Fremont coach Ron Smith sat somberly on the bleachers at Frankfort High School’s softball complex, staring at the ground as he reflected on the day that had been.
His team was in the midst of a weather delay well over two hours, down 9-2 in the bottom of the seventh inning of the semistate championship game against Pioneer. At this point, finishing the game seemed nothing more than a courtesy for a team that had made it this far, a reward for an Eagles squad that had reached Class 1A’s final four.
“You want to think that because it’s a semistate championship game anything can happen, but at the same time we know the writing is on the wall,” Smith said that night on June 1.
The game was far from the only thing on Smith’s mind though.
Few knew it at the time, but Fremont was waiting out Smith’s final game as coach of the Eagles. The players didn’t know. In reality, only a select few within the program were aware in what had been a deliberate attempt to quell any distraction that might have arisen from such news.
Smith continued to sit by himself for several more minutes, never once moving that head from its downward-facing position, before he was joined by assistant coach James Hinchcliffe.
The conversation was a quick one, yet deep in its meaning for both coaches. “Heck of a way to go out, huh?,” said Hinchcliffe.
“It’s been a great ride,” answered Smith, finally lifting his head.
Hinchcliffe concluded, “You’ll be able to talk about this one for a long time.”
It really was one heck of a ride for a coach that guided Fremont to its first ever sectional and regional titles in addition to two consecutive semistate appearances.
Last year, the Eagles set a program record for wins in a season (26) and two players under Smith’s tutelage — Tori Foster in 2018 and Madalyn Beeman in 2019 — have both set all-time home run marks. Beeman bested Foster’s record of 11 career bombs, finishing with 12 this season as a junior.
It is rare that a coach comes into a program and fundamentally changes it in the way Smith has changed the Eagles.
Smith led the team to a 101-65 record in his six seasons as coach, with the team eclipsing 20 wins in each of the past three seasons.
Smith was a varsity assistant coach for the Eagles for two seasons before taking the head varsity job in 2014. He was Fremont’s junior varsity softball coach in 2011.
Despite the accomplishments, though, Smith ultimately surrendered to the call that ends so many a coaching career, that of family. Though, while he may be stepping away to spend more time with relatives, that choice also meant stepping away from another family on the field.
“I want to spend more time with my wife, with my grandbabies,” Smith said. “Coaching softball takes a lot of time, and I’ve been doing it for a long time.
“I’ll always remember my time with this team. We set out to put Fremont on the map, and we did it.”
Chao sets career K mark in final season with Hornet baseball
This season, the Angola baseball program became synonymous with one name.
After years of forming the area’s top pitching duo with former teammate Chance Roddy, Chao made the team his own in 2019. Angola coach Roger Roddy summed up the senior lefty’s importance to the team in one sentence.
“Aaron’s our horse, and if we are going to win, it’s because he showed up,” Roddy told KPC Media Group earlier this year.
Chao finished the season 10-1 with a 0.94 earned run average. The senior left-hander struck out a single-season program record 138 batters and only allowed 34 hits in a 67 and one-third innings of work.
He set the record in the Wawasee Sectional opener against Lakeland in a game where he struck out 17 batters on May 22.
The old record was 103 from Skylar Parker in 2013. Chao tied and broke the record with his two strikeouts in the second inning. No. 103 came when he struck out Hunter Frost swinging for the second out. No. 104 was from Austin Albert swinging and catcher Kaleb Farnham hauling in the foul tip.
Chao has been big with the bat as well, hitting .473 with six home runs and 24 runs batted in.
His magical senior season run ended in a regional semifinal loss to Jay County in which he struck out 11 batters and connected on one hit, which batted in one of the team’s two runs. It was the quintessential Chao game as the Chao era came to an end.
Fremont’s Laws makes trip to state finals
Fremont senior Kenny Laws became the first thrower from the school in more than a decade to make the state track and field meet when he finished second in the Marion regional with a throw of 50 feet, 3.5 inches.
In addition, the throw also eclipsed the program’s record of 48 feet.
“Once I saw that nobody was throwing more than 50, it just kinda struck me,” Laws said of making the state meet.
He was the only male or female representative from the school at Indiana University on state weekend. He placed 20th in the state with a throw of 49 feet and one-half inch on May 31.
The trip was the final chapter in a four-year journey for the now-Fremont graduate, and the accomplishment of a goal he set for himself long ago.
“I’d just remember thinking ‘I’m going to do that,’” Laws said. “It really motivated me to be the best thrower I can be.”