Hawks on the Horizon: Coach Dane Wisneski and the Horizon Baseball Program
Coach Dane Wisneski is entering his second season as the Head Coach of Horizon Hawks baseball. Horizon High School opened its doors in Fall 2021, as a relief school for Windermere High School. This part of Orange County has long been considered rich in baseball talent and the fast growing population only adds to the pool. Windermere High School has been a perennial contender and have gone deep into the state playoffs several times in their short history.
Coach Wisneski has a big task, but a tremendous opportunity before him to develop and grow the Horizon program. Recently, I had an opportunity to learn more about Coach Wisneski, his background and his take on Horizon Hawks baseball headed into their second season.
South Florida Roots and Early Accomplishments
BK: Coach, tell me a little about your background in baseball. What are some of your earliest baseball memories and how you developed a passion for the game? Where did you grow up and where did you play ball? Give us a little synopsis of your playing days.
DW: I grew up in Jupiter, Florida, one of four kids. We were home schooled when we were younger, so when school work was done, we’d head out into the yard and play. Soccer was actually the first organized sport I played. Soccer allowed me to burn off all the energy I had as a kid, and that helped me understand the team dynamic and working as a group.
Growing up on the diamond, I started playing with my older brother’s rec league team that was coached by my dad. I always was the youngest, but I think that helped to build my work ethic and determination. As I continued to progress into travel baseball and high school, I always had the dream of playing college and then professional baseball. In high school, I was a three year letterman on the field and played on a state ranked Palm Beach Gardens High School team each of those three years as well.
My first two years playing college were at Daytona State College before I went on to play Division 1 ball at Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU). There I got to experience a pretty high level of competition, as we played all the big schools in the state and in the Atlantic Sun Conference.
BK: After your playing career at FGCU, you stayed on as a volunteer assistant coach. What did you learn from coaching at the D1 college level and how did you apply that to high school?
DW: Yes, I think staying on to coach at the college level was a valuable experience. I was able to see and coach the game at a higher level for a longer period of time. This does have its benefits as a high school coach. As a player and coach at the college level, I think I am better able to identify what it takes to compete at the next level and what they are looking for in players.
However, coaching at FGCU was an unpaid role, so I had to make some career choices that made more sense. This is where I started to pursue getting into education. I figured I’d be able to continue to pursue my ambitions in coaching along with making a living in a school environment.
BK: So you leave Florida Gulf Coast and start coaching at the high school level. First, at Tavares High School and then at Orlando University High School. Tell us about your experiences there and what made you decide to pursue the position at Horizon?
DW: Starting out at Tavares, I was an assistant under Danny Light, and he helped me to understand what it takes to create a culture that doesn’t stop when the players leave the field. It was part of who these young people are day in and day out. Coming from college, you have ideas and coaching values that help create culture, but being able to adapt that to the high school level was something that I needed to learn. My time at Tavares definitely helped me with that.
I feel like as a coach, you always have the push to have your own program, so when the University job came open, I decided it was time to see if I had what it takes to be a head coach. This move was one that brought me closer to home and allowed me to incorporate my baseball knowledge on my own accord. The three years I spent at University were great, as it helped me to become more organized with the behind the scenes part of coaching, as well as on the diamond as a better in-game manager.
High School athletics are a unique thing, so even though I enjoyed UHS and made some great relationships while on campus, I knew I wanted the opportunity and freedom to help create a brand new program. I wanted to build something that would allow young people the opportunity to grow and develop for years to come, and that was something I saw with the opportunity at Horizon. I believe with the administration and leadership at Horizon, we certainly have the opportunity to build a program that is a great stepping stone for young people and their future successes both on the diamond and in life.
Landing at Horizon and Building a Program
BK: What was it like putting together a team for the first season? You did not have seniors at Horizon in year one. What were the challenges? And what are your takeaways from the 2022 season?
