Make no mistake, Patrick Zehnder wants to bring a baseball championship to Bethel Park High School.
But the Black Hawks’ new head coach has bigger, more important plans for the boys who play the game.
“I hope to help develop this talented group of young men into successful baseball players and members of society,” said Zehnder, whose hiring was approved during Bethel Park School Board’s June 25 meeting.
The Black Hawks won a second consecutive section title this spring with a 10-2 record under former head coach Tony Fisher. Bethel Park finished 15-5 overall after reaching the semifinals in the Class 6A playoffs.
Fisher submitted his resignation earlier this month ending a nine-year tenure coaching the Black Hawks. His resignation came on the heels of allegations the program fostered a culture of harassment and bullying. The parents of two players who quit the team voiced those viewpoints during a school board meeting held May 28.
Fisher and several players on the team denied those claims.
Zehnder said he is looking forward to coaching the Black Hawks.
“Our main goal baseball-wise is always to make the playoffs and win a championship, but we have to work together and make sure the small things are done correctly in order to give us the best chance to meet the ultimate goal,” he said. “I expect all members of the program to respect each other, value each other’s role and how each member contributes to success — and for everyone to develop as players and people.
“Our job as teachers and coaches at this level is to do what we can to help grow these student athletes into productive and successful members of their communities and society as a whole.”
Zehnder credits his parents and other role models throughout his life for helping shape his mentality and approach to communicating and conducting himself with others. His mother, Diane, taught first grade in North Hills School District. His father, Harry, taught English at Wilmington Area High School. He also coached baseball and women’s basketball for many years. His uncle is also an educator and a baseball coach.
The Ambridge alum played baseball from 2007-2011 at Westminster College. A South Park resident, Zehnder earned degrees in elementary and special education with a minor in mathematics.
Upon graduation, he served as the ninth-grade assistant baseball coach at North Hills. He then became the ninth-grade team’s head coach the following season.
For the next two years, Zehnder was employed at Elizabeth-Forward as a special education teacher. He served under Warriors head coach Frank Champ as a baseball coach for the Warriors.
Zehnder then arrived at Bethel Park in 2015 where he was hired as a special education teacher and the assistant JV baseball coach. He just finished his fourth year as a teacher and third as head coach of the JV team.
“We are excited for Pat to take over as the next head coach at Bethel Park,” said Dan Sloan, the school’s athletic director. “He has been with our program for the past four seasons and we are confident he can step in right away and continue building off the past successes our baseball program has achieved.”
Zehnder has worked with most of the players on the current varsity roster. He said he is excited to be reunited with those players.
“I am looking forward to the opportunity to work with these great kids, many of whom I have either had the pleasure of coaching over the past few seasons on the JV team, or have gotten to interact with daily at school,” he said.
Zehnder said he brings plenty to the table that will benefit the athletes, program and school. He said he bring high energy and exudes a positive attitude.
He also is always looking to improve himself as a coach.
Zehnder said he does not hold expectations for others that he does not adhere to himself. He said he likes to emphasize the mental approach to the game, not just the physical aspects.
“An even-keeled, unflappable attitude is necessary to maximize one’s chances of sustained success in the most difficult sport there is,” he said. “There are many lessons learned through baseball that can be applied to life, and that is something I always look forward to talking to teams about throughout the season. As all members of the program grow as players and people, the skills and habits they gain will increase their positive involvement in school and community areas.”
Zehnder follows Fisher, who had a 131-57 career record, good for the third most wins in school history behind Ken Hodgson at 328-123-9 and Jim Rider at 220-121-0.
“My coaching philosophy is to be demanding without being demeaning, and to establish a climate and community of respect, responsibility and real-life expectations,” Zehnder said.
“In adhering to that philosophy, all members of the program will support each other and embrace the struggle of working together toward the common goal of continuous improvement and program success. We will all work together to make sure that we get better everyday in our physical and mental preparation, and that we are professional in our attitudes and communication with each other as well as opponents and officials.”