Tag Archives: 21st Century Charter

Smith, Morgan Township heading to IHSAA Class 1A regional

BY STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

When John Smith took over as head baseball coach at Morgan Township Middle/High School on the south side of Valparaiso, Ind., the Class of 2022 was in their freshmen year.
Two members of that class — left fielder Nate Hudkins and shortstop Nate Lemmons — are now seniors and the Cherokees are coming off the program’s fifth sectional championship and first since 2018.
“The guys are proud of the accomplishment,” says Smith. “They see the fruit of their labors.”
University of Dubuque (Iowa)-bound Lemmons (.388 average, 22 runs batted in, 28 runs, 20 stolen bases) plus Hudkins (.355, 18 RBI, 28 runs, 17 stolen bases) are part of a Morgan Township offense that also features sophomore Keagen Holder (.426, 15 RBI, 15 runs, 10 stolen bases), junior Jayke Putz (.414, 26 RBI, 29 runs), junior Max Rakowski (.406, 16 RBI, 20 runs), sophomore Grant Cowger (.389), freshman Chase Rosenbaum (.379, 17 RBI, 19 runs), junior D.J. Hand (.310, 16 RBI, 19 runs) and sophomore Jack Wheeler (14 RBI, 18 runs, 12 stolen bases).
The mound crew features Wheeler (5-1, 0.92 earned run average, 64 strikeouts and 20 walks over 45 2/3 innings) and Putz (3-2, 3.67, 42 K’s, 20 BB, 34 1/3 IP).
The current crop of sophomores were eighth graders when Smith took over the school’s fall middle school baseball program.
“Getting those players at a young age has been beneficial for me,” says Smith, who teaches high school and middle school Health and Physical Education. “We get with them early in their baseball careers and establish the culture and the ideals with we strive for.
“We give them that knowledge and get them used to me and how I coach.”
After winning the 2022 IHSAA Class 1A Westville Sectional, Morgan Township is bound for the South Bend Washington Regional (which is being played Saturday, June 4 at South Bend Clay’s Jim Reinebold Field). The first semifinal features No. 4-ranked South Central (Union) Mills) and No. 9 Caston at 11 a.m. Eastern Time/10 a.m. Central Time followed by the 17-8 Cherokees against No. 10 Fremont around 1:30/12:30.
Morgan Township (enrollment around 240) is a member of the Porter County Conference (with Boone Grove, Hebron, Kouts, LaCrosse, South Central of Union Mills, Washington Township and Westville). The Cherokees went 5-2 in the PCC in 2022, finishing third behind Boone Grove (7-0) and South Central (6-1).
Besides the hosts and Morgan Township, the Westville Sectional included 21st Century Charter, Covenant Christian (DeMotte), Hammond Academy of Science & Technology, Kouts, Marquette Catholic and Washington Township.
Smith is assisted by Boone Grove graduate and Morgan Township P.E./Health teacher Dean Hill and Washington Township alum Levi Oman. Hill is in charge of the junior varsity team. In 2022, the Cherokees finished the regular season with 24 players in the program.
Morgan Township calls Curtis C. Casbon Field home. The diamond on the east side of the school has a backdrop of trees in left field.
The facility is shared with Morgan Township Summer League 8U and 10U teams.
Smith is a 2010 graduate of Shakamak Junior/Senior High School in Jasonville, Ind. Chip Sweet, who was inducted into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2017, came back for his second stint as Lakers head coach when Smith was a senior, following three years with Matt Fougerousse rowing the boat.
“He was very knowledgeable guy about baseball and life and how to carry yourself off the field,” says Smith of Sweet. “It was about character and how they represent themselves, their community and their school.
“Coach Fougerousse was an extension of Coach Sweet. He wanted that fire to win and lead and be great young men. It’s something that program stands for.”
At Indiana State University in Terre Haute, Smith earned an undergraduate degree in Exercise Science and a masters in Kinesiology and Exercise Science.
John and wife Megan Smith have been married nearly three years. They do not have children.

Morgan Township baseball coaches Dean Hill, John Smith and Levin Oman with the 2022 sectional trophy. Smith is the Cherokees head coach.

Morgan Township celebrates the 2022 IHSAA Class 1A Westville Sectional baseball championship. The Cherokees earned a berth in the regional in South Bend.

