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Thompson brings NG3 values of character, community and change to Indiana

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Coaches and educators are busy people.

They are balancing practice schedules, lineups, game strategy, lesson plans and more.

Lending a helping hand in the areas of character development, servant leadership and other positive behaviors is where NG3 — headquartered in Atlanta — comes in.

The “NG” stands for Next Generation and the “3” stands for Character, Community and Change.

Jason Thompson, who has launched N3 in Indiana with Jimtown High School as the pilot in 2017-18 after spending a year learning the program while serving a school in Georgia, explains the C’s a little more.

“Character means do what you say,” says Thompson. “Community means serving others. Change means bring positive change wherever you go.”

A non-profit, faith-based organization, NG3 invests in the lives of high school students, spending time with them and teaching them valuable lessons while providing mentors in small gatherings known as “Huddle Groups.”

While Thompson and other volunteer mentors have been ever-present at Jimtown, he has also met with student-athletes at other schools in northern Indiana, including Fairfield and Goshen and has established partnerships with Jimtown, NorthWood and Triton for 2018-19.

“My hope is to add at least two schools a year moving forward,” says Thompson, a former football player at Concord High School and Anderson University who established a sports ministry at Nappanee Missionary Church. “We will have a person at each school we work with — people who are invested and embedded in those communities. Long-term, I’d like to see NG3 in every school in Indiana. That’s a big goal.

“NG3 is coming along at just the right time. I am passionate about helping people and teams reach their potential.

“We want to be present on school campuses on a weekly basis. A lot of students are probably skeptical at first. They have adults in their lives that are here and gone. It may be a parent or a coach.

“We don’t want to be a flash in the pan. We aim to be there for the long haul and model all those character traits for them.”

Thompson got involved at Jimtown through his relationship at NMC with former high school principal Jeff Ziegler and continues to work with current JHS principal Byron Sanders.

This spring, Thompson has been able to work closely with the Jimtown baseball program. He is at practice several times a week and makes it a point to be at home varsity and junior varsity contests. “We continue to build relationships. We are there be an encouragers.

“Coaches find that ‘other voice’ is beneficial to them.”

Thompson, who holds bachelor of education and master of ministries degrees from Bethel College, has helped coordinate service projects for Jimtown coach Darin Mast and other Jimmies teams and classes.

“We come in and serve,” says Thompson. “It’s about being available, being present.”

School-wide, Jimtown has about 50 kids involved in huddle groups.

These groups of generally 10 students or less meet once a week, usually in the home of one of the group’s members.

“You can get real,” says Mast of the small group. “You can do life.

“It builds much more community.”

Thompson says the goal is to get to the point that huddle groups can be offered to all students.

Mast has known Thompson for years from serving with him at NMC.

“He’s like a spiritual/mental athletic trainer so to speak,” says Mast of Thompson. “It means something to him.”

Mast continues to compliment NG3.

“I really like the concept of what they’re doing,” says Mast. “The whole point of a team anyway is bringing that togetherness.”

Mast likes taking time to build character and addressing concepts like integrity, commitment, honesty, social media, family, trust, loyalty, perseverance, teamwork and excellence and having the students define those traits and what it means when they add or subtract those from their lives. “So much time is spent with X’s and O’s and the ins and outs of the sport.

“I felt like it was something that needed to be addressed and now we have an avenue to do that.”

Mast said that coaches are ultimately graded on their won-loss record.

“That’s the No. 1 priority,” says Mast. “But I’ve failed them as a coach if I haven’t helped them become productive members of society — great workers, husbands and dads.

“It’s all that stuff goes into character development and leadership with NG3.”

Mast says the IHSAA’s InsideOut Initiative of leaving the “win-at-all-costs” culture goes hand-in-hand with the ideals of NG3.

Darin Kauffman first heard Thompson speak to the Fairfield girls basketball team during their run to the regional last winter. Darin’s wife, Lindsay, is an assistant to Falcons head coach Brodie Garber.

Kauffman, who is in his first season as head baseball coach at Fairfield, invited Thompson to address his players and plans to do it again.

“I have athletes who have not played baseball in awhile,” says Kauffman. “I wanted them to hear about being a great teammate and how we can mesh and play together. And hear it from someone outside

“(Thompson) is a great speaker. He talks at their level. I think the guys got a lot out of it.

“It’s a great program. I’m glad we have that in our area.”

Thompson sends a weekly email called “Coaches are Leaders” to a list of about 75 with tips and links to articles that reinforce the NG3 model.

“I want to find ways to serve coaches,” says Thompson.

Tim Dawson, an Indiana High School Football Coaches Association Hall of Famer, was Thompson’s coach at Concord.

“He brought passion and excitement,” says Thompson of Dawson. “He used football to teach so many life lessons.”

As he headed off to college, Thompson thought he was going to be a teacher and coach.

