Tag Archives: Adams Central

Hisner gets to see baseball from umpires’ view and more

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

Randy Hisner has viewed baseball from four angles — player, coach, umpire and reporter.
A 1976 graduate of Heritage Junior/High School in Monroeville, Ind., Hisner played for the Patriots and was a freshman when current Heritage head coach Dean Lehrman was a senior. They were later men’s league baseball teammates.
Hisner, 64, spent the first four years of his career as an English teacher at Monroe Central Junior/High School in Parker City, Ind., then taught at Bellmont High School and Bellmont Middle School 1984-2018.
He has been the Braves head boys cross country coach for 37 years and led the Bellmont baseball program for two seasons — winning 19 games in both 2009 and 2010. While at Monroe Central, he was a baseball assistant for three years and head coach for one.
Hisner started umpiring in the summer around 2008. After his prep coaching stint, he got his high school license. He has called games from youth league to college and 30-and-over leagues.
Many of his college games are in the NAIA-affiliated River States Conference, which has baseball-playing members in Indiana (Indiana University Kokomo, Indiana University Southeast and Oakland City University), Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
Semi-retired, Hisner plans to coach middle school track in the spring — cutting back his umpiring schedule during that season — and will continue to take sports assignments for the Decatur Daily Democrat.
Randy and wife Cheryl, who is part-time Title I elementary teacher, have four sons who all graduated from Bellmont — Erik (Class of 2001), Ryan (2002), Shane (2007) and Gavin (2009). All umpired as a summer job in high school.
Erik Hisner is athletic director and head baseball coach at Eastern High School in Greentown, Ind. He coached at Whitko for a decade and was the North head coach Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series in 2017.
Ryan Hisner and Gavin Hisner are both teachers in Adams Central Community Schools in Monroe, Ind. — Ryan Title I at the middle school and Gavin English at the high school. Gavin also does some umpiring.
Shane Hisner used to teach English overseas and now does so online.
Harley Parnell Hisner, Randy’s father and a graduate of Hoagland (Ind.) High School, pitched in the Boston Red Sox system. In his only big league appearance, he started the final game of 1951 season against the New York Yankees. Two of the three strikeouts for Hisner came in that Sept. 30 contest came against rookie Mickey Mantle. He also yielded Joe DiMaggio’s last major league hit.
When Randy Hisner stepped away from coaching baseball, he saw umpiring as a way to stay connected to the game.
“As umpires, we get paid to know the rules,” says Hisner. “A lot of coaches think they do.
“I re-read the high school and college rule books every year. You really have to be on top of that.”
Umpires must also be ready when they see a situation that rarely comes up.
For instance, the time Randy was working a college game together a few years ago. As the base umpire, he was positioned in front of the shortstop with a runner at second base.
The next thing Hisner knew the runner, third baseman and batted ball all converged near the third base bag.
The runner was attempting to steal and made his slide into the third baseman at the same time the ball arrived. The ball dribbled away.
“In all the years I’d played and coached I’d never seen anything like that,” says Hisner. “I called interference on the runner. The runner did not give the fielder a chance to field the ball.
“If the fielder had fielded the ball and then the guy had hit him and knocked it loose that would’ve been different.”
In a travel tournament a few summers back, Randy and Gavin were working the game and the hitter sent a long drive to left-center field.
The center fielder made a great back-hand running catch, took four or five steps and ran into the fence and dropped the ball over the barrier.
“We called a home run,” says Hisner. “We had a long discussion with the defensive coach.
“The rule is that the momentum of the play has to stop and has release has to be voluntary and intentional.”
Hisner says there’s sure to be an argument when it comes down to hit-by-pitch and calling it differs between high school and college.
“In high school games, as an umpire you almost have to be a mind reader,” says Hisner. “The way the rule book reads the hitter can’t permit the ball to let the ball hit him. In high school, it’s a really tough call.
“They made a change to the college rule a couple of years ago. If the ball is in the batter’s box, he can freeze (and be struck by the pitch and take his base). He can’t move into it and try to get hit. You don’t have to read anybody’s mind.”
Since three-man is usually not employed during regular-season games he works, Hisner is accustomed to two-man mechanics.
“I’ve done well over 1,000 games of two-man so I just react,” says Hisner. “I went to a college three-man camp one time. But until you’re used to it, it’s really uncomfortable.”
Preferring to watch Erik’s teams, Randy does not apply for the IHSAA tournament series.
One two-man mechanic that many non-umpires may not consider is the plate arbiter covering second base.
With no runners on base and the base umpire positioned near first base and the right field line, a hitter hits the ball to right field. It might be over the fielder’s head, call for a diving catch and come down near the foul line.
If the batter/runner continues to second base, the base umpire won’t be in-position to make the call. That’s the plate umpire’s duty. With all his protective equipment and steel-toed shoes, he must get to second base before then batter/runner. His path takes him to the right side of the mound to avoid tripping on the rubber.
“That had never ever crossed my radar until I had started umpiring,” says Hisner of the plate ump going to second base. “As soon as its hit, I’m taking my mask off and heading out that way anyway.
“Ideally, you get within 30 feet to make the call. You also have to be ready if (the batter/runner) heads back to first base. That’s a play I hope I have in the first inning if I have the plate.
“I want the coaches and players to see that I’m working hard. This guy is not just collecting a check. He’s hustling like we are. He might not be getting every call right but it’s not for lack of effort.”

Randy Hisner.
The Hisners on a Disney vacation.

