HARRISONBURG – For Turner Ashby High School athletic director John Woodrum, it was hard not to think of Andrew Armstrong as the kid he coached in basketball just seven years ago.
As a standout, three-sport athlete for the Knights who contributed three state championships to the trophy case, including their only football title in 2005.
As the passionate, coachable leader who helped TA’s baseball team reach three consecutive Group AA championship games and win back-to-back state titles in 2006 and 2007.
As the confident pitcher who finished his high school career with a flawless 28-0 record and a Group AA state Player of the Year award.
But now, Woodrum has no choice but to view Armstrong a little differently after hiring him to replace Sean Hanifee as TA’s new baseball coach.
“He isn’t a kid anymore,” Woodrum said.
Armstrong became the fourth Turner Ashby baseball coach since 17-year coach Ray Heatwole stepped down in 2003 with a 303-66-2 record, and he’s the first TA graduate to take over the program since Heatwole. The Rockingham County school board approved Armstrong on Monday, making the hiring official.
“We felt like he was the ideal person for the program,” Woodrum said. “Of course, it’s obvious he’s experienced a lot of success at the high school and college level. … He felt like he was kind of a link between the old tradition of baseball at Turner Ashby and the new. He was like a bridge to the future of Turner Ashby.”
Plus, one way or another, Woodrum said Armstrong probably knew all of the TA players and felt like he could relate to them.
“He’s in touch with the athlete of today because he’s young enough to remember and old enough to go to the next level,” Woodrum said of Armstrong, who instructs players at the Shenandoah Valley Baseball-Softball Academy in Bridgewater.
Woodrum said five candidates were interviewed for the coaching job – not four as previously reported – and only one had head coaching experience, though not in baseball.
That candidate was not Armstrong, but TA felt that his background and unique traits more than compensated for any resume shortcomings.
“I’m pretty fresh in the coaching aspect of it, but I’ve been around baseball my whole life,” said Armstrong, who pitched at Ohio State through 2012 after redshirting his junior season due to a shoulder injury. “I don’t think that will be a problem.”
Certainly, Armstrong understands the environment and the challenge of taking over the most successful baseball program in the area having played for the Knights, who are 860-280-2 all-time since forming in 1956 with a state-record six Group AA state championships. TA won the very first Group AA title in 1971 as listed in the Virginia High School League record book.
Armstrong helped win TA’s most recent state title in 2007 under coach Richie Anderson, who had just succeeded Bill Buracker that season.
“I don’t want to go in there and run off all my stats,” Armstrong said. “It’s not about me anymore. It’s their turn to do what TA is known for doing, and I just want to be there to help facilitate that.”
Woodrum said he expects bringing in a decorated athlete like Armstrong will bring some added excitement to the dugout.
“He’s got a lot of fun about him,” Woodrum said. “That was the thing that was kind of interesting about Andrew when he played ball. He was so competitive, but he had so much fun doing it. It’s just unusual. A lot of kids who are just so terribly competitive are just so uptight. Andrew wasn’t like that. He was very loose. I think he did a nice job keeping his teammates loose.”
Mike Bocock, a former high school coach Harrisonburg and Stonewall Jackson, endorsed his stepson’s hiring on Monday night. Bocock said Armstrong – the son of Marvin Armstrong and Martha Bocock – assisted him last summer as a pitching coach for the Waynesboro Generals in the Valley Baseball League.
After playing minor league ball for the Rockford Aviators in Illinois, Armstrong married Ashely Armstrong last October and currently works as an agricultural sales associate at Rockingham Cooperative in Harrisonburg.
“I knew once my time was done playing that I didn’t want to stay away from the game,” Armstrong said. “I’ve been teaching lessons and helping Mike down at the Apple. I was just drawn to coaching. What better place to start than Turner Ashby?”