“I’ve come full circle,” says Thompson. “This almost better than coaching. I get to work with athletes across teams.”

Helping his along the way is his family.

Jason and Rachael Thompson, who will be married 16 years in May, have two daughters Haley (11) and Natalie (7). The family resides in Nappanee. Rachael Thompson, a Goshen High School graduate, teaches at Prairie View Elementary School in Goshen.

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Jason Thompson (second from left in back row) spends time in the dugout with the Jimtown High School baseball team. Thompson is the Indiana director for NG3 and has spent the 2017-18 school year embedded with Jimtown students.

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NG3 Indiana director Jason Thompson addresses baseball players at Fairfield High School.

 

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‘Little things’ key to success for Long, Hauser Jets baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Nathan Long has set the standard high for his Hauser Junior/Senior High School Jets.

A 2004 graduate of the school in Bartholomew County, Long is carrying on the way Jerry Schoen led the program for two decades.

After a season leading the Cincinnati Flames travel team, Long was a varsity assistant to Schoen for five seasons before taking over the Jets for the 2017 season. He had been a manager and a player for Schoen before going to college.

“Day in and day out, we’re making kids accountable,” says Long, who was an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association all-state third baseman in 2004. “It’s about making kids get from start to finish.

“We’re focusing on the little things that are very important in the game of baseball.”

Among those things are always hustling on and off the field, running out every batted ball and improving through tee work, short-hop drills and more.

The approach had Hauser off to an 8-2 start in 2018 and a No. 1 ranking among IHSAA Class 1A baseball teams.

The recognition may bring more fans to the ballpark, which is appreciated, but Long is not placing too much stock in the polls.

“We have great community backing here,” says Long. “We don’t talk about rankings. It’s way too early to buy into that ranking. There’s a lot of baseball to be played.”

Hauser, located in Hope, Ind., is a member of the Mid-Hoosier Conference (along with 3A’s Indian Creek and 1A’s Edinburgh, Morristown, North Decatur, South Decatur, Southwestern of Shelbyville and Waldron).

Each team plays 12 conference games. The MHC stages home-and-home series on Thursdays and Fridays.

Long, who was a pitcher at Hauser and for four years at the College of Mt. St. Joseph in Cincinnati (now known as Mt. St. Joseph University), sets his pitching rotation around conference games.

“There’s pitchers and then there’s throwers in my mind,” says Long, who joins with Mike Flack (seventh year in the program) and Doug Johnson (second year in the program) to guide a group of 18 players in varsity and junior varsity action. “I try to develop my kids into pitchers.

“Being a small school, we lean on some kids who don’t have a lot of experience on the mound. When we do our pitching and throwing drills, we do it as a whole team. Sometimes we find kids we didn’t know could pitch.”

Long agrees with the parameters of the IHSAA pitch count rules (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).

“The days off amount is right on,” says Long. “As a coaching staff, we do go down the schedule and pick the games we want certain kids to pitch.”

Working with athletic director Ron Hounshell, Long crafts a challenging non-conference schedule.

“The better the competition, the better we’re going to be,” says Long, who already has or will have his squad square off against 4A’s East Central and Shelbyville, 3A’s Batesville, Greensburg and Lawrenceburg, 2A’s Austin, Henryville and Milan and 1A’s Indianapolis Lutheran, Jac-Cen-Del and Trinity Lutheran.

Hauser played in the Shawe Memorial Sectional in 2017 and now finds itself with a slightly different group (including Jac‐Cen‐Del, North Decatur, Oldenburg Academy, Rising Sun and South Decatur). Jac-Cen-Del looks to be the sectional host this year.

The Jets have won four sectional titles (2004, 2005, 2006, 2007), four regional crowns (2004, 2005, 2006, 2007) and one semistate championship (2005). The 2005 Jets were 1A state runners-up to Fort Wayne Blackhawk Christian.

Hauser, part of Flatrock-Hawcreek School Corporation, plays its games on-campus on property that Schoen helped transform into a fine facility.

So far, wet weather has only taken away one game from the Jets.

“Our field drains fairly well,” says Long. “We’re able to play sometimes when other schools can’t.

“We take pride in our facilities. Our student-athletes work hard keeping it ready to play.”

Hauser’s roster sports four seniors (Jon Hatton, Jacob Johnson, Jordan Johnson and Sam Meek) and five juniors (Kameron Lawson, Jacob Luken, Sean Miller, Aaron Mee and Beau McKinney). Meek plans to play baseball at Bluffton (Ohio) University.

