Baseball has been a big part of Iola’s history — especially in recent memory. Iola High’s Mustangs took second at the Class 4A-II State Baseball Tournament in 2012, just eight years after the introduction of the sport at the high school. Also making a mark on Iola is the American Legion AA Post 15, with back-to-back state championships in 2012 and 2013.
Several Iola families have been a focal point for that success. None more so than the Lattas. From each of those teams listed above at least one of the three Latta boys were involved.
Ryan, 23, Jarred, 21, and Trent, 19, have been one of many families to grow up through the American Legion program. Baseball is in their blood.
“It’s up there pretty high,” Randy Latta, their father, said. “I always loved baseball when I was growing up. I would get up at 6:30 a.m. and get a rubber ball out, throw it against the garage. I woke the neighbors up a couple times and got in trouble for that.”
A lot of the credit for Post 15’s rejuvenation in the mid-2000s goes to Dick Perkins. Randy emphasized how much Perkins helped the fledgling program — there was a roster shortage at the time. Randy said Perkins reignited public interest in the Legion program by going door-to-door and requesting donations.
Due to Perkins’ efforts, the Lattas — as well as the Hefferns, Siggs, Ericksons and many other names embedded in Iola’s DNA — had the chance to play baseball against some of the best teams and players in the state.
Ryan, the oldest of the Latta bunch, played for four years and went to the state Legion tournament in 2011. Jarred and Trent each played five years and were part of the 2012 and 2013 state championship teams.
“That’s what we did,” Randy said. “We didn’t take any vacations, our bank account showed it. Especially in the earlier years when all three of them were involved with traveling baseball.”
Randy said his sons have always had a competitiveness between them.
“There is that battle between them. That’s the way it was growing up. My parents have a farm across town, right across from Hibbett Sports,” Randy said. “If you would come down there sometime, there would be a lot of arguments because they’d be playing. They were really competitive and I probably had a little to do with that because I was, too. But, they love the game.”
Although Jarred and Ryan no longer play competitively they are still both very involved. Both work for Iola’s Recreation Department and umpire recreation baseball and softball games. Both also work with a couple of traveling 14-and-under and 12-and-under teams.
Jarred is now a coach on the Legion team this season — the final year that Trent is eligible to play.
“When we found out that Trent would be able to play for a fifth year, Jarred said, ‘I want to help,’” Randy said. “At first I thought it would be kind of a cat fight. But, I think it’s worked out really well.”
Jarred works as assistant to head coach Roland Weir, with his biggest contribution waving in runs as the third base coach.
“I never played a summer without a brother on the team, so I always had that going,” Jarred said. “Ryan was more of a lead by example player and doesn’t talk as much as Trent does.”
Jarred is enjoying his time as a coach on the team.
“The good thing about coaching is that it takes you back to the moments you had playing,” Jarred said. “You see how the kids feel and go back to when you were in their shoes. You see them succeed. You see a kid that comes up in the bottom of the seventh and gets a walk-off hit and his teammates celebrate with him.
“You see that and want to feel that again. That’s part of the reason why you coach. It’s the closest you can get to playing without actually playing.”
This is Trent’s last season on the team. He currently pitches for Neosho County Community College and has one more year left of eligibility at the school.
“I know I’m going to have a hard time because this is the last year one of my sons will be on legion,” Randy said. “My wife says I won’t know what to do. Hopefully I can help some of these other kids and keep baseball going in Iola.”
Patty, married to Randy for 24 years, has been an integral part of keeping everyone on track.
“She’s a real trooper. She helps with all the traveling, washing the uniforms and making sure everyone was where they needed to be. I’m just living the dream being around baseball,” Randy said. “She loves it as much as I do. I know the kids sometimes get a little bit tired, but this is what they’ve always liked to do.”
Although Randy was never officially a coach on the team, he helped out where he could. He’d help throw batting practice and he’s always been on the other side of the backstop cheering for the team.
“Randy is the guy that in a 12-0 game that we’re leading, will be yelling, ‘Get up guys! What are you guys doing!” Jarred said.
Randy is famously known as the “Icy-Hot Man,” to the team. He always has the salve with him to patch up a player.
Clint Heffern, 21, was a teammate on the 2012 Post 15 team with Jarred. He said the family has always been a part of the team since it got its restart in the mid-2000s by Perkins.
“The legion is good because it helps bring families together and helps the high school team get better,” Heffern said. “It’s a great asset to this community.”
Heffern agreed with Jarred that the team lets kids in the area play against tougher competition.
“It allowed me to play baseball throughout the summer,” Jarred said. “I thought in Legion we would see more pop on the fastball than in high school. There were more games and opportunities to succeed outside of this area, with traveling to tournaments throughout Kansas.”
The American Legion team has helped make Iola synonymous with baseball throughout Kansas. The Lattas, and many other area families, are the reason why.
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