By STEVE KRAH
Long after the last out, Lea Selvey can be found tending to a plot of land he knows very well.
Selvey drags, edges and waters until his favorite baseball field is just so.
After all, the game is in his blood and this diamond bears his father’s name.
The Patriots play on Don E. Selvey Field — a facility built from scratch by its namesake with his building trades students after the school was opened in the mid-1970’s as part of a consolidation bringing together Bryant, Dunkirk, Pennville, Portland and Redkey.
Don Selvey started his baseball coaching career long before the IHSAA state tournament came along in 1967 and was a head baseball coach for the Green Township Tigers, Gray Redbirds and Redkey Wolves. Green Township became part of Monroe Central in 1958, Gray part of Redkey in 1965 and Redkey part of Jay County in 1975.
“Those are all trivia questions now,” says Lea Selvey, a member of the last Redkey graduating class in 1975 who served as Jay County assistant to Ted Habegger (who later served as the Patriots athletic director) before becoming head coach and employing his father as one of his assistants. “I truly have a passion for the game of baseball and come from a family that loves the game as well. The games themselves are a blast, but I truly have enjoyed the friendships and stories that have been made due to the game.”
Selvey has welcomed the opportunity to work with students as a biology and health teacher and as a coach. Besides baseball, he has been a boys basketball assistant, girls basketball head coach and currently helps out with the cross country program.
“I can be their coach and I can also be their mentor,” says Selvey. “I try to instill in the kids that hard work, effort and being an honest and upright person. We want to do things the right way and do them all the time. I want to be a first-class program with first-class people.
“I like to think it’s more than baseball. There’s life skills. Wins and losses take care of themselves. I really don’t worry about that too much.”
In his first 29 seasons as head coach, Selvey is 462-321 with six sectional titles (1987, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1995 and 2007) and two regional crowns (1992 and 1993).
The first player Selvey sent to the NCAA Division I level was IHSBCA All-Star MVP Shannon Stigleman, who went to Purdue University. Hopes are high for Shannon’s son and current Jay County senior, Cole Stigleman.
During Selvey’s tenure, the Patriots have moved from the Classic Athletic Conference to the Olympic Athletic Conference and, after a few years as an independent, the Allen County Athletic Conference (which also includes Adams Central, Bluffton, Heritage, South Adams, Southern Wells and Woodlan.).
ACAC teams play each other once during the season with games on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Some of the opponents on Jay County’s non-conference schedule are Wapahani, Norwell, Bellmont and Delta. The closest road game is across the Ohio line against Buckeye State powerhouse Coldwater.
Since class baseball became a reality in 1997-98, Jay County has gone back and forth between Class 4A and Class 3A. With a little over 1,000 students, the Pats are currently in 3A. Jay County lost to eventual sectional champion Yorktown in the semifinals of the 2017 Yorktown Sectional.
In 2018, Selvey’s team is in a sectional mix with Bellmont, Heritage, Marion, Mississinewa and Norwell.
The son of Don and Gladys Selvey has shared many of those moments with wife Denise and children Josh (29), Kristen (26) and Kyle (22).
Josh Selvey played a few seasons at Trine University and is now on his father’s coaching staff along with Pete Byrum and Todd Farr. Kristen Selvey is a Jay County cheerleader coach. Kyle Selvey is heading into his senior season as a shortstop at Huntington University.
Byrum played baseball at Indiana Tech. Farr was head baseball at Eastbrook last spring and served as a North assistant in the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South Series — something Lea Selvey did in 2008 in South Bend and 2014 in Richmond with Kyle as one of the players.
“It’s just an honor,” says Selvey of coaching the all-stars. “You get to be around other kids. You get to know some of them even for that brief amount of time and then you follow them.”
The elder Selvey and Farr also coached the college team for the Fort Wayne-based Summit City Sluggers travel organization.
Lea Selvey served as IHSBCA president in the early 2000’s. He cherishes the chance he gets to talk baseball with coaches around the state.
“Our association is really one of the better ones in the nation,” says Selvey. “Its always been a very strong association and that’s come from the leadership.”
I remember when Bill Jones and Don Sherman took me under their wing a little bit,” says Selvey of coaches who helped shape the organization are part of the IHSBCA Hall of Fame. “I’m very grateful to those guys.”
Except for college and his first teaching job, Lea Selvey has spent most of his life in Jay County. He first went to Ball State University then transferred to the University of Evansville and logged two seasons as a player — first for Bob Hodges.
Selvey taught briefly at Frontier in White County before taking teaching job at East Jay Middle School and joining Habegger’s baseball staff. When Habegger retired from coaching, Selvey took his place.
And he’s been on the job at this special place ever since.
Lea Selvey is heading into his 30th season as head baseball coach at Jay County High School in 2018. His Patriots play on Don E. Selvey Field — a facility named for his father.