Besides Long at Mt. St. Joseph and Doug Johnson at Kankakee (Ill.) Community College, Hauser has sent number of players on to college over the years. Among them are Michael Shea, Joe Lange and Will Rose at Ancilla College, Jay McNicolas and Tim Munn at Anderson University, Tony Flack, Nathan Bryant, Jared Compton and Jared Schoen at Franklin College, Kyle Lawson, Rory Thayer and Brooks Bailey at Hanover College, Josh Gates at Illinois Valley Community College, Jared Turner at Indiana University Southeast, Jon Shaw at Trine University, Adam Newman and Aryn Ross at the University of Indianapolis, Reid Thayer and Nathan Branum at Vincennes University and Scott Henderson at Wabash Valley College in Illinois.

Henderson swiped a Hauser program-record 91 bases from 1998-91. Ross, who wore a Jets uniform 2003-06, swatted the most home runs (22).

On the mound, Tony Flack (28 from 2001-04) and Lawson (26 from 2004-07) ranked 1-2 in victories. Flack struck out a record 301 batters while Lawson whiffed 286.

Feeding the high school program are Hope Summer Playground, Babe Ruth and various travel ball organizations.

Long is part of a Hope-based family business — Indiana Custom Fabrication. Nathan is the son of John and Lisa Long and older brother of Nick Long.

Nathan and Stephanie Long have three children — daughters Emma (6) and Addison (2) and son Ike (5 months).

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Nathan Long, a 2004 Hauser Junior/Senior High School graduate, is in his seventh season as a baseball coach for the Jets in 2018 — the second as head coach.

 

Lawrence North grad Watson shares lessons learned in first three seasons in Royals system

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Nolan Watson has not yet reached his 21st birthday and has already pitched more than 200 professional baseball innings.

Selected in the first round of the 2015 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Kansas City Royals straight out of Lawrence North High School in Indianapolis, the right-hander has gain wisdom and perspective in his three minor league seasons.

After playing for the rookie-level Burlington (N.C.) Royals in 2015 and Low Class-A Lexington (Ky.) Legends in 2016, Watson split the 2017 season between rookie-level Arizona League Royals, Burlington and Lexington.

“I’ve learned about dealing with failure,” says Watson, a 6-foot-2 right-hander who went 6-1 with a 0.68 earned run average and 81 strikeouts in 51 2/3 innings with his 95-mph heat as an LN senior and is 4-26 with a 7.33 ERA, 129 strikeouts and 95 walks in 210 1/3 innings as a pro. “In high school, I was a big fish in a small pond. I had it pretty easy.

“I’ve had to deal with getting knocked around a little bit. You can’t throw everything by everybody (in pro ball). I’m learning to be competitor.”

At Lawrence North, Watson used a two-seam fastball and slider. The Royals replaced those with a four-seam fastball and curve ball and last season, let him re-learn the slider.

“It’s been a adjustment, but nothing to shy away from,” says Watson, who turns 21 Jan. 25 — on few days before leaving for Surprise, Ariz., to prepare for spring training. “It’s more about learning how to pitch and not just throwing as hard as you can. It’s learning how to throw to the corners and staying consistent.”

For Watson, it comes down to focus, preparation and mental strength.

“It’s not letting your surroundings or your last outing get to you,” says Watson. “You focus on the next pitch that’s being called.”

The right-hander has started in all but four of his 57 pro appearances.

The day after a start includes the bulk of his running and is an optional throwing day. The next day, he throws a bullpen and concentrates on things he did not like about his previous outing ie. fastball command. The next two days are about keeping his arm loose and his legs strong. Everyday includes shoulder care.

Watson landed on the disabled list early in the 2017 season and went to Arizona to rehabilitate his shoulder. He went to Instructional League for more shoulder last fall.

This off-season, Watson has been working with Jamey Gordon at Pro X Athlete Development in Westfield,

Besides throwing pitches, Watson is going through rehabilitation and pre-habilitation (preventative) shoulder and scapula movements and exercises with bands, medicine balls and weighted balls.

“We make sure I’m not rubbing or stressing the wrong things,” says Watson. “It’s the things that keep you out of the training room and the doctor’s office.”

Most of his development in the Royals system has come under pitching coaches Carlos Martinez and Mitch Stetter (the former big leaguer pitcher is a Southridge High School graduate and Indiana State University teammate of Pro X co-founder and owner Joe Thatcher). They have been getting Watson to concentrate on the direction and follow-through of his delivery.

“They make sure there’s conviction going to the plate and I’m not falling off or flying open,” says Watson. “I could play 20 years in the big league and I still think I could get better at it.”

Watson played travel baseball for the Skiles Test Cobras in Lawrence Township and later for the Todd Bacon-coached Indiana Indians, Eric Dill-coached Indiana Mustangs and Kevin Chrisman-coached San Francisco Giants Fall Scout Team.

Making sure he got games and practices and had clean laundry and food to fuel him were parents Perry and Melinda Watson.

“I can never properly thank them for what they did,” says Nolan. “I was always looking up to (older brother Tyler) and he made me what I am today.”

