RACINE, Ohio — The Tornado baseball program is about to get some help from a familiar face.
On Monday, the Southern Local School Board approved the hire of Kyle Wickline as the varsity baseball coach for the 2016 season.
Wickline — who spent the past six years as the Tornadoes’ head football coach before his renewal was voted down by a 4-to-1 count in December — is looking forward to remaining a part of SHS athletics.
“I think it’s very important to stay involved,” Wickline said. “The group of kids that I’m going to have, I have had since fifth grade either teaching them or coaching them. I like all sports, I enjoy the competition and I like watching the growth of the kids. I thought it was a great opportunity for me to stay involved and try to help.”
Wickline has been a coach at Southern for 19 of the past 21 years and coached in 29 different sports seasons for Southern. The two years Kyle was not with Southern Local Schools, he was the varsity head coach of the Alexander baseball team, where he led the Spartans to a sectional title in his second campaign.
At Southern, Wickline was a varsity basketball assistant for eight seasons, varsity football assistant for two seasons, varsity baseball assistant for three seasons, junior varsity baseball head coach for one season, junior high football head coach for one season, junior high basketball head coach for eight seasons and most recently varsity football head coach for six seasons.
Wickline, who held a 24-37 record on the gridiron, was named AP Division VII co-coach of the year in 2013, after recording eight wins and coaching the Tornado football team to its first ever postseason appearance. This past season SHS was 4-6, but defeated Wahama for the first time since 1974.
Wickline is replacing John Combs, who went 19-27 in two years as Tornadoes skipper.
“Coach Combs did a good job with the young group,” Wickline said. “They’ve been young over the past couple of years with very few upper classmen. We’re going to work on trying to do the little things of fielding the baseball, pitching the baseball and hitting the baseball. We have to really work on the fundamentals.”
Southern, which won seven consecutive district titles under head coach Ryan Lemley from 2006-13, has lost in the sectional round of the tournament in back-to-back seasons, but Southern Local Superintendent Anthony Deem believes Wickline can return the Tornadoes to baseball prominence.
“I think Coach Wickline get things back to where they were,” Deem said. “He comes from a background with some good baseball knowledge. It’s going to take some time, but I think he has his priorities straight and he’ll bring our baseball back to where it needs to be.”
Southern has won 10 conference titles in program history, the last of which came in 2013, when the Purple and Gold claimed their second straight Tri-Valley Conference Hocking Division championship. Wickline noted that the TVC Hocking was not going to be easy to win.
“The league is very difficult, there was a lot of good baseball last year, and there are a lot of good teams,” Wickline said. “We’re just going to work on the fundamentals and try to get better every day. We’re going to continue to work and try to get the program back to where it once was. Coach Lemley and Coach (Mick) Winebrenner did a great job in the past and we’re going to try to get back to it.”
The first day of coaching for baseball is February 22, and the first day games can be played is March 26.
Alex Hawley can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2100.