DW: It was certainly a new challenge putting together our first team from scratch. As a new relief school, all seniors remained at Windermere High School for their final year. So our pool was only freshmen, sophomores and juniors. We had just 21 kids tryout for the team and we took 18 of them. Though we had talented and hard working young men, it is always a climb when you start with smaller numbers than other schools in the area.
We experienced some injuries early on in the season which put some strain on our roster. We did not have enough interest in 2022 to field a JV team. Hopefully that will change in 2023. While we may have only won five games, our growth was evident over the course of the season. Once we earned our first victory, we started keeping games closer. I think our team gained confidence over time and we got some of our key players back from injuries. This allowed us to win our first district playoff game and gain some key experience traveling for our next district match-up as well.
Overall, I think there’s a lot to build on from our first season.
BK: Looking ahead, what are the opportunities headed into Spring 2023? You guys will host tryouts in late January. What are your expectations for Hawks baseball in the program’s second season?
DW: As I mentioned, I think our pool of players will grow in 2023. We will have a lot of our returning players who have gained a year of experience. And hopefully, we will have enough interest to build a JV team as well. This will allow us to build a stronger Varsity team over time.
Our administration is very supportive of the program. We are working on a few field improvements, including building batting cages and expanding the dugouts. Over Thanksgiving break, we had a successful two day camp with a bunch of local kids in the community.
You always want to build on your previous season, so something that my staff and I will be focused on is to continue to create a culture that is focused on hard work and doing things the right way day in and day out. I believe the school and the community will see an improved program. They will see a group of young men that are extremely hard working and will be the cornerstone of what Horizon High School Baseball will be 5, 10, 15 years down the road.
BK: Outside of your coaching role at Horizon, you’re also a teacher. This is true of some coaches out there, but certainly not all. What are the advantages of teaching at the school where you coach?
Being able to be on campus is certainly a benefit. I am able to interact and help a greater number of young people who are all looking to grow into beneficial members of the community. I also believe that being on campus allows me to create more positivity and create more of a buzz for the baseball program as well.
Like most coaches, I don’t think my job is simply to coach. I don’t just see these young men for three hours a day, and then move on. Being able to see them in the halls, in the classroom, and in the community is as important as seeing their growth on the diamond. I have had the pleasure of playing for and coaching with some great coaches who have always put a premium on relationships. I enjoy being able to help young people create a daily routine that enables future successes.
Commitment to Coaching
BK: When you are not coaching or teaching at Horizon, you’re coaching with the Orlando Scorpions travel organization. The Scorpions are a long established program with affiliated teams outside of Florida as well. The goal of the Scorpions and other programs like them, is to develop ballplayers who want to compete at the college level and beyond. What is your coaching role at the Scorpions? And what makes the Scorpions different from some of the other similar programs out there?
Yea, I love coaching with the Orlando Scorpions. I have met, worked with, and learned from some incredible coaches these past four years while being on their staff. Having experienced the culture and the care that this organization has for its players is awesome. I know these ball players are putting themselves in a position to learn and become the players they want to be. When you find a coach or a group of coaches that you can learn from, that really work for you and work to help you reach that next level in your baseball journey, that has such an incredible impact on a young man. I believe that is something the Orlando Scorpions provide and will continue to provide for years to come.
There are some really well established youth baseball organizations in the greater Orlando area. Coaching high school baseball allows you to get to know other coaches that work with other summer programs. At the end of the day, it shouldn’t just be the name on the front of your jersey, but the relationships you create. As a player, you want to know your coaches have your best interest in mind. When a player finds that right fit it is really exciting to see them flourish on the diamond. I believe the Scorpions have provided that kind of environment for our players.
The Season Ahead
The Horizon Hawks baseball team will host tryouts January 23-25 on their campus baseball fields. As Coach Wisneski puts their squad together, we are looking forward to seeing what’s in store for Hawks baseball in 2023. The next chapter in Central Florida baseball history is right around the corner!