IHSAA baseball practice has arrived and the Northeast Indiana Baseball Association has announced its Dick Crumback/NEIBA High School Player of the Year watch list for 2023. An email was sent out to the baseball coaches from Adams, Allen, DeKalb, Noble, Huntington, Wells and Whitley counties. These are the counties that the NEIBA covers when choosing their Hall of Fame members. Each coach was asked to nominate any player(s) that he feels could be in the running for such an honor. The watch list features 70 players. The list will be narrowed down in early May and finalists will be announced. The Dick Crumback/NEIBA High School Player of the Year will be honored May 24 to coincide with the start of the IHSAA state tournament. The Player of the Year will be honored at a Fort Wayne TinCaps game and at the June 11 Hall of Fame banquet. Past winners of the award include Grant Besser (South Adams) in 2019, Carter Mathison (Homestead) in 2021 and Dalton Wasson (Heritage) in 2022. The organization has honored local baseball players, personnel and ambassadors since 1961. For more information, contact Gary Rogers at firstname.lastname@example.org or Brett Windmiller at email@example.com.
Kyle Baker has been on the job as a baseball assistant coach at Manchester University in North Manchester, Ind., for less than two months. He took the full-time job after 1 1/2 years as a volunteer at University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne, Ind., where he was also a player. Baker has been involved in recruiting and is getting ready for practice to resume at NCAA Division III Manchester on Jan. 30. The Spartans open the 2023 season Feb. 25-28 with games in Myrtle Beach, S.C. Manchester is to play DePauw in a March 4 doubleheader at Bishop Chatard High School in Indianapolis. The home opener at Gratz Field is slated for March 8 against Olivet College. Baker will be working with catchers and hitters and has talked with veteran Manchester head coach Rick Espeset (2023 will be his 27th season in charge of the Spartans) about how they will take on first base coaching duties. While Baker sets up routines for infielders and outfielders, Espeset is crafting regimens for pitchers. “I want to gain his insight on what practice plans should look like for Manchester,” says Baker. “(Coach Espeset) been doing it for a long time. He’s really good at what he does. I’m fortunate to learn from him.” The rest of Espy’s staff includes Josh Brock and volunteers Keith Shepherd and Peter Shepherd. Baker, who grew up in Monroe, Ind., traces his drive to coach to his senior year (2014) at Adams Central High School in Monroe, where he played baseball for Jets head coach Dave Neuenschwander. “I learned a lot from Newy,” says Baker. “I enjoyed playing for him. I liked it so much I went back and coached with him.” AC’s Lance Busse, Josh Foster (who is now head coach), Jalen Hammond, Joel Reinhard and Thad Harter also have a place in Baker’s heart. Most of Baker’s time as a player was spent at catcher and he sees the connection between catching and coaching. “You see a lot of big league catchers go into managing and they are typically successful because they know every facet of the game,” says Baker. “There’s always so much going on.” Baker is demanding with his receivers. “I expect a lot out of my catchers,” says Baker. “I tell them mid-play if a pitcher is not backing up (a base) where he’s supposed to be. You’ve got to remind them while watching the runners and trying to decide where the ball needs to be redirected. I expect them to compete at a high level all the time and be able to block the ball whenever they need to. “The key to a successful baseball team is having a really talented and baseball-savvy catcher.” Baker places receiving, blocking and calling pitches as high priorities for catchers and plans practices accordingly. He throws in game situations like fielding pop-ups and backing up bases. “Knowing where everyone is supposed to be on any given play is pretty high up on my list,” says Baker. “You really set your team up for success when you’re able to know what’s going to happen before it happens.” Knowledge of each pitchers’ repertoire is key. “What’s their best pitch and what are they’re not so comfortable with?,” says Baker. “How can you talk to them? Is this a pitcher that you can scold a little bit or is this a pitcher that you need