By STEVE KRAH
There’s a place where a baseball can be pitched and struck in Indiana and land in Illinois.
That place is Hermits Park in the 4200 block of Dearborn Avenue on the north side of Hammond, Ind.
In the spring of 2021, the big diamond — where a home run to left field or deep center can clear the state line which cuts through the outfield — will be home to the Hammond Academy of Science and Technology (HAST) baseball program. The school’s softball team will also play at Hermits.
Dennis Hensley, who has been affiliated with the Hammond Hermits Cal Ripken/Babe Ruth League for 19 years and was with Robertsdale Youth Baseball before that, was just named HAST Hawks head coach.
“We started a partnership last year then COVID hit and everything stopped,” says Hensley. “We were one of the last (youth baseball/softball) associations to fold. We were down to only our high school level team that traveled.”
In the fall, Hermits Outlaws played in a fall league at the Ho Chunk Sports Complex in Lynwood, Ill., which is 12 miles southwest of Hermits Park.
Hensley, who is assisted by Travis McKimmey and Ryan Massey, held his last HAST baseball call-out meeting March 11 and has had 10 coming to conditioning sessions. There is hope that more will joint the team. The first IHSAA practice is Monday, March 15.
“We have a real fresh batch,” says Hensley, noting there a a few players who’ve played high school baseball with others who have been away for years or are fairly new to the sport.
“We’ll start with new or younger guys,” says Hensley. “But we gladly accept that challenge.
“There might be more of a level playing field since everybody did not play last year.”
While the focus this spring will be on a varsity team, Hensley says he hopes to bring baseball to middle schoolers — at HAST and the surrounding area — through the partnership with Hermits.
Hammond Academy of Science and Technology (enrollment around 300) is an independent and not affiliated with the conference.
The Hawks are part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with 21st Century Charter-Gary, Covenant Christian (DeMotte), Kouts, Marquette Catholic, Morgan Township, Washington Township and Westville.
The IHSAA announced this week that Washington Township will be sectional host.
HAST’s first appearance in the state tournament series was in 2017. The Hawks have not won a sectional championship.
While changes continue to be made to the schedule, Hensley says he expects his club to have around 20 regular-season games.
HAST, which was established in 2010, is a charter school focused on both science and technology with a heavy emphasis on a small teacher-to-student ratio. It is both a high school and middle school with grades ranging from 6-12.
Not affiliated with HAST, School City of Hammond currently has four high schools — Hammond, Clark, Gavit and Morton — and will cut down to two.
The district is scheduled in 2021-22 to have Hammond and Clark combine into the new Hammond Central with current Gavit students being divided between Hammond Central and Morton.
“It’s always sad to see a part of someone’s history go,” says Hensley, a 1988 Clark graduate. “But we’re looking for change and something new.”
Dennis and Gail Hensley have been married for 26 years. The couple has two adult children — Taylor (25) and Dennis (20).
Gail Hensley works for the City of Hammond.
Taylor Hensley, who played volleyball and basketball at Whiting (Ind.) High School, graduated from Calumet College of St. Joseph and is with the Merrillville Police Department.
Dennis Hensley, a five-year cancer survivor, played baseball at Whiting and now works at Wolf Lake Terminals.
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