A Team With #OneHeartbeat
May 25, 2017 11:20AM
● By Ashley Pape
By Audrey Sellers
Unity: the theme of the Southlake Carroll baseball team.
New head coach Larry Vucan wants players—from the most celebrated varsity players to the most novice freshman guys—to feel connected and part of something bigger than themselves. Dragon Baseball has #OneHeartbeat on more than just social media; it’s a program united under the spirit of Dragon excellence.
Coach Vucan is in his first season as the Dragons’ head baseball coach following the retirement of former head coach Larry Hughes, who led the team to the playoffs in 19 of his 20 seasons at Southlake Carroll.
“Coach Hughes set a standard. There’s no doubt,” says Coach Vucan, who joined the Carroll baseball program in 2011 as a pitching coach after eight years as a head baseball coach in El Paso. “He was as good of a coach as I’ve ever seen in high school baseball. He really opened me up to the traditions of the program.”
Now leading the Dragons himself, Vucan wants to continue the tradition and create a unity like the baseball program has never seen before.
FROM DIABLOS TO DRAGONS
Long before he stepped foot in Dragon Country, Coach Vucan had his toes in the sand in California. Growing up in Laguna Beach, he spent more time on the beach than the baseball field, often surfing with friends before school. When his father’s job relocated his family to El Paso and then to California and back to El Paso again, the uprooting took a toll.
“I was a California kid,” he says. “There was a culture shock in El Paso.”
Vucan started going down the wrong path at his high school until assistant principal Paul Strelzin stepped in. Strelzin, who was also the voice of the El Paso Diablos, a Double A baseball team, hoped to redirect Vucan’s focus by bringing him to Diablos games. He ended up introducing Vucan to a game he would grow to love and play, and eventually coach and manage.
“Paul Strelzin saved me in a lot of ways by refocusing my attention on something far more constructive,” Coach Vucan says. “From there, my passion for baseball really took off.”
Vucan went on to play baseball at New Mexico Highlands University and spent six years playing in the Italian Professional Baseball League, the highest level of pro baseball in Italy. He spent another year managing, becoming the youngest manager in the league’s history.
“I just fell in love with the culture [in Italy],” he says. “I learned very quickly how to treat people and accept people from different backgrounds. It opened up my whole world.”
His experience in Italy came into play when he returned to Texas as the head baseball coach at El Paso Franklin, where he led the team to six consecutive playoff appearances. “Without my Italian experience, I never would have learned there are different views, different ways of coaching a kid, and different ways to manage a practice and program,” says Vucan.
These lessons also carried over when Coach Vucan moved to the Metroplex with his wife, Christina, and their son, Jordan (14), to join the Carroll coaching staff in 2011. When the head coach opportunity arose, Vucan was ready. And so was Dragon Nation.
“Coach Vucan has been a valuable asset to Carroll ISD for several years. His love for teaching and coaching is obvious in the relationships he builds with student-athletes,” says Darren Allman, Carroll ISD’s executive director of athletics. “The respect he has gained from Carroll baseball players over the years will allow him to have an even larger impact now as the head coach. We’re excited about the future of Dragon Baseball under the leadership of Coach Vucan and the entire baseball staff.”
Coach Vucan’s first priority as head coach was to establish a culture of respect for the program and the players. This began by creating a sense of connectedness—that Dragon Baseball truly has #OneHeartbeat.
Along with the help of a committed team of Dragon parents and volunteers, Coach Vucan brought the “Dragons United” theme to life through the inaugural Dragon Baseball Palooza in February. The event at Bicentennial Park united more than 300 baseball players, including Dragon Youth Baseball players, current Dragons and Dragon Baseball alumni. Some special guests were even on hand—Mayor Laura Hill welcomed players and fans, and former head coach Larry Hughes threw the first pitch.
To Coach Vucan, it was the ultimate way to bring baseball to the forefront in Dragon Nation. “Southlake is an unbelievably unique place,” he says. “I want to capture the spirit that is already embedded here and establish baseball as a fabric in the community.”
Coach Vucan has been a Dragon long enough to know that students have many different options when it comes to athletics. His aim is to make them feel good about choosing Dragon Baseball.
“Our goal is to get better every day, so kids can look back and know there’s value in being part of this program,” he says. “I want them to feel that value whether they’re at the freshman, JV or varsity levels—to know that their time wasn’t wasted.”
Stop by Dragon Field on any given day, and you won’t see anybody slacking. Spring practices last about two hours, and players often stay after in the batting cages or work on hitting fly balls and ground balls. Coach Vucan says the amount of time they put in is incredible but certainly not unbelievable. There’s a work ethic that’s engrained in the players, and it didn’t start with the coaching staff; it started at home.
“Everybody assumes that because we’re Southlake Carroll we have a load of talent that comes through. We absolutely have talented kids, but I think some people don’t understand how hard these kids work,” he says. “Southlake is a white-collar community but it’s a blue-collar mentality. These people have earned it; they’ve worked really hard. They understand the value of work and diligence, and they’ve raised their kids to have respect for a work ethic. These kids don’t just show up and win—they put time and energy into it.”
This year’s varsity team is young (only three players return with varsity experience from last year), but talented. Coach Vucan says it’s a testament to the hard work of the players and his varsity assistant coaches, Shad Whiteley and Zach Sellers.
Coach Whiteley, currently in his first year at Southlake Carroll, came from Arlington Heights, where he was head baseball coach. “Coach Whiteley is a guy I have a tremendous amount of respect for,” Coach Vucan says. “I knew he shared many of my same values. He treats players with respect, and they respond to him on the field.”
Now in his fifth year at Carroll, Coach Sellers has also made an impact on the program. “His knowledge, attention to detail, and passion for the game and kids—he has just been a blessing,” says Coach Vucan. “When I saw his skills and how he related to people, I thought, ‘Man, he needs to be here with us.’ He has blown me away in a lot of ways.”
Whether it’s the students, coaches, parents or fans, it’s the connection with people that Coach Vucan finds most rewarding. After 25 years in the business, he understands that relationships matter most.
“Kids don’t ask me, ‘Hey Coach, do you remember the time we beat so-and-so 12 to 1?’” says Coach Vucan. “They say, ‘Hey Coach, do you remember that speech about the jellybean, marshmallow and hard rock? I was thinking about that in my interview.’ To me, that is incredible.”
Coach Vucan set out to create a team united by #OneHeartbeat, but he really ended up creating a family— and everyone is invited to come home to Dragon Baseball.