The situation was certainly unique and rare, with a brother coaching a brother on first a high-school team then, a short time later, a summer baseball squad. But the relationship between the two remained solid.
When Mitch Mendler was named the head baseball coach at private Flint Hill School early this year at just age 23, one of the players he inherited was his younger brother Jason Mendler, a senior outfielder, leadoff hitter and one of the springtime squad’s best players. Mitch Mendler had been an assistant coach, with Jason on that high-school squad, the previous season under Tom Verbanic.
Then, this past summer seasons, Mitch Mendler, now 24, also took over for Verbanic as the head coach of the Rough Riders during the Northern Virginia College League summer season, where he also had been an assistant. Jason Mendler, 19, also was on that team.
Would the unique situation result in problems between siblings, or cause friction on the team? The two recently discussed the situation and each agreed the answer was no, and that they would gladly share the experience again. They said the time together on the field only enhanced their brotherly bond.
“I would call it a privilege to play under my brother and what he brought to the table every day in leading the teams,” Jason Mendler said. “He knew how to motivate me, and I was already familiar with his coaching style from when Mitch was an assistant.”
Mitch Mendler said the brother-to-brother relationship never got in the way and there were no awkward moments, with each other or the rest of the team.
“It was definitely a unique and an unforgettable experience, especially for my first year as a head coach,” Mitch Mendler said.
The head coach added that any time possible stressful situations came up, he talked things over with his assistant Flint Hill coaches. Mitch Mendler, a former baseball player himself at Flint Hill, said listening to his brother helped him better understand situations from a player and student perspective.
“It allowed the communication to be easier,” Mitch Mendler said.
Mitch Mendler added that being the head coach may have helped his brother “break out a little more” and improve as a player.
As a team, Flint Hill won a regular-season conference title this past season and finished 17-8 overall. Jason Mendler, who will play in college at High Point University in North Carolina, was a big part of that success. He fueled the offense by batting .388 with five home runs and 12 stolen bases.
Also when on the field, the two explained there were multiple funny occasions when it was assumed by opposing coaches and players that Mitch Mendler was Jason’s father, not brother. An easy assumption, since fathers often coach their sons and daughters in many sports.
“I see you have your son hitting leadoff,” one coach said.
When told otherwise, many would offer how they thought that must be the “coolest” and an “unbelievable” experience.
Verbanic was not surprised the brothers got along well in the situation.
“Mitch is very mature for his age, and they are from a great family,” Verbanic said. “With family, you have to separate when you walk on the field, so you can’t treat them harder or worse. They both understood that.”
Mitch and Jason Mendler said the positive experience continued during the short month-long summer season with the young Rough Riders team.
The brothers now joke about how they often will likely laugh about their unique experience for many years.