JaColby Anderson’s journey leads to South Dakota High School Baseball Hall of Fame
When you ask JaColby Anderson about when he started playing baseball, he’ll tell you that his passion for the game started at a young age. But it wasn’t until his freshman year of high school that he realized how far the game could take him.
JaColby was on a trip to go visit his brother Curtis Anderson, who was playing at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. After watching his brother play several teams from around the area, JaColby attended one of his practices. Once the team had finished, several players invited JaColby to take some swings in the batting cage.
JaColby went about his business as usual, but when he walked out of the cage he noticed that several members of the team had gathered around to watch his impromptu batting practice session.
“They were like, ‘Hey dude, you’re going to be a great baseball player,” JaColby recalled. “...That was kind of the turning point for me. It gave me a lot of confidence [and] a lot of hope that I was going to be a good baseball player as long as I continued to work hard.”
That moment opened a lot of doors for JaColby, who went on to play all over the world after graduating from Brookings in 2005. But his high school career in Brookings was a special one and it earned him a spot in this year’s induction class for the South Dakota High School Baseball Hall of Fame.
JaColby will be inducted prior to the Class A high school championship game at Sioux Falls Stadium on Sunday afternoon but his path to this point began all the way back in Brookings, following Curtis around and playing in neighborhood pickup games at Southside Park.
“He paved the way for me,” JaColby said of Curtis. “He was always the first to kind of get noticed and coaches recognized his ability to play baseball. Then, of course, the little brother followed along everywhere he went and they saw the abilities that I had in baseball. In reality, I just always wanted to be like my brother. I always wanted what he had and that really inspired me.”
JaColby and Curtis would bike across town to Southside Park on a daily basis during the summer. Some days they would play whiffle ball. Somedays they would just hit ground balls to second base. While Curtis’s friends were skeptical about having a kid four to five years younger than them force his way into games, it helped JaColby learn how to compete.
It wasn’t soon after that JaColby was hooked on baseball. He played organized games in the Brookings system, bypassed T-ball, and played fastpitch as a first-grader competing against second-graders. The more he played, the more people took notice. That included Rob Hirrschoff, who was a couple of years older than Curtis and eventually coached JaColby in Legion baseball.
“You could tell from a young age that he loved the game,” Hirrschoff recalled. “I think a lot of times that goes hand-in-hand with guys that succeed – especially in baseball. It’s the love for the game and putting in the work even though it doesn’t feel like work. I think JaColby was the epitome of that…[because] you would always see JaColby out there at the field.”
JaColby played on the JV team as a freshman and pitched regularly for the Bobcats’ varsity team as a sophomore. An injury during the final weeks of the season forced him to take reps at catcher and that performance helped JaColby become a regular in the lineup.
JaColby spent time at shortstop, third base and catcher over the next two seasons and was an anchor for the Bobcats. There were some days when he played all over the diamond, pitching a complete game on one end of a doubleheader, cementing his status as one of the best players in the state.
“I think that kind of speaks to what kind of ball player he was,” Hirrschoff said of JaColby’s versatility. “...He was clearly one of the best players in the state both in the spring and in the summer. Looking back to all my time coaching [Legion baseball], he is one of the better, more well-rounded players that I’ve coached.”
JaColby was eventually recruited to pitch for South Dakota State, but a change in the NCAA’s academic requirements shortly after his graduation in 2005 forced him to enroll at a junior college. This led him to Ridgewater College — a junior college in Wilmar, Minn. — in part for the opportunity to pitch and play third base.
JaColby was named to the USA Athletes International Team after his freshman season and his travels with that team included a trip to Australia before he returned home for another season with the Warriors. He then committed to play baseball at Augustana University in Sioux Falls after his sophomore season.
While JaColby said he didn’t have his best season at the plate during his first year with the Vikings, he was still effective on the mound. That led him to the Rochester Honkers of the Northwoods League — a wooden-bat summer league reserved for collegiate players.
JaColby signed a pair of 10-day contracts with the Honkers and pitched well in a set-up role. The Honkers offered JaColby the chance to remain with the team for the rest of the season, but it was a trip to Thunder Bay, Ontario where JaColby opted to take his career in a different direction.
“I kind of realized that I wanted to get back home,” JaColby said. “By continuing to play amateur baseball and getting reps behind the plate and the hitter, I knew I could still pitch. Walking away from Rochester wasn’t going to hinder me at all and as a matter of fact, I thought it was going to benefit me.”
JaColby returned to Augustana for his senior season and was offered the opportunity to play for the USA Athletes International Team again in Europe. JaColby played so well on the tour he was offered a contract to play professional baseball in France but he declined as he looked to complete his teaching degree and settle down.
“At that time…I was done with the grind of baseball,” JaColby said. “I was ready to focus on my career in education and ready to get into teaching and coaching at that time of my life too. I was also ready to settle down, start a family and things like that.”
JaColby wrapped up his baseball career and is now a special education and social skills teacher in the Brookings school district, but he found a way to stay connected to the sports he played growing up.
A former hockey player, JaColby coached the girls’ hockey team in Willmar for five seasons. He’s spent the last two seasons as the head coach for the Brookings Rangers girls varsity program and they won the state championship this past season. He also serves as the offensive coordinator for the Bobcats football team with a goal of helping the next wave of athletes reach their dreams.
“When we were kids we always had the dream of being a professional athlete,” JaColby said. “...Of course when reality hit me and it was time to hang that part of my career up, the only way I could give back to the opportunities that were provided to me to play the sports was through coaching.”
While JaColby has been busy coaching, he still finds his way back to the diamond. In 2021, JaColby, who is considered legally deaf with mild hearing loss, won the National Softball Association for the Deaf Championship alongside Curtis while playing for the Bluesox, a Midwest deaf softball team. JaColby also continues to play baseball as a player-manager for the Brookings Cubs amateur team.
But it was his career as a high school player that stood out and it’s something that has earned him a spot in the Hall of Fame along with Sioux Falls Lincoln’s Griffin Lockwood-Powell (Class of 2016) and Nolan Burchill (2016), Bon Homme’s Chase Kortan (2017), Yankton’s Travis Devine (2004), Sioux Falls Christian’s Spencer Koelewyn (2017), O’Gorman’s Jason Smith (2004), Mitchell’s Jed Schmidt (2017) and the 2017 Sioux Falls Roosevelt team.
“I was very excited and very honored to accept the award,” JaColby said. “Knowing the other guys that I’ve competed with…it’s just an honor to be one of the names that gets to go alongside the other members who are part of that Hall of Fame. It’s something that I can share with my family and friends and it’s just exciting.”