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‘The Best We’ve Got: The Carl Erskine Story’ makes Indianapolis premier

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

“The Best We’ve Got: The Carl Erskine Story” — a film by Ted Green — made its Indianapolis debut Thursday, Aug. 18 at the Tobias Theater aka The Toby.
After the screening presented by Heartland Film, Green told why he chose the documentary subject.
“I like to do films that celebrate the triumph of the human spirit,” said Green, a producer, director, writer and researcher who partnered with Indiana Historical Society and created a cinematic portrayal of the man who has impacted the baseball world and so much more. “I just found myself drawn to this 95-year old guy up in Anderson, Ind., who was able to sort of move social mountains — not through bombast, not through money, but through grace, through humility, through servant leadership — and I will tell you that the last two years spent during production were the greatest two years of education of my life.
“Maybe just maybe niceness and decency can win in the end.”
Esteemed broadcaster Bob Costas summed it up in his on-screen introduction: “It was a story told softly as you’re about to see and hear about a story that cumulatively speaks to a person who’s deeply admirable.”
Erskine, who became known as “The Gentleman from Indiana,” was born Dec. 13, 1926 in Anderson, won 122 games as a right-handed pitcher for the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers.
Throwing an overhand curveball that Hall of Fame announcer Vin Scully said could be seen in a snowstorm, Erskine struck out a then-record 14 batters in the 1953 World Series.
“Oisk” — as Brooklyn fans called him — is the last living member of the 1955 team that won the World Series. That group is part of Roger Kahn’s celebrated book, “The Boys of Summer.” Hall of Famer and Indiana native Gil Hodges was also on that team.
Erskine threw two no-hitters and the was the starting pitcher in the Dodgers’ first game in LA.
But that’s just a part of Erskine’s tale.
“When I was a little boy I had this feeling in my soul: Something good is going to happen to you,” said Erskine early in the film. I just had this feeling,”
Carl and Betty Erskine will celebrate 75 years of marriage on Oct. 5. They raised four children — Danny, Gary, Susan and Jimmy.
The latter was born in 1960 — less than a year after Carl retired from baseball — with Down syndrome. Rather than put Jimmy away in an institution, the Erskine showered him with love and treated him like the rest of the children.
“We were an active family,” said Gary Erskine. “Jimmy was not left behind.”
Jimmy got on to a school bus for the first time in 1972 and has gone on to lead an independent life.
When Carl and Betty’s fourth child came along, Indiana had long took a dim view of the “feeble-minded” and in 1907 was the nation’s first state to enact compulsory sterilization to “prevent procreation of confirmed criminals, idiots, imbeciles and rapists.”
Expected to live to around 35, Jimmy Erskine turned 62 this year. He worked at Applebee’s in Anderson for two decades and competed in Special Olympics for 50 (starting with the Indiana State Special Olympic Games in Terre Haute in 1970).
The Carl and Betty Erskine Society raises money for the Special Olympics.
The Erskine Personal Impact Curriculum (EPIC) is a set of materials for elementary, middle and high school students that uses stories from Carl’s life to “create lessons and activities with themes including empowerment, friendship, inclusion and leadership.”
Thursday’s event was also a celebration of the Erskine connection to Special Olympics Indiana and helping to promote grace, humility, diversity, inclusion and servant leadership.
When Carl was 10 and playing basketball in the alley with friends, 9-year-old Johnny Wilson wandered in.
Carl’s question to the boy who happen to be black was, “Do you want to play?”
It was the start of long friendship that lasted more than eight decades — one that will be commemorated with a mural in downtown Anderson in 2023.
The boy who went on to be known as “Jumpin’” Johnny Wilson came from a family on welfare so he often ate at the Erskine house.
