By Teddy Rydquist
Leader Staff Writer
The Oxford Wildcats’ 2020 baseball season was canceled by the coronavirus (COVID-19), but the 18 young men on the roster still set a high bar in the classroom.
Posting a cumulative 3.39 grade point average (GPA), Oxford was one of 442 collegiate and high school programs honored by the American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA) on July 28.
Founded in 1945 and headquartered in Greensboro, North Carolina, the ABCA is composed of nearly 13,000 coaches nationwide, making it the country’s largest amateur baseball coaching organization.
“In light of the challenges faced by so many programs across the country, we are humbled to be able to honor a record number of teams for their outstanding academic achievements,” ABCA Executive Director Craig Keilitz said.
“It is a testament to the leadership of our member coaches and the commitment of their student-athletes, who persevered during an unprecedented academic year.”
Assuming his current post on July 1, 2014, Keilitz inherited the position from his father, Dave, who began his tenure as ABCA Executive Director in 1994.
Prior to joining the ABCA, Keilitz was the Director of Compliance at the University of Michigan from 1992-96 and was an Associate Athletic Director at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina from 1996-2008.
“I am so proud of the hard work these players have spent on their academics,” Wildcat head coach Dave Herrick said in an Oxford High School release.
“For a group of 18 young men to record such a great GPA is something I am very proud of. It is a great honor for these young men.
“I take great pride in this award. It shows how important academics are in our program. We really believe our athletes are students first.”
Taking over the program in 2015, Herrick led the Wildcats to their first district title in 11 years in 2019, upsetting the rival Lake Orion Dragons, a consistent state contender, to accomplish the feat.
Of the 442 total programs recognized, just 146 were high schools and, even more specifically, just five high schools in the state of Michigan received the honor.
The Berkley Bears, Fenton Tigers, Midland Chemics, and Rudyard Bulldogs joined Oxford on this exclusive list.
On the collegiate side, Michigan had 18 schools make the cut, including the Central Michigan Chippewas, Michigan State Spartans, and Western Michigan Broncos at the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I level.
The Northwood Timberwolves, Saginaw Valley State Cardinals, and Wayne State Warriors qualified in Division II, with the Hope Flying Dutchmen and Kalamazoo Hornets doing so in Division III.
Here is what the Wildcats’ roster would have looked like this spring, in alphabetical order, along with their jersey numbers.
Junior catcher Josh Brown (#19)
Senior pitcher/first baseman Jesse Burch (#3)
Junior infielder/pitcher Ethan Burdua (#1)
Junior outfielder/first baseman/pitcher Jack Butzu (#18)
Sophomore outfielder/pitcher Brady Carpenter (#8)
Senior outfielder/pitcher Drew Carpenter (#21)
Junior pitcher/first baseman Sean Cooper (#15)
Senior outfielder/infielder Gabe Debo (#13)
Senior outfielder Jake Dolata (#2)
Senior infielder/pitcher Garett Hiler (#11)
Junior pitcher/second baseman Nolan Kutchey (#31)
Junior outfielder Brendan Moore (#14)
Junior infielder Joe Roeher (#33)
Senior pitcher/outfielder Cooper Schihl (#9)
Freshman catcher/pitcher/third baseman Owen Schihl (#34)
Senior infielder Thomas Smalley (#7)
Senior first baseman/pitcher Tanner Stokes (#24)
Sophomore catcher/pitcher/third baseman Gavin Walters (#27)
Featuring eight seniors, nearly half the roster, it would have been interesting to see what this veteran-heavy group accomplished this spring.
Two of these players are continuing their careers at the collegiate level, Burch is headed to Fort Wayne to pitch for the Indiana Tech Warriors in the Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference (WHAC), and Smalley is going to play for Macomb Community College.
Drew Carpenter is playing football for Leonard Haynes at Northwood. Starring on both sides of the football under then-head coach Bud Rowley during his Wildcat days, Carpenter is currently playing a hybrid linebacker/safety role for the Timberwolves, a position the Michigan Wolverines refer to as the “Viper.”
Looking ahead to 2021, Oxford is tentatively scheduled to compete in the Oakland Activities Association (OAA) Red Division, along with the Clarkston Wolves, Lake Orion, Rochester Falcons, Rochester Adams Highlanders, and Stoney Creek Cougars.
Photographs courtesy of head coach Dave Herrick on Twitter, @CoachHerrick37.