John Vogan: A Coach For All Seasons
One week ago John Vogan's baseball team won the state championship in a truly historic game. But what the Conestoga coach did next may be even more inspiring.
John Vogan doesn’t like to talk about himself. In fact, he’d prefer not to say anything at all when he’s the subject. Instead, Conestoga’s football and baseball coach would more rather talk about the deep-bench player who pinch-ran and scored a key run in a game, or the seldom-used reserve who deflected a third-quarter pass for one of his teams.
Vogan is really the perfect anachronism—a modern-day coach with 1950’s core values of team-first, no shortcuts tolerated, and practice, practice, practice until it’s done right. Above everything, Vogan is about kids, “his kids,” and they are many. Perhaps no team will resonate more with Vogan than his most recent, this wonderful, magical 2011 Conestoga baseball team that won the school’s first-ever PIAA state baseball championship.
On a larger scale, perhaps no one will resonate more with the thousands of student/athletes that have come through Conestoga High School the last 15 years than Vogan. He is Conestoga High School. Their's is an unbreakable bond. You think of Conestoga—you invariably think of John Vogan.
Want a typical Vogan 48 hours?
After the Pioneers won the state title in extra innings last Friday night at Penn State, Vogan and his team came across the state and didn’t arrive back at Conestoga until 3 a.m. Saturday morning. But there was Vogan, a hot shower and an hour of sleep later, back in front of the school at 7 a.m. Saturday to escort a bunch of Pioneer football players to a 7-on-7 passing camp at Downingtown West High School, which didn’t end until around 3 p.m. Vogan wasn’t done. He drove by himself all the way up to Hershey to watch one of his former players, receiver Dexter Bridge, who was playing in the prestigious Big 33 game Saturday night.
Then John Vogan went home. Finally.
The coach is humble, his admirers are many.
You won’t find any quotes from Vogan in this story, because of the countless times he’s said, “It’s not about me, it’s about the kids, they’re the ones that count … It’s not about me, go talk to John, who really came through for us today … Please, I’m okay, talk to Scott, who got us out of a jam in the fifth inning …”
“That’s John,” said Chris Gicking, Conestoga’s offensive coordinator and who’s been with Vogan for 11 years since he became Conestoga’s head football coach. “John asked me if I wanted to go to the Big 33 with him after the passing camp on Saturday, knowing he got home early Saturday morning, and spent a good portion of the day with us. I have two young kids, I couldn’t go with him to Hershey, my wife would kill me. But I remember saying, ‘John, are you out of your mind?’ I didn’t want him to go. I was afraid he’d fall asleep at the wheel on the way home. I know he was working off about two hours of sleep. But he said, ‘No, no, I’ll be okay.’
“This stuff is John’s life. He loves this stuff—and the kids he coaches. What a lot of people don’t see is John’s dedication for all the behind-the-scene things that he does. He spends so many hours at the school, I jokingly ask him if he even goes home. People don’t see that time and commitment. It’s why it bothers me the times John’s not appreciated. John has taken a lot of stuff through the years.
“Each year near the end of summer camp, John likes to take his coaching staff out to dinner, wings and beers on him. He gets a phone call from a parent complaining about something—playing time, something. And camp isn’t even over yet. We haven’t even finalized the team. I’ll ask him if everything is okay, and he always tells me the same thing, ‘Chris, I’m okay, don’t worry about it, just keep coaching.’ It’s why I was thrilled he won the state championship—and I know a lot of other coaches in the area, football and baseball, were thrilled that John won. He’s a very special guy; you don’t find many guys who coach that are as committed as John. He’s about giving, giving, giving.”
Then Gicking recounted another quick story and laughed … Conestoga needed a last-second replacement as the junior varsity girls’ basketball coach last season and one guess who they asked—and at the last hour rescheduled his personal time to do it?
Teacher, Coach, Mentor
Brian Cizek, Scott Williams and Jake Carr all have lifetime keepsakes hanging on their bedroom walls—a state championship gold medal. They all credit Vogan for putting it there.
Cizek, who’s headed to Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri to play baseball, was one of Conestoga’s senior baseball captains this spring. Cizek and Vogan have had a special connection, ever since Vogan put Cizek on the team as a sophomore. In the state championship game, Cizek injured his shoulder and was in excruciating pain. Still, he wasn’t about to come out. He wasn’t about to let his teammates down. He wasn’t about to let Vogan down, either.