Blacks were not welcome in some Anderson restaurants. They could not join the YMCA. They were restricted to the balcony of the movie theater.
The Ted Green film made its world premier Aug. 11 at Anderson’s Paramount Theatre with an encore on Aug. 13.
“Blacks were expected to be where they were supposed to be and the whites on the other side,” said Erskine.
Carl’s parents — Matt and Berths — did not show that prejudice.
General Motors Delco Remy inspector Matt Erskine “walked as easily among blacks as whites.”
Bertha Erskine “was known for seeing the best in everyone and everything.”
Said Carl, “She gave me the feeling that beauty is all around us. Don’t forget to look at it.”
Carl went to the blacks-only swimming pool with Johnny Wilson. He didn’t go to places Johnny couldn’t and he sat in the balcony with his pal.
They later played together on the Anderson High School basketball team. Wilson was chosen as Indiana Mr. Basketball in 1946 and went on to play for the Harlem Globetrotters and is in the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame. He competed in baseball, basketball, football and track and field at Anderson College (now Anderson University) and is in that school’s athletic hall of fame.
Erskine, who was later head baseball coach at Anderson College for 12 years and is also in the Ravens Hall of Fame, shined on the diamond for Anderson High and Anderson American Legion Post 127.
Throwing a tennis ball against a barn with a strike zone marked in chalk, Carl continually fanned his hero.
Said Erskine, “I can’t count how many times I struck out Babe Ruth.”
First discovered by Indianapolis scout Stan Feezle, Carl landed with the Dodgers after a stint in the U.S. Navy.
The Dodgers were run by Branch Rickey, who signed the Hoosier hurler for $5,000.
“I think there was an esteem there,” said Branch Rickey III of the relationship between his grandfather and Erskine. “He just had a deep, deep appreciation for what character could do individually. We loved what character could do for teams.”
As a minor leaguer pitching against the big club, Erskine first met Jackie Robinson, who made a point of encouraging him his outing.
Erskine made his Dodgers debut in 1948 and went on to toe the rubber for the franchise 335 times.
Two Erskine-penned books are “Tales from the Dodgers Dugout” and “What I Learned from Jackie Robinson” and has been involved with Jackie Robinson Day activities with The Base Indy.
One day after Erskine had shown kindness to wife and son — Rachel Robinson and Jackie Jr. — Robinson expressed his appreciation.
“‘Come on, Jackie, it’s as natural to me as breathing,’” said Erskine of his response. But Jackie was always kind of surprised. He said to me, ‘this black and white thing doesn’t seem to bother you.’ I told him about Johnny my buddy. He said, ‘Carl, I see life divided. You seem to see life connected.’”
When Dodgers catcher Roy Campanella was paralyzed in an auto accident in 1958, the first teammate to visit him in the hospital was Erskine.
A man of faith who met Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, Erskine was there at the start of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
Erskine lent his talent to Dale McMillen aka “Mr. Mac” with the Wildcat League for youth in Fort Wayne, Ind.
An insurance salesman and a bank president in his hometown, Carl has been a civic leader along with Betty.
Anderson has Erskine Elementary School (a video message from Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda at the dedication appears in the film).
There’s also was is now known as Anderson Youth Baseball & Softball at Erskine Park.
The broadcast premier of “The Best We’ve Got: The Carl Erskine Story” is slated for 9 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 22 on WFYI in Indianapolis with PBS stations around Indiana expected to follow.
As well as being part of the Heartland International Film Festival Oct. 6-16 in Indianapolis, screenings are planned for Sept. 29 at Eagles Theater in Wabash, Ind., Oct. 13 at Muncie Civic Center with dates to be determined at Artcraft Theater in Franklin, Ind., and Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