Kouts still prioritizes ‘culture’ with Yager at helm

BY STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Randy Yager is now in charge of the baseball program at Kouts (Ind.) Middle/High School.
The new head coach says the Mustangs will continue to emphasize “culture” — something they did with Jim Tucker as head coach and Yager an assistant the past five years.
“We want to doing the right thing on and off the field,” says Yager, who was promoted at the beginning of the 2021-22 school year. “Growing baseball players into young men, husbands and fathers and employees is more important than the current statistics.
“Their lives mean more to me than winning baseball games.”
Tucker and his wife have moved west. He is coaching junior varsity baseball at Douglas High School in Minden, Nev., and is on the phone multiple times a week with Yager.
The owner of Yager Construction in Kouts and Ace Hardware stores in Kouts and Hebron and the chairman of deacons at First Baptist Church of Kouts, Yager was born in Valparaiso, Ind., spent most of the first 20 years of his life in Florida then moved back to northwest Indiana.
He is a 1986 graduate of Ambassador Christian Academy in Fort Lauderdale, where he played baseball for four years.
At Kouts, Yager has also served as an assistant boys basketball coach for five years. His baseball assistants are Doug Murray, who was on Tucker’s staff for thee years, and son Hunter Yager (21). The latter holds the school record for baseball games played.
Randy and wife Traci have three children. Oldest Lauren (Yager) Kemp is 23 and the head softball coach at Kouts, her alma mater. Eric Yager (17) is a Kouts junior.
The Mustangs play on Keith Nuest Field, an on-campus facility named for the alum and longtime scorekeeper.
Randy Yager was a middle school coach this fall and there was no IHSAA Limited Contact Period baseball activity with so many fall athletes at Kouts (high school enrollment around 270).
The Mustangs are members of the Porter County Conference (with
Boone Grove, Hebron, LaCrosse, Morgan Township, South Central of Union Mills, Washington Township and Westville).
In 2021, Kouts was part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with 21st Century Charter, Covenant Christian (DeMotte), Hammond Academy of Science & Technology, Marquette Catholic, Morgan Township, Washington Township and Westville. The Mustangs have won five sectional titles — the last in 2011.

Randy Yager with Hunter Yager and Lauren (Yager) Kemp.

As first official practice approaches, Hensley heading up HAST Hawks

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

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. 

An aerial view of Hermits Park in Hammond, Ind., with the big diamond split by the Indiana-Illinois State Line in the foreground.
Dennis Hensley is the head baseball coach at Hammond (Ind.) Academy of Science and Technology. The Hawks first played in the IHSAA state tournament series in 2017.

Ontiveros places discipline at core of East Chicago Central Cardinals baseball

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

It’s fair to say there will be new Cards at the Block (Stadium) in 2020.

It’s been a trend for East Chicago (Ind.) Central High School Cardinals baseball to have several players in their first year’s of organized baseball or at least since youth leagues.

“Every year we seem to be rebuilding,” says Jorge Ontiveros, ECC head coach since 2009. “We don’t have a big freshmen class coming in.

“This is every year.”

That’s one of the reasons Ontiveros and his coaching staff emphasize discipline. It is also a quality he got from his coaches while he was a Cardinals player.

The 1991 graduate played for Ruben Morris and then his senior year for Bo Reyes.

“We try to keep these kids organized and structured regardless of the score and the result of the game,” says Ontiveros. “They’re expected to be a certain way on and off the field.

“We expect them to be gentlemen. We want them to be productive students in the classroom and on the diamond just so we don’t have any problems.”

Ontiveros says there are usually about 20 players out each year in a school of about 1,200. Many of them are soccer players and wrestlers.

“They come in with that athletic ability,” says Ontiveros. “Our only challenge is hand-eye coordination with the baseball.”

East Chicago Little League introduces local kids to the game, but it is not as big as it once was with one or two teams per division.

Ontiveros says EC mayor Anthony Copeland implemented “Building Baseball Through Community” with participation from Bishop Noll Institute in Hammond and Calumet College of St. Joseph in Whiting.

“There was good participation of about 50 kids,” says Ontiveros. “We’re looking to continue that process.”

Helping Ontiveros in 2020 will be varsity assistant Frank Rosado (who has been with the program since 1986), junior varsity head coach Carlos Perez, JV assistant Juan Becerra and volunteer/pitching coach Jimmy Flores (who played at Noll).

Ontiveros, Perez and Flores are teammates on the Astros of the 28-and-over Northwest Indiana Adult Baseball League and Rosado used to play.

“I’ll go until my body says I can’t go any more,” says Ontiveros.

Astros manager and NWIABL president Jeramy Ortiz is a former ECC coach.

After some time as an independent, East Chicago Central now competes as a member of the Great Lakes Athletic Conference (with Gary West Side, Hammond, Hammond Clark, Hammond Gavit and Hammond Morton).

In baseball, each GLAC team plays each other twice — home and away. In 2019, non-conference opponents included Boone Grove, Hammond Academy of Science & Technology, Highland, Morgan Township, Munster, 21st Century Charter and Washington Township.

The Cardinals are part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with Hammond Morton, Highland, Lake Central, Merrillville and Munster. East Chicago Central, which opened in 1986-87 and replaced East Chicago Roosevelt and East Chicago Washington, has yet to win a sectional championship.

