SHELBY TOWNSHIP — Jason Gendreau has spent more than a quarter of his life leading the Utica Eisenhower baseball team.
After a bittersweet goodbye, he now leaves the program to helm Pontiac Notre Dame Prep.
“Opportunity doesn’t always have the best timing,” Gendreau said. “But this is an opportunity that I’ve always wanted to have. Notre Dame Prep is one of the few schools that I’d ever want to be at besides Eisenhower.”
In his 10 years as skipper, Ike recorded 219 victories, four district championships and reached three regional finals. Nine All-State players played under Gendreau, with eight participating in the annual Michigan High School Baseball Coaches Association East/West All-Star Game at Comerica Park.
Two of Gendreau’s players earned the highest individual honor, being named to the Dream Team, including Jacob Raymond this season.
“I left a program that is not only extremely talented, but I left a group of incoming seniors that meant a lot to me,” Gendreau said. “It is never an easy year to make a decision like this, especially a few of the kids have been with me since they were freshmen. We took a good program that was already established and we raised the bar even higher.”
Gendreau’s entire varsity and JV coaching staffs will be joining him in the move to Pontiac.
“From a staff standpoint, we’re very proud of what we did there, and we still care a lot about what we accomplished,” Gendreau said. “We pride ourselves on knowing we left the program better than how we obtained it.”
Gendreau’s last game in the Eisenhower dugout was a 1-0 loss to Rochester High in a Division 1 district semifinal. At that point, he still thought he would be embarking on his 11th season with the Eagles.
“To be honest, when the season ended I had zero inclination that I wouldn’t be back,” Gendreau said. “Everything took place in the days ensuing that defeat. It had to be the right fit, and it turned out to be.”
Longtime NDP Athletic Director Betty Wroubel praised her latest hire, and is thrilled to see what he can do for the Irish.
“We are very excited to add a coach that not only has the experience and success of Coach Gendreau, but also someone who we feel fits into our mission as a Catholic Marist school,” Wroubel said. “He and his staff built a program at Eisenhower over the past decade that was consistently viewed as one of the best in the area. He comes very highly recommended to us, and we believe his leadership, passion and vision can help bring our program to another level.”
Gendreau expressed excitement at getting to build up a program once again. Additionally, jumping from a public powerhouse to an independent school allows for newfound flexibility as a coach.
“It is great to be part of a tradition-rich and very unique campus where we now have the opportunity to make baseball extremely relevant where it hasn’t been,” Gendreau said. “That is an exciting challenge. I have full control of scheduling, getting to play who I want and where I want. I can be creative, playing in different stadiums and have a lot of fun with it.”
Prep’s administration has promised Gendreau coming investments to the athletic infrastructure, something that allows him to think long term.
“Big improvements are on the horizon for the athletic facilities, which are already outstanding,” Gendreau said. “I’m 38 years old, and I look at that when I’m 45 I can be working in a place that has facilities that are second to none, and I can be a part of the process that builds it from the ground up. I can help to build that legacy and tradition.”
The cherry on top for Gendreau will be getting a chance to wear the green and gold. Growing up in western Michigan, Gendreau became a diehard fan of University of Notre Dame football. He still owns season tickets to see the Fighting Irish.
“I still make it down to about three football games a season. It is a real nostalgic thing to be able to represent the name and colors of a childhood favorite,” he said. “It is exciting not only in name, but in culture and what the program itself has to offer, and it has a lot of advantages from a personal family standpoint.”
Gendreau has three elementary-aged children, and he and his wife had been planning to send them to a school like NDP.
“All three kids will go in the system, and that was a big part of this decision as well,” Gendreau said. “Now being a staff member there, it makes it easier.”
He will still keep his day job, teaching business at Eisenhower. His wife also teaches right next door at Malow Junior High. Gendreau said he is pleased that he will still get to see many of his old players on a daily basis in the classroom, and he only left for what he described as the perfect opportunity.
“Eisenhower was a place I could’ve stayed at forever; Notre Dame Prep was the only kind of job that could make me leave,” Gendreau said. “It had to be a completely unique situation, because the Eisenhower baseball community is fantastic and it wasn’t an easy decision. I’m extremely humbled and excited for this new challenge.”