From six wins in his first season to two state runner-up finishes in the past three years, it’s safe to say Mercer County baseball coach Jeremy Shope has been successful in building the Titans into one of the Commonwealth’s best programs. Before he was creating one of the state’s elite teams, much of the foundation for Shope’s success was laid years earlier in Harlan County.
Shope attended Woodland Hills in fifth- through seventh-grade before transferring to Harlan as an eighth-grader. He played baseball, basketball and football for the Green Dragons as a freshman in 1989 before moving to Lebanon, Tenn., to live with his mother for the remainder of his high school career.
“It’s amazing what a little town in eastern Kentucky can do. I never forget my roots and my time in Harlan. There is something about the mountains you long for, even though you aren’t there,” Shope said. “I enjoy going back when I can. It is hard to get back sometimes, but something I will always treasure.”
During his time in Harlan County, Shope lived with his father Frank Shope. It was during that time that the younger Shope said he learned several valuable lessons from his father.
“My dad was a coal miner at the time. He work hard, and I could see his eyes and teeth when he got home. It motivated me,” he said. “I credit a lot to my father. He never let us make excuses. He made us work for all we got, and never let us come home and complain about a teacher or a coach.”
Shope graduated from Lebanon High School before going on to play baseball at Cumberland University, Tenn. After graduating college, Shope moved to Mercer County at the request of a friend.
“I played baseball with a guy in college. He was from Danville, and upon graduation he got a teaching and head coaching job. He asked me if I wanted to go to Harrodsburg where they had a teaching job and assistant coaching position available. I was single at the time, so I said why not,” Shope recalled.
Despite his background in sports, Shope said he was initially uncertain if he wanted to pursue a career in athletics.
“I wasn’t sure if I wanted to teach and coach, but I came and fell in love with it,” he said.
Shope was an assistant during his first season, before taking over as the head coach the following year. In his first season, the Titans won just six games all season. Shope led his team to the regional tournament in his second season on the bench, and the Titans have been back ever since.
“We’re not a small school, but we are a small school compared to some schools around us. I credit (the success) to a lot of hard work, to the players and the coaching staff,” Shope said.
Shope’s most successful seasons have come recently. He has led Mercer County to 81 wins and three straight 12th Region championships in the past three years.
“It has taken several years to build the program. Once we won a regional championship and got to the state tournament. It was amazing where that takes your program. The guys see that it is doable and they can accomplish it,” Shope said. “I am so glad that I coached several years before all this has happened. It really makes you appreciate it.”
Shope resides in Harrodsburg with his wife Kelly and daughters Kelsey and Lindsey.