Two Washington graduates — pitcher Tim Stoddard and outfielder Kenny Lofton — played in the big leagues. Outfielder Jim Hicks, who played in the majors in 1965-66 and 1969-70, went to Roosevelt.

Kenny Lofton Field is located next to historic Block Stadium, a structure built in 1942 and home to many of the best ballplayers to come through the Region.

Many renovations have been made in recent years to a property owned and operated by the city, including a total revamping of the playing surface, moving in of the fences (it will be about 325 feet down the lines and 380 to center field) and new rest rooms, storage and a concession stand plus locker rooms, community center and a new scoreboard. The place has also gotten a fresh coat of paint.

“It’s night and day to what we used to play on,” says Ontiveros. “We were told it’s going to be ready for opening day.

“We have not played or practiced on that field in over two years.”

Another city facility — Kosciuszko Park — has been home to ECC baseball. Both Block and Kosciuszko are between 1.5 and 3 miles from campus, meaning a shuttle bus comes into play.

“It’s a challenge getting kids there for practice and getting them back,” says Ontiveros.

After high school, Ontiveros earned an associate degree from Ivy Tech and a bachelors degree from Purdue University Northwest. He had intended to go into education, but the Internet was just coming on the time. He is an IT operations manager at ECC, working with computer networks.

The coach maintains a website to keep fans and alumni up to date on Cardinals baseball.

ECC players going on to college programs in recent years include Gilbert Ibarra (Sauk Valley Community College), Erik Romo (Wabash College), Angelo Rosas-Badillo (College of Lake County), Adrian Alvarez (Sauk Valley), D’Angelo Gonzalez (University of Indianapolis), Reyes Maldonado (Sauk Valley and University of Saint Francis), Carlos Flores (South Suburban College) and Darion Edmond (South Suburban).

Jorge and Carmen Ontiveros recently celebrated eight years of marriage. The couple has two children — Jacqueline (6) and Andres (4). Both played T-ball this year. Jacqueline is to move on to softball in 2020.

ANDRESJACQUELINEONTIVEROSAndres and Jacqueline Ontiveros — the children of Jorge and Carmen Ontiveros — enjoy playing in youth baseball and softball. Jorge Ontiveros is head baseball coach at East Chicago (Ind.) Central High School.

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The Ontiveros family — Jorge, Carmen, Andres and Jacqueline. JORGEONTIVEROS2

Jorge Ontiveros plays in an adult baseball league tournament in Myrtle Beach, S.C. He is on the Astros in the Northwest Indiana Adult Baseball League and is the head coach at East Chicago (Ind.) Central High School.

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Jorge Ontiveros has been head baseball coach at his alma mater — East Chicago (Ind.) Central High School — since 2009.

 

Kouts’ Tucker wears many hats — coach, teacher, husband, blogger, podcaster, wiffleballer

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jim Tucker wants to make a difference in the lives of kids.

His vehicles are the classroom and the baseball diamond.

Tucker teaches Language Arts and Reading to middle schoolers at Kouts (Ind.) Middle/High School and also serves as head baseball coach. The 2019 season will be his third leading the Kouts Mustangs.

As an educator, Tucker helps students along their path.

“I try to get the kids to be able to handle the real world,” says Tucker. “I tell them, ‘you can be who you want to be.’

“This is the toughest time in history to be a teenager. You can never shut it off.”

Tucker relates to his students and players through his ability to connect.

“I’m a storyteller,” says Tucker. “I get buy-in from the kids through stories, emotion and feelings.

“In coaching and teaching, I am a relationship builder and a communicator. The game is just an opportunity to becoming who we want to become.”

Some refer to that as transformational coaching.

“We’re here to shape the kids through baseball,” says Tucker. “We’re building a culture we are proud of from top the bottom. That’s what it’s all about.”

Tucker does not base his worth in his won-loss record — though he wants his players to experience winning.

“It’s about making an impact with these kids,” says Tucker, who was the fifth person named as baseball coach at Kouts when he took the job (John Hall took over the Mustangs softball program before the 2016 season).

His coaching staff includes two men — Randy Yager and Doug Murray — with little or no baseball background, but that’s not the priority.

“I’m more concerned with bringing in good men,” says Tucker. “True growth comes from the conversations after (players) fail.”

First-year volunteer coach Stefan Roney is a Kouts graduate. He was on the last Mustangs teams to win an IHSAA sectional championship in 2011 (Kouts reigned in the tourney held at Washington Township).

Kouts, a school of about 275 students, is in a Class 1A sectional grouping with 21st Century Charter, Covenant Christian (DeMotte), Hammond Academy of Science & Technology, Marquette Catholic, Morgan Township, Washington Township and Westville.

