The Grove High School is small in numbers, big in Montessori approach to sports

Photo/Harvey Cohen First year baseball coach Chris Brady at The Grove High School in Redlands conducts a light workout in preparation of 2017 season.
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The Grove High School in Redlands is a small high school with big hopes to build a respected athletic program. It’s now better known for its student-operated farm and produce market where Grove Athletic Director Kramer Gudgeon serves as business manager. In his second year, Gudgeon wears many hats at The Grove including head coach of the Ravens soccer team, teaching business, and being a member of its board of directors.

Despite an enrollment that hovers around 130 students, The Grove has been a member of the California Interscholastic Federation since 2005. It plays at the Division 7 level against parochial schools in the Majestic League. The Grove is making progress in two of the seven sports it competes. This season Gudgeon led the school into the CIF-playoffs. Two seasons ago softball coach Kendall McCarthy led The Grove into the post season. With good hitting down the lineup, the softball team looks capable of returning to the playoffs this season. It features pitchers Caroline Fox, Kennedy McCarthy and senior slugger Christen Freeman.

The Grove baseball team has always been another story due to lack of interest. Former coach Obrey Brown got the team off the ground in 2004. By the next season, the Ravens were competing. Brown guided the team to its best season ever in 2007 with a 6-9 record but had to resign after four years when his son began playing baseball in Palm Springs. “It was very hard for me to step away,” Brown said.

Brown knows what first-year Ravens baseball coach Chris Brady is going through. He recalled that many of his players had little baseball skill. “I didn’t have a catcher or pitcher. We had our pitcher’s throw a high arching pitch. Yes. Sort of like slo-pitch softball which could baffle batter’s enough to keep us in some games,” explained Brown.

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“I remember one of our hitters got a hold of one and sent it over the fence. He was so excited that he missed touching every base on his home run trot. He was then called out.” Progress eventually came. He told of winning one game when his player stole home. The team was soon able to perfect a pickoff play at third base. “I had one rule. Show up on time for practice.”

Current coach Brady could face a greater challenge. Due to a last minute coaching vacancy, Brady was hired two weeks before the season opener. There were seven players at a recent practice just ten days before the first game scheduled for March 3rd at Crossroads Christian.

“I’m a little concerned. I’m hoping for at least three more. We’ll get more,” says Brady. Gudgeon, who played soccer at Redlands East Valley High, assured there will be a baseball team this season, saying that at least two more players are expected. “It’s always a numbers game at small schools. We hired a coach (Brady) because he is able to individualize practice according to vastly different skills levels, said Gudgeon.

According to available records, The Grove has been able to field only three baseball teams in the past eight years. Gudgeon says the past is over and he wants to help build a respectable athletic program. He explained that The Groves is a charter school under the jurisdiction of the Redlands Unified School District and uses the Montessori approach to learning. When asked for a short definition of Montessori, Gudgeon called it “learning by doing.”

Gudgeon said The Groves uses the Montessori approach on its athletic fields as well, where winning is important but not that important! “Sports is one part of our education plan. We use it to teach skills that could help later in life. We’re not a sports school. We just want to see students show improvement in whatever they do.”

Senior softball player Elizabeth Escobar agreed that it’s rewarding to see her team grow in confidence on and off the field. “We expect to win but we learn from our mistakes. I’m learning so I can become a coach. We expect to have fun.” Escobar might try out at Chaffey or SBVC next year.

“Some of us do wonder how we’d do playing baseball at a bigger high school. I think I’d do well,” said freshman Daniel Larrance, one of the more experienced players. “I’m used to a Montesorri education, so I’ll stay here.” Like Larrance and teammate Daniel Ortiz, senior Colin LeMasters can excel at every position. He played as a freshman and sophomore and stayed at The Grove that had no baseball team last year. “No. We didn’t have a team last season and we didn’t win much before that,” said LeMasters. “It’s been hard for me because I’ve always been on winning all-star teams before. It’s OK. I’ll stay, compete and have some fun.”

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