Discipline important to Rheinhart, Southern Wells Raiders

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

Blade Rheinhart is leading the baseball program at his alma mater with responsibility and discipline as points of emphasis.
“I like to keep kids disciplined — on and off the field — that creates better young gentlemen,” says Rheinhart, a 2014 graduate of Southern Wells Junior/Senior High School in Poneto, Ind., who took over the Raiders prior to the 2020 season canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. “We do a lot of reflection.”
Rheinhart expects to have 10 or 11 seniors in 2022 — many of them who played at what is now Blackford Youth Baseball coached by his father Art Rheinhart and himself, including little brother Branson Rheinhart.
“They know my expectations,” says Rheinhart. “They know how things are going to be done and what it takes to possibly turn the program around.
“We should be very productive.”
Senior Evan Reynolds is to sign next week to study and play college baseball at Indiana Tech in Fort Wayne and some other Raiders are considering their college options.
Evan Huffman, a 2017 Southern Wells graduate who played at Parkland College in Champaign, Ill., and Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne, has joined a Raiders coaching staff which also includes Brett Vickery and Tyler Sonnigsen. Huffman was a high school classmate of Brennen Rheinhart, Blade’s middle brother and son of Art and Brandy Rheinhart.
Southern Wells (enrollment around 260) is a member of the Allen County Athletic Conference (with Adams Central, Bluffton, Heritage, Jay County, South Adams and Woodlan).
In 2021, the Raiders were part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with Anderson Preparatory Academy, Cowan, Daleville, Liberty Christian, Tri-Central and Wes-Del. Southern Wells has not yet won a sectional title.
The Raiders’ home field is on-campus and gets year-to-year maintenance. Southern Wells once had junior high baseball, but does not currently. Local players can go to three different youth baseball leagues— Blackford, Bluffton and Warren.
Rhinehart decided he wanted to be a teacher and coach during his freshmen year at Southern Wells. He went on to earn an Elementary Education degree at Ball State University in 2018 and now teaches sixth grade math at Blackford Intermediate School in Hartford City, Ind.
“I knew the path I wanted to take,” says Rheinhart. “I had excellent teachers throughout my whole career. I wanted their job. Sports a huge part of my life.”
Rheinhart played baseball and basketball at Southern Wells. His head baseball coaches were Keith Kinder (2011 and 2012), Chad Smekens (2013) and Ben Mann (2014). Leading the Raiders in basketball were Ryan Thomas (2010-11 and 2011-12) and Brody Tarter (2012-13, and 2013-14).
Another generation came into the Rheinhart baseball family this year. Two days before Southern Wells’ first baseball game in 2021, Blade’s son William was born. Three days later, the baby was at his first contest.

Blade Rheinhart (Team Mantra Wear Photo)
Blade Rheinhart and son William (Team Mantra Wear Photo)

Former college mates Willard, Neuenschwander meet as opposing coaches

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Aaron Willard reached a milestone with his son on the mound and his former college roommate and teammate in the other dugout.

When the Eastside Blazers beat the Adam Central Jets 3-1 Saturday, May 29 in the semifinals of the IHSAA Class 2A Eastside Sectional it gave Willard his 100th varsity baseball coaching victory at his school (to go with 506 in softball including a Class 1A state title in 1998 and 69 in boys basketball).

Locked up in a pitchers’ duel with Adams Central senior right-hander Justin Bultemeier, Eastside junior right-hander Owen Willard struck out 13 while tossing a one-hitter (he gave up a solo home run on a change-up to lefty-swinging senior Brayden Light in the third inning) as the winning pitcher in helping the Blazers (22-6) to the Sectional 36 championship game at 11 a.m. Monday, May 31 against former Eastside head coach Jason Pierce’s Bluffton Tigers.

“I wish (Aaron) all the luck in the world,” says Dave Neuenschwander, who roomed and played baseball with the elder Willard at Huntington (Ind.) College (now Huntington University), and has been head baseball coach at  Adams Central for 27 seasons (1991-98 and 2003-21).

Willard and Neuenschwander formed a bond as Foresters in the ‘80s which he endured to this day.

“He’s always been like a big brother to me,” says Willard of Neuenschwander. “He took me under the wing when I came in.”

Says Neunschwander, “Aaron’s a good coach and he’s a great friend. I wish he lived closer. I know he’d do anything for me and I’d do anything for him.

“I’m anxious for the day when we can both retire and spend some time together.”

Willard, a 1984 Eastside graduate, spent a semester at Franklin (Ind.) College and met sophomore third baseman Neuenschwander, a 1983 South Adams High School graduate, when he arrived on the Huntington campus as a pitcher. 

Aaron’s first season was the first for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Mike Frame as head coach. Other future coaches on the squad included Matt Brumbaugh, Mark Flueckiger and Randy Moss.

When Willard and Neuenschwander’s teams squared off Saturday, it was for just the second time. In 2019, Adams Central and Eastside were not in the same sectional and both received a first-round bye so they met just before the tournament at the ASH Centre in Fort Wayne.

“When we play it’s about respect and a good competition,” says Neuenschwander.

What makes Willard a good coach?

“He understands the game,” says Neuenschwander. “He has the passion for the kids. 

“He gets them to work hard and focus on what they need to do.”

It’s also helped that Aaron has helped develop strong pitchers like his sons Cade (a 2017 Eastside graduate who pitched for Purdue Fort Wayne 2019-21) and Owen.

Also an accomplished shortstop and hitter, Owen could be a two-way player at the next level. He has not yet made a college commitment.

“It’s a big summer for him,” says Aaron of Cade, who plays travel ball for 5 Star Midwest.

Willard coached softball for 23 years before coaching baseball at the high school varsity level.

“I had coached at the Pony League level,” says Willard. “There was a learning curve going from softball back to baseball. There are pick-off and longer distances between bases. It’s getting that timing in your head. I got kids thrown at the plate (as a third base coach). It took them longer to get there.”

Eastside’s 2021 season has included Northeast Corner Conference regular-season and tournament titles.

Besides head baseball coach, Willard is an assistant principal and athletic director at Eastside.

“Aaron’ a great guy to the community,” says Neuenschwander. “He has great friends like Bruce Beard that really helps him out.

“That ’s a tribute to great leadership that he has that people want to help.”

As for the sectional title game against the boys from Bluffton?

Says Willard, “They look like they’re a very scrappy team.”

A fan celebrates a coaching milestone for Eastside High School baseball coach Aaron Willard at the semifinals of the IHSAA Class 2A Eastside Sectional. (Twitter Photo)

Lehrman still having fun in 43rd season leading Heritage Patriots

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Dean Lehrman has been around the baseball program at Heritage Junior-Senior High School in Monroeville, Ind., long enough that he is coaching a second generation of Patriots.