to talk to more calmly? “Just what type of pitcher are they and how are you going handle specific situations? There are 100 different situations.” Baker also wants his catchers to develop relationships with umpires. Before every game, they introduce themselves to the official and get their first name. They find out what they can do to make the umpire’s job easier that day. “Ultimately, we want to have umpires that want to come back to our field and the person that they talked to the most has to probably be the nicest, too,” says Baker. A topic in the catching world in receiving the ball with one on the ground. Baker is both new school and old school on this. “When (runners) are on-base or there’s two strikes on the batter we need to be on two feet (because it allows more lateral movement than one knee down, which is a knee saver),” says Baker. “Why not use the best of both worlds?” Baker says coaching college hitters often comes down to making one minor adjustment as opposed to a total overhaul of their swing. “They’ve probably been successful at some point in their career,” says Baker. “What I teach may work for you, but it may not work for your teammate. It’s not a cookie-cutter approach. “Coaching hitting is a really tough thing to do because it is so individualized. You get into it and see how they hit and react to certain things. “If you’ve got a team of 50 players there’s probably going to be 50 different swings that you have to learn and adapt to as a coach.” As a coach at NAIA’s Saint Francis, Baker gained an appreciation for giving college players a good experience from Cougars head coach Dustin Butcher and assistants Connor Lawhead and Kristian Gayday and for Butcher’s running game. “That’s something I’ll probably keep forever because (Saint Francis) is very successful at it,” says Baker. “It’s aggressive and knowing when to run. “We talked a lot about the ‘free base war.’ When the defense is not paying attention but the ball is still in-play why not try for that extra base?” Baker attended the 2023 American Baseball Coaches Association Convention in Nashville. This gave him a chance to network and bounce ideas off of other coaches. “Nobody ever knows all the answers in baseball,” says Baker. “It’s just an endless pool of possibilities and outcomes. Someone in California many have seen something that I have not seen here in Indiana yet. “There’s always stuff to learn at these clinics. Some of it you may use, some of it you may not use. It all just depends on how it fits your program.” Baker is coaching athletes, but it goes further than that. “I want to develop them as baseball players but also as student-athletes and people who are going to grow and maybe one day have their own families if they so choose,” says Baker. “Whatever they want to do in life. I want to put them on a path for their own success as much as I can. “You’ve got to be a really good time manager when it comes to college. You typically find out right away if you’re going to be good at it or it’s something you need to improve upon.” Baker has been dating Goshen (Ind.) High School and Goshen (Ind.) College graduate Lourdes Resendiz for more than two years. Kyle’s parents are Richard and Yolanda Baker and he is the middle of three brother, between Randall Baker and Matthew Baker.
A large swath of Josh Foster’s life — nearly 20 years — has been attached to baseball at Adams Central Middle/High School in Monroe, Ind. The new Jets head coach was a student manager for three years of middle school. He played for AC for four years under four different head coaches — Dave Neuenschwander, Mark Conrad, Jody Wendle and Herb Bergman. “It was a blessing,” says Foster. “I gained knowledge from all four.” After college, he came back and served junior varsity coach and then varsity assistant. Neuenschwander approached him to let him know 2022 — Nick Neuenschwander’s senior year — would be his last year leading the baseball program. “We were in-sync,” says Foster of himself and Dave Neunschwander, who also imparted lessons to him on the football field. “My senior year, (head coach Rick) Minnich needed to motivate me a little bit. He sent me to Coach Newy who said we need to to step it up. He was not rude, but was not going to sugar-coat it. We’ve had that friendship. “It’s been great having a mentor like that.” Adams Central lost in the baseball sectional in