Baseball: J-S graduate John Hupp pegged as new Ram baseball coach
By BRANDON HURLEY
A familiar face is set to the plate with visions aimed well beyond the outfield fence.
John Hupp, 2007 Jefferson-Scranton graduate, was hired in February to replace long-time Greene County baseball head coach Mark Sawhill, and he’s already began implementing a culture shift.
Hupp coached and played under Sawhill, who led the Rams for more than a decade, capping his long career with a winning record and the first playoff win in Greene County history last summer. Hupp studied the profession as a former outfielder and as an assistant for Sawhill (freshman and junior varsity). Hupp, who most recently was head coach at Woodbine, first caught an inkling of the coaching bug while spending his summers on the Jefferson diamond.
He helped guide the 2006 Jefferson-Scranton/Paton-Churdan football team to an undefeated regular season and a spot in the state semifinals at the UNI Dome. Sawhill was an assistant coach under head coach Bill Kibby at the time as well. His former coach had quite the impact on Hupp.
“(Sawhill) did well communicating life lessons with us,” the former outfielder said. “He was one of the fist coaches I had that did that well. He showed us leadership and the way to conduct ourselves and how to understand the game.”
Hupp continued his baseball career at Simpson College in Indianola, graduating in 2011 with a sports administration degree, He used his time between academic years to sprinkle in coaching stints for the Ram freshman and junior varsity teams.
Hupp entered his interview with Greene County activities director Mitch Moore a bit cautious, unsure if he wanted to run a 3A program, at his alma mater, to boot, but was quickly persuaded. A transition back into baseball, especially in his hometown, seemed fairly natural. He left the interview with a job offer, poised to lead Greene County baseball into a new era.
“The changes here (in the athletic department) are exciting,” Hupp said. “Especially with the strength and conditioning. The communication across all the sports is great. (Mitch) isn’t just trying to bring in young coaches. He wants us to hop on board the train and see what great things are in store.”
The emphasis on success and development hooked Hupp. There’s an accountability throughout the athletic department that wasn’t always prevalent.
“I think before there wasn’t much consequence for how much you wanted a particular job,” Hupp said. “Some people just had the job and felt comfortable. I can’t just be lazy. I have to get started right away. It’s a great thing to have someone that pushes you but also supports you.”
Though Hupp is still fairly young in the coaching profession, he’ll turn 30 in May, just in time for the baseball season, he has a resume that Moore instantly was drawn to. Add that to his passion for Greene County and he was an ideal candidate.
“John is a great fit for out athletic department for a number of reasons. He brings to us great knowledge for the game of baseball and good collegiate playing experience,” Moore said. “He’s a hometown Ram, so that is always exciting for me. When you hire a guy who grew up where he is coaching, you know that he has a lot of pride in what he’s doing.”
Moore was thrilled to hire someone who models his precise, detail-driven scheme, focused on the future and the growth of a successful program. The two instantly connected. So far, Moore has hired five new varsity coaches in less than a year at the helm. Hupp is just another building block in a new era of Ram sports.
“I have been very impressed with John’s organization and his detailed plan that he’s already starting to implement this off-season,” Moore said. “He is going to take our baseball program to new heights. We have spent some time meeting about baseball and getting to know each other. He matches what I want our culture to be.
This is certainly another huge step in my vision of making our athletic program championship caliber, from top to bottom.”
Hupp developed a devotion to the coaching profession while studying in Indianola. The father-son duo of the late Joe Blake, Sr., and Ben Blake taught Hupp the intricacies of baseball. They had a way of focusing on the task at hand but also bringing the joy out. The senior Blake passed away in 2015, after 31 years as pitching coach. The Storm won four conference titles under his tutelage while the 1991 squad qualified for the program’s first-ever Division III World Series. Joe Blake was the father of former Major Leaguer Casey Blake. Together, Joe and Ben were masterminds in the profession, renowned all over the Midwest.
“A lot of my style will come from them,” Hupp said. “Joe was like Aristotle with baseball and life. He taught us how to grow as men. He was a great speaker and a lot resonated with me.”
The next of kin was a model of professionalism, less so much on words but how he ran his program. Hupp learned to appreciate the game and the tactical details from Ben.
“The way he conducted himself, he was very business like and serious, but funny,” Hupp said. “He was intense but a really good guy to talk to. I’m trying to bring that level here.”
Hupp is no stranger to the sacrifices baseball requires a high school athlete to make. The season – and games – are long, and practices are longer. Hupp will use his opportunity in Jefferson to teach and build the program, but while also tapping into the fun of the sport.
“It’s a big commitment to give up your summer,” the father of two said. “We want them to focus but to have fun. We have work to do but we can have fun. I want to bring a new culture here.”
Hupp returns to his roots after cutting his teeth out west in Class 1A for the Woodbine Hawkeyes. He spent the last few years working for Jefferson Telecomm and is now branching out into small business. He’s initiating an in-home technology service venture in a few weeks. The two professions both require patience, communication and expertise, things Hupp already has in his repertoire. He’ll tap into his experience at the top in Woodbine as he transitions back into the red and black of Greene County.
“I liked the taste of running a program, building something,” the new Ram head man said. “I loved being in control and I love baseball and the kids.
Baseball, of all the sports, teaches real life lessons.”
The Greene County baseball season opens up at 2017 state-qualifier Saydel May 25 in Des Moines. GC split their regular season matchup a year ago, snatching a 5-4 upset win on the road. The Rams host their home-opener May 29 against Coon Rapids-Bayard.