Tyler Watson graduated from Lawrence North in 2009 and played baseball at Anderson University.

Richard Winzenread was Watson’s head coach at Lawrence North.

“He told us about not giving up and competing,” says Watson. “We always had trouble with Cathedral. My senior year, we finally got past Cathedral (in the finals of the 2015 IHSAA Class 4A Roncalli Sectional).

“That was a glorious moment. That was a weight off our shoulders. It was an accumulation of not giving up and having heart. It was a great feeling for all of us.”

Watson had been recruited by Vanderbilt University, which won the College World Series in 2014. But he decided to sign with Royals instead.

“Everybody’s dream is to play professional baseball,” says Watson. “They good amount of money. I didn’t want to pass that up.”

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Nolan Watson, a Lawrence North High School graduate and former first-round draft selection of the Kansas City Royals, has pitched in the Royals system since 2015. (Lexington Legends Photo)

 

Campbell, Lapel Bulldogs meeting baseball challenges head-on

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Baseball teams at Lapel High School are faced with unique challenges.

At 470 students, the school is slightly smaller than its corporation partner, Frankton, and one of the smaller ones in the Madison Country area.

Yet, the 2018 schedule for IHSAA Class 2A Lapel features 4A schools like Anderson and Lawrence North and perennial 3A powers like Indianapolis Cardinal Ritter and Western plus plenty of talented 2A and 1A programs.

“There are definitely challenges,” says Matt Campbell, who enters his second season as Lapel’s head baseball coach in 2018. “It’s not in the size or the athletes that come out of it. Location is a very interesting factor. There are not a lot a lot of schools in close proximity of the same size. We end up playing a lot bigger schools.

“It’s fun to go up against them and have success on different levels every night. I just want to play good baseball schools and play them well.”

In 2017, Lapel hosted a sectional with Frankton, Monroe Central, Muncie Burris, Shenandoah and Wapahani. The Bulldogs won sectionals in 1976, 1983, 2001, 2004, 2006, 2013 and 2015. Lapel’s lone regional title came in 2006.

Lapel is also an independent, having left the Indiana Crossroads Conference in 2014-15.

Where the disadvantage comes in is with scheduling. Lapel is often the first team to get dropped when conference teams need to make up games.

“In high school sports, there’s nothing better than having rivalries,” says Campbell. “It’s always better to be playing for something. That’s the same way it is with all sports at Lapel.

“Frankton is our rival (in Frankton-Lapel Community Schools). We may not circle it on the calendar, but everybody knows when that game is going to be played.”

The whole community is mourning the loss of Frankton baseball and basketball assistant Chris Hatzell, who died Dec. 26 at age 44.

“He was a great guy,” says Campbell of Hatzell, the Eagles’ first base coach. “He will be missed.”

Campbell enters his second season as Lapel head baseball coach in 2018. He is the eighth man to lead the program in 11 years. The Class of 2017 had four different coaches in four years.

The baseball field at Lapel went in with the new school building a decade ago, but improvement or maintenance projects have slowed with the coaching turnover. Campbell did participate in a recent irrigation upgrade.

Among those moving on were Brad Lantz, Dustin Glant and Matt Bair.

Lantz, a Lapel graduate, went on to become head coach at Guerin Catholic High School and is now an assistant at Noblesville.

Glant became head coach at Anderson University and is now entering his sixth season as an assistant at Ball State University.

Bair is entering his first season as head coach at Anderson U.

Campbell came to Lapel after serving as an assistant at Pendleton Heights — first to Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Bill Stoudt and then current Arabians head coach Travis Keesling.

“He is the epitome of baseball,” says Campbell of Stoudt. “I talk to him weekly if not more. I can’t get enough of him. There’s a reason he was so successful. He just loves being around the game. When I got this job, I think he was as excited about the game as I was. I gave him one more connection to the game.”

Stoudt was a regular spectator in 2017 at Lapel games.

Campbell played at Hamilton Southeastern High School, graduating in 2001 — the last season as Royals head coach for IHSBCA Hall of Famer Ken Seitz.

“He has a ton of wisdom to give,” says Campbell of Seitz. “One of those things was — don’t stray, keep to the path. He saw the end in sight that we — as 17- and 18-year-olds — didn’t see.

“That’s something that’s stuck with me for a long time. Especially at this time of year. The season seems so far off. Pitchers and catchers meet at 6 a.m. After school, we finally get access to the gym (after winter sports teams). There’s the time in the weight room. But to us coaches, it seems like it’s just around the corner.

“It’s the dawning of a New Year.”

Campbell has also been coaching with the Indiana Bulls organization since 2006. He began as an assistant to Larry Fowler and took over the 18U squad in 2009 and a few years later joined the board of directors.