Foster’s junior year (2000) then finished as IHSAA Class 1A state runners-up in his senior season (2001). Foster was one of 19 seniors on the Jets 2000 Class 1A state football championship team and one of nine 12th graders on the baseball and basketball teams (AC advanced to the regional). Foster played three seasons at the Doug Coate-coached University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne. “I was transitioning into a closer, but I was ready to get married,” says Foster, who made high school sweetheart and 2002 Adams Central graduate Julie his wife and the couple went about building a family that now includes five children — seventh grader Jencee, fifth grader Jaxsen, fourth grader Jordyn and kingergarteners Judsen and Jarren. Josh has been involved with coach his sons’ youth and travel teams. Kevin Foster, Josh’s father, took him to Pony League practices at 3 and has helped his son as a coach. Adams Central (enrollment around 375) is a member of the Allen County Athletic Conference (with Bluffton, Heritage, Jay County, South Adams, Southern Wells and Woodlan). The Jets were part of an IHSAA Class 2A baseball sectional grouping in 2022 with Bluffton, Churubusco, Eastside, South Adams and Woodlan. Adams Central has won eight sectional titles — the last in 2016. The Jets last won the ACAC in 1976. For the first time in years Adams Central is taking part in IHSAA Limited Contact Period fall practices (two hours two times a week). Led by Foster and junior varsity coach Lance Busse (Class of 2016), these sessions have been attended by up to 12 players — many of them sixth graders. Foster has been putting together AC’s first middle school baseball program. It will likely be a club team with seventh and eighth grade squads playing game against Indiana and Ohio teams during the spring. Two dozen middle school players came out to a recent meeting and more are expected. Foster is seeking volunteers to coach the boys. This supplements the feeder program that is the Monroe Youth League. Besides Busse, Foster expects Jalen Hammond (Class of 2019) to be on the coaching staff. A project on Adams Central’s field calls for leveling the infield and there has been talk of installing a warning track. Knowing the players as he does, Foster is optimistic about the Jets’ potential. “I am expecting a lot out of the guys, says Foster. “We lost nine (to graduation) last year. “If come out ready to work and do things that right way we can be successful.” Class of 2022’s Blake Heyerly at (Vincennes, Ind., University) and Jaren Hildebrand (Spring Arbor University), Class of 2021’s Justin Bultemeier (Ivy Tech Northeast Community College in Fort Wayne) and Class of 2019’s Parker Bates (Indiana Tech in Fort Wayne) are recent Adams Central graduates that moved on to college baseball. “Coach Neuenschwander did a nice job of getting guys seen and plan to continue that,” says Foster. Dalton Combs (Class of 2013) was a 2022 Frontier League All-Star in Washington, Pa. Foster took some of his young players to see Combs in the game. Kyle Baker (Class of 2014) is on the Saint Francis coaching staff. Foster is also Indiana Farm Bureau Insurance agent, based in Monroe.
Todd Farr helped achieve baseball success at Jay County Junior/Senior High School in Portland, Ind., on the staff of veteran head coach Lea Selvey. With Selvey retiring after the 2022 season, Farr is now in charge of keeping the momentum going for the Patriots. Farr was head baseball coach at Eastbrook High School in Marion, Ind., from 2012-17 before becoming a Selvey assistant at Jay County for the 2018 season. In 34 seasons, Selvey won 528 of the 880 games he coached with seven sectional titles, three regional crowns and six conference championships. Selvey also made an impression on Farr. “He brought a lot of fun to the game,” says Farr, who also coached Summit City Sluggers teams with Selvey. “Lea’s an incredible guy. He’s seen a lot. “He’s got a real calm demeanor about him. Players feed off him. Sometimes I get real antsy and uptight at times. “It really was a joy to coach with him the last few years.” When Selvey let it be known that he was retiring, Farr applied for the job and received support from principal Chad Dodd (who coached at Eastbrook with Brian Abbott when Farr was a player and then was head coach at Blackford) and Patriots athletic director Steve Boozier. “I’m