The Mustangs belong to the Porter County Conference (along with Boone Grove, Hebron, LaCrosse, Morgan Township, South Central (Union Mills), Washington Township and Westville). Boone Grove won the 2018 Class 2A state title.

Tucker played at Calumet High School in Gary, Ind., graduating in 2008. He then went on Chicago State University and pitched four seasons in five years, sitting out the 2011 campaign recovering from Tommy John elbow surgery and earning his English degree in December 2013.

His head coaches at Calumet were Larry Drake and Roger Azbill with Michael Caston leading the CSU Cougars Tucker’s first four years and Steve Joslyn his last.

Azbill approach baseball with a blue-collar mentality.

“I learned toughness,” says Tucker of Azbill. “He wanted you to show up everyday and do your job. You wanted to always try to get better.”

Caston was a Hammond, Ind., native who played at Valparaiso University. His pitching coach at Chicago State was former Lake Central High School, Tampa Bay Rays Triple-A hurler and Gary SouthShore RailCats player Neal Frendling.

What Tucker remembers most from his college baseball experience is playing teams from every corner of the country and seeing the different styles of playing and coaching.

The year he sat out as a player, Tucker traveled with the team and did laundry. But he also decided his baseball future was in coaching. He came away from each trip with page after page of notes.

Before college, Tucker had played travel baseball for Dave Sutkowski with the Hammond Chiefs (now the Morris Baseball Chiefs) and soaked up much about the game. He later coached with Sutkowski.

“He was very detailed,” says Tucker of Sutkowski. “Everything was broken down and position-specific. He was also very competitive.

“We run our stuff (at Kouts) very much like we did with the Chiefs.”

Tucker was the pitching coach for Dave Griffin at Purdue-Calumet for one season before joining Steve Strayer’s coaching staff at Crown Point High School leading up to taking the Kouts job in the winter prior to the 2016 season.

“It was awesome learning from (Griffin),” says Tucker. “He does it a little bit differently. He allows guys to do their own thing. He wants to serve as a guy to help you get where you’re going.”

During games, Tucker would see the wheels turning for Griffin.

“He would call things before they happened,” says Tucker. “He was always thinking ahead.”

Tucker was with Strayer at the time the Bulldogs boss suffered a stroke and marvels at how quickly he bounced back.

“I was so impressed how he could manage so many people,” says Tucker of Strayer. “He was very diligent in his planning.

“He always had that growth mindset. He was always learning and adding to coaching tool kit.”

Strayer was quick to share his faith and to ask the opinions of his assistants, making sure to give them ownership in the program and Tucker takes the same tactic with his staff.

Tucker is also part of the new Wheelhouse Baseball podcast. It is part of the Chicago-based Overtime Sports Network, which promotes its various podcasts and blogs.

With Tucker, best friend and former Chicago State teammate Jeremy Ratjaczyk and avid podcaster and Calumet College of St. Joseph graduate Mikey Kubacki Jr., adding to the chatter, Wheelhouse podcast focuses on historic Major League Baseball games, quirky stats and obscure players.

It’s buddies talking baseball with a sense of humor.

“We’re three goofy guys and we’re quirky,” says Tucker. “We try to be genuine.”

The first episode debuted Oct. 10 and was centered on Chicago White Sox left-hander Mark Buehrle’s perfect game for the White Sox in 2009.

Episode 2 is to be about the 10 worst contracts in MLB history.

Episode 3 will feature former Hammond Bishop Noll Institute and current minor league pitcher Matt Pobereyko. Episodes generally premier each Wednesday morning.

While his baseball playing days are done, Tucker still competes on the fast pitch wiffleball field. He plays for both the Griffleball League’s GasHouse Gorillas and in the Leroy Wiffle Ball Association.

Griffleball has been around for eight years and has seven teams playing on Sundays at Bridges’ Scoreboard Restaurant & Sports Bar in Griffith. There is no base running. Wherever the ball lands determines the outcome of the at-bat.

Next year, the LWA is to have 14 teams and seven fields. Player do run the bases. If a team issues five balls to the opposing batter, they must lob the next ball in so there’s more offense.

Jim and wife Mysta Tucker have been married for a year and have two dogs.

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Jim Tucker, a 2008 Calumet High School graduate, delivers a pitch for Chicago State University. He played baseball for the Cougars in 2008, 2010, 2012 and 2013. He is now head baseball coach at Kouts (Ind.) Middle/High School. (Chicago State Photo)

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Jim Tucker is a teacher and baseball coach at Kouts (Ind.) Middle/High School. The graduate of Calumet High School and Chicago State University is also a husband, blogger, podcaster and wiffleballer. The 2019 season will be his third as head coach of the Kouts Mustangs.