Until recently, he ran his own strength and conditioning business.
Severa became a head baseball coach at the prep level for the third time when he was hired prior to 2020 at Argos (Ind.) Community Junior/Senior High School in Marshall County. Back issues caused him to step down and the pandemic kept him from coaching a game for the Dragons and Mishawaka alum Joe Kindig was hired as head coach for 2021.
Severa died May 19, 2021 at 64.
In his last coaching role, Severa established principles of success:
1. Make a commitment and honor it.
2. Develop a self-discipline work ethic.
“At some point they’ll be left to their own devices,” said Severa. “My eyes aren’t on them all the time.”
3. Accept and apply the coaching we’re offering to them.
4. Find a role on the team and develop it.
5. Develop that TEAM is greater than Me attitude.
“Get beyond the scholarship mentality and go with what’s best for the program,” said Severa.
6. Be accountable to themselves and their teammates.
Severa was a third baseman and pitcher while earning two baseball letters at Mishawaka for coach John Danaher. He was team MVP as a senior.
After taking it on the chin against LaPorte, Severa and a teammate went over to the home of the Slicers and sat on 10th Street, watching Schreiber lead his team through a two-hour practice. He would be an assistant at LaPorte for seven seasons through 1999 — the last year as head junior varsity and program pitching coach.
“There was a lot of pressure,” said Severa. “The JV was expected to win 20 games every year.
“That was the benchmark.”
Severa was a kicker and defensive lineman for Mishawaka coach Bill Doba on the football field.
Severa was a speaker and organizer at many clinics over the years, including the Chicago Catholic League, Bangor (Mich.) Youth Basseball Coaches, Tri-State Baseball Coaches (bringing in Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Lloyd McClendon as the featured speaker) and Cassopolis (Mich.) Youth Baseball Coaches.
“The premise of the story: A floundering modern-day former baseball MVP mysteriously was up playing for the St. Louis Cardinals Gas House Gang,” says Severa. “The rub is his competition: A cocky 22-year-old rookie who schools him in baseball and life — his grandfather.”
Frank and wife Cheryl Severa had two children — Erin Manering and Frank Severa — and four grandchildren. Erin and Chris Manering have two children as do Frank and Ashley Severa. Cheryl Severa has worked for LaPorte Community Schools.
Copies hang in the Dragons dugout and a point or two is highlighted on a daily basis during practice.
“You only get to do sports for so long and then you are put into the working world, I would like to see my players be good men in society,” says Kindig, who has two sons — junior Dylan and freshman Jackson — on the team and another — Ian (pitching and catching coach) — on a staff that also features Chris Lacher (bench coach) and Todd Montgomery (assistant head coach and father of Dragons batboy/manager Brady). “This helps with that foundation, not just by talking for a few minutes but emphasizing that is also carries over into the classroom as well.
“It is a very good approach and if you live, breathe and adopt those 19 standards not just in baseball but work/job, any other leadership role they have later in life, then they are going to be great contributors to society and leaders down the road.”
Kindig notes that leadership is not just for captains, it’s for everybody.
And it’s not just about bats and balls at Argos.
“We take academics serious, we follow up with kids who may be struggling with grades and try to get them help if needed via tutoring, or any other program that may help them get a better understanding of the subject matter,” says Kindig.
The 2021 Dragons have 17 players — three with previous high school experience — for a varsity-only schedule.
“We’re trying to understand how the game works, situations and things like that,” says Kindig. “We’re basically trying to build everything from the ground up.
“We want to get kids started (playing baseball) as young as we can and bring them up through the ranks. We want to make things as fun as possibly and see if we can start competing again for those sectional and regional titles.”
There has been talk of establishing an Argos American Legion Post 68 team for high school age players.
Post 68 was going to field a team in 2020 until COVID-19 came along.
Another way to build up and spark interested in the sport is through winter camps.
Sam Rowe, a 2020 Argos graduate, is on the baseball team at Bethel University in Mishawaka.
A Bethel graduate — Eric Stults — graduated from Argos and pitched in the majors with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Colorado Rockies, Chicago White Sox, San Diego Padres and Atlanta Braves and in Japan with the Hiroshima Toyo Carp.
Kindig grew up in Mishawaka, Ind., and played in the Inter-City Catholic League. In 1998, he graduated from Mishawaka (Ind.) High School, where he ran track and played football. He lives in Argos with wife Amy and sons and is a cost account for Valmont Industries in Plymouth.
