Born and bred in Iola, Ryan Latta now has his dream job as the Iola High Mustangs head baseball coach.
Latta took the reins from Mark Percy who had been in charge of the program since its beginning in 2005. With Percy’s retirement this spring, it only made sense for his top assistant to succeed him.
“I’m really happy,” Latta said. “I really care about baseball in this community, and after playing here for four years and coaching the last four years, it is really what I like doing. I have a passion for baseball.”
Ever since he was a kid, baseball has had a special place in Latta’s heart. In fact, it was a cornerstone of his youth.
“It was something that Dad has always loved, and is something he passed down to me and my brothers. We played it every summer, my brothers, friends and I. We played all sorts of games in the backyard involving baseball.”
Latta competed in the rec baseball/softball league for his dad, Randy.
For Latta, a day without baseball was half-lived.
“Any time it would rain and the games were canceled, I would just lose it,” Latta said. “I couldn’t take it because I loved being out there so much.”
Latta graduated from Iola High School in 2010, starting three years on the Mustangs varsity squad. Still growing as a program, the Mustangs achieved back-to-back over .500 seasons in Latta’s junior and senior seasons.
Latta earned first-team All-League honors in his final season with the Mustangs before attending Allen Community College for one year to play ball. After one season at ACC, Latta headed to the University of Kansas to obtain his bachelor’s degree.
Latta admits coaching baseball never crossed his mind until a ring from his old coach.
“Growing up, I always knew that I loved the game, and I think coaching is the next best thing to playing,” Latta said. “I’m just thankful Coach Percy gave me a call four years ago to be on the staff. If it wasn’t for that, I don’t think I would have gotten into coaching high school baseball.”
In his four years as an assistant, Latta has witnessed the highest of highs with the Mustangs 4A-II state championship in 2018. The key to becoming a championship program is investing quality time with your players — a trait he learned from Percy.
“He really cares about every one of those guys he coaches,” Latta said. “He has a relationship with them, patience, and is always extremely fair. He has a ton of experience throughout the years coaching football and playing baseball in college. He knows how to inspire kids without knocking them into the ground.”
“It is kind of just getting passed on to each age group,” Latta said. “I will see kids hitting off the tee on Facebook, and their parents tell me they aren’t pushing them to do it. They just want to do it. It is awesome, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.”
Latta knows he will have to set his own set of ground rules. As a 28-year-old, it’s in Latta’s favor that he has the ability to relate to his players in ways older coaches might not.
And though friendly relationships allow for a more relaxed environment, Latta wants his players to understand that Iola’s baseball standards will remain high.
“If you want to have a good culture, it comes down to the small things like running off the field, putting up equipment after games,” Latta said. “Coach always knew what to say in certain situations. He knew when to joke around, but when it was time to get to business, it was time to get to business. I know a bunch of the kids, and have watched them grow up.”
Percy has full confidence that Latta will keep the Mustang baseball cruiser at full steam ahead.
“I think he is prepared,” Percy said. “I think he has learned a lot, and he has the right mentality. He has what it takes. The biggest thing for him is to have confidence in himself and to not doubt himself. He is good enough to do it, so he has to go out there and do it and not listen to what anybody says. I think he is ready, and he has told me he is ready.”
Latta serves as the assistant recreation director for the Iola Recreation Department. Along with his many different tasks relating to his position, organizing the summer’s rec baseball/softball league is one of them.
The time spent is well worth it, as it gives Latta the opportunity to scout Iola’s future ballplayers. With success for Mustang baseball in the rearview mirror, Latta believes more triumphs are on the journey ahead.
“I see in rec ball how it is being passed down to each age group, and it’s awesome,” Latta said. “I’ll look on Facebook and see kids hitting off the tee, and their parents tell me don’t force them but they just go out there and do it. I wouldn’t want it any other way.”