High School Sports

State College baseball establishes new culture with inspiration from All Blacks rugby team

State College baseball celebrates its win over Altoona for the District 6 Class 6A title on Friday at Peoples Natural Gas Field. The Little Lions created a new set of principles in the offseason to revamp the program — and it’s already paying dividends.
State College baseball celebrates its win over Altoona for the District 6 Class 6A title on Friday at Peoples Natural Gas Field. The Little Lions created a new set of principles in the offseason to revamp the program — and it’s already paying dividends. adrey@centredaily.com

The Lion Commandments guided the State College baseball team all season.

Inspired by “Legacy,” a book about the culture about the All Blacks rugby team in New Zealand, the Little Lions created the set of principles to revamp the program during the offseason. State College coach Troy Allen said he can’t reveal the Commandments — “That’s a secret,” he said — before sharing two of them:

Respect the jersey.

Leave the jersey in a better place.

“What that means is you’re not just playing for yourself. You’re playing for your school, you’re playing for your buddies,” Allen said. “And when it talks about leaving the jersey in a better place, when they leave out of here this year, our program should be a step forward than it was last year and so on and so on and so on.

“And that’s how you build the building blocks for a championship program. I think those are the two biggest things that guide us.”

With those guiding principles in mind, Allen said State College’s senior class laid the foundation for the program to compete in the Mid Penn Conference and make deeper postseason runs in the future. After a disappointing 2016 season that ended in the District 6 semifinals, the Little Lions captured the district title with a win over Altoona last Friday. They’ll face McDowell in a PIAA subregional game at 4 p.m. Wednesday at Bald Eagle Area.

Allen focused on changing the culture after players said during their exit interviews last year that they hated coming to practice and playing.

“As a coach, that’s upsetting,” said Allen, who is in his second season leading the Little Lions. “You certainly never want players to hate playing the game.”

So Allen made sure he heard from his players during the offseason. The coaches asked the players what they liked and disliked and what they would change this year. In mid-January, Allen and eight of his returning varsity players started to establish a new culture.

They met for five or six sessions spanning more than a month to discuss “Legacy.” The All Blacks are considered the “world’s most successful sporting team,” and the Little Lions talked about the rugby team’s principles and how they related to their team. At the end of the sessions, they made the Lion Commandments.

Penn State baseball coach Rob Cooper gave Allen the book and let him sit in on his program’s team-building exercises. During State College’s sessions, senior pitcher Mason Mellott said the players talked about what makes a good team and about becoming more of a brotherhood.

“I felt like that was where we lacked last year,” Mellott said.

Of the ideas they discussed from the book, Allen said his favorite was called “sweep the sheds.” The All Blacks captains will sweep the sheds at the team’s practice facility, highlighting the importance of never being too big to do small things. The lesson resonated with one Little Lion.

“Evan Smith is the prime example of ‘sweep the sheds,’” Allen said. “We would be in practice, and I would tell the underclassmen to do something like set up for (batting practice) and Evan would go running out there.

“And I’d say, ‘Hey, that’s their job,’ and then he’d look at me and say, ‘Hey, sweep the sheds.’”

Allen said his players completely bought in to the new culture and stuck to it all season. The Little Lions became a brotherhood in the process.

“I didn’t know a lot of these guys coming in, especially the younger guys,” senior Gavin Schaefer-Hood said. “But now we’re all one big family.”

They celebrated together after capturing the district title last Friday, holding up the team trophy and biting their gold medals while posing for pictures on the field. And the players made sure to include the coach — dousing Allen with the orange water cooler to cheers — who set out to change the culture this year.

“I don’t worry about the wins and losses,” Allen said. “What I do care about is how they treat each other and what kind of legacy they’re leaving for the groups that follow behind, and they did a tremendous job.”

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