Just at the varsity level, there are four players whose fathers played for Lehrman at Heritage. There are seniors Cody David (son of Chad) and Clay Gerardot (son of Matt) and sophomores Jackson Bearman (son of Wade) and Austin Buuck (son of Greg).

The 2021 season is Lehrman’s 43rd season as a head baseball coach — 34th at Heritage after nine at Woodlan

At present, the 1973 Heritage graduate has 632 career wins. The ’21 Patriots are off to a 17-2 start.

“I got in this business because I love baseball and it’s a kids game,” says Lehrman, 66. “I wanted to pass that on to my sons and everybody in the neighborhood’s sons.”

Heritage (enrollment around 600) is a consolidation of Monroeville and Hoagland and that opened in 1969. The Patriots are a member of the Allen County Athletic Conference (with Adams Central, Bluffton, Jay County, South Adams, Southern Wells and Woodlan). ACAC teams meet each other one time.

The Patriots are part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Bellmont (the 2021 host), Marion, Mississinewa, Norwell and Oak Hill. Heritage has won nine sectionals (the last in 2015), three regionals and one semistate — all but a 1976 sectional crown on Lehrman’s watch. 

“A bunch of blue-collar, hard-nosed, out-work-you kids” with no superstars earned a state runner-up finish in 2007 (losing to South Spencer in the 2A title game).

Lehrman’s Heritage teams have won numerous conference titles and he has often been chosen ACAC Coach of the Year. He has twice been Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association District Coach of the Year and was on the IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series coaching staff two times.

“In my mind we are still a 2A school although we’ve officially been 3A for several years,” says Lehrman. “It’s a numbers thing.”

Lehrman does not favor athletic specialization and embraces the idea of the multi-sport athlete. He enjoys a sense of cooperation between himself and fellow head coaches Casey Kolkman in football and Adam Gray with basketball and the sharing of athletes.

“I want my kids to be involved in as many sports as they can,” says Lehrman. “It seems that more and more they get funneled into one thing 365/24-7. That’s not good for kid. You get more kids getting burned out that way.

“We’re not pulling kids in different directions and telling them you’ve got to do this in the summer or you can’t play. I’m a firm believer that a kid has to be a kid. He’s got to be free to choose. 

“He should be able to play football, basketball and baseball or whatever combination of sports you want to throw in there.”

Janice Lehrman has been a coach’s wife for all these decades.

“I can’t count how many uniforms she’s sewn back together and she still does it,” says Dean. “She just did it for a JV kid.”

Dean and wife Janice, who live in the country near Hoagland, have three children — Camryn, Derek and Ryne.

Camyn Klocinski is a social studies teacher at Summerfield Junior-Senior High School in Petersburg, Mich. She has traveled the world and is an expert on World War II.

Derek Lehrman is married with three children. He played football and baseball at Heritage (and was one of several IHSBCA all-stars coached by his father) and baseball at Eastern Michigan University and in the Detroit Tigers system.

He is now the Patriots hitting coach and serves on a staff with pitching coach Scott Lewis, a former left-handed pitcher from Van Wert, Ohio. Junior varsity coaches for 2021 are Heritage alums Jeremy Hullinger, Nick Bosler and Matt Saylor.

Ryne Lehrman (who gets his first name from Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg) played football and baseball at Manchester University in North Manchester, Ind. He and his wife are traveling physical therapists and have one child.

Youth leagues in Monroeville and Hoagland as well as the Harding and New Haven areas feed into Heritage. 

A 5-foot-9, 170 pounds, Lehrman used his mechanics, wrist and forearm to generate velocity as a pitcher. His boyhood idol was Nolan Ryan

Lehrman took the mound for four years at Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne (now Purdue Fort Wayne) for Hal Prickett and Dave Hey and drew attention from bird dog major league scouts.

As a coach, Lehrman encourages his pitchers to change speeds and the eye levels of batters.

“No matter how hard you throw if that’s all you do, they’re going to catch up to you,” says Lehrman. “Kids today are trained on pitching machine and you can se the machine to throw 90 or 95 (mph) and they can work on that — boom, boom, boom.

“To me, the change-up is the next-best pitch behind the fastball.”

Among the pitchers to come through Heritage are Andrew Saalfrank, a left-hander who hurled for Indiana University and is now in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization.

Branson Dossen, son of former pro Jarrod Dossen, played baseball at Heritage then Indiana Tech. The younger Dossen was a standout quarterback for the Patriots.

Dustin Butcher is the head baseball coach at the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne and just led the Cougars to a single-season school record of 34 victories.

The IHSAA has been observing a pitch count rule (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days) since 2017. Lehrman has been tracking numbers for 43 years.

“We’re never going to hurt a kid,” says Lehrman. “I keep them in by book. At the end of the inning, I can tell you how many pitches he threw and what his first-pitch strike percentage was.”

Lehrman’s father — Donald — ran his scorebook for three decades and Dean now keeps it while his assistants coach the bases.

A teacher of mathematics after college, Lehrman retired from the classroom in June 2020.

“I was very blessed there because I had calculus and trigonometry,” says Lehrman. “I had good kids that wanted to be there and wanted to learn.

“That’s a huge reason I stayed in it for 43 years.”

The East Allen County Schools administration asked him to stay on to lead the Patriots on the diamond.

“As long as I’m still having fun, I’m going to hang around and coach baseball,” says Lehrman.

For many falls, he was on the staffs of two Indiana Football Hall of Famers — Leland Etzler at Woodlan and Bob Yager at Heritage. 

Lehrman was Yager’s defensive coordinator then served six years as Patriots head coach (going 40-26 from 2010-15) before stepping away from the gridiron

He was coaxed back by alum Kolkman, who heads into his second season as Heritage head football coach in the fall.

“Casey was an eighth grader when I first started teaching here,” says Lehrman. “He asked me to help out. I said I’ll do it on one condition. I’m strictly a volunteer and as long as I’m having fun I’ll stick around and do anything you ask.

“Casey has turned the program completely around. Look for big things out of our football team the next couple of years.”

Heritage baseball’s full week began Tuesday, May 11 with a win against Bluffton. The Patriots are slated to visit Van Wert Wednesday, Jay County Thursday and Manchester Friday with a rare Saturday off.

