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ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
If you want to know how far a combination of talent and hard work can take a high school athlete, you’ll find no better case study than Hillsboro’s James Bina.

The senior is currently capping an outstanding athletic career at HHS with a monster of a baseball season.

With two games remaining in the regular season, Bina leads the 12-6 Trojans in almost every offensive category, including hitting (.580), hits (29) and runs batted in (28), and has already broken his own single-season home-run record with nine.

His slugging percentage-total bases divided by times at bat-is an obscene 1.320.

What’s scarier for opponents is that as good as Bina is with a bat, he’s even better with a mask, shin guards, chest protector and mitt-not to mention a right arm that turns baseballs into heat-seeking missiles when he fires them down to second base.

Bina is a four-year starter at HHS and has received all-league accolades each year. He’s earned all-state honors the past two seasons, and it almost goes without saying that he’ll earn it again as a senior.

Coach Phil Oelke said Bina has earned every achievement the old fashioned way-he worked for it.

“He’s obviously got some talent, but I think a lot of what makes James successful, aside from his God-given talent, is that fact that his work ethic is almost unmatched,” Oelke said.

“Almost every night after practice, he is there for extra batting practice-two buckets of balls, three buckets of balls, one bucket of balls. If he’s got the time and I’ve got the time-or somebody else has the time-to stay and throw, he’s there.”

Bina admits baseball is his first love, but he has taken that same determination onto the football field, where he was named as a first-team defensive lineman this fall by the Kansas Football Coaches Association, and onto the wrestling mat, where he qualified for his third straight state tournament berth this winter.

And here’s the kicker: he keeps a level head about it all. Though Bina is confident in his abilities, you’ve almost got to twist his arm to get him to talk about them.

“I try not to look at stats,” he said. “If I get too caught up in my stats, everything goes down the drain.”

Ask him what has made him so successful in athletics at HHS, and the first thing he mentions are his coaches.

“Probably the biggest part is that our coaching staff here is great,” he said. “You talk about (Dustin) McEwen in football, (Corey) Burton and (Scott) O’Hare in wrestling, and then you’ve got Oelke-they know so much about what they do. It’s just awesome. No other school can say they have coaches like we do.”

Ask Bina about personal goals, and his response is immediate but team-oriented: “As a team, everybody wants to win that last game at Manhattan. It’s our senior season and we won’t settle for anything less than a state championship.”

Ask him what has enabled him to succeed amid a deep and athletically gifted senior class and he’ll concede one thing: “I love competition.”

The middle child in Ray and Denice Bina’s family of nine kids, James said competition was a way of life at home.

“Everybody in our family hates losing-that probably comes from my dad and mom,” he said. “When my dad was coaching me when I was 10 years old, he wasn’t a good loser. A friendly game of basketball turns into a fight at home.”

Baseball and softball have always been the Bina family’s primary outlet for that competitive nature. James’ earliest memories of the game are of being forced to play catcher by older brothers Ryan and Chuck, who wanted to sharping their pitching skills.

“That’s kind of where I got started catching,” James said. “One of the things I remember most was not being able to block the ball, and I’d have to run forever to get it because we didn’t have a backstop. I’m a decent blocker probably because of that.”

By age 7, James was playing on the 10-and-under team his dad was coaching. Ray continued to be his summer baseball coach until last year, when James played for a team in Emporia.

“He’s great,” James said of his father’s support through the years. “He’s always been there. You can probably count on one hand how many games he’s missed my whole career. It’s really something having him around.”

While his brothers may have forced him to play catcher in the early years, James has stayed with that position by choice.

He likes it.

“You’re kind of in charge back there,” he said. “I get to see every pitch. In the outfield, you might see one or two balls a game.

“In a way, everything’s kind of centered around me. It’s almost like being the quarterback of the football team. I’ve just always liked kind of being in charge.”

That raises another valuable component Bina brings to the table: leadership.

“There are several guys in that senior group that have those skills,” Oelke said. “But James does a great job of that.”

Although Bina is vocal on the field because of the position he plays, he said he tries to lead with more than just his mouth.

“I just try to work hard all the time-a lot of people will go off that,” he said. “And it’s not just me. The whole senior class, we try to lead by example.”

After this season, Bina wants to keep playing baseball-perhaps at a junior college for a year, but eventually he wants a crack at a four-year NCAA Division I program.

“I definitely want to end up at a big-time school,” he said.

To this point, college recruiters haven’t been camping on Bina’s doorstep. Oelke said playing a meager 20-game schedule at a small Kansas high school has made Bina easy to overlook, but word is beginning to spread.

“Is he a D-I player right now? No,” Oelke said. “But I think he has the potential to be. I’m excited about the potential he has.”

And if the D-I dream comes true, what about professional ball?

“Everybody who plays baseball, that’s their goal,” Bina said. “If you love the game of baseball, you want to play as long as you can. It’s definitely one of my goals.”

And his work ethic may will be the road to take him there.

“I would say I’m willing to make myself better,” Bina said when asked about his best attribute. “I’m never satisfied where I’m at.”

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