It falls under the heading of “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”
From pro baseball, football and basketball, all the way down to the high school level, recruiting your leadership from the coaching staff of a successful rival is a time-honored method for building a winner.
That formula applies to middle-of-the-pack programs and upstart operations alike, which is why it’s easy to understand the strategy of Great Crossing High School in hiring Greg Stratton as its inaugural baseball coach.
Stratton, 57, paid his dues with eight successful seasons as a hitting coach and directing traffic in the first base box for Scott County High School. During that time, the Cardinals enjoyed a run of three consecutive 42nd District championships and won their first-ever 11th Region titles back-to-back in 2016 and 2017.
Now it’s his turn.
“That’s the exciting part is taking a new program and building it from the ground up, putting your own touches on it and getting your own culture and philosophy set. That’s the big, exciting piece of it,” Stratton said.
It’s both exciting and exhausting. Hired in June, Stratton has been busy organizing summer mini-camps, ordering equipment, researching potential sites for a spring break trip and constructing his coaching staff.
“Ever since the announcement, I haven’t stopped, and that’s not going to ease up any, whatsoever,” Stratton said.
Stratton, who played and later coached at Georgetown College after leading Shelby County High School to a KHSAA state championship back in 1979, wouldn’t have it any other way.
While he is getting a later start than many first-time varsity head coaches, Stratton knows his tenure at Great Crossing will have a lasting impact.
“It’s just getting everybody established, meeting with equipment reps, getting uniforms,” Stratton said “That’s another exciting part is being able to design the uniforms and all that. We build a foundation now that is going to be able to impact kids for years to come. That’s another piece that I’m thrilled about it.”
June’s initial meet-the-coaches night, followed by a handful of camps for available players in late July, made it clear that Great Crossing will have the depth to compete immediately.
“In the fall after school starts we’ll give them a couple, three weeks to get acclimated, and then we’ll start doing fall workouts and things of that nature,” Stratton said. “We’re going to hit the ground running.
“When we get the final numbers, that will be the clincher, but from what I have seen we will be able to field all three teams [varsity, junior varsity and freshmen]. We’ll have plenty of kids, so it’s going to be good.”
Great Crossing will compete in the 41st District against the capital city’s three-pronged attack of Franklin County, Frankfort and Western Hills.
Stratton expects that Scott County’s recent tradition of leading the pack in the neighboring district and being in the perennial hunt for regional supremacy will have a positive ripple effect on the Warhawks.
“There’s always been a lot of good teams around here, but playing in that 11th Region is so demanding day in and day out,” Stratton said. “You’ve got to come with your A-game every single day, and if you don’t practice that, too, it shows in the game. But what that has done for baseball in this area is just taken it in my opinion to another level.”
Easier said than done? You bet.
“The success that we’ve had [locally], it’s rolled over, and these kids know that they have to continue down that road, and it’s tough to keep that going,” the coach cautioned.
Stratton shares the multifaceted philosophy of Great Crossing principal Joy Lusby, football coach Paul Rains and others who want the Warhawks to pursue both academic and civic success.
Baseball, a game that makes hall-of-fame immortals out of players who fail two-thirds of the time or more, is a perfect activity for those life lessons. It is naturally humbling, and it demands perseverance.
“Developing kids is my thing. I want to develop them on and off the field as far as being winners,” Stratton said. “And when I say winners, I mean winners in life as well as baseball. We use baseball to build upon that.
“You’re up against adversity all the time, and you’ve got to be able to handle that. We’re going to instill that into the kids. I want to make sure they understand how to carry themselves on and off the field.”
From his time with the Georgetown Tigers, Stratton, an insurance adjuster by trade, also has a keen understanding of what colleges seek in terms of skill set, grades and behavior.
“Coming from not only high school but college coaching a few years, and I was a recruiter, I kind of have a background on what these guys are looking for,” Stratton said. “I know times have changed, but the underlying fundamentals are still there.”
Stratton also has spent the summer interviewing and hiring a slew of assistant coaches.
Some of his help, not surprisingly, hails from Scott County and has emerged from its academic and baseball system. Stratton sought a certain level of uniformity when making the selections.
“I want guys, as I’m putting together the stuff, that buy into the philosophy that I have,” Stratton said. “Otherwise it doesn’t work. So [I’ve been] taking my time, getting the right staff together.”
The tradition of a trip farther south during the first week of April, when school is on break, will be adopted.