The Indianapolis premier of the Ted Green film “The Best We’ve Got: The Carl Erskine Story” was Thursday, Aug. 18 at the Tobias Theater aka The Toby. (Steve Krah Photo)
A memento from the Indianapolis premier of the Ted Green film “The Best We’ve Got: The Carl Erskine Story.” (Steve Krah Photo)

Determination helps Sherwood enjoy college baseball success

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

Brycen Sherwood has followed moments of doubt with episodes of clout since leaving Elkhart (Ind.) Central High School.
The 2019 ECHS graduate, who was a standout for Blue Blazers head coach Steve Stutsman, struggled in his first days on the diamond at MidAmerica Nazarene University in Olathe, Kan.
“I did really bad the fall of freshman year,” says Sherwood nearly three years later. “I said, ‘I don’t think I’m good enough to play college baseball.’”
After a talk with his father — former Anderson (Ind.) College (now Anderson University) player Chad Sherwood (who collected a school record-tying five hits in a 1996 game) — Brycen came to a decision.
“I was going to finish the year out and work really hard,” says Sherwood, 21. “If it doesn’t pan out, it doesn’t pan out.”
Sherwood was at MNU through a family connection. Uncle Craig Sherwood, a 1994 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series participant, played at Bethel College (now Bethel University) in Mishawaka, Ind., with Pioneers head coach Ryan Thompson.
In the spring of 2020, Brycen got into eight games during a COVID-19 pandemic-shortened schedule.
“The last week of the season Coach T let me start in a midweek game at third base and I hit a home run,” says Sherwood of a two-run shot socked in the third inning of a March 11 contest against Olivet Nazarene. “I left (freshman year) on a high note.”
By going 7-of-15, lefty swinger Sherwood hit .467 in 2020 and his confidence grew.
With limited opportunities, he did not play that summer. But he worked on his game.
In 2021, Sherwood played in 52 games (51 starts) for MNU and hit .408 (64-of-157) with eight homers, 42 runs batted in, 53 runs scored, nine stolen bases and a 1.200 OPS (.518 on-base percentage plus .682 slugging average).
Sherwood, a 5-foot-11, 185-pounder, made it a goal to get stronger.
“My swing has always been pretty good,” says Sherwood. “I really started dedicating myself to the weight room.
“Embracing the grind is probably the biggest reason I’m starting to hit balls out.”
Thompson put shortstop Sherwood in the No. 2 hole in his batting order in 2022 and he hit .333 (65-of-195) with 11 homers, 40 RBIs, 70 runs and five stolen bases in 57 games (all starts). He posted a 1.067 OPS (.457/.610).
MidAmerica Nazarene went 39-18 and wound up the season in the NAIA World Series in Lewiston, Idaho.
“It’s such a great baseball environment,” says Sherwood. “(Harris Field) is right in a valley. The views are just beautiful. They have a grounds crew. The players are the grounds crew for our school.
“People in Lewiston love their Lewis-Clark State team. The games are televised and that is awesome. It’s a really neat opportunity to play for something bigger than yourself.”
This summer, Sherwood has been playing shortstop and third base as a second-half addition to the Northwoods League’s Battle Creek (Mich.) Battle Jacks. He had appeared in 11 games through July 21.
Sherwood was going to play in the same circuit with the Mankato (Minn.) MoonDogs, but his contract was canceled with MidAmerica Nazarene’s march to the NAIA World Series.
There is familiarity in Battle Creek. Battle Jacks manager Caleb Lang is an assistant at Concordia University Nebraska, which also played in Lewiston. Lang reached out to Thompson about Sherwood’s availability.
The other Battle Creek shortstop is Robbie Merced. He plays for Central Methodist University, a Heart of America Athletic Conference rival for MNU.
In a league full of NCAA Division I players, the Battle Jacks have plenty of NAIA talent.
“You’re an underdog when we take the field (in the NAIA) so it brings you a little closer together,” says Sherwood.
With a COVID year added, Sherwood has two seasons of remaining eligibility. The Business Administration major says he might add another major or minor. He is interested in Computer Applications.
Born and raised in Elkhart in October of 2000, Sherwood took to shortstop at an early age.
“I had above average learning ability,” says Brycen. “My dad (Chad) and uncles (Craig and former Franklin County High School head coach Clark) knew how to play – they taught me a lot of things.”
At one point in ‘90s, all three Sherwood brothers played in the outfield at Anderson.
Brycen started organized baseball at Osolo Little League in Elkhart then was in travel ball with the Michiana Scrappers followed by a summer with Bristol American Legion Post 143.
Chad Sherwood recently retired after 25 years with the Indiana State Police. He was a master trooper detective.
Chad and wife April Sherwood (a librarian at Eastwood Elementary in Elkhart — Go Wildcats!) have two other children. Lauryn Sherwood is a nursing student at Indiana University Fort Wayne. Baseball player Brady Sherwood is heading into his sophomore year at Elkhart High School.
“I think he’s going to be the best of all of us,” says Brycen of little brother. “We will see.”