Dean Lehrman, a 1973 graduate of Heritage Junior-Senior High School in Monroeville, Ind., is in his 43rd year as head baseball coach at his alma mater in 2021. The quote on the Patriots dugout wall is from former Heritage pitching coach Don Grabner. (Steve Krah Photo)

Here’s Dick Crumback/NEIBA Player of the Year Watch List

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Baseball coaches from Adams, Allen, DeKalb, Noble, Huntington, Wells and Whitley counties were surveyed and 69 names appear on the 2021 Dick Crumback/Northeast Indiana Baseball Association (NEIBA) High School Player of the Year Watch List.

The list will be narrowed in early May to a group of award finalists. The winner will be announced May 26 to coincide with the start the IHSAA state tournament series. The winner will be honored at a Fort Wayne TinCaps game since the NEIBA banquet has been postponed until Sept. 12.

Since 1961, the NEIBA has recognized local baseball players, personnel and ambassadors through a Hall of Fame and honors program. South Adams’ Grant Besser was named Dick Crumback/NEIBA High School Player of the Year in 201. With the 2020 season being canceled because of the COVID-1 pandenic, there was no award given for 2020.

For more information, contact Gary Rogers at grogers@eacs.k.in.us or Brett Windmiller at brett.windmiller@nacs.k.in.us. 

DICK CRUMBACK/NEIBA 

HIGH SCHOOL PLAYER OF THE YEAR 

WATCH LIST

2021

Adams Central (Coach Dave Neuenschwander)

Sr. Justin Bultemeier

Sr. Chase Murray

Jr. Alex Currie

Jr. Blake Heyerly

Bellmont (Coach Tom Montgomery)

Sr. Tanner Hirn

Sr.  Tyler James

Jr.  Kobe Baker

Jr.  Magnuss Lee

Jr. Ethan Garner

Jr. Trevor Walker

Bishop Dwenger (Coach Jason Garrett)

Sr.  Brenden Lytle

Sr. Sam Pesa

Sr.  Callan Stauffer

Sr.  Xavier Nolan

Jr. Jack Tippmann

Fr.  Brayton Thomas

Jr. Beau Jacquay

Bishop Luers (Coach Jeff Stanski)

Sr.  Lukas North

Carroll (Coach Dave Ginder)

Sr.  Jerod Handshoe

Sr.  Cameron Niedens

Jr.  Alex Smith

Sr.  Conner Miller

Sr.  Josh Kuhns

Sr. Jaycob McCullough

Churubusco (Coach Jordan Turner)

Sr.  Brayten Gordon

Sr.  Evan Snyder

Jr.  Keenan Hendricks

Jr.  Callahan Ostrowski

Sr.  Seth Abel

Columbia City (Coach Rob Bell)

Jr.  Sam Gladd

Jr.  Adin Miller

Sr.  Preston Henschen

DeKalb (Coach Tim Murdock)

Sr.  Steele Jackson

East Noble (Coach Aaron Desmonds)

Jr.  Brayden Risedorph

Eastside (Coach Aaron Willard)

Jr.  Owen Willard

Sr.  Dylan Herig

Sr.  Wade Miller

Jr.  Jack Buchanan

Garrett (Coach Jason Richards)

Sr.  Gage Smith

Jr.  Trey Richards

Jr.  Graham Kelham

Heritage (Coach Dean Lehrman)

Jr.  Dalton Wasson

Homestead (Coach Nick Byall)

Sr.  Carter Mathison

Sr.  Luke Palmer

Sr.  Kaleb Kolpien

Sr.  Graham Kollen

Sr. Grant Simmons

Sr. Cole Elkins

Sr. Jayden Lepper

Leo (Coach Gary Rogers)

Sr.  Tyler Papenbrock

Sr.  Coley Stevens

Sr.  Damien Gudakunst

Sr.  Quinten Peters

Sr.  Gannon Brown

Sr. Michael O’Brien

Sr. Dakota Patterson

New Haven (Coach Dave Bischoff)

Sr. Jacob Kortenber

Sr. Augie Difederico

Northrop (Coach Matt Brumbaugh)

Sr.  Tarron White

Jr.  Luke Siren

Norwell (Coach Dave Goodmiller)

Sr. Rocco Hanes

Sr. Eli Riley

South Adams (Coach Brad Buckingham)

Sr. Adam Besser

Sr. James Arnold

Jr. A.J. Dull

Jr. Conner Young

Southern Wells (Coach Blade Rheinhart)

Sr.  Tanner Johnson

Whitko (Coach Jorell Tucker)

Sr.  Bryce Tucker

Sr. Evan Wilson

Northeast Indiana Baseball Association

NEIBA looking for Dick Crumback HS Player of the Year nominees

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com 

The Northeast Indiana Baseball Association has been recognizing local baseball players, personnel and ambassadors through a Hall of Fame and honors program since 1961.

Each year, these honorees are saluted at a banquet. In 2018, South Adams’ Grant Besser was the Dick Crumback Player of the Year. The COVID-19 pandemic took away the award and banquet in 2020.

Baseball coaches from Adams (Adams Central, Bellmont, South Adams), Allen (Bishop Dwenger, Bishop Luers, Blackhawk Christian, Canterbury, Carroll, Concordia Lutheran, Heritage, Homestead, Leo, New Haven, North Side, Northrop, Smith Academy for Excellence, Snider, South Side, Wayne, Woodlan), DeKalb (DeKalb, Eastside, Garrett, Hamilton, Lakewood Park Christian), Noble (Central Noble, East Noble, West Noble), Huntington (Huntington North), Wells (Bluffton, Norwell, Southern Wells) and Whitley (Churubusco, Columbia City, Whitko) counties were emailed and asked to nominate any player(s) that he feels could be in the running for the 2021 Dick Crumback/NEIBA Player of the Year Award. The deadline for submitting players is on 11:59 p.m. on Friday, March 12.

On Sunday, March 14, the NEIBA will be sending out the list of players that are on the “watch list” for this year’s award. 

First off, the award is named after longtime amateur baseball supporter Dick Crumback. The Crumback family has also given a $500 annual scholarship to the high school baseball program recipient. 

