Tuscola Warriors present: black and gold’s decade of dominance

By Lenny Sementi
The past ten years have been something special for Tuscola High School athletics to say the least. The Warriors dominated the local sport scene during the last decade despite moving from Class 1A to 2A and becoming one of the smallest schools in the division by enrollment. There are bound to be things missed and for that I apologize but after a few weeks of searching on and off there is so much information that reinforces how dominant the black and gold has been in more than a few sports it’s hard to condense it into just an article.

Ryan Hornaday has been the leader of the tribe since 2010. For the sake of this piece I am covering the last  ten years. So fall and winter sports take into account all seasons between the 2010-11 school year until 2019-20. For spring sports like baseball, softball and track it encompasses seasons from 09 to 19 since the 2020 season has not yet been played.

This gives each sport a  ten year window during which time the Warriors have captured seven team State Trophies, three runner ups in football, a second and third place effort in baseball, a third place in boys track and a fourth place finish in softball. Oh, yeah, and six state individual championship medals and thirty-eight total medals in boys track boasting a pair of throwing title holders as well as two medals in girls track and a runner up finish in cross country. Tuscola was named the Herald and Reviews athletic program of the year in 2016 duplicating a feat from 2008 when the black and gold captured the News Gazettes program of the year award. In all the Warriors have collected twelve state trophies and two state titles in the past eighteen years. 

All this hardware has added up to even more individual accolades. So here we go, to the best of my knowledge and the information I was able to find here are some of the big time individual honors. Natalie Bates was named News Gazette female athlete of the year in 2019. Dalton Hoel collected the male athlete of the year award in 2018. Pat Yoakum secured the male award in 2011 and Lindsay Troike grabbed the female award in that same year, following Molly Romine who garnered it after her 2009 softball season. Nick Bates (2016) and Logan Tabeling (2019) both collected baseball player of the year awards while Anna Watson took home area softball player of the year and Cody Shelmadine collected the football version following a Warrior runner up campaign in 2010. I have a sinking suspicion I am missing a few and for that I apologize.

These players and many more all-state, all-area and all-league performers donated to the cause for coaches that benefited from their prowess winning either area coach of the year awards or honors from the state coaches association. Most recently long time assistant and now head baseball coach Adam Carver took home the baseball coach of the year award following his initial season in 2019. The most decorated coaches would be Tim Kohlbecker (girls basketball) and Hornaday (boys track) who amassed five and four respectively. Hornaday is also nominated for this year’s athletic director of the year award. Duff Hoel who stepped down following the 2018 baseball season grabbed four of them while his spring counterpart on the softball diamond took home four as well. Rick Reinhart was the recipient of two awards in football and was also inducted into the St Louis football coaches association Hall of fame in 19. Yep, that’s nineteen coaching awards in just ten years.

Which sport is at the top of the list, it’s tough to say? Football leads the way in state statutes in the trophy case taking home three during the decade, a pair underneath Reinhart and one from his predecessor Andy Romine. Add to that a few assistants that were there for all of them Ted Minger, Pat Pierce, and Josh Shelmadine. The program ended the decade with a 94-25 mark, nine of ten playoff berths, thee runner ups, four semi-finals, seven quarter finals, four consecutive Central Illinois Conference Championships and an Okaw Valley title as well posting a 78 percent winning percentage. Romine has won 52 games in the past five seasons winning 87 percent of his games.

Next up is probably baseball with two team banners at the east end of the gym during the span. Hoel took the team to the state tourney twice securing a second in ‘12 and a third in ’18 and got to enjoy it with both his sons. Dillon was a first team all starter on the twelve-team finishing 24-14 overall while Dalton was part of the only 2A trophy in the case in 2018. 

Dalton and Noah Pierce were both named to the all state second team by the coach association and were part of a team that set numerous records while winning 38 games. They scored 446 runs, fifth all time in IHSA history, recorded 435 hits, twelfth best all time. Dalton landed in fourth all-time on the steals list with 176 in his career and scored the fifth most runs all time with 198, including 70 in ‘18 to move into sixth all-time. Tyler Meinhold also landed in the top five in a category. The Warrior second baseman smacked four grand slams during the campaign. In all, baseball won 219 of their 331-outings for a 69 percent winning percentage, posting six twenty-win seasons while winning five CIC titles. The coach will have six players off his ‘18 team playing in the college ranks. 

“Our Tuscola High School Class of 1983 was, and still is, very tight.  We formed life lasting bonds, many of which were centered around the success we shared in Warrior Sports.  I always wanted my boys to have the opportunity to form similar bonds, so the goal from the time I had kids was to assist in making the last time they shared the field with their buddies a memorable one,” stated Hoel. “Unfortunately we weren’t able to achieve the ultimate goal, but the time those boys on each team spent together built memories they will cherish their lifetime.  I feel really fortunate that I was able to have a front row seat and they let me tag along for the ride.”

Boys track was just as strong taking home one team trophy but as stated earlier thirty-eight medals as a program. Hornaday and his longtime coach Stan Wienke took third in state in 2014, won a pair of CIC championships and three sectional titles. Wienke’s throwers took home eleven of the 38 and had two state champs. Stephen Gibson won the discus in 2015 and Hunter Woodard won the shot in 2017. Gibson joined with Eastern Illinois and Ohio Valley Conference Champion shot putter Clayton Turner in ‘14 and ‘15 to form the most dominating one two punch in area history in the throws. The duo delivered seven of those medals taking home one first, two seconds, a third, a fourth, a fifth and a sixth. 