greatly appreciative of those guys for believing in me,” says Farr. Jay County (enrollment around 870) is a member of the Allen County Athletic Conference] (with Adams Central, Bluffton, Heritage, South Adams, Southern Wells and Woodlan). The Patriots were part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping in 2022 with Delta, Guerin Catholic, Hamilton Heights, New Castle and Yorktown. Jay County has won nine sectional titles — the last in 2019. The school board will need to approve Farr’s assistants which will be some of Selvey’s former players. Jay County varsity and junior teams play and practices on Don E. Selvey Field. Lea’s father looked after the diamond followed by Lea. Farr spent much of the summer of 2022 tending to the facility. “I want our guys take to pride in it,” says Farr, who had spent recent summers coaching the Sluggers and the Dirt Bags in the Fort Wayne-based Indiana Collegiate Summer Baseball League. Denise Selvey, Lea’s wife, has been a babysitter for Todd and Holly Farr. The couple have three children (two girls and a boy) — sixth grader Makenzi (11), fourth grader Kendall (9) and preschooler Kaysen (5). Todd followed Holly to the Jay County district. She is a fourth grade teacher at West Jay Elementary School in Dunkirk. He teaches Special Education for Grades 7-12. Since he is a teacher and a former assistant, Farr already knows the players. He looks forward to working with them twice weekly during the IHSAA Limited Contact Period that goes from Aug. 29-Oct. 15. “We’ll work on fundamentals,” says Farr. “I’m big on do the small things in games that leading to bigger things.” While there are no college commitments yet among current players, Farr says many are working toward that goal. Recent graduates moving on to collegiate diamonds include Wyatt Geesaman (Class of 2019) who went to the University of Cincinnati and is transferring to Northern Kentucky University. There’s also Class of 2022’s Quinn Faulkner and Crosby Heniser headed to Manchester University and Sam Dunlavy bound for Ivy Tech Northeast in Fort Wayne. Kess McBride (Class of 2022) had planned to try to walk-on and become a bullpen catcher at Purdue University. Faulkner, Heniser and McBride were all part of the Muncie Post 19 Chiefs team that won the 2022 Indiana American Legion Senior Baseball Championship and competed in the Great Lakes Regional in Midland, Mich. A school-run junior high program had tryouts in the summer so those players can also participate in fall activities and learn and develop in the Jay County way. “The high school guys will take them under their wings,” says Farr, who expects close to 30 seventh and eighth graders. “This community is big into baseball. Numbers have never been an issue here.” Playing and practicing at Miller-Runkle Field — home of the Portland Rockets — the junior high teams will conduct their season in the spring. Farr says opponents on the schedule will closely resemble that of the high school. The new Jay County Baseball Club is to field 8U, 10U and 11U travel teams in 2023. Farr, who is president of the organization’s board, says there will be a fall skills clinic next month. “It will be a bunch of development,” says Farr. “They’ll see how we warm-up and do fundamental stuff.” The club works with recreation leagues — Portland Junior League and Redkey Junior League. “It’s for kids who want to play some extra baseball,” says Farr. “I truly believe it’s going to lead to some good things in the history of Jay County baseball.” Farr, a 2004 Eastbrook graduate, credits Abbott for setting an example and being a friend. “He’s one of those guys who’s in my corner,” says Farr of Abbott. Before he was his high school baseball coach, Abbott coached Farr in junior high basketball. “I was raised by a single mother,” says Farr. “He picked me up for practice. Then I played for him for four years and I saw how important family is to him. He means a lot to me and my family. “That’s why I’m into coaching baseball today. I saw the joy he had with the guys.” Abbott is now executive director of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association and a member of the IHSBCA Hall of Fame. Recruited for baseball and football at Taylor University in Upland, Ind., Farr opted to play football. He received a General Studies degree and later earned his teaching accreditation from Taylor online.