Brycen Sherwood (MidAmerica Nazarene University Photo)
Brycen Sherwood (MidAmerica Nazarene University Photo)

Brycen Sherwood (MidAmerica Nazarene University Photo)

Brycen Sherwood (MidAmerica Nazarene University Photo)

Dogpile including Brycen Sherwood (MidAmerica Nazarene University Photo)

Marker looking to make mark with Seton Catholic Cardinals

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Dave Marker made a mark on the record books as a college pitcher.

Decades later, he is looking to have an impact as first-year head baseball coach at tiny Seton Catholic School in Richmond, Ind.

The Cardinals are in the IHSAA Class 1A Seton Catholic Sectional at Don McBride Stadium this week. Among the 14 on Seton Catholic’s roster is senior right-handed pitcher/second baseman/third baseman and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association District H Player of the Year Luke Leverton (a Miami of Ohio commit). 

“Last year we didn’t get to play,” says Marker. “We’re very young this year.”

Louie Falcone, a Seton Catholic graduate, was a freshman on the baseball team at Hanover (Ind.) College this spring.

Seton Catholic (enrollment around 90) wrapped the 2021 regular season with a 7-6 win against Union County. Patriots head coach Jordan Ashbrook, a former Richmond assistant, helped get the game moved to Day Air Ballpark — home of the High-A Central League’s Dayton (Ohio) Dragons.

The Cardinals are a member of the Pioneer Academic Athletic Conference (with Anderson Prep, Bethesda Christian, Central Christian Academy, Greenwood Christian Academy, Indianapolis Shortridge, International, Liberty Christian, Muncie Burris, Park Tudor and University). Each baseball-playing league team sees each other one time.

The Seton Catholic Sectional also includes Blue River Valley, Cambridge City Lincoln, Randolph Southern, Tri and Union City. The Cardinals have won three sectional titles — the last in 2014.

Seton Catholic, which has three buildings in downtown Richmond (elementary, middle school and high school), has added a middle school baseball program of grades 6-8 in 2021.

“There’s work to be done to grow the program,” says Marker.

Marker, who teaches K-5 physical education at Test Intermediate School and is in his 23rd years in Richmond Community Schools, was a baseball assistant to Shawn Turner for four seasons (2016-19) at Richmond High after 10 seasons as assistant to Red Devils softball coach Kyle Ingram. His assistants at Seton Catholic are Ingram, Robert Cornell and Brice Brown. 

A few summers back, Marker coached for the Midwest Astros travel baseball organization.

A graduate of Randolph Southern Junior/Senior High School in Lynn, Ind., where father Larry was a longtime athletic director, Marker played for the Rebels and for the John Lebo-managed Richmond Post 65 state runner-up team.

Marker walked on at Anderson (Ind.) College (now Anderson University). 

From 1984-88, Marker went and went 27-10 in 63 mound appearances for American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Don Brandon.

“He never recruited me,” says Marker. “But he redshirted me and taught me how to pitch.”

Marker also spent two summers with the Front Royal (Va.) Cardinals in the Valley League learning from Gary Gilmore, who went on to coach Coastal Carolina University to the College World Series title in 2016.

“I’ve had some pretty good coaches who took me under my wing,” says Marker.

It was in March 1986 while Marker was away playing baseball that his hometown was rocked by a tornado.

“That was before cellphones,” says Marker. “For three days, I did not get ahold of mom and dad.”

When he got back to Lynn, his parents were fine.

After college, Marker had a few professional tryouts and hurt his arm. He played for the Portland (Ind.) Rockets and in fast pitch softball with K&G Sporting Goods (Seymour) and New Construction (Shelbyville).

Marker also teaches summer school P.E., umpires church league softball and likes to run haunted houses.

Dave Marker

Atwood back as baseball coach for North Newton Spartans

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Mike Atwood knows about athletic toughness.