“I don’t know what it is, but we’ve always had this connection, it’s hard to put a finger on it, but the best way to put it is that Coach Vogan is just a great human being,” Cizek said. “He’s the kind of coach that always has your back, no matter what. He’s one of a kind in the way he treats people, especially off the field. You want to play for someone like him. I mean how many coaches would let Sonny [DiMartini, who has Down Syndrome] on the bench during games. He has great integrity. I’ve come across many coaches who aren’t like him. That state championship trophy was validation for all the hard work he’s done.”
Williams, a junior catcher who’s already committed to Virginia on a baseball scholarship and who’s now attracting Major League scouts, appreciates Vogan’s fine eye for detail. Williams believes in the simple principal that if you put your work in, that will translate into success on the field. Williams is right in Vogan’s wheelhouse, a workaholic who’s extremely demanding of himself. Like Vogan.
“Coach Vogan makes us work hard and we’re always doing something that helps us get better; he makes us do things that we hate to do, but after you’re done, you’re happy you did it,” Williams said. “He concentrates on the little things that help us win. I also like that he trusts my judgment on how hard I’ll work and he gives some freedom to address the things I need to work on to get better. Coach Vogan is a good people-person. After we lost to Marple Newtown 11-1, he had pizza delivered to the first practice we had after that game. It was kind of funny and I think it helped us come together more as a team. He really does love the school. More than anything, he’s a caring person who always makes sure we get it right before we leave practice.”
Carr looks up at his state championship medal and smiles. As a two-sport athlete in football and baseball, he’s been with Vogan for six seasons between the two. He cites that Conestoga High School has been playing baseball for 85 years—and has one state title, on the team he played for, on the team coached by Vogan.
Carr wasn’t hitting well in the beginning of the season. Vogan could have taken him out of the lineup. He didn’t. It’s something Carr didn’t forget.
“Coach Vogan showed a lot of trust in me,” said Carr, a linebacker on the football team. “He showed a lot of trust in all of us. When we got blown out by Marple Newtown, we could have collapsed, but Coach Vogan didn’t let us. He told us we could run the table from here, or we could pack it up and go home. We had a lot of people turn their backs on us, even in the school. It’s why I can’t tell you how happy I was we won the state championship, for us, and for Coach Vogan. I see the heat he takes and doesn’t deserve, but we have his back. I don’t think it’s fair at all. Coach Vogan has done something no other coach has done in Conestoga history and won a state championship. You can’t take that away. If I’m going into battle, I want all of my teammates with me, and I want Coach Vogan as our leader.”
Praise from the most-invested fans in high school sports
Perhaps the greatest compliment a parent can give a coach is if she allows her child to be coached by them. Colleen Richter has let three of her sons be coached by Vogan in baseball: Stephen, who plays for Delaware, Ryan, who just graduated and is headed to Penn State, and Tommy, who started at second base as a freshman. What Colleen appreciates about Vogan is that he’s all inclusive. Vogan brought everyone to the state title game. The Pioneers had 10 players milling around in the outfield at Penn State before the championship, laughing and having a ball.
Though Colleen feels Vogan’s unbending belief in his players is his greatest asset.
“Coach Vogan believed in my sons and that built a confidence factor,” Colleen said. “I remember when Coach Vogan put Stephen in as a sophomore to pitch against Penncrest. He struggled a bit and I thought that was it, Stephen would never pitch again. A few games later, Stephen was back in against Upper Darby and did well. Coach Vogan didn’t give up on Stephen, and he was just a sophomore. That’s how my boys benefited from playing for Coach Vogan. The kids don’t get down on themselves because Coach Vogan won’t let them get down on themselves. When you sum it up, it’s the relationship with his young men and how they play for him, and they play for him. Coach Vogan makes it easy.”
John Vogan doesn’t like to talk about himself. He can deflect, ignore, or simply walk away when he's the subject that's broached. But, there are plenty who happily will talk for him and about him starting with "his kids." The coach will tell you his kids won the championship. His kids will tell you they could not have done it without Coach Vogan.