A changing of the guard is on tap for Lincoln Trail College's softball team.
Following an unusual season that was cut short due to concerns over the coronavirus pandemic that is sweeping the country, LTC announced recently they will have a new leader of their softball program beginning next season.
In a press release issued last week, associate head coach Erica Arnold was promoted to head coach of the Lady Statesmen, replacing the retiring Gary Rodgers.
In addition, while Rodgers is retiring from coaching, he is not leaving LTC, as he has been named to the newly created position of Director of Athletic Grounds.
Arnold, who previously coached at North Central High School in Farmersburg, Ind., before joining the staff at LTC last summer, says coaching in college is a dream come true.
"Coaching at the college level has been my dream since the beginning of my coaching career," Arnold said. "I am forever grateful to Lincoln Trail College for allowing me this opportunity, it means the world to me. Also, thank you to president (Ryan) Gower, coach (Kevin) Bowers, coach Rodgers and the rest of the faculty and staff at LTC for helping this transition go smoothly and for accepting me into the Statesmen family."
During her tenure at North Central, Arnold guided the Lady T-Birds to a 189-62 record, while winning five sectionals, three regionals, two semi-states and making two state finals appearances. Her 2015 team won the Class 2A state championship and her 2018 team finished as the runner-up in Class A.
Arnold's plan is to instill the same philosophies she had at North Central in an effort to make the Lady Statesmen program just as successful.
"I have several goals for the Statesmen softball program, but there are two that I feel are the most important," Arnold said. "First, I want to ensure that my athletes excel on and off the field, reaching their fullest potential. I want to provide opportunities for them to grow and develop not only as athletes but as people. I will accomplish this by building strong relationships with each athlete and by creating a safe and challenging learning environment. Second, I will work towards building a strong culture. I want the program to be recognized as positive and high performing. There is so much to offer at Lincoln Trail and I am so proud to be a small part of all the wonderful things happening here."
The man Arnold is replacing, Rodgers, had been the head coach of the Lady Statesmen since 2015 and has been coaching softball for a total of 46 years at many levels, including summer recreation, travel softball, high school and college.
Over those six seasons, Rodgers compiled a record of 78-188, with his best season being an 18-32 mark in 2018.
In addition to coaching the Lady Statesmen since 2015, he also coached LTC from 1984-1990, which included a run to the NJCAA National Tournament in 1988, while his 2015-16 team was the NJCAA's Academic Team of the Year. Rodgers also served as the head coach at Olney Central from 2000-06 and was the head coach at St. Mary of the Woods College from 2006-2013. At SMWC, Rodgers set a school record with 187 wins and guided the Pomeroys to two USCAA National Championships, three runner-up finishes and one third-place finish.
While Rodgers is proud of his accomplishments during his coaching career, he is more proud of seeing how his players developed during their time playing college softball.
"One of the things I take a lot of pride in with coaching is you get to see how players develop," Rodgers said. "When kids first start playing the game, you never know how far it will take them. I love to see how players grow mentally, physically and athletically. It's very good to see the rewards they get from all of their hard work."
In his new position as Director of Athletic Grounds, Rodgers will be responsible for preparing athletic fields and facilities for practices, games and special events.
Rodgers - who did a lot of maintenance on the field the Lady Statesmen utilized at Robinson City Park as a city employee - noted he's had a passion for working with athletic fields ever since he was a young boy.
"I've been very aware of athletic fields all of my life," Rodgers said. "I've always thought about the best ways to develop a field, the best ways to maintain them, keep them mowed right, and keep the lines straight."
One of the first tasks for Rodgers will be the development of Statesmen Park. The first phase of the project will be putting in two regulation soccer fields this year and then adding a new softball diamond in 2022.
"I'm honored to stay on with LTC and develop this project," Rodgers said. "The soccer fields need to be ready by August. When we're done, this is going to be a very nice sports complex for the college. We want ours to be as good as or better than anybody else's and I know we'll have a nice facility that our kids can be proud to play on."