The Fort Wayne Baseball Federation, which has run high school and adult leagues in the Summit City since 1931, has also announced a donation of $500 to bring the overall total to $1,000.  

For more information, contact Gary Rogers at grogers@eacs.k12.in.us or Brett Windmiller at brett.windmiller@nacs.k12.in.us. 

Flueckiger’s coaching path leads him to Huntington North Vikings baseball

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

New Huntington North High School head baseball coach Mark Flueckiger has had the good fortune of being around many fertile coaching minds during his athletic days.

“I’ve been blessed with a lot of great people in the sports world,” says Flueckiger. “I couldn’t have drawn it up any better.

“You’re always learning something new from somebody.”

Flueckiger (pronounced FLICK-uh-ger) graduated in 1982 from South Adams High School in Berne, Ind., where he played for Bob Bridge in football, Kent Hoopingarner in basketball and Dean Stahly in baseball.

Bridge is in the Indiana Football Hall of Fame. Stahly is in the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame.

The 1982 Starfires were state finalist, losing to eventual state runner-up Roncalli 1-0 in the semifinals.

“Flick” started out at Taylor University in Upland, Ind., where he was going to play football for Jim Law and wound up walking on the baseball team led by Larry Winterholter before transferring to Huntington (Ind.) College (now Huntington University) to be reunited with long-time friend and teammate Dave Neuenschwander (they played together from age 7 to 25, the latter years being with the Portland, Ind., Rockets) and to learn from Foresters coach Mike Frame. He played three years for Huntington and graduated in 1988.

While he was still in college, Flueckiger was a baseball assistant to Steve Rinker at Adams Central High School.

During his days in Sheridan, Ind., Flueckiger taught remedial English to seventh and eighth graders, American Literature to high schoolers and coached just about every sport and lapped up knowledge from Indiana Football Hall of Famer Larry “Bud” Wright for 11 years.

Flueckiger coached for the Indiana Bulls travel organization for five years and worked with former Marian College coach Bret Shambaugh.

Among the Bulls players Fluekiger coached as 16-year-olds were futures pros Matt Mauck, Clint Barmes and Ryan Hutchison.

He then followed Shambaugh in 1996 to Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) as a volunteer pitching coach. It was during the transition from NAIA to NCAA and the team played all its games — 56 a year — on the road for two seasons. He also worked with Brian Donohew at IUPUI.

From there, Flueckiger went to Indiana Tech in Fort Wayne and helped teams led by Lance Hershberger then Steve Devine.

Flueckiger was at Adams Central and Hershsberger at Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger when they first coached against one another.

Matt Brumbaugh was a Tech assistant and had been shortstop at Huntington when Flueckiger was a player.

“You know how the coaching fraternity works,” says Flueckiger. “It’s one big brotherhood.

“It’s a circle that never ends.”

After four years with the Warriors, Flueckiger served on Indiana Baseball Hall of Famer Frame’s staff for 14 years as a pitching coach and recruiting coordinator.

As a player, he learned discipline from Frame.

“I was not the best player in terms of showing respect to my opponents and he had to teach me how to do that,” says Flueckiger. “I thank him for every day he spit it my face or yelled at me because he did it with love.

“He also taught me how to compete and not want to lose.”

Then came the tenure as Frame’s pitching coach. Former Huntington North head coach Jarrod Hammel played at HU.

For a decade, Flueckiger coached summer travel baseball for Mark DeLaGarza’s Summit City Sluggers. He coached at 15-year-old Josh VanMeter.

Since 2000, Flueckiger has been a salesman for Jostens. The past eighth years, he worked northwest Indiana — South Bend to Gary to Lafayette to Wabash — and driven his car about 60,000 miles a year while meeting with coaches, administrators, athletes and parents. He handles Hall of Fame and Coach of the Year rings for the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association.

“I know everybody,” says Flueckiger.

Bill Jones, one of the IHSBCA founders and long-time executive director, was one of Flueckiger’s mentors.

“I knew him from 1977 on,” says Flueckiger, who competed against him when South Adams went against his DeKalb teams. “He was a great man.”

Along the way, Fluekiger has got to coach against and learn from people like Gary Rogers, who coached baseball at Fort Wayne Bishop Luers for decades and is now at Leo.

When Bob Prescott came to Huntington North football as head football coach for 2019, Flueckiger joined his coaching staff as defensive coordinator.

When the head baseball coach position came open, Flueckiger was encouraged to go for it and was hired in early September. Many football players also play baseball for the Vikings.

“Why not just coach them in another sport?,” says Flueckiger. “I just think the kids at Huntington are great.

“The tradition of Huntington North goes way back. When I was in high school we played against (Indiana Baseball Hall of Famer) Don Sherman. In the summertime, we played in his tournaments.”

Many an afternoon or evening during Flueckiger’s college years were spent in the living room at the Sherman home, watching the Chicago Cubs with Don and son Todd Sherman and learning about baseball.

Focusing on football, Flueckiger said he will probably not begin assembling his baseball coaching staff until around Thanksgiving time.

Mark and high school sweetheart Kim will celebrate 30 years of marriage in December. The couple sides near Markle, Ind., with son Calvin (9).

Huntington North (enrollment around 1,500) is a member of the Northeast 8 Conference (with Bellmont, Columbia City, DeKalb, East Noble, Leo, New Haven and Norwell).

The Vikings are part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with Columbia City, Fort Wayne North Side, Fort Wayne South Side, Fort Wayne Wayne and Homestead. Huntington North has won 20 sectional titles — the last in 2017.

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Mark Flueckiger, shown in front of the Portland (Ind.) Rockets mural, is the new head baseball coach at Huntington (Ind.) North High School.

 

Portland (Ind.) Rockets baseball a 60-year tradition

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

“Way to get off the bus, Gus. Scoring runs is fun!”

After the Portland (Ind.) Rockets plated three in the first inning at the National Baseball Federation major division (unlimited age) wood bat regional in Fort Wayne, manager Randy Miller shouted his approval from the third base coach’s box.

Miller has brought enthusiasm to the diamond for much of the organization’s long history.