Fowler is now an assistant to Campbell at Lapel. His other assistants for 2018 include Ryan Scott, Jim Cook, Cameron Mendel, Hunter Cook, Sam Wides and Cade Luker. Scott, Mendel and Luker are all Lapel graduate. Jim Cook coached at Pendleton Heights and his son, Hunter Cook, played there.

Lapel is currently represented in college baseball by Brady Cherry (Ohio State University) and Jaxon Shirley (Weatherford College in Texas).

Left-hander Devon Frank (Lapel Class of 2018) has verbally committed to Anderson U. Other Bulldogs are considering college options.

Campbell graduated from Indiana University (where he did not play baseball), taught 10 years in Pendleton schools and is now teaching seventh grade at Lapel Middle School. Matt and Christene Campbell have two children — Easton (4) and Teaghan (3 months).

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Matt Campbell, a Hamilton Southeastern High School graduate, is heading into his second season as head baseball coach at Lapel High School in Madison County in 2018. (Brian Gill Photo)

 

Delta’s Paul focused on mental toughness, fundamentals

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Seth Paul is a student of baseball.

The former Cowan High School and University of Indianapolis catcher has taken several perspectives on the game and made it his own while enjoying on-field success.

In his six seasons as a high school head coach so far — three at Cowan (2012-14) and three at Delta (2015-17) — half his teams have won a championship of some kind.

Paul guided the Cowan Blackhawks to a Mid-Eastern Conference crown in 2012 and helped the Delta Eagles take IHSAA Class 3A Yorktown Sectional and Bellmont Regional titles in 2016 and the Delaware County Tournament in 2017.

Mental toughness, a refusal to quit and grounding in the basics are the building blocks of Paul’s program.

“We’re never out of a game,” says Paul. “We never give up. It’s the old ‘Jim Valvano’ philosophy. The kids buy into that early.”

Paul often gets across his message across in classroom talks.

“It’s not college when you have them all year and have the time,” says Paul. “That doesn’t mean I’m a better coach. I just put more emphasis on it than other people do.”

Paul wants his players to have the know-how and ability to make the right plays.

“I’m a big fundamental and defensive guy,” says Paul, who was a four-year starter at Cowan (playing one season for Mike Estepp and three for Rick Pippin and graduating in 2003) before playing for Gary Vaught at UIndy. “It’s knowing the game, where to be and backing up bases.

“We try not to give anyone runs by our mental mistakes.”

Paul credits Estepp for teaching him about work ethic and preparation and keeping cool under pressure.

“He had this ability to stay calm at all times,” says Paul of Estepp, who later served on Paul’s Cowan coaching staff. “(Pippin) taught me that is was OK to have fun playing baseball. At that time in my life, I was taking it seriously all the time. He incorporated fun into everything we did and found ways to make me laugh.”

Estepp and Pippin imparted knowledge about fundamentals and Paul still uses a front-hand/back-hand soft toss taken from Estepp and a four-corner defensive drill from Pippin.

In college, Paul drew from Vaught as a player and then as an assistant coach.

“He is one of the smartest baseball minds I’ve ever been around,” says Paul of Vaught. “He’s from Oklahoma and has that toughness. I got that toughness from him.

“He does a really good job of wanting his players want to play for him. I still call Coach Vaught to this day. We talk about my lineup or his lineup or whatever.”

Paul has also gleaned much from his attendance at American Baseball Coaches Association national conventions (the 2018 version is Jan. 4-7 in Indianapolis) and watched plenty of videos. Two of his favorite clinicians are brothers Greg and Todd Giulliams on the mental approach to hitting.

“(UIndy associated head coach) Al Ready uses that system and introduced me to that video,” says Paul.

Glenn Cecchini, head coach at Barbe High School in Lake Charles, La., spoke at the 2017 ABCA convention and got Paul’s attention.

“He’s all about mental approach and mental toughness,” says Paul. “I really like to follow what he says and does.”

A few years ago, Paul was in the audience University of Mississippi head coach Mike Bianco shared the system he learned from ABCA Hall of Famer and former LSU head coach Skip Bertman.

Paul has also taken to some of the methods of mental training expert Brian Cain.

“A lot of my coaching style has been molded from my own research,” says Paul. “I’ve definitely evolved.”

All of this is to help the Eagles face the challenges during the season.

“Our (Hoosier Heritage) Conference is ridiculously hard,” says Paul. “Delta is a very hard-nosed blue-collar school with athletics. It’s the kind of coaches they look to hire and the kinds of students that go here

“Football success (Delta has won 163 games on the gridiron since 2000) sets tone for every other sport in the school. I have very few baseball-only players here.”

Taking the “Friday Night Lights” atmosphere of football, the HCC (which also includes Greenfield-Central, Mt. Vernon of Fortville, New Castle, New Palestine, Pendleton Heights, Shelbyville and Yorktown) play Friday night conference doubleheaders. Teams take turns being the home team on the scoreboard.

