A legacy left on the field by a former Circleville Post 134 player will carry into the future following a ceremony on Saturday to remember Rusty Shull Jr., who was tragically killed last November in an automobile accident.
“Rusty changed our program,” Post 134 coach Jeff Lanman said. “We had turned the corner and were becoming a winning program through the hard work of our kids and coaches in the program, but Rusty brought one of the last elements we were missing — toughness.
“Rusty made our program tough and played with toughness on every pitch, every play and in every inning, no matter the score or how hot it was or how tired he was. The example he set rubbed off on our other players and has continued forward in our program.”
Shull Jr., a 2014 graduate of Circleville High School, was honored prior to a doubleheader against Portsmouth Post 23 with a moving ceremony on the school’s baseball field. His No. 16 jersey was officially retired by the program, with Lanman handing the jersey to his father, Rusty Sr.
“I wanted to do it against Portsmouth, because of the respect I have for their program and how much (former Post 23 coach) Jack Branon helped me in building our program here in Pickaway County,” Lanman said. “I brought Rusty in as a young pup to catch against Portsmouth and he immediately threw out their fastest kid trying to steal second base.
“I had been talking to Jack about Rusty and he came over to me and said you were wrong. He doesn’t have a cannon for an arm, he has a rocket launcher.”
Lanman related a few other stories about Shull Jr. and his relationship with the former catcher.
“I first met Rusty when he was 13 and when he wasn’t playing on one of our younger teams, he was around our dugout soaking in everything he could about the game. He loved the game of baseball,” Lanman said. “He had a good teacher in his dad and I also worked a lot with him.
“Rusty was the toughest kid on our team and he led by how hard he worked. He was a tireless worker and the kids saw that and they knew they’d better work hard, as well. Rusty, when he needed to, would say something and be vocal, but he let his work ethic and how he played the game set the tone for being a leader on our team.”
The Panthers won regional titles in 2011, 2012 and 2013 and finished as state runner-up in 2013.
“Almost all of those kids came up through our program and we knew that was going to be a special team, because of how hard those kids worked, how they enjoyed being around each other and how much they loved the game of baseball,” said Lanman of his state runner-up team. “I’d have to kick them off the field after practice or tell them we were going home after working in the cage during the winter. That’s how much they loved the game.”
Lanman briefly touched on his relationship with Shull Jr. when he faced adversity during his senior year at Circleville.
“Rusty had to battle some adversity in his senior year of high school and own up to a mistake he made and be a man,” he said. “I told him I was disappointed in what happened, but I’d stand by him and help him if he owned up to it and he did. He grew from that adversity and became a better man.”
The Lanman family also announced they were establishing a $1,000 scholarship to be rewarded annually to a Panther who has been in the program for at least three years. Recent Teays Valley graduate Nick Salyer is the first recipient of the blue spikes scholarship.
“Michele (Lanman’s wife) and I were trying to think of a way to honor Rusty and do something for one of our players and we were listening one night when they were talking about the Golden Spikes Award on ESPN and decided to do a scholarship along the same lines,” Lanman said. “The honoree plays hard on every pitch and every play, plays the game the right way, puts his teammates first, works hard every day and accepts both success and failure in the right way.
“Nick and Rusty are similar in terms of their love for the game and how hard they work.”