Making an impact

Marion baseball coach Roger Schroeder was feted as Class 2-1A Coach of the Year after leading his team to the state championship game in May. In nine seasons at the helm, Schroeder has compiled an overall record of 159 wins and 46 losses. Janae Rempel / Free Press
Marion baseball coach Roger Schroeder was feted as Class 2-1A Coach of the Year after leading his team to the state championship game in May. In nine seasons at the helm, Schroeder has compiled an overall record of 159 wins and 46 losses. Janae Rempel / Free Press
Roger Schroeder didn’t plan to stay in Kansas.

The Fresno, Calif., native came to Tabor College in Hillsboro to play baseball and, later, complete his degree.

“I remember my mom telling me, ‘Don’t stay out there,’” Schroeder said. “I said, ‘I don’t plan on it.’ Get school done—because I wanted to finish school—and come home. Now, this is home.”

Ten years later, Schroeder has built not only a home but also a baseball program in Kansas, compiling an overall record of 159 wins and 46 losses in nine seasons as head coach at Marion.

Schroeder garnered Coach of the Year honors in Class 2-1A after leading the Warriors to the state championship game earlier this spring, a testament to the structure, discipline, expectations and character-development that have gone into building the Warrior program.

“It’s about all of us,” Schroeder said of the honor. “It really is. That’s what a program is. I get to be the head of it, and I take a lot of pride in that, but it’s not just about me. I didn’t get 2-1A Coach of the Year this year because of just me. I got it because of our team and our program.”

Background

A competitor at heart, Schroeder said he especially enjoys the competitive nature of baseball.

“Every single pitch there’s a new competition going on between a pitcher and a hitter,” he said. “That constant competition is probably my favorite thing about the game.”

Schroeder was catcher for his high school baseball team at San Joaquin Memorial in Fresno. After his graduation in 2003, he played collegiate ball at Bakersfield (Calif.) College from 2004 to 2006, then transferred to Tabor College for the 2007 season before completing his playing career at Fresno Pacific University the following year.

While catching was what he preferred, Schroeder transitioned primarily to first base when he came to Tabor after enduring a pair of shoulder surgeries and a broken thumb while in junior college.

Schroeder returned to Tabor and completed his bachelor’s degree in Business Administration – Management in January 2009. While completing his degree, he started working at Central National Bank in Marion and eventually accepted a full-time position at the bank and moved to Marion.

In October 2011, he accepted a position at St. Luke Hospital and currently serves as Marketing Director for the hospital and Executive Director of the St. Luke Foundation. Schroeder and his wife, Kylie, have been married five years and have a 2-year-old daughter, Vivian.

Schroeder’s view behind the plate as a catcher not only gave him a unique vantage point as the only player to see the whole field—it also served him well when he stepped into the head baseball coaching role in Marion at the start of the 2010-11 season.

“Everything’s run from behind the plate, so that transitions to sitting on a bucket in a dugout,” Schroeder said. “I think being a catcher and being brought up through a fantastic high school program where I went to school, fantastic junior college program and a couple really good four-year schools, helped me be able to step in at (age) 25 with no experience and be able to manage and to run a program.”

Building a program

For Schroeder, building a program has hinged on creating a culture with structure and discipline and not being afraid to verbalize expectations.

Upon accepting the coaching job, Schroeder called his high school coach, former Major Leaguer Pete Dalena.

“I said, ‘Listen, I’m not asking you to tell me how to do my job, but you’ve done it a long time; what are some things that you would recommend?’” Schroeder said. “The first thing he said is structure and discipline. He said have a plan every day when you go to practice, and hold every kid to the same standard. That’s the one thing that I have tried to do from the get-go is have structure and have discipline.”

The Warriors went 11-10 in Schroeder’s first season—his only double-digit-loss season—which set a win record for the Marion program at the time, he said.

Marion shattered that record when, in 2012, the Warriors went 17-6, ending the season with a 3-0 loss to Sacred Heart in the regional finals—a game Schroeder said is one of the better games he’s been part of in nine years. Locked in a 0-0 tie in the seventh inning with the go-ahead run at second base, the Warriors perfectly executed their bunt defense and tagged Sacred Heart’s lead runner out at third.

Although Marion eventually lost the game, the moment was pivotal, not only for Schroeder as a young coach teaching fundamental defense but also for players to gain confidence.

“You could see what we wanted to do start to really happen,” he said. “I don’t think it’s coincidence that we went (to the) state tournament the next two years. I think what happened that night showed the kids that we are doing the right things. We’re going about this the right way.”

Schroeder’s teams have finished above .500 every year—he’s never had a losing season.

“We’ve gone nine straight winning seasons and five state tournaments and three state final fours,” he said. “It’s an incredible extended run.”

Expectations and culture

Schroeder has not been afraid to place expectations on his teams, with the ultimate and unchanging goals being to win league, regional and state titles. Just as important, though, are expectations pertaining to culture.

“We’re always going to be a program that is going to get on and off the field,” he said. “We’re going to hustle. We’re going to have great effort. We’re going to have great attitudes. We’re not going to throw helmets when we strike out. We’re not going to throw bats. We’re not going to throw fits on the field when we make an error. That’s part of the culture, regardless if we’re 3-17 or undefeated going to a regional.”

For Schroeder, baseball is bigger than wins and losses. The game provides opportunity for character development and relationship-building.

“All you want as a coach is a kid that learns how to deal with failure and learns how to compete and continually compete regardless of how well things are going for them,” he said. “Because baseball’s not always going to treat you well.”

He lists the relationships built as something he enjoys most about coaching.

“You develop relationships and you get to really know who these kids are and watch them grow into young men,” he said. “It’s a neat dynamic.”

Building a program requires a delicate balance of utilizing existing talent and developing for the future.

“We always are looking past what’s currently in front of us to try to help, to continue to build,” Schroeder said. “Because that’s what this is. This is a program. It’s not a team-by-team thing. We’re not going to sell the farm one year and then just show up the next year. It’s always going to be an evolution, and that was my goal when I started was to build a program.”

Everyone on the team has a role to play. Younger athletes observe from the dugout, and are prepared to step in when it’s their turn, Schroeder said, referencing the freshmen that witnessed the 2014 Warriors’ loss to Silver Lake in the state quarterfinals, despite higher aspirations from coaches and fans alike.

“It felt like there was more for that group to accomplish than what we did, and it didn’t work out,” Schroeder said. “But I think it helped us in the long run.”

The freshmen on that year’s team became the seniors who, three years later, led the Warriors back to state. The 2017 season ended with a second-place finish in Class 3A and a 23-2 overall record, setting a new program record for wins in a season.

“They get to be a part of it, even though really they’re not down in the thick of things with them,” Schroeder said of younger players. “They get to see it and they get to see what goes in it, what it takes to win at that level. You can call it coincidence. I don’t think it is.”

Since 2017, the Warriors are 66-7 with back-to-back-to-back trips to the state tournament. Marion finished third in Class 3A in 2018 with an overall record of 23-3 and second in 2-1A in 2019 with a record of 20-2.

“I think there’s a belief that when kids come and play baseball for us there’s this expectation that they’re going to compete well, they’re going to win games and they’re going to have a chance to win a state championship,” Schroeder said. “Obviously, we haven’t done it, but we’ve knocked on the door. Eventually we’re going to beat it down.”