Better late than never. That age-old expression was the second thing that came to mind last week when I heard the news that Robin Schrank has been selected for induction into the Wisconsin Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
The first was a reminder of how privileged I was to have spent 20 years working with an individual who pumped such uncommon passion, dedication and discipline into his job. Some of his successes have still gone unparalleled, yet he has never received nearly the credit and recognition he so richly deserves.
Schrank’s Hall induction, as prestigious as it is, will come almost 10 years after he coached the last of his 20 seasons at Greendale High School.
From this side of the fence, that is a great irony, considering that Schrank always seemed to be a step ahead of his peers.
He was totally riveted on each pitch.
He demanded such precision from his players that they rarely missed a sign or a cut-off man. When they did, the matter was addressed and most often never came up again.
Schrank’s induction ceremony will take place Saturday, Feb. 14, at the Madison Marriott.
His fellow honorees will include Tom Lechnir of the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, Pete Swanson of Viroqua and Mark Simon of D.C. Everest.
Mark Fuller, the coach at Cumberland High School, informed Schrank of his selection via telephone.
“I got really emotional,” said Schrank, recently retired after 33 years of teaching. “I called my wife (Phoebe) at work. I called my son (Ben), who’s attending Brown University.
“Then I drove out to the family farm and told my dad (Wilbert, a Land O’ Lakes Baseball League Hall-of-Famer), who’s 91. It was my dream that, if something like this ever happened to me, he would be able to be there for the induction. When I told him the news, it brought a tear to his eye.”
The WBCA began hall-of-fame inductions in 1979, one year before Schrank guided Greendale to the WIAA State Summer Baseball Tournament championship in West Bend in his first season as head coach.
During the two decades that followed, Schrank piloted the Panthers to two more state titles (in 1987 and ’95).
Fourteen years since that last conquest, Schrank remains the only man to coach three Wisconsin state summer baseball champions.
“I don’t think I’m off the cloud yet,” Schrank said, still thrilled with the news of his selection. “I’m so thankful for how it all worked out.
“A coach can’t accomplish anything like this without the kids — the team — and all the time and effort they put into it all.”
Dan Kelly and Jon Mudrock, two members of Schrank’s original Greendale state title team, remember how demanding, detail-oriented and disciplined Schrank was as a coach.
Almost three decades later, they also realize how fortunate they were to have played for him.
“I don’t think we’d have gotten where we did without Mr. Schrank,” Kelly said. “We had pretty much the same team as the year before, and we went from being .500 to being state champions. We owe him for that.”
Mudrock expressed similar gratitude. He contacted Schrank to let him know what a difference he has made in his life after learning that Schrank had been driven from coaching by a group of individuals who could not deal with his disciplined style.
“He was passionate about the game, and he infused that passion into his players,” Mudrock said of Schrank. “I know none of us appreciated what he did for us then (in 1980). But in talking with the guys over the years, we all came to appreciate and respect him.
“It’s too bad the teams at GHS don’t have the same opportunity we had — to play for such an outstanding coach.”
Without reflecting at all on Schrank’s successors, amen to that.
Mark Hutchinson can be reached at (262) 446-6614 or firstname.lastname@example.org.