Jason Pierce knows what kind of identity he wants for his Bluffton (Ind.) High School baseball team. “Our motto is to control what we can control,” says Pierce, who asks his Tigers not to dwell on mistakes and to rally together. “We’re very much a family here. This sport has a lot of ups and down. We want our players to have controlled aggression and do the little things the best they possibly can.” Pierce stresses life lessons, high academics and building maturity in young men. “We want to productive members of society,” says Pierce, who took over the program before the 2020 season taken away by the COVID-19 pandemic after seven seasons as head coach at Eastside Junior/Senior High School (Butler, Ind.) and two campaigns leading the Churubusco (Ind.) Junior/Senior High School program. “You learn that through team sports.” Bluffton went 14-16-1 in 2021 with five on-run losses and a pair of one-run victories with a team featuring just one senior starter. “We’re young on paper, but we’ve got a lot of experience on the field,” says Pierce in looking ahead to 2022. “We’ve got a lot of athletes. We’re in a really good spot with guys who can move around the field. “As long as we can keep our heads I think we’re going to be a pretty dangerous baseball team.” The 14 players on Bluffton’s MaxPreps.com roster (as of March 28) include six seniors — middle infielder/pitcher Brock Drayer, outfielder/catcher Lukas Hunt, outfielder/pitcher/first baseman Dylan King, outfielder/pitcher/shortstop Kyler Rolston, pitcher/first baseman Grant Thompson and pitcher/outfielder Kayden Vineyard plus four juniors in corner infielder/pitcher Curtis Ellis, catcher/outfielder Kayden King, pitcher/infielder/outfielder, outfielder/pitcher Austin Lewis, Andrew Onuegbu and outfielder/pitcher Drew Pressler and three sophomores in pitcher/first baseman/outfielder Braxton Betancourt, middle infielder/pitcher Eli Garrett and catcher/pitcher Brody Lewis. Left-hander Betancourt (5-5, 1.43 earned run average, 97 strikeouts in 63 2/3 innings) was the Tigers’ No. 1 pitcher in 2021 and Pierce expects him to have the same role in 2022. Bluffton is to open the season Tuesday, April 5 at New Haven. On a team with as many as 10 players can be effective pitchers, Pierce looks at right-hander Ellis as his probable No. 2. Kaleb Riley (Class of 2021) is now on the baseball team at Indiana University South Bend. Bluffton (enrollment around 470) is a member of the Allen County Athletic Conference (with Adams Central, Heritage, Jay County, South Adams, Southern Wells and Woodlan). The Tigers is scheduled play Adams Central and Southern Wells twice with the second game counting toward the ACAC standings. Bluffton is slated to meet Heritage, Jay County, South Adams and Woodlan one time each. In 2021, the Tigers were runner-up in a IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Adams Central, Eastside (host and champion), Churubusco, South Adams and Woodlan. Bluffton has won five sectional crowns — the last in 2019. Bluffton plays home games on Everett Scott Field. The facility on the north side of the campus is named after the Indiana Hall of Famer who played in a then-record 1,307 consecutive games for the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees 1916-25. Providing early diamond opportunities is Bluffton Youth Baseball (T-ball to age 15). Most high school players are with travel organizations, including the Indiana Bandits, Midwest Aces and Summit City Sluggers. Pierce’s 2022 coaching staff features Tim Garrett, Marco Betancourt (pitching coach) and Doug Pressler with the varsity and Trae Jojola and Cody Harris with the junior varsity. A 1993 graduate of St. Marys (Ohio) High School, Pierce played one season at Sinclair College in Dayton, Ohio, and then transferred to Indiana Tech in Fort Wayne, Ind. He got hurt in the fall and did not get to play for Lance Hershberger’s Warriors. Pierce, who teaches seventh grade at Bluffton-Harrison Middle School, has two daughters — Leo sophomore Lillian (16) and Heritage grade schooler Harper (8).