“Everyone’s good,” says Paul of the conference. “Everyone is well-coached. It’s good, hard-nosed baseball. It reminds me of when I was coaching in college.”

Delta plays on-campus at Veterans’ Field — a facility that was completely overhauled last year. The playing surface, dugouts, backstop, press box and entrance were all new.

And — for the first time — the Eagles had a lighted field.

Paul says New Castle is now the lone HCC member without lights on its baseball field.

Delta is grouped with Blackford, Guerin Catholic, Hamilton Heights, New Castle and Yorktown at sectional time.

Paul, who is 87-74 in his six seasons (40-35 at Cowan and 47-39 at Delta), has sent several players on to college baseball, including Cowan’s Aaron Wells and Joey Covington (both at Manchester University), Alex Delk (Indiana Tech) and Luke Miller (Indiana University) and Delta’s Cade Jones (DePauw University), Arian Coffey (University of Indianapolis), Mitchell Hahn (Marian University), Adam Paschal (Anderson University), Adisyn Coffey (Arizona State University), Jacob Van Pelt and Redon Henry (both at Manchester U.), Charlie May (Elmhurst College) and Andrew Shafer (University of Northwestern Ohio). There have been no college commitments yet this year.

Paul’s assistant coaches are Chad Hinds, Kevin Shafer (pitching coach), Spencer Matheny, Preston Phillips and Curt Howard. All are with the varsity during most games. Phillips and Howard coach the JV Eagles, which play HCC doubleheaders on Saturdays.

When Paul’s daughter Sloane (who is now 3) had a viral infection and had to go to Riley Children’s Hospital, Hinds stepped in and ran the team.

A holder of all grades health and physical education undergraduate degrees plus a masters in curriculum and instruction from the University of Indianapolis, Paul teaches health at Delta High School.

“I never anticipated coaching or teaching in high school,” says Paul. “But the opportunity came up and it made sense.”

And he will keep studying to make sense of the game with the bat and ball.

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Seth Paul, who played at Cowan High School and the University of Indianapolis, and coached at his high school alma mater is heading into his fourth season as head baseball coach at Delta High School in Delaware County, Ind.

 

Jimtown’s Mast asks players to hone in on their strengths

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

What can you hang your hat on?

That’s the question that Darin Mast asks of his players and the team as a whole as head baseball coach at Jimtown High School.

“Find out what you can do and do it well,” says Mast, who enters his 11th overall season with the Jimmies in 2018 (he was JV coach for five years before taking over the varsity reigns in 2013). “Keep the game simple. Baseball is complicated enough.”

Mast got his first impression of organized baseball and how to the do things when he reached Goshen High School and first played on the junior varsity for coach Brian Eldridge. Mast was called up from the to the varsity as a sophomore in 1988 and got to experience the first of three straight GHS sectional championships. He was a letterman when the Redskins reigned in 1989 and 1990.

By that time, Eldridge had taken over as head coach from Elkhart County Sports Hall of Famer Devon Hoffman.

Taking what he learned from Eldridge, Mast went to Adrian (Mich.) College, where Craig Rainey was just getting started (2018 will be his 25th season). Before Mast got to the NCAA Division III school, Adrian had suffered through an 0-22 season.

What he witnessed early on were players who were undisciplined and did not know the fundamentals.

“I was so thankful to come from a (high school) program that did roll out the baseball and just play,” says Mast.

By Mast’s junior year, he was part of the first Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association-winner in school history.

It was the beginning of a winning tradition. The current pack of Bulldogs won a record ninth straight MIAA crown. Rainey 619 (427 in conference play). Adrian went the NCAA D-III championship eight straight times (2008-15).

“I remember back then (Rainey) told us that people want to play us now, but we won’t be a door mat for long,” says Mast. “It’s neat to see someone with that passion and drive succeed.”

Mast finished up his playing career in 1994. While he completed his degree, he got his first taste of coaching when he joined Rainey’s staff and helped with some of the pitchers in the spring of 1995.

A chance to “fly solo” came Mast’s way that summer when he led a Sylvania (Ohio) Mavericks travel team.

He spent some time as a substitute teacher then got hired by Goshen Community Schools in 1996. Mast coached baseball at his alma mater for four seasons — two with the junior varsity and two with the varsity. In the summers, he joined Eldridge in a lawn mowing business. Eldridge died in 2014.

After Goshen, Mast taught and did not coach at Garrett High School for a year before returning Elkhart County as a teacher at Jimtown Junior High. He spent five years as junior varsity baseball coach. When Mike Stout wrapped his 25-year career of leading the Jimmies program after the 2012 season, Mast was promoted to head coach.

“Very instrumental” is the way Mast describes Stout’s impact on his career as a coach and educator. Not only did he learn when he was on Stout’s coaching staff, he is still a teacher in the building where Stout is principal.