Jim Kraft would like his baseball players at Bethany Christian High School to take the right approach at the plate, hit the cut-off man and throw strikes from the mound.
But’s that not the most-important thing to the man who has led the Bruins program since the 2018 season.
“No. 1 it’s about making better men,” says Kraft. “It starts with being a good teammate, work ethic and things like that.
“The baseball stuff kind of takes care of itself after that.”
Bethany, a school of about 140 in the top four grades with its campus in Waterford Mills, Ind. (south side of Goshen), has 13 players in 2021 and is playing a varsity-only schedule and got off to a 4-0 start through April 22.
“In a weird way (the COVID-19) pandemic probably benefited us a little bit with being small and not having a JV team,” says Kraft. “We only graduated a senior and junior from the team of two years ago.
“We really only had one player playing travel baseball (last summer). But other schools played less last year.
“We’re really looking forward to growing this year.”
Kraft is assisted this spring by former Fairfield High School players Jason Smith and Jared Christophel and former Bethany athlete Jared Schlabach.
Bethany plays home games at the Dan Bodiker Athletic Fields, located across the railroad tracks behind the school. Kraft says a capitol campaign is expected to bring upgrades to soccer, track and field, softball and baseball.
There are currently no Bethany graduates playing college baseball. Kraft says three of his seniors could play if they want to pursue that route.
The 2021 Boys of Summer Baseball League is expected to include a Bethany junior high team.
Kraft grew up on a dairy farm near Trufant, Mich., and was active in 4-H and Future Farmers of America. He is a1984 graduate of Lakeview (Mich.) High School and earned an engineering degree at Michigan State University.
He is employed at Brock Grain Systems in Milford, Ind., as a product director.
Jim and wife Tammy have a son, Logan, and live in New Paris, Ind. Logan played baseball at Fairfield and graduated from Indiana Wesleyan University in 2020.
Flemm is an alum of Veritas Christian Academy in Sparta, N.J., where he pitched for the Lions baseball team and graduated in 2015. He finished his course work at Cedarville (Ohio) University as a History major and double minor in International Studies and Bible in December and is planning to attend May 1 commencement.
He was contacted by former Veritas Christian administrator and current Elkhart Christian secondary principal Sean Bevier who informed him of the baseball coach opening. Flemm was working with the Sussex County Miners Travel Baseball 13U team. Besides coaching, he is substitute and study hall teacher at ECA.
Baker and Flemm, who are assisted by former Elkhart Christian players Mark Stevens and T.J. Tice, guide a group of 12 players that includes one senior (Matt Elmerick), no juniors and the rest sophomores and freshmen.
Some have played travel ball. Others have little baseball experience.
“It sounds cliche’, but we’re working on getting better each day,” says Baker. “We want them listening to what we tell them and trying to apply it on the field.”
Three — Elmerick and sophomores Jude Reynolds and Luke Schramm — split their time between baseball and the Eagles track and field team coached by Allen Lollis. With the help of athletic director Richelle Viront, game and practice schedules are coordinated to accommodate both spring programs.
Elkhart Christian Academy (enrollment around 160) is a member of the Hoosier Plains Conference (with IHSAA Class 1A schools Argos, Bethany Christian, Lakeland Christian Academy, South Bend Career Academy and Trinity at Greenlawn). Only ECA, Argos, Bethany have baseball teams this spring.
“We play a lot of these really big school,” says Flemm. “That’s going to set us up for success in the conference and a state tournament time.”
The Eagles are trying to develop pitchers and catchers on the fly. Many will get a turn on the mound.
“Everybody’s a pitcher until we figure out that’s not your forte’,” says Baker.
Something that was ingrained during Flemm’s travel and high school pitching career was the importance of control.
“Throwing strikes is the only way you’re going to succeed,” says Flemm. “Our second game (against LaVille) we had more strikes and that was awesome to see.
“It’ll just take a lot of refinement and more experience for the guys on the bump.”
Baker looks for ECA pitchers to develop a fastball and change-up and be able to hit their spots with it.
Flemm is upbeat about the future.
“We see a lot of potential,” says Flemm. “It’s been a blessing working with this group of guys.
“I’m excited for what’s coming and how we can develop these guys even more.”
