By STEVE KRAH
Ivy Tech Community College Board of Trustees voted 8-1 April 7 to discontinue athletics at the Northeast campus in Fort Wayne, Ind., after 2022-23.
Titans baseball (established in 2017-18 by Lance Hershberger) is moving forward with the 2022 season and is looking to the 2023 slate, which appears it will be the school’s last.
Ivy Tech Northeast is 15-18 heading into a doubleheader Saturday, April 30 at Indiana Tech JV. After that comes a May 3 twin bill at Grand Rapids (Mich.) Community College followed by a National Junior College Athletic Association Region XII sub-regional May 5 in Sandusky, Ohio. The Titans must win two games in the four-team single-elimination event featuring the Nos. 2-4 seeds from the Ohio Community College Athletic Conference to advance to regional play.
“I’m enjoying the public response and fight to keep the program,” says Ivy Tech head coach and dual-credit advisor Connor Wilkins, 29. “I’m doing my part. (The board is) pretty dead-set on not having athletics. It comes down to financials and Title IX (gender equity).”
Wilkins describes the mood of the team.
“There’s a little defiance there,” says Wilkins, a Fort Wayne native. “We’ll show you how good we are and lay everything on the line representing our college. It’s frustrating as a coach knowing what we’ve built as a program and serving the community.
“In my opinion, northeast Indiana needs a junior college program.”
The Fort Wayne campus is the only one in the statewide Ivy Tech system with sports. An Ivy Tech Northeast volleyball team folded when the coach left and players followed after the COVID-19 year.
There are currently three junior college baseball programs in the state — Ivy Tech Northeast in Fort Wayne, Marian University’s Ancilla College in Donaldson and Vincennes (Ind.) University.
Ivy Tech’s 2022 baseball team has 38 players with 22 on-target to graduate from the two-year school this spring. Some of that number have indicated that they will come back for a third year (granted because of the pandemic).
Six players — right-handed pitcher Matt Peters (Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger High School graduate) to NCAA Division I Miami University (Oxford, Ohio), twins outfielder Conner Beatty and catcher Alec Beatty (Augusta, Mich.) and catcher/outfielder Joel Deakins (Heritage) to provisional NAIA start-up Indiana University-Purdue University Columbus, infielder Brayden Dockery (Continental, Ohio) to the NCAA D-II University of Indianapolis and Coby Griffith (Papillion, Neb.) to NAIA Huntington University — have made commitments to their next school and others are expected to make that announcement soon.
This summer, fireballer Peters is to play in the MLB Draft League. Other Ivy Tech players are bound for the Great Lakes, Jayhawk and Florida circuits plus the local Indiana Collegiate Summer Baseball League.
Two players whose only college offers coming out of high school were from Ivy Tech Northeast are Grant Lashure (now a starting catcher at NCAA Division I Eastern Illinois University) and Zach Haefer (a right-handed pitcher at NCAA Division II Davenport University in Grand Rapids).
There are also 13 recruits coming to the Titans in 2022-23.
“We still have next year,” says Wilkins. “The recruits are still coming. It’s a testimony to our staff that they wanted to develop and leave after that.
“We’re going to do right by them. It’s our job to get them on to four-year or two-year schools.”
Besides Wilkins, the 2022 coaching staff features Scott Bickel (who is heading to IUPUC as part of Crimson Pride head coach Zach McClellan’s staff), recruiting coordinator Drew Buffenbarger (a member of the “Dirty Dozen” — Ivy Tech’s first team and an assistant admissions director at the school), pitching coach Javier DeJesus and hitting coach Mark Flueckiger.
Without conference membership, the Titans schedule this spring has been on-the-fly and inclement weather has not helped. NJCAA Region XII has a rule that teams are not supposed to play when the “Real Feel” temperature dips to 35 degrees.
Ivy Tech Northeast plays home games at Shoaff Park. The diamond is owned by the city, but is maintained by coaches and players.
“We take care of it,” says Wilkins. “We mow it. We weed-and-feed. We do it as a team.”
Fundraisers and donors have made it possible to do things like laser-grading the infield.
“It was hard to get donations during the COVID year,” says Wilkins.
And if the Titans are heading into their final days, the coach wants them to go out with their heads held high, representing their institution and community.
Says Wilkins, “We’re going to finish it out and hopefully make them proud.”