There are just too many other track stars to name but a few would be Eric Ponder who secured three medals in two seasons in open distance events and Broc Smith who secured three as well. Smith won two in the sprints, and one that stands out above all the rest in a relay, linking up with Jeff Broch, Chris West and Alex Kemp to set a state record that still stands in the 4×200-meter relay crossing the line one minute and twenty-eight seconds to reach the top of the podium. One of Hornaday’s proudest accomplishments however is the number of athletes that have moved on to bigger and better things serving our country in the military after their days circling the track at TCHS (Zack Kibler, Keagen Kibler, Cade Morgan, Andrew Cox, Ray Poskin, Ty Stanfield, Chandler Kerns, Ian Trail, Austin Sexson, Jacob Silver, Garrett Miller, Shane Cook, Blake Stokes, Jud Wienke, Jack Leonard, Gunner Edwards, and Heston Eveland).

“I’ve been fortunate to inherit a great program, steeped in tradition. I competed here for Coach Butler and Coach Wienke here in the mid-90’s,” quipped Hornaday. “Holding up the standards of excellence that they set is something I do not take lightly. I honestly love the young men that I get to coach. Despite the area COY honors, I’ll judge my coaching career in the years to come when we find out what kind of adults my guys become. My greatest hope is that the 15-18 year old boys that I coach become amazing 30-40 year old husbands and fathers.”

Softball has one big trophy and boasts the highest win total coming out on top in 80 percent of their 323 games, winning 286 of them, delivering six regional, two sectional and one super sectional title while winning four league crowns. They had eight twenty-win seasons and a pair of thirty-win campaigns. And even more impressive, never lost more than nine games in any one of the ten seasons. They scored 450 runs in 2016 to move into eighth all-time on the state list and also accounted for a fifth best 384 RBI’s. Three times the Lady Warriors landed eight players on the all conference team.  

Anna Watson sits atop the all time steals list swiping 290 career bases landing on the top ten list for steals in a season three times. Nine players in sixteen hit homeruns as the team banged out fifty dingers landing in the states top twenty all-time. Karli Allen swatted seventeen while Halle McCrory pounded it twelve. McCrory was a two-time all starter for the black and gold. In all the Lady Warriors had twenty-one players take home some sort of all state accolade during the last ten seasons. Erin Walker led the way making the squad in each of her four years. Watson and Sam Ledbetter were both two-time selections to the first team and Morgan Day took home first team honors once.

Coach K’s group is in the argument as one of the best as well winning five regionals while posting at least twenty wins in seven seasons. They won 71 percent of their games delivering a 198-78 record overall grabbing, two CIC regular season crowns, two CIC tourney titles and one Okaw Valley Championship. He’s had three players reach the 1,000-point mark during the decade Troike, Emma Henderson and Erin Weaver, who sits in third all-time in Warrior history with 1,277 points. McCrory was a near miss falling less than ten points shy. 

“It’s been a privilege to coach and I have so many great memories of coaching various teams and players. Highlights: winning a regional in 2011 at Okaw Valley versus A&M,” stated the coach. And, Morgan Little’s senior year, we trailed by fifteen, in the fourth quarter in a regional final against Cerro Gordo, and came back to win. The next year’s postseason was also special, we beat Marshall at home in the regional followed that up with a sectional semifinal win vs. Flora a few nights later. In 2012, we pulled off the trifecta and won the conference season and tourney titles as well as a regional.” Coach K. though admits some of the most special times were getting to coach his daughter Sam, and coach alongside his other daughter Aja and her husband Justin Bozarth. 

Bozarth made some waves of his own during the decade taking over the boys basketball program. He and his boys in black secured the first 2A regional title in program history in the spring of 2019 posting a 20-12 record overall. They backed it up this year thanks to all-stater Jalen Quinn and his buddies with one of the Warriors best season records of all time coming out on the right side of the scoreboard in twenty-six of thirty times they stepped on the floor. In all Bozarth has won fifty-three games in three seasons at the helm while coach Matt Franks tallied sixty-seven wins in six years and Paul Lehman fifteen in one giving boys basketball 135 wins in ten years. 

Volleyball coach Lydia Miller collected her 100th victory this past fall and accounts for 103 of the Lady Warriors 141 wins during her seven-year stint and it’s only regional title in the past ten years. Coach Franks and now Doug Bauer along with long time assistant Toby Ring have steered the ship at Iron Horse Golf Club leading the boys and girls to several sectional team qualifications both boys and girls and a conference title each. Coach Wienke added another state medalist to his resume in 2018 thanks to an eighth place finish by Cassie Russo. The girls track program had one other state placer when Emma Henderson climbed on the podium at EIU taking sixth place in the 800-meter in ‘17. Eric Ponder led the charge in cross-country placing at state in consecutive years taking fifth in 2014 and 22nd in 2015. His brother Trent led the Warrior runners to a CIC crown in 2017 and his sisters Susan and Lisa were pivotal to the girl’s team prior to the boy’s dominance. 

“I’m honored to be the Athletic Director here at TCHS. It’s a job that I absolutely love. I view the position and it’s duties as paramount in terms of representation of our school and greater community,” Hornaday said. “If a school building were a house, the athletic department would be the front porch. The average person never steps foot inside your house, but everyone sees what happens on the front porch. What we do and how we do it is of great value. I do my best everyday to maintain and build upon the foundation that was laid by Gene Murray, Bruce Nofftz, and Stan Wienke.”

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