As a private K-12 school, ECA does not always know who will be attending from year to year.
Flemm says there has been talk of starting a junior high baseball program. He has noticed interest in the game among students in those grades.
“It’s something, hopefully, Coach Baker and I can start.” says Flemm, who notes that he and Baker will lead a youth baseball camp ECA in early June. “We’ll get a chance to see what kind of talent we have coming in.”
The Elkhart Christian campus is located in an open area behind the school and next to the U.S. 20 By-Pass. A breeze seemingly never stops.
“We’re almost in a wind tunnel,” says Baker. “It can be difficult to hear (talk between players and coaches and players and other players).
“We need to work on communication and use our big-boy voices so people can hear.”
As he goes into his fourth season leading the program at the tuition-free public charter school serving grades 6-12, Beasley is met with issues like getting enough players and retaining those.
The school, which opened in August 2011 with grades 7-9 before expanding, presented its first baseball team in 2014. The Trailblazers became eligible for IHSAA tournament play in 2017 — the year before Beasley became head coach.
“The first year we went into most games with 10 players,” says Beasley. “The second year, it was 13 or 14. Last year, we were in good shape with decent numbers then we did not play (because of the COVID-19 pandemic).”
As the 2021 slate approaches, Beasley has been getting a handful out for winter conditioning. He hopes that number will go up at the end of basketball season and when more students begin coming for in-person instruction.
One of the reasons participation is down is because some students take all their classes online and don’t appear at the campus on the northwest side of South Bend just below the Indiana Toll Road. The school has enrollees from all over the area.
“I don’t get to interact with those kids and that’s where a lot of the recruitment comes from,” says Beasley. “Losing the baseball season really hurt because (students and staff) are not talking about it.
“If doesn’t matter if you never played before. Come out and we’ll have some fun. I’m not going to force a kid to come out and do it.”
These novices — some who have never played or have not been on a diamond since Little League — face a varsity high school schedule with experienced opponents. Some of those will go on to play college baseball.
“Retention is hard,” says Beasley. “Many of them do not come back the next year.
“That’s our biggest hurdle.”
There is currently no feeder system for CASB baseball, though Beasley is hoping to develop a middle school team in the next couple years. Career Academy has a second South Bend campus — Success Academy — which serves grades K-5.
Beasley is a math teacher. This year he leads Algebra and Algebra Lab classes.
He grew up in North Liberty, Ind., and played baseball at John Glenn High School in Walkerton, Ind., graduating in 2005. Beasley’s freshmen year was John Nadolny’s first at Falcons head coach.
“He was the coach who taught me the most about all aspects of the game as opposed to just the physical part,” says Beasley. “He had those instincts during the game. Being around baseball his whole life, he did what his gut told him to do and it’s worked out for him.”
Beasley credits “Nud” for teaching him how to look at baseball’s mental side.
“How far I can hit the ball or how hard I can throw is not always the most-important part,” says Beasley.
At Ball State University in Muncie, Beasley played four years of club baseball, serving as president his last two years.
The club played intrasquad games in the fall and then a National Club Baseball Association schedule in the spring. Ball State played in the Great Lakes South Conference with club teams from Indiana University, University of Illinois, Southern Illinois University-Carbondale and SIU-Edwardsville.
The student-run club was responsible for securing its own practice time and space — in the winter that meant 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. when the varsity teams weren’t using any of the BSU gyms.
Working with Muncie Parks & Recreation, the club played at Francis Lafferty Park. As president, Beasley had to lead fundraising efforts and put together a proposal to get financial help from the university. There was also making out the roster and other administrative duties that many don’t associate with coaching.
Before coaching at Career Academy South Bend, Beasley served as an assistant and junior varsity coach at South Bend Clay (2012-17). He got to work with baseball veterans like Colonials head coach Joel Reinebold and assistants Bill Schell, John Kehoe and Dan Kasper.
“It was very informative,” says Beasley. “(Reinebold) always had something that players could do to get better. I learned a lot from him.”
Beasley also learned how to run a team and craft a schedule.
Hired prior to 2020, there was much anticipation with a talented group coming back.
The Satellites won the Porter County Conference for just the third time (2009 and 2017 were the other title seasons) and the IHSAA Class 1A South Bend Career Academy Sectional before losing in the South Bend Regional championship to eventual state runner-up and fellow PCC member Washington Township in 2019.