The Rockets — started in 1959 by Dick Runkle and continued by Ray Miller (Randy’s father) — celebrated 60 years of diamond fun and memories in 2019. That makes it one of the longest-running continuous teams in amateur baseball.

“We go back to our 1960’s roots,” says Portland manager Randy Miller, who has seen the Rockets square off against squads from Albany, Geneva, Dunkirk, Elwood, New Castle, Upland, Yorktown and beyond. A rivalry with the Gas City-based Twin City Bankers is well-chronicled in Bill Lightle’s book “My Mother’s Dream.”

When the Rockets began, they were comprised of players from Portland and later fanned out from Jay County.

“We’re still townball,” says Miller”. We just come from a lot of towns.”

The ’19 Rockets (10-13) had four players who claim Portland as their hometown — Peyton Heniser, Chandler Jacks, Max Moser and captain Mitch Waters. They also came from Auburn, Bluffton, Carmel, Ellettsville, Frankton, Indianapolis, LaPorte, Marion, Pendleton, St. Joseph and Thorntown in Indiana and Coldwater, St. Mary’s and Vandalia in Ohio.

The oldest players were Waters (35), Chris Gaines (33), Zeth Tanner (29), Codey Harrison (28) and Craig Martin (28). The rest were under 25 with seven teenagers. Waters is the director of operations at the Jay County Community Center.

A graduate of Jay County High School and Manchester College, Waters played for the Kalamazoo (Mich.) Kings of the independent Frontier League.

“Our guys are some of the best athletes their high schools have ever had,” says Randy Miller. “They’re gamers.

“I’m just so proud of them.”

Miller, 65, began playing for the Rockets in 1972 and caught a doubleheader at 51. By the 1990’s, he was sharing manager duties with his father and has continued helped continue the tradition.

“I’ve got a motorcycle and a boat,” says Miller, a former teacher at Adams Central High School in Monroe, Ind. “I’m not on them very much in the summer.”

Runkle had the Rockets competing in the old Eastern Indiana Baseball League. Local talent included Steve Takats. His Ball State University teammate, Merv Rettenmund, played for Portland in 1966 and made his big league debut as a player with the Baltimore Orioles in 1968 and was an MLB hitting coach for many years.

The Rockets went 18-1 and won the EIBL in 1968.

With the team in financial trouble, Ray Miller took over in 1972. He doubled the schedule and included games with Fort Wayne teams.

With the support of wife Betty, Ray helped secure a playing facility in Portland that is now known as Runkle-Miller Field.

“Mom was always there with a sandwich and a cold beverage,” says Randy Miller of his mother, who served 16 years as city clerk.

In 1984, the Rockets merged with the Bank of Berne Lancers and went 34-20. The ’85 season was the best to date at 41-14 with Portland’s first-ever American Amateur Baseball Congress state title.

Miller became AABC state secretary in 1991 and the Rockets won AABC state crowns in 1991, 1994, 1996, 1997, 2001, 2004, and 2006 and in more than 30 years as manager Portland won more than 900 games.

Ray Miller died in 2017 and was inducted into the National Semi-Pro Baseball Hall of Fame in 2008. Randy Miller was enshrined in 2011.

With Randy Miller, siblings Brad Miller and Mickey Scott and many community members pitching in, the Rockets have survived. Mickey, who was city clerk for 12 years, used to run Runkle-Miller’s “Rocket Lunching Pad” concession stand and now Brad does it.

All three Miller offspring have taken turns watering the field. The baselines are seeded to help with all the excess rain.

For years, the Rockets were purely a family-funded operation.

Since the mid-1990s, the Rockets have swung wood bats. At first, Randy provided those. But that got too expensive and now the players provide their own clubs.

For $100, the team picks up the cost of caps, uniforms and handles insurance.

Randy Miller carries on a tradition by giving the “Rocket Report” on WPGW 100.9 FM on afternoons following games. Samantha Thomas, who once worked for the Fort Wayne TinCaps, is involved with keeping score and other team functions.

Randy Miller schedules games, recruits players, pays bills and generally keeps the Rockets going.

“That’s my legacy,” says Miller. “I carry the torch.”

The Rockets coaching tree spreads far and wide, especially along the U.S. 27 corridor.

“They want to give back to the game,” says Miller. “We are a baseball town. I really believe that.”

Among former Rockets are Jay County High School head coach Lea Selvey, Adams Central head coach Dave Neuenschwander and Bethel University head coach Seth Zartman.

Portland won 35 or more games a season throughout the 2000’s and went to the NABF World Series in Buffalo, N.Y., in 2012. A few years ago, the Rockets posted a 35-12 mark.

In 2018, an $28,000 scoreboard was installed at Runkle-Miller Field.

A 60-foot “Wall of Dreams” mural on the side of Portland’s Ritz Theatre was painted by Pamela Bliss and dedicated July 28 and many alums and Rocket backers came to celebrate.

Wearing the gold and black, fans were in Fort Wayne to see the Rockets’ latest season come to a close.

But the fun is not over yet for 2019. The annual Rocket Rally golf outing is scheduled for Sept. 22 at Portland Golf Club. For more information, email Randy Miller at ramiller15@embarqmail.com.

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Randy Miller and Mitch Waters share in the spoils of victory for the Portland (Ind.) Rockets baseball team. (Portland Rockets Photo)

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Dalton Tinsley hits for the Portland (Ind.) Rockets baseball team. (Portland Rockets Photo)

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Former players and fans gathered July 28, 2019 for the dedication of a 60-foot “Wall of Dreams” mural and celebration of 60 years of Portland (Ind.) Rockets baseball. (Portland Rockets Photo)

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Artist Pamela Bliss created the 60-foot “Wall of Dreams” mural on the side of the Ritz Theatre in Portland, Ind. On Aug. 28, 2019, there was a

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Siblings Brad Miller (left), Randy Miller and Mickey Scott stand in front of a “Wall of Dreams” mural in Portland, Ind., celebrating 60 years of Portland (Ind.) Rockets baseball. The mural behind them depicts Randy and their father, Ray Miller, who were co-managers for years.