“I can pop into his office anytime and run stuff my him,” says Mast. “He is very cerebral.”

While game situations often called for a quick decision, Mast has come to appreciate Stout’s ability to step back and examine all the angles.

“I’ve learned from Mike to think things through,” says Mast. “He is never too quick to react to something. Things are not as bad as young initially perceive them. When I was younger, I would over-react.”

Mast is now one who likes to prepare for what might happen.

“I like to know the answer before the question is asked,” says Mast. “What do I do if a kid can’t (pitch) seven innings?”

Helping him this season will be returning varsity assistants Jordan Smith and Lee Mast (Darin’s father), varsity staff newcomer Kevin McMahon (formerly at Mishawaka Marian) and JV coach Cory Stoner.

Volunteer Lee Mast is a former softball coach at Goshen High School and Goshen College.

“He keeps me out of trouble,” says Darin of Lee. “He’s my sounding board.

“Not a lot of people have had the opportunity to coach with the dads. That’s priceless. We’ve had good times together.”

Goshen is an IHSAA Class 4A school. Jimtown is in 3A.

“We have to the play the cards we’re dealt,” says Mast. “Some classes we’re stacked with good players.”

Some are a work-in-progress.

“We’re going to be young and inexperienced this year,” says Mast. “That’s OK if we learn and get better every time out.”

Mast plans a call-out for 2018 before Christmas break. Pre-season workouts begin January.

Then comes the time that the coach dreads.

“I have one bad day a year — Cut Day,” says Mast. “It’s hard.”

Mast talks to everyone who tries out for his program whether they make the cut or not. He offers pointers to those who might want to work on their game and try out again the following season.

“That’s something I will not compromise on,” says Mast. “That’s the right thing to do.”

Mast tries to project candidates, especially freshmen, based on their coach ability and attitude. He also expects them to have a decent amount of baseball ability. There is not enough time to teach the game from scratch.

About 40 tried out for the 2017 Jimmies. While he has no hard and fast number that he keeps, he likes to have no more than 14 on the JV to allows players a good amount of repetitions.

Jimtown is part of the 13-team Northern Indiana Conference (along with 2A school Bremen, 3A schools John Glenn, Mishawaka Marian, New Prairie, South Bend St. Joseph and South Bend Washington and 4A schools Elkhart Central, Mishawaka, Penn, South Bend Adams, South Bend Clay and South Bend Riley).

The non-conference schedule includes early-April and late-May dates with Goshen of the Northern Lakes Conference. RedHawks head coach Josh Keister was a player when Mast was on the GHS coaching staff.

Other NLC foes include Concord, Elkhart Memorial, Northridge and NorthWood. There’s also games with Northeast Corner Conference teams Fairfield and Westview, Hoosier North Athletic Conference member LaVille and independent Bethany Christian.

Jimtown plays its home contests at Booster Field, which debuted in 1976. The facility, which sports lights, has seen its share of sectional and regional games.

In order to get on the road quickly for away games, the Jimmies often use smaller buses so they can leave soon after dismissal.

No fewer than three of Mast’s former Jimtown players are now on college rosters. There’s Nick Floyd at Ball State University, Collin Gordon at Indiana University South Bend (transferred from Anderson University) and Blane Bender at Ancilla College.

Mast looks at Floyd as a measuring stick of what at D-I player looks like.

“Not everyone who comes through here is a college baseball player,” says Mast. “I owe it to the ones who can get to the next level to get them there.”

Mast notes that a college-bound player is one who is self-motivated to put in the extra work in baseball training and seeking out the program that fits them best.

With Mast, honesty is the best policy. Not looking to over-hype, he will tell it like it is when talking with players, their parents and college coaches.

He also has an open-door policy.

“If a player wants to know about playing time, I want him to come and ask me,” says Mast. “I’ll be honest. I’m not going to beat around bush.”

DARINMAST

Darin Mast, a graduate of Goshen High School and Adrian (Mich.) College, is entering his 11th season of coaching baseball at Jimtown High School in 2018 — his sixth as head coach. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Oakland City’s Fletcher enjoys watching Mighty Oaks grow as ballplayers, students

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Drawn to a private Christian school in southern Indiana renowned for its education, Kentucky native T-Ray Fletcher went to Oakland City University in the early 1990’s as a student-athlete and never really left the campus in Gibson County.

After graduating in the spring 1995, Fletcher was named to the OCU baseball staff for the fall. By the spring, he was the Mighty Oaks head coach and 2018 will mark his 24th season.

“It was one of those right place at the right time situations,” says Fletcher, who was a catcher for the Oaks after playing at Madisonville North Hopkins High School. He was junior varsity as an eighth and ninth grader and varsity his last three years.

“(Oakland City) used to be known as the teacher/preacher school and it is still known for the School of Education and School of Business,” says Fletcher. “It’s a strong academic school.

