You could call it a no-brainer, although when it comes to hiring replacement coaches, there is no sure thing.
But it was a slam dunk when it was determined that 19-year Bluejay assistant Shawn Schultz would take over the helm of the Merrill baseball program.
“This is a very good hiring for Merrill High School,” MHS Activities Director Rick Bonnell said. “Shawn has shown he’s very skilled at coaching. He relates really well with students in general and has built a really good rapport with athletes. He’s very good at communicating what is expected of each athlete and I like his calm demeanor. He never gets too high or too low. In a difficult situation, a player looks over and there’s no panic.
“I think he gets the most out of his players. There’s usually a lot of growth in his players. He has a vested interest in Merrill baseball, and wants to continue the tradition. He’s willing to put in the time that it takes and it takes a lot of time. I think Merrill baseball is in very good hands.”
Schultz is more than happy to take over the top job.
“I’m excited,” he said. “It’s something I like to do.”
Schultz worked with the freshmen for two years and the JV for another before joining retiring coach Brian Artac on the varsity for the past 16 years.
“We worked well together,” said Schultz, with a strength in pitching to complement Artac’s hitting abilities. “It was a lot of fun. I learned a lot from him. We won a lot of games together. I certainly wouldn’t be in this position without him doing a lot of things for me.”
He also mentions former head coach Bill Helmuth as a strong contributor to his growth.
“Bill’s been a big help since I was player 25 years ago,” Schultz said. “He taught me an awful lot when I was a player and he’s continued on since then. Other than a couple of years off, he’s helped the team all the way through, even though he retired – what was it? – 16 years ago.”
Schultz doesn’t expect anything close to wholesale change to the team.
“You need to have good pitching, good hitting and field the ball,” he said. “I don’t think we were ever that complicated with what we were trying to do. We’ve had good players and good kids. That’s a big part of it.
“We are different persons, (Artac) and I, but in terms of how I run the team, it’s the same. It’s not like I’m going to run a new offense, not like football or basketball where you’re going to change schemes.
“Some years you have kids that can hit home runs and that makes it easy. Other years you have to come up with ways to score. I think you adjust to the kids you have, and utilize their talents the best you can.”
As for the Bluejays for the near future, Schultz noted, “We’ve got a nice group of players coming back, kids like Trevor (Asmundsen), Jared (Schmeltzer), Dylan Anderson, Drew Hoff, Ryan Golisch, Collin Grefe, Ty Belfiori. We have kids with a lot of experience and we’ve got great kids behind them without a lot of experience but with an opportunity to be successful. There’s lots of interest and good numbers in Merrill baseball right now. I’ll have to work to keep it that way.”