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The story of the Portland (Ind.) Rockets baseball team and the “Wall of Dreams.” (Portland Rockets Photo)

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Runkle-Miller Field received a $28,000 scoreboard in 2018. The field is home to the Portland (Ind.) Rockets baseball team, which has been around since 1959. (Portland Rockets Photo)

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Stambazze keeping minds in motion for Whitko Wildcats

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

First-year head coach Bob Stambazze says he wants his baseball players at Whitko Junior-Senior High School in South Whitley, Ind., to process the game.

“Your mind is constantly in motion,” says Stambazze. “We do chalk talk and go through (defensive) scenarios. Every play, everyone has a responsibility. Who to back up is so important in this game.

“Remember, back-ups are your last line of defense.”

Stambazze says he wants to establish a solid base for the program in years to come.

“They can say I did it the right way and they can build off of that,” says Stambazze.

A familiar face and voice to athletics in the area covered by the Three Rivers Conference (Fulton, Kosciusko, Miami, Wabash and Whitley counties), Stambazze also serves as sports director and play-by-play announcer for WJOT-FM 105.9 in Wabash and WARU-FM 101.9 in Peru.

He was hired for the baseball job at Whitko this winter after the unexpected passing of head coach Mark Fisher at 35 on Oct. 15, 2018.

“Mark said he got into coaching for how I treated him in Little League,” says Stambazze. “I want to continue what he tried to set up.”

Fisher played for Stambazze as a boy in Huntington County Baseball and was close with Bob and Marla Stambazze’s sons, Jake and Bobby. Both sons are married with two children. Jake Stambazze played multiple positions for Indiana Tech coach Steve Devine and was an NAIA All-America honorable mention for the Warriors in Fort Wayne in 2005.

Bob Stambazze played baseball at Huntington North High School, where he graduated in 1971. The first three years, Paul Buzzard was Vikings head coach. Wally Stoffel began in Stambazze’s senior season and took the team all the way to semistate.

Stambazze counts Don Sherman, Chuck Brimbury and Mike Frame as mentors.

At Huntington North, Stambazze competed against Tipton High School and then-Blue Devils head coach Sherman. It wasn’t long after that Sherman became head coach at Huntington North and went on to a successful career that got him elected to the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

In Sherman, Stambazze saw a fierce competitor and someone devoted to baseball basics.

“He was very intense and everything had to be fundamental,” says Stambazze. “Like he did, I teach (fielders) to track the ball into the glove and ‘gator’ the ball with your right hand and glove. You always used two hands.”

Brimbury coached at Huntington North with Sherman then enjoyed his own success at Peru High School.

“I don’t know if anybody will play as aggressively as a Chuck Brimbury team,” says Stambazze. “He’s one of the more competitive and fun coaches to be around.”

Stambazze credits long-time Huntington University head baseball coach Frame for setting an example of how to handle pitchers and student-athletes.

“He was pitcher and he’s a student of pitching,” says Stambazze of Frame. “He does such a wonderful job with his staff. He has minimized stuff with his staff so they can do more. He breaks things down.

“His faith toward his players, it’s so important. I’ve always believed in telling parents, ‘they’re your sons and daughters, but they’re always going to be my kids.’”

Stambazze sold sporting goods for 32 years. He’s been an IHSAA-licensed official since 1975. This school year, he worked about 20 football games and eight basketball contests. He will be occupied this spring so he won’t be calling softball.

As for calling games on the radio, he does that for high schools in Wabash and Howard counties and Manchester University football and basketball.

“No one has more fun doing it than I do,” says Stambazze, who went on the air 13 years ago as a color commentator and moved over to play-by-play when there was an opening for that position. Uniquely, his color person rotates by the game.

“I’ve had moms work games with me, but they had to keep all the stats,” says Stambazze, who earned the Virgil Sweet Distinguished Service Award from the Indiana Basketball Coaches Association in 2015.

He calls 80 to 90 basketball games a year between high school varsity and junior varsity and college. This past sectional season saw him pull through while dealing with acute laryngitis. He also hosts a weekly Coaches’ Show for during football and basketball seasons.

Stambazze was drafted by the U.S. Army in 1972 and served in Germany. where he played basketball, managed the AYA on base and coached swimming. He played for the Germany/American baseball team in the world tournament in Nicargua in 1973 and coached the European 14-16 All-Stars to the Big League World Series in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in 1974.

After his military service, Stambazze played in three world fast pitch softball tournaments and also served as Huntington County Baseball president. He has been head softball coach at Huntington University and an assistant at Indiana Tech and Wabash High School.

Stambazze took over the Wildcats in time to help with some winter workouts. His assistant is Preston Myers, who made a long daily commute from Lebanon, Ind., to assist with the Northfield High School boys basketball program and is doing the same with Whitko baseball.

There have been 26 players with just two seniors at recent practices for varsity and junior varsity teams.

“We have a good JV schedule with about 20 games,” says Stambazze.

Whitko (enrollment around 460) will compete in the TRC with Maconaquah, Manchester, Northfield, North Miami, Peru, Rochester, Southwood, Tippecanoe Valley and Wabash.

Non-conference opponents include Adams Central, Bellmont, Bluffton, Churubusco, Heritage, Lakeland, Lakewood Park Christian, New Haven, Prairie Heights, Southern Wells, Wawasee and West Noble.

The Wildcats are part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Lewis Cass, Manchester, Oak Hill, Rochester and Wabash. Whitko won the program’s lone sectional crown in 2017 with Erik Hisner as head coach and Fisher as one of his assistants. Hisner then went to Northfield as an assistant and is now athletic director at Eastern High School in Greentown, Ind.

Whitko plays its home games on-campus. Since his youth, Stambazze has known the importance of grooming the diamond.

“I’ve always taken care of the field,” says Stambazze. “That kind of comes naturally to me. Our kids do a very good job. They had the rakes in their hands after practice.

“You’ve got to own your program.”

Stambazze has held a clinic for the Larwill youth baseball league and hopes to do the same for youth leagues in Pierceton and South Whitley. Those organizations cover T-ball to Pony League.

There is currently not junior high baseball at Whitko, but it’s something that Stambazze and athletic director Josh Mohr have talked about.

