation, drawing on his experience as a standout player for Emory University where he won multiple awards including MVP and all-conference designation. Coach Barnes is looking to build a successful middle school program for the upcoming players in Rappahannock and is excited to have the help of two volunteer assistant coaches, Chris Murphy and Mike Atkins, both long time fixtures on the local youth baseball scene.

INSPIRING: Junior Panther softball head coach Heather Waddell, center, and volunteer assistant coaches Rachel Gall and Arathon Aylor pose before their “inspiration board” at the softball field. “Hopefully these girls can add to that list of champions when they reach varsity,” Waddell said.Alex Sharp VIII | Rappahannock News
INSPIRING: Junior Panther softball head coach Heather Waddell, center, and volunteer assistant coaches Rachel Gall and Arathon Aylor pose before their “inspiration board” at the softball field. “Hopefully these girls can add to that list of champions when they reach varsity,” Waddell said.

Andy Hipple takes the helm of the varsity softball program this year, aided by several assistants and his own experience in coaching several years of travel softball. His love for the game is evident and that combined with his focus on teaching his players to be competitive but to have fun in the process promises to result in a rewarding season for players and fans alike. Coach Hipple has several able volunteer assistants, including James Costello, Mark Fletcher and team moms Hedy Paul and Stacey Bailey.

His counterpart at the Junior Panther level is Coach Heather Waddell. Coach Waddell was an assistant coach for the Junior Panther softball squad last season. She has played softball since she was six, including high school varsity playing experience at Brentsville, where she was the catcher. She is looking forward to continuing to prepare our young softball athletes for the varsity competition that is in their future. Coach Waddell will also be assisted in the field by volunteer coaches Arathon Aylor and Rachel Gall.

Familiar faces abound on the track, led by head coach Scott Stephens. Coach Stephens was a standout high school football player and track distance runner, claiming a sub-five-minute mile at his peak, and has been coaching track since coming to Rapp in 2001, first as an assistant and as head coach since 2004. During his tenure he has sent 23 athletes to the state meet and since 2009 every athlete that has gone to states has placed among the top six in their event.

Coach Stephens says coaching track is one of the highlights of his time here, and he has a huge amount of pride for the kids that have stuck with the program through the years. Coach James Sharpe assists in track, fresh from his stint as cross country head coach, where he had one runner qualify for the state meet. Sharpe was an accomplished cross country and track runner himself in high school, captain of his cross country team his junior and senior years and competing in seven  different track events. This is his fourth year as the distance events coach for track and while he always gives the credit for the accomplishments of the kids under his training directly to those kids, there are few who have trained under him who would deny him that credit as well.

Filling out the staff is Coach Puskar, who also assists in track. Her athletic experience includes running four years with the AAA Lake Braddock indoor and outdoor track and field team, participating in eight events and qualifying for states three times and twice for the Penn Relays and Newport News Relays. She has been an active and valued coach for the Rappahannock squad for three years.

Under this fine guidance our spring athletes are sure to meet with success and you’ll be sure to enjoy watching every minute of action of their games and contests. A full schedule of RCHS spring sporting events can be found at rappahannockathletics.org, or watch for our sports calendar posters coming to your local stores and gathering places soon.

Go Rapp!

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