With the beginning of IHSAA baseball practice, the Northeast Indiana Baseball Association has put out its Dick Crumback/NEIBA High School Player of the Year Watch List for 2022. An email was sent to baseball coaches in Adams, Allen, DeKalb, Noble, Huntington, Wells and Whitley counties. These are the counties that the NEIBA covers when choosing their Hall of Famers. Each coach was asked to nominated any player(s) that he feels could be in the running for such an honor. The list of 72 will be narrowed down in finalists in early May and the Dick Crumback/NEIBA Player of the Year will be announced May 25 to coincide with the beginning of the IHSAA baseball tournament series. The player of the year will be honored at a Fort Wayne TinCaps game in early June and at the NEIBA Hall of Fame banquet June 12. Homestead’s Carter Mathison was the 2021 honoree. The organization has honored local baseball players, personnel and ambassadors since 1961. For more information, contact Gary Rogers at firstname.lastname@example.org or Brett Windmiller at email@example.com.
DICK CRUMBACK/NEIBA HIGH SCHOOL PLAYER OF THE YEAR WATCH LIST 2022 Adams Central (Coach Dave Neuenschwander) Sr. Alex Currie Jr. Ryan Black Sr. Jaron Hildebrand Sr. Blake Heyerly Bishop Dwenger (Coach Jason Garrett) So. Brayton Thomas Sr. Xavier Aguirre Sr. Jack Tippmann Bishop Luers (Coach Jeff Stanski) Jr. Cam Martinez Sr. Paul Birkmeier Carroll (Coach Dave Ginder) Sr. Alex Smith Sr. Jaydan Duba Sr. Jordan Malott Jr. Will Worrel Jr. Thomas Tratnyek Jr. Andrew Sinish Jr. Daniel Kirk So. Conner Barkel Central Noble (Coach Tyler Graybeal) Sr. Will Hoover Churubusco (Coach Jordan Turner) Sr. Keenan Hendricks Sr. Cal Ostrowski Columbia City (Coach Rob Bell) Sr. Sam Gladd Sr. Adin Miller Sr. Julian Osselaer DeKalb (Coach Collin Bice) Sr. Bryce Dobson Sr. Logan Jordan Jr. Eli Ehmke Jr. Tegan Irk Jr. Ethan Jordan Jr. Alex Leslie Jr. Logan Montoya Jr. Parker Smith Jr. Donnie Wiley East Noble (Coach Aaron Desmonds) Sr. Brayden Risedorph Eastside (Coach Aaron Willard) Sr. Jack Buchanan Sr. Nick Snyder Sr. Owen Willard Garrett (Coach Jason Richards) Sr. Graham Kelham Sr. Trey Richards Sr. Kail Baughman Jr. Luke Byers So. Luke Holcomb Heritage (Coach Dean Lehrman) Sr. Dalton D. Wasson Homestead (Coach Nick Byall) Sr. Brennen Weigert Sr. Nick Hockemeyer Sr. Caden Tarango Jr. Jake Goode Jr. Bryce Yoder Sr. Braydon Quintana Sr. Carter Dixon Sr. Jackson Todor Huntington North (Coach Jarod Hammel) Sr. Austin Oswalt Leo (Coach Gary Rogers) Sr. Cohden Brubaker Sr. Donavin Massing Jr. Jevon Walker So. Kylar Decker New Haven (Coach Dave Bischoff) Sr. Connor Cannon Northrop (Coach Matt Brumbaugh) Sr. Luke Siren So. Pernell Whitsett North Side (Coach Austin Mannan) Jr. Gabriel Oliva Snider (Coach Josh Clinkenbeard) Sr. Trevor Newman Sr. Cade Hinton Fr. Landen Fry Fr. Brandon Logan Sr. Aaron Fenn Sr. Domanic Moon Sr. Jakob Byler South Adams (Coach Brad Buckingham) Sr. A.J. Dull South Side (Coach Will Coursen-Carr) Sr. Perry Stow So. Evan Harl Southern Wells (Coach Blade Rheinhart) Sr. Branson Rheinhart Sr. Evan Reynolds Sr. Owen Vickrey
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.”
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.