“As a part of our core principles and values, we set the example of what other athletes should be on campus. We’re pretty adamant about class attendance. We give them resources to succeed academically. Drugs and alcohol are not going to be tolerated here.”

Fletcher, an Oakland City University Intercollegiate Athletic Hall of Fame inductee, says communication is the key to making it all happen and most of his players have graduated and flourished in a structured environment.

“Kids still want to be coached and they still want discipline,” says Fletcher.

At one time, the coach had 16 former players coaching high school or travel baseball in the Indiana-Kentucky-Illinois tri-state area.

Among six players Fletcher has sent into professional baseball, the most recent is Eric Barnes, who was recently named head baseball coach at Boonville High School.

In 2017, Oakland City went 18-29 and made its 12th National Christian Collegiate Athletic Association tournament appearance on Fletcher’s watch (the Oaks placed ninth after finishing third in 2016).

In 2016, Fletcher passed the 400-win plateau and has the most victories in the long history of the program.

Oakland City is also an NCAA Division II member — one of just three baseball-playing schools in Indiana. The others are the University of Indianapolis and the University of Southern Indiana. Saint Joseph’s College was D-II, but that school closed at the end of the 2016-17 school year.

By comparison, Indiana collegiate baseball boasts nine in NCAA D-I (Ball State, Butler, Evansville, Fort Wayne, Indiana, Indiana State, Notre Dame, Purdue, Valparaiso), nine in NCAA D-III (Anderson, DePauw, Earlham, Franklin, Hanover, Manchester, Rose-Hulman, Trine, Wabash), 13 in NAIA (Bethel, Calumet of Saint Joseph, Goshen, Grace, Huntington, Indiana Tech, Indiana University Kokomo, Indiana University South Bend, Indiana University Southeast, Marian, Purdue Northwest, Saint Francis, Taylor) and three in the National Junior College Athletic Association (Ancilla, Ivy Tech Northeast, Vincennes).

While there is no set number of athletic scholarships available, Fletcher says athletes at Oakland City can get scholarship money through a combination of academic and athletic performance and economic need. A dollar amount is divided among athletes.

“We do not offer full-ride scholarships to any athlete on campus,” says Fletcher. “We’re looking for a strong academic kid who can be supplemented from athletic money. You get a good package here.”

OCU typically has 450 to 500 students. The incoming freshmen class of 100 was the biggest in a decade. The 2010 census had nearly 2,500 folks living in the town of Oakland City, making it the third-largest in Gibson County behind Princeton and Fort Branch.

An independent with no conference affiliation, Oakland City does play several schools in the Great Lakes Valley Conference and Great Midwest Athletic Conference — both D-II leagues.

“My whole philosophy is to play the best competition we can play to challenge our athletes and also give us a chance to succeed,” says Fletcher, who typically carries a roster of 25 to 30 with only a varsity schedule.

Fletcher handles recruiting for the Oaks. Most most players come from Indiana, Kentucky and Illinois. But there have been some from Canada, Puerto Rico and Venezuela as well as New York and Ohio.

“We’re located in a good geographic area for baseball in my opinion,” says Fletcher.

Oakland City plays on-campus on Brooks C. Pinnick Memorial Field. The facility has been upgraded over the years. In 2014, the outfield grass and drainage system was re-done and the Oaks spent much of the season on the road.

Fletcher’s assistant coaches for 2018 are former OCC players Alex Portee’ (fourth season) and Zach Deutsch (second season). Washington (Ind.) High Schoolg graduate Portee’ is the Oaks pitching coach. Deutsch went to Evansville Harrison High School and played two seasons at Vincennes University and two at Oakland City.

Tommy Ray Fletcher II has gone by T-Ray since age 1. He was given that nickname when older brother Zane asked why there were two Tommy Ray’s in the household of Tommy Ray and Judy Fletcher.

“(Zane) was a big influence on me at an early age,” says T-Ray of the brother who died in 2015. “He was a big fan of the Big Red Machine (Cincinnati Reds of the 1970’s) and really got me introduced to baseball at an early age.”

T-Ray became a Chicago Cubs fan and tries to attend a game at Wrigley Field each year.

It’s not always easy with a busy schedule that includes coaching, serving at OCU as assistant athletic director as well as in Compliance and the School of Business (he teaches three classes each semester) while spending time with wife Maddie and their three daughters — Sophie (10), Avery (8) and Alaine (4).

The Fletchers reside in Evansville. T-Ray also has two younger siblings — Brandon and Chiara.

TRAYFLETCHER

T-Ray Fletcher, a 1995 Oakland City University graduate, has been the Mighty Oaks head baseball coach since the 1996 season and has more than 400 victories. OCU is a member of both the National Christian College Athletic Association and NCAA Division II. (Oakland City U. Photo)