SYRACUSE – The Wawasee softball ship has and is heading in the right direction. It will just be searching for a new captain.
Head coach Mike Barger has chosen to step down after two seasons with the program. His announcement Thursday evening after telling his players was a tough one, but citing a new full-time sales opportunity in Wakarusa wouldn’t provide the time needed to commit to his program.
“This job change just forced me to have to make a very, very tough decision,” Barger said in a phone interview Thursday night. “I had to make the decision that was best for my family. I had to put my dad hat on. I couldn’t do (softball) and do the job. It’s not a choice I wanted to make from a softball perspective, but I couldn’t be fully committed if I am away on business.”
Barger has been around the Wawasee softball program for much of the last decade, serving as an assistant coach in the late 2000s and returning as a head coach with his brother, Brian, in 2017. Barger was part of two sectional championships, one as an assistant in 2010, and one in his first year as head coach in 2017 when the team reached the semi-state for the first time in program history.
Barger helped guide the 2017 team to a record 25 wins and its third straight Northern Lakes Conference title, and with a 2018 team that had nearly 75 percent of its roster graduate from the year before, won eight games and fought the NLC heavyweights with sometimes five freshmen in the starting lineup. In his two years, Barger went 33-21. For him, 2017 and 2018 presented much different challenges.
“That first year’s group was special,” Barger said. “I walked into a situation where all the pieces were in place and we just went. This second group, they were a great group, too. We had a lot of growing pains this second year, but that was to be expected with so many freshmen out there. I think the support I had from the community both of these years was great. It was almost two completely different groups, but it was nearly all positive. I can’t ask for more than that.”
Added Barger about the program’s future, “Whoever gets this job next is in good hands. That’s where I wanted to leave it whenever I stepped away. I didn’t think it would be so soon, but that job had to be taken for my family’s sake. But those kids worked their tails off last year to get better, and you could see it. They pushed some of the best teams in the area, and they are winners in my book. I wish the seniors coming back the best, and absolutely, I’m not going away. I will be at games. My family is not moving, we are staying in the community. This program will be back.”
The Wawasee athletic department will begin its search for the next head coach next week upon official resignation.