LAGRANGE — Jon Roush had a tough decision to make when he was an athlete at Lakeland High School.
The 1989 Lakeland graduate loved to play baseball, but he also loved to golf. Both sports are conducted by the Indiana High School Athletic Association in the spring and the school’s Athletic Director at the time, John Storck, wouldn’t let Roush do both sports.
“I respected his decision and to this day we are good friends. I don’t think he wanted to get involved as a referee between the two coaches,” Roush said. “There were smaller schools like Fremont and Hamilton where you could do both. It could have worked for me since I was a pitcher. There were a few times I played at third base.”
Roush made the decision to head to baseball diamond. He played all four years at Lakeland and one season when he attended Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion.
While baseball didn’t last beyond his school days, he has turn coaching boys golf at Lakeland into a longtime career. This spring would have been his 21st leading the Lakers.
“I was really looking forward to this season after the last couple where things didn’t go quite the way I wanted them to,” the coach said. “We had our top three players from last season (senior Bayley Iddings, juniors Carson Aldrich and Luke Franke) plus there were two freshmen Ben Keil and Tommy Curtis coming in. We had the makings of a pretty good team and the season gets canceled. I feel so bad for the kids.”
Roush has a connection with the younger Keil.
“Ben’s dad is Chris Keil, who was the professional at Heron Creek Golf Club. Chris has been my unofficial coach,” the coach said. “My dad and Chris’ dad would take us to play golf at Limberlost Golf Course in Rome City, so we grew up together. In middle school, we tied for the top spot in the conference. He was in 7th-grade and I was in 8th.”
Roush turned a summer job into a long-term venture.
“When I came home for the summer after my first year at Indiana Wesleyan, I needed to find a job,” he said. “Lakeland was looking for a janitor. I took the job and have never left. This is my 31st year at the school.”
Roush started coaching golf a few years later.
“Ken Warren asked me in 1993 to help him out as an assistant,” Roush said. “I helped Tim Gonderman for three years and then took a year off. Gonderman became the AD in 2000 and he asked me to take over the golf program.”
Roush also coached football for 20 years at Lakeland.
“I never expected to be coaching this long but now I figure on staying as long as I enjoy it,” he said.
Lakeland has never won a sectional title, but the Lakers have advanced four individuals to the state meet and came within a whisker of having the 2005 team qualify for the finals.
“The 2005 squad was my best team,” Roush said. “We tied Warsaw with a 304 score in the regional (at Chestnut Hills in Fort Wayne) for the third-and-final qualifying spot and lost on the fifth player’s tiebreaker. Warsaw went on to win the state.”
The Lakers were close to making state in 2012, but lost by two strokes to Northridge in the regional for the final spot.
Lakeland individual players qualifying for state were Adam Winans in 2005, Cole Pechin in 2009 and Cody Richardson and Spencer Mortola in 2012.
“Probably my favorite time in the program was from 2002-11,” Roush said. “We had great kids and great parents. I would not be able to do anything without the support of the parents. Whether it is helping with meals or just making sure players get to places on time.
“One of my favorite memories is how hard the kids worked during those years. I remember Adam and Winans as examples of that. They would stay so late after practice to work on their games. They would pull their cars up around the practice putting greens and turn the lights on so they could stay and work on their short games.
“In the summer months, their mom would drop them off at the course at 6 a.m. and not pick them up until well after dark.”
Former players stop in from time to time to visit the coach.
“They return to see how I am doing and how the program is doing,” Roush said. “I would like to think the players remember me as someone who let them have as much fun as possible yet still being someone they can respect.”
Roush has to budget his time as he works from 9 p.m. to 5:30 a.m. on his janitorial job at Lakeland.
“Most of the golf season I run on three to four hours of sleep,” he said.
John and his wife Cassidy Hawkins Roush have been married since Oct. 2018. She is the Lakeland girls golf coach.