Ryan Johnson’s first school year as Rochester High School athletic director is over, but that doesn’t mean he’s not busy.
The projects for which he was waiting for the summer to work on are projects he’s working on right now. He’s also working on refunding boys basketball regional ticketholders, who purchased tickets in a presale before the state tournament was ultimately canceled March 19.
When the IHSAA canceled spring sports for the 2019-20 school year Thursday mere hours after Gov. Eric Holcomb shuttered schools throughout the state due to the coronavirus outbreak, it meant that changes to the RHS softball and baseball fields and track will have to wait another year before they’re shown off.
Perhaps the biggest change was happening at Bob Copeland Field. Not only was RHS in the midst of fixing damage done to the fence that suffered damage from last May’s storm, but they were also in the process of building a new press box. Nobody has been allowed inside the old press box since the spring of 2017. RHS’ insurance company declared it structurally unsafe prior to the 2018 high school baseball season, and it has since been torn down in favor of the new structure.
“Bob Copeland Field at RHS has been under construction for months now,” Johnson said. “We are nearing the finish line in terms of the new press box. The new press box is a huge upgrade over our previous press box, and it will include two restrooms, concession stand, two storage areas and an area for event workers.”
As for the outfield fence, it was completely replaced.
“The outfield fence was damaged last May and has been replaced,” Johnson said. “We are also in the process of renovating the infield skin.”
Across the parking lot, the track at Barnhart Field is also being rebuilt after the storm also blew broken glass from a nearby greenhouse onto the old track. Johnson said the new track is being built with the long term in mind.
“We have removed the surface from the track in preparation for a new surface,” Johnson said. “We will also be adding an asphalt underlay to the track, which will allow RHS to get the longest possible lifespan out of the new track surface. Construction on the underlayment and surface will begin once the asphalt and surface companies are able to open.
This type of work is very dependent on the weather, and we want to make sure that we are installing the track in the best possible conditions, so that today’s high school students will be able to watch their children run on this track in the future.”
Fansler Field, the RHS softball home, also had refurbishments that will help with how it handles rain and water.
“Fansler Field is also receiving a makeover,” Johnson said. “Fansler is being laser graded to help with drainage and new batter’s boxes and the pitching (circle) is being reconstructed.”
Johnson said the school has been able to refund some, but not all, ticketholders who were planning on seeing the Zebra boys basketball team play in the Class 2A Lapel regional March 14.
Those who purchased tickets can mail them to the RHS athletic department with their name, phone number and mailing address. They will receive their refund via a check.
“We will try and get them refunded as quickly as possible, but since the building is shut down, we ask that patrons be patient,” Johnson said.
In addition to boys basketball, Johnson’s first year also featured sectional titles in volleyball and girls basketball. The girls basketball team also shared the Three Rivers Conference title with Tippecanoe Valley and Northfield.
There were also individual standouts: Both Madilyn Calloway and Mallory Hiatt qualified for the state finals in girls cross-country and finished in the top 50.
Sophomore Makenna Beall won the sectional title and finished 32nd at the girls swimming state finals in the 500 freestyle. Older brother Mason was 27th in the 200 freestyle and 31st in the 100 freestyle at the boys swimming state finals after winning the sectional title in both events.
In addition, Kristianna Lingenfelter was a regional qualifier in girls golf, and Wade Shafer was a sectional champion and a semistate qualifier in wrestling.
“Our athletic department has had many successes this year and we are extremely proud of those accomplishments, but most of all, we are proud to be able to offer so many opportunities for our student-athletes to compete,” Johnson said. “Rochester is blessed with great coaching staffs in all of our programs and dedicated student-athletes.”
But the cancellation of spring sports ended the year with a thud. Johnson said he was hoping that seniors would get “the recognition they deserve.” That’s what Johnson received when he was the TRC golf medalist in 2005 when he was a senior.
“This school year has been a roller coaster ride, from the excitement of our athletic accomplishments to our present situation,” Johnson said. “Anytime you step into a new job, there are always hurdles you have to clear in learning about the school, students, staff and community.
"It has been extremely humbling to see the type of support that Rochester Athletics has from our community and local businesses.
“It has also been extremely rewarding to be able to return to Rochester and work for my alma mater.”