First-year baseball coaches at Springdale, Highlands, Fox Chapel happy to coach at alma mater

Thursday, March 29, 2018 | 8:36 PM

Brett Burger noticed one distinct difference at Springdale Junior-Senior High School from his days as a student just over a dozen years ago: D wing is missing.

“Instead of walking up the stairs to D wing, there's just a flat wall,” Burger said. “I thought that was pretty amusing.”

Burger is getting reaquainted to the changes at his alma mater in his first season as Springdale's baseball coach. In addition to the nonexistent D wing, the school has a second gymnasium that the Dynamos are using frequently for practice thanks to the weather conditions from the winter and early spring.

A 2005 Springdale graduate, Burger joined Highlands' Jeff Campbell and Fox Chapel's Jim Hastings as alumni who took over their old schools' baseball programs this season in the hopes of raising them to prominence.

Those three are proving it's possible to go home again.

“It's good when you have that connection with (the players) because you did go there, and some of the teachers are still the same and the people in the school are the same,” Hastings said. “It's 20 years ago, so some are gone, but you still have that connection.”

Ironically enough, two of the three coaches replaced each other: Burger took over for Hastings at Springdale, while Campbell replaced Burger at Highlands.

“I'm excited to work with the group of kids that are currently coming up through there,” said Campbell, a 1977 Highlands graduate and former Golden Rams assistant. “Being with the Highlands program, I'd like to see the program get back to where it was back in the past.”

That goal links the three coaches.

Highlands last posted a winning season in 2007, and the Golden Rams' playoff drought dates back to 2003. Although Springdale made the playoffs the past two seasons, the Dynamos did so with losing records and bowed out in the first round. And Fox Chapel slipped to a 5-15 record last season after making the WPIAL playoffs in 2016.

“My dad played for Springdale in the '70s, and my brother played there in the '90s, and they were good,” Burger said. “My dad was part of the 1972 Legion team that won a state title. Baseball was huge in Springdale at one time. Obviously, football is kind of king in Western Pennsylvania, but Springdale is, I think at heart, a baseball town. I think there's a little bit of added — not pressure, but there's something extra.

“I think people to want to think of baseball when they think of Springdale.”

Hastings, who worked as a football assistant in the fall, saw some of the excitement generated when the Foxes qualified for the WPIAL playoffs for the first time since 2014, and he hopes to create the same sort of buzz with baseball.

“It's just a sense of pride. You want to see football do well, basketball do well, our (girls) cross country team won the state this year,” Hastings said. “You just want to keep those things going and you want to have some success in baseball, as well. It's the sport I love, and when we play, you want to win because you want people to read in the newspaper or see online that hey, there's Fox Chapel.”

Campbell mentioned Highlands' baseball history to his players when he met with them for the first time after getting hired in December. Now, he's focusing on the future.

“It's not really (about) me; it's the kids, and we want this to be a program for the kids,” he said. “We want to be able to give them the basics and to have them come up through the program and be successful. If I can give them the basics to (build) on and teach them to be competitive, I think I'll have some success.”

Doug Gulasy is a Tribune-Review staff writer.

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