Stambazze opposes some of the rule changes Major League Baseball is implementing like limiting pitching changes and the like.

“MLB doesn’t need to manage the game,” says Stambazze. “That’s part of baseball. They’re trying to take the human element out of the game. That’s the greatest part of the game. Leave it alone.”

The coach does favor the idea of high school batters staying in the batter’s box and the pitchers not taking too much time between deliveries.

“You want to have a flow to the game,” says Stambazze.

The IHSAA pitch count (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days) came along in 2017 and Stambazze favors that. Prior to the restriction, he broadcast games when pitchers representing the same school threw 225 and 175 pitches in tournament play.

Scrimmage rules allow for four innings of 10 batters each. Stambazze says he is planning to use 10 pitchers for four batters apiece in Whitko’s scrimmage and then restrict them to 45 tosses in each of the Wildcats’ first two regular-season games and work up from there.

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Bob Stambazze is entering his first season as head baseball coach at Whitko Junior-Senior High School in South Whitley, Ind., in 2019. He is a Huntington North High School graduate and is sports director and play-by-play announcer for sports director and play-by-play announcer for WJOT-FM 105.9 in Wabash and WARU-FM 101.9 in Peru. (Jan’s Photography Photo)

Herrold, Bluffton Tigers preparing to prowl in 2019

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

For Stacy Herrold, coaching baseball is not just about balls and strikes, safe and out.

“I look to create those relationships with my boys,” says Herrold, who will make the 2019 season his third as head coach and the eighth in the program at Bluffton (Ind.) High School.

The Tigers went 5-21 in Herrold’s first season in charge. After graduating one senior, Bluffton went and 15-11 in 2018, bowing 7-3 to South Adams in the IHSAA Class 2A Adams Central Sectional championship game. South Adams lost 1-0 to eventual state champion Boone Grove in the Whiting Regional final.

There are 11 players back, including Kankakee Community College commit Gavin King, from that Bluffton team this spring.

“We’re going to have a good run,” says Herrold. “I’m excited.”

Herrold is a 2004 graduate of Caston Junior/Senior High School in Fulton, Ind., where he played two years for coach Mike Buczkowski then two for Clay Hannah.

“He was super-patient,” says Herrold of Buczkowski, son of late Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Len Buczkowski. “He wanted to stick with the process. “That’s something I didn’t do very well my first season (at Bluffton) after inheriting a team that was 5-24 the year before.

“(Hannah) wanted us just to compete. He always used that word. He wanted guys who would compete day in and day out.”

After high school, right-handed pitcher Herrold spent five years at Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne (he was redshirted for one season) and his head coach was Billy Gernon for the first four seasons and Bobby Pierce for the last.

“They had completely different styles, but both had great ways of getting things done,” says Herrold of Gernon and Pierce. “I owe them both a lot.”

“Coach Gernon was the epitome of a college coach. You clock in, work hard and take care of your studies.

“Coach Pierce had more of a pro style coaching philosophy. He trusted us more to get the job done. He didn’t have to watch us like a hawk. It was more about growing as individuals and molding into a collaborative team.”

Herrold, who had Tommy John, ulnar nerve and sports hernia surgeries during his career, is also greatful for Mastodons pitching coach Grant Birely.

“Coach Birely made me so much better of a pitcher,” says Herrold. “I started feeling the ball better out of my hand and having more success.”

One of the highlights was a 4-1 complete-game loss against a strong University of Michigan team in 2009.

Gernon played for Bob Morgan at Indiana University.

“I met Bob Morgan,” says Herrold. “(Gernon) was a spitting image of Bob Morgan. He was intense. He worked us hard. He got the best out of our bodies.

“I also remember he had a plethora of life quotes. I use quotes everyday with my practice plan.”

During this limited contact period, baseball is coordinating with other spring sports for practice time in the “Concrete Jungle” portion of The Tiger Den.

“We use those two hours to the best of our ability, getting arms in shape so we can long toss with the 120- to 150-foot area we have,” says Herrold. “We focus on bullpens, conditioning and taking as many swings as a we can so we can hit the ground running when the first pitch comes.

“If it’s 40 or above, we’ll go out on the turf on the football field.”

The three-sport athlete is not uncommon at Bluffton (enrollment around 470). The Tigers part of the Allen County Athletic Conference (with Adams Central, Heritage, Jay County, South Adams, Southern Wells and Woodlan).

Bluffton is in an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Adams Central, Churubusco, Fort Wayne Canterbury, South Adams and Woodlan. The Tigers have won four sectionals — the last in 2009.

Herrold is getting Bluffton players ready for the 2019 season with the help of assistants Kevin Powell (varsity), Eric Mettler (JV) and Ryan Crist (JV). Powell is a Norwell High School graduate. He teaches in the engineering department at Bluffton and helped place new railings and netting in front of the dugouts at the Tigers’ home field located northwest of the football stadium. Mettler (who pitched at Marietta (Ohio) College) and Crist are Bluffton graduates.

Koltan Moore (Kankakee CC) is a recent Bluffton grad who moved on to college baseball. Dane Hoffman (University of Saint Francis) is another. Jake Garrett finished at the Fort Wayne school two years ago.

In June, Bluffton, New Haven, Adams Central, Heritage and South Adams are among teams who play Monday and Wednesday doubleheaders to give returning players more reps.

Bluffton Youth Baseball has leagues from T-ball to Koufax division (ages 13-15). Area travel teams that attack Tigers include the Bluffton Bandits, Berne Bears and Summit City Sluggers.

Herrold is a sixth grade science teacher at Bluffton-Harrison Middle School. He and wife Andrea (a Fort Wayne Bishop Luers High School graduate) have two children — daughter Finlay (5) and son Hayden (3).

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Stacey Herrold and his Bluffton Tigers celebrate winning the Garrett Invitational in 2018.

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The Herrolds (clockwise from upper left): Stacy, Andrea, Hayden and Finlay. Stacy is head baseball coach at Bluffton (Ind.) High School and teaches sixth grade science at Bluffton-Harrison Middle School.

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Stacy Herrold enters his eighth season as a baseball coach at Bluffton (Ind.) High School in 2019. It will be his third as head coach of the Tigers.