SHEPHERD – As another high school baseball season is set to begin, one local coach is embarking on his final season.
After 630 wins and two state championships, longtime Shepherd coach Jack Nartker is calling it a career after 27 years.
"It doesn’t seem to matter, whether you win or you lose, you know you’re just trying to develop, making kids better baseball players, better people, and that happens, whether you win a state championship or not,” Nartker said. "I hear other programs that have problems, and we just have avoided a lot of that. I think part of it is just that they see us as other than a coach.”
Through nearly three decades under Nartker’s charge, the Bluejays have won 11 conference championships, 10 district titles, five regional crowns and the 2009 and 2010 Division 3 state championships while posting a state runner-up finish in 2004.
"He’s taught me a lot,” senior catcher Carter McCullough said. “This is my fourth year being with him and he’s always a blast to be around.
"He’s the face of the baseball team, the baseball franchise, for sure.”
Senior middle infielder Mitch Weiss was one of many in the stands during Shepherd’s 2009 and 2010 state title runs and says he knew then that he would play for Nartker one day.
“Back in 2009 and 2010 when they won the state titles, I watched so many of the regular season games,” he said. “In 2009 I went down to the semifinals and finals and watched them and always wanted to play for him after that. Just knowing who he was, and how he’s done.
"There were talks that he was going to retire like before us, and none of us really wanted that. We wanted to get Coach for our senior year."
Inducted into the Michigan High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2010, Nartker, who enters 2016 with 630-271-6 career record, reflected on Shepherd’s recent spring break trip to Florida – the program’s annual getaway.
"I know that when we left Florida, the one school we’ve been at for 23 years, one of the players came up and gave me a hug and was like, ‘Coach, this is your last time here,’ and I hadn’t even thought about it,” Nartker said. “All of a sudden that feeling comes over you like, ‘Wow, this is the last time,’ and it’s the last time for this.
“There’s going to be a lot of last times, so I’m just going to enjoy it."
With seven starters returning from last year’s state quarterfinal squad, and nine seniors filling out a lineup of 13, Nartker’s final season has all the makings of being a memorable one.
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