By STEVE KRAH
Shane Smith has coached baseball for 24 years and at every level from T-ball and 18U travel with the past two years as an assistant at Wabash (Ind.) High School.
Smith can now add high school head coach to his list of diamond experiences.
Last week he was board-approved to lead the baseball program at Manchester Junior/Senior High School in North Manchester, Ind., which is about 20 miles north of Southwood Junior/Senior High School.
Oldest son Blake Smith (19) graduated from Wabash in 2022 and is now a freshman baseball player and Sport Management major at Manchester University in North Manchester.
Shane and Tiffany Smith’s younger sons Ashton (18 and a senior) and Jackson (15 and a sophomore) are still in involved in baseball at Southwood, which is also in Wabash County and conference rival to Manchester. Ashton Smith played at Wabash the past two years.
Daughter Ella Smith is a seventh grade softball player and dancer.
“Baseball has been our family thing,” says Shane Smith, who celebrates 20 years of marriage to Tiffany in October. “This is an opportunity I’ve always wanted: to run a varsity baseball program.
“I prayed about it. I talked to my family. They’ve been supportive. I don’t take it lightly and I appreciate it.”
Smith was involved with the Wabash Pride travel program for eight years, serving as president for six. He also coached for the USA Prime.
At Wabash High, he assisted Apaches head coach Jack Holley. They had met when Smith was 13 and playing for the Prep League Blue Jays coached by Holley.
“He’s an Old School baseball traditionalist and he’s got a great heart,” says Smith of Holley, who played on Wabash’s 1986 state champions and then at Valparaiso University. “He’s got a great deal of knowledge, but he puts things in perspective.
“It’s bigger than baseball. We’re dealing with people’s sons.”
During his high school years, Smith also played for Wabash American Legion Post 15 coached by Steve Furnas and Oren Wagner.
Smith is a 1999 graduate of Wabash. One of his high school coaches in his younger years was Todd Adams, a former Anderson (Ind.) University player who was in charge of strength and conditioning for the Apaches.
“He was a physical specimen,” says Smith of Adams, who is now his insurance agent. “He poured everything he had into us. We were than more than just our stats.
“He got the most out of us simply by showing he cared. He expected maximum effort and that’s who I am as a coach.”
Rick Espeset, head coach at Manchester University, coached with Smith for four years in the summer and made an impression.
“You can achieve success and all these goals but you have to stay grounded,” says Smith. “Everything we did was fun and maximum effort
He was a relationship-first guy, too.”
Ethan Espeset, Rick’s son, is a 2022 Manchester Junior/Senior High graduate.
Manchester (enrollment around 475) is a member of the Three Rivers Conference (with Maconaquah, Northfield, North Miami, Peru, Rochester, Southwood, Tippecanoe Valley and Whitko).
The Squires were part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping in 2022 with Carroll (Flora), Lewis Cass, Rochester, Wabash and Whitko. Manchester has won nine sectional titles — the last in 2016. The 2002 Squires were 2A state champions.
Jack Rupley was Manchester’s head coach from 1998 until retiring at the end of the 2022 season.
“Jack was very consistent as far as leading a program and its expectations,” says Smith. “I want to add to the already-strong history.”
Smith plans to bring his unique strengths and passions to the Squires baseball program.
“I like to play fast and put pressure on the defense,” says Smith. He notes that Wabash stole 140 bases in 2022 and that’s a realistic goal at Manchester. “I like the kids to play loose and fail with confidence. I’m not looking for them to be a robot. I’m going to empower my players to steal that base.”
Smith passionate about serving others and he’s going to bring that to the Squires.
Wabash conducted a “dad’s practice” with a fathers and male role models joining the players and Smith plans to do the same at Manchester.
“We’re going to have a good time,” says Smith.
He wants to have walk-up songs and “cool gamed experience” for his players.
“I’m an Old School guy with a New School side to me,” says Smith. “I want to mix it up a little.”
In just a few days, the Manchester Squires Baseball Facebook page already had over 100 followers.
“Excitement is growing,” says Smith. “We want to do something special.”
Smith expects eight players with varsity experience to return in 2023. That includes the top four in batting average (junior Garrett Sites .389, sophomore Ethan Hendrix .365, junior Evan Martynowicz .338, junior Gavin Martin .303) and leading base stealers (Sites 11, Hendrix 10, Martynowicz 8 and Martin 7).
As a pitcher, Martynowicz went 2-2 with a 2.31 earned run average, 38 strikeouts and 13 walks over 42 1/3 innings.
Smith has already attended Manchester sporting events to meet players and parents and reached out to Manchester Recreational Association and wants to offer coach and player clinics.
“My main goal is to generate excitement in the community,” says Smith. “People don’t care what you know until they know that you care. I plan to support these kids and families and have a good foundation of a relationship way before the first day of practice.”
The coach plans to have a call-out meeting in the near future.
Manchester does not currently have junior high baseball. Smith says he would like to start that, perhaps through MRA.
“We want to make sure (younger players) have a sound foundation,” says Smith. “We want to make sure in T-ball they fall in love with the game. So many times we overwhelm the kids and it becomes a job.
“They have to have a great experience, continue to love it and have the confidence. Youth baseball is all about fundamentals and gaining confidence.
“If we are going to have a true feeder system, the focus has to be development and long-term success over short-term success.”
Smith works as a social worker and school safety specialist for Wabash City Schools. He is currently in the L.H. Carpenter Early Learning Center.
He is also on the Wabash County’s Child Protection Team, which is an accountability piece for the Department of Child Services.
Smith earned a Criminal Justice degree with a minor in Human Resources Management from Saint Leo (Fla.) University.