The 1981 graduate of Frankton (Ind.) Junior-Senior High School competed in football for Bob Sharnowski, wrestling for Otis Cress and baseball for Tom Urban — Atwood followed Dave Hicks as the Eagles starting catcher — before playing football for Pete Compise and baseball for Hall of Famer Dick Naylor at Hanover (Ind.) College and baseball for another multi-time Hall of Famer in Don Brandon at Anderson (Ind.) College (now Anderson University). Brent Brandon, Don’s son, was a Ravens teammate.

“(Sharnowski) taught us to just be tough,” says Atwood, who is now in his second stint as head baseball coach at North Newton Junior-Senior High School in Morocco, Ind., where he was an assistant then a head coach in the mid-1980’s to the late-1990’s and is now also athletic director and dean of students. “You have to be mentally tough in baseball. You’ve got to be ready at all times.”

Atwood calls Urban “a heckuva a baseball guy.”

“Basics were key to everything,” says Atwood, who experienced an intense coach in Naylor.

“He was a pretty hard-nosed little character,” says Atwood. “(Brandon) was all of the kids.”

Between coaching assignments at North Newton, Atwood was an assistant baseball coach on the staff of Mike Moyzis at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind. Current Hebron (Ind.) High School head coach and athletic director John Steinhilber was also on the Pumas staff.

Rick O’Dette, who would be Saint Joseph’s head coach for 17 seasons until the school closed at the end of the 2017 season, was an SJC player at the time.

Atwood’s 1997 North Newton baseball club won a Kankakee Valley Sectional title in the last year of the IHSAA single-class era before bowing to Chesterton in the semifinals of the LaPorte Regional.

He then went to Delphi (Ind.) Community High School and was the Oracles head coach for baseball and wrestling.

The 2020-21 school year is Atwood’s second back at North Newton, where he is now athletic director. The COVID-19 pandemic kept him from coaching the Spartans in the spring 2020. If the weather cooperates, North Newton could open the season Thursday, April 1 against Hebron. The team is slated to visit Harrison in West Lafayette Saturday, April 3.

With 24 players in the program, the Spartans will field varsity and junior varsity teams, playing home games on the campus located at the school.

Serving students in the towns of Lake Village, Mount Ayr, Roselawn, Sumava Resorts, Thayer and Morocco, North Newton (enrollment around 350) is a member of the Midwest Athletic Conference (with Frontier, North White, South Newton, Tri-County and West Central).

MAC teams meet twice, typically on Tuesdays and Thursdays in home-and-home series.

The Spartans are part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Boone Grove, Hebron (the 2021 host), North Judson-San Pierre, Rensselaer Central and Winamac. North Newton has won 12 sectional titles — the last in 2019.

Other teams on the Spartans’ schedule include Andrean, Calumet New Tech, Hammond Academy of Science and Technology, Kankakee Valley, Lake Station Edison, Lowell, Morgan Township, Twin Lakes and Washington Township.

The high school program is fed by youth baseball in Morocco and Roselawn

Atwood’s 2021 assistants are Doug Belt (varsity) and Eric Jones (JV). 

Kyler Rainford, a 2020 North Newton graduate, is on the baseball team at Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill.

Morocco has ties to Cooperstown. Native son Sam Rice played in the majors 1915-33 and collected 2,987 hits as a .322 lifetime hitter. He was enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1963. A roadside historical marker was placed in town in 2019.

Mike Atwood has three adult children — Michael (32), Brittney (30) and Braden (29).

Michael is in the U.S. Army serving in Kuwait. Britney works as a technician at a Lafayette, Ind., hospital. 

Braden Atwood was a three-time placer at the IHSAA State Finals (fourth as a sophomore, fifth as a junior and second as a senior) at Delphi and went on to a be a four-time placer and NCAA Championship qualifier as well as a three-time team champion at Purdue University. He took part in the U.S. Team Trials and was later a volunteer assistant coach at West Point (Army). He is married and living in Connecticut and has a daughter.

Mike Atwood and his son’s dog Bella.