“It’s so important to the guys. They love it,” Stratton said. “We kind of set that expectation at Scott County the past few years, and I don’t want to get away from it. Plus, we want to play good competition, and that’s what I’m looking at right now. We’ll plan on a trip somewhere.”
Stratton said that passion for playing top teams was passed down from his late father, Stewart.
The elder Stratton played minor league baseball in the Boston Red Sox organization when its top farm club was based in Louisville. Luis Tiant, Jim Rice, Fred Lynn and Dwight Evans were teammates along the way. He later coached semipro ball.
“I still have his uniform hanging on my wall,” Stratton said of his father. “He instilled in me you play the best. Wherever we need to go, we’ll play. It’s one good thing to have a really good record, but if it’s not setting you up for success at the end of the year, it doesn’t matter.”
Winning a state title isn’t any easier than when Stratton did it during the last days of disco.
Regional and state tournaments are single-elimination, win-or-else gauntlets. Last year, a semi-state round was introduced to bridge those two brackets.
“You’re playing and practicing to get to that point, and you want to be the very best you can be at the end of the season,” Stratton said. “You’ve got to be playing well to get through, because it’s a grind. I know coming out of high school and winning a state championship what it takes. It’s a long haul, and it’s a tough road, and you’ve got to have a little luck along the way.”
Making it incrementally easier for Great Crossing are all the bells and whistles of a new program.
Once the Warhawks’ fieldhouse and spring sports complex are complete. Stratton won’t require much of a sales pitch to convince any players sitting on the fence to climb over it and bring a glove.
“From what I understand, the facilities in-house are going to be unbelievable,” Stratton said. “The field is going to be great. It just adds to the excitement of having everything new. To start out new, it’s always exciting to be able to do that.”
Three more assistants added
The Great Crossing High School baseball coaching staff now totals seven after Stratton’s announcement of three hirings last week.
Brian Miniard, Ben Overstreet and Tyler Woolums have joined the Warhawks’ diamond leadership team.
Miniard began his coaching career as a strength and conditioning coach.
He spent more than six years as a strength coach for NCAA Division I and II teams, as well as Major League baseball with the Cincinnati Reds’ organization.
The past 11 years, Miniard coached on the collegiate level at Marshall University, University of Charleston, Austin Peay University and Asbury University.
Throughout his coaching career, Miniard has coached all aspects of the game from pitching to hitting to fielding. He coached on several super regional and conference championship teams.
Miniard lives in Berea with his wife, Samantha, and 12-year-old son, Blake. They plan to move to Georgetown in the near future.
“Brian brings a great level of energy, passion, knowledge and understanding of teaching players the fundamentals and how to play the game the right way,” Stratton said. “His strength and conditioning background will help our players tremendously to prepare them for the upcoming season and their future goals.”
Overstreet n is from St. Matthews, South Carolina, where he played varsity baseball for six years at Calhoun County High School.
He was named all-region for foour consecutive years from 2003 to 2006 and won the team MVP award in 2004 and 2005.
In 2006, Overstreet won the team’s outstanding pitcher award and was selected to play in South Carolina’s North/South all-star game.
Overstreet held several coaching positions at various levels since his playing days. He also served six years in the U.S. Army.
“I want to Thank Ben for his service to our country first and foremost. It’s people like him that allow us to enjoy our freedom and be able to play and coach this great game,” Stratton said. “He brings a lot of knowledge, passion and discipline to the team and enjoys teaching kids to play the game the correct way.”
Overstreet, his wife, Thava, and their four children live in Lexington.
Woolums is a native of Frankfort, where he spent the majority of his life before moving to Georgetown about two years ago.
He recently joined the Scott County Fire Department in pursuit of his dream career.
A 2010 graduate of Franklin County High School, Woolums was a six-year member of the varsity baseball team and won multiple awards, including MVP.
Woolums was invited to play in the 2010 Blue- Gray All Star game.
He played collegiate baseball for the Indiana University Southeast Grenadiers, for whom he won a gold glove award his freshman season and was named to the all-conference team.
Woolums held various coaching duties during three years as an assistant coach at Franklin County and in three summers with travel teams.
“Tyler brings enthusiasm, energy and knowledge to the team,” Stratton said. “He can relate to the players very well in teaching the fundamentals at all levels and has a strong passion for seeing the kids grow into young men and players.”
Stratton previously appointed Georgetown College alum and recent Georgetown Middle School coach Brian Conner to the staff along with the brother tandem of Scott County graduates Derek and Austin Jarvis.
Kal Oakes can be reached via email at email@example.com.