Several key starters from that squad returned in 2020.
But the Satellites never took the field in 2020 thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“That’s the hand we’ve been dealt,” says Coulter. “Like everyone else.”
Coulter and company now getting ready for 2021 with more high hopes.
“I think we’ll be a dark horse this year,” says Coulter. “We’ve revamped the entire program and internally changed our mindset.”
“We’re the sectional favorite or co-favorite almost every year,” says Coulter. “We don’t want winning sectional defining our season.”
When the Satellites break a huddle in practice, the chant is “138.”
That’s the number of miles from Satellite Field to Victory Field in Indianapolis — site of the IHSAA State Finals.
“We have a very talented group,” says Coulter. “It’s an exciting time to be a South Central baseball player.
“We’re more poised now to make a pretty deep (tournament) run.”
Last summer, South Central took part in five travel tournaments. No players were turned away. There were 32 taking part in games and workouts.
With the majority of the varsity lineup committed to other travel teams, 14-, 15- and 16-year-olds played in 17U events.
With all the players together, a title was won at the On Turf Sports Classic in Columbia City, Ind., beating a team made up of Avon and Plainfield high school players for the championship. There was also a squad from Cincinnati and the Harris Storm (Penn High School players).
There are currently 38 identified with the program, including 18 freshmen. One member of the Class of 2024 — pitcher Bradley Ferrell — shined at a recent Perfect Game event in Florida.
Coulter is a 2009 LaPorte High School graduate. Other LPHS alums on his Satellite coaching staff include pitching coach Tony Ferrell (a member of the 1992 state champions and father of Bradley), Dave Santana and Garrett Kautz with the varsity. Alex Rochowiak is the JV head coach. Zach Lee is the JV pitching coach. Chesterton High School graduate Rochowiak played is the son of Michigan City High School head coach Jeff Rochowiak.
South Central has also gotten new uniforms for its varsity and junior teams and put a new windscreen completely around its home park.
The coaching staff donated their 2020 salaries to pay for infield playing mix, which helps with turnaround time on rain days.
The grass baseline have been replaced with dirt.
“It looks more like a baseball field now,” says Coulter.
Boone Grove won the IHSAA Class 2A state championship in 2018 with Washington Township making it to the Class 1A finale in 2019.
“It’s a pretty solid conference in baseball,” says Coulter. Currently the largest of Indiana’s 1A schools, South Central has yet to win a PCC tournament.
Recent South Central graduates now in NCAA Division I college baseball are Carson Husmann (Bradley University) and Kyle Schmack (Valparaiso University).
The Satellite Series — a competition among groups — was launched in November and will continue until tryouts in March. Upperclassmen drafted teams of underclassmen. Teams compete for weekly points based on attendance, Baseball I.Q. sessions, in-person hitting sessions and school grades.
“The kids have absolutely eaten it up,” says Coulter, who adds that they are vying for a letter jacket patch and a steak dinner grilled by the coaching staff.
South Central players build their Baseball I.Q. with Zoom sessions that have included guests like Evan Miller (a pitcher in the San Diego Padres system who starred at LaPorte High and Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne) and Rob Younce (a Philadelphia Phillies scout and national travel coach with the Canes).
“It allows us to grow and stay current with the times,” says Coulter.
After playing football and lacrosse and a few seasons of basketball in high school, Coulter went to Manchester University in North Manchester, Ind., where he pursued a Business Management degree and served as a student assistant football coach on the staff of Shannon Griffith.
After a season a junior varsity baseball coach at LaPorte, Coulter led the South Shore Smoke 13U travel team.
Coulter and partner Kevin Tran are Indiana Farm Bureau Insurance agents based in LaPorte.
In his second stint as head baseball coach at LaCrosse (Ind.) High School, Snyder expects his Tigers to say “Yes Sir” and “Yes Ma’am” and to keep their hair neat and jerseys tucked in. They must stay on top of their studies.
“Today’s society shies away from discipline,” says Snyder, who led LaCrosse for five seasons (2000-04 with IHSAA Class 1A top-10 rankings in four of those seasons and a West Central Sectional title in 2002) then took time off to raise his children. “There’s a way to win and it does take discipline.”
During his first Tigers tenure, 18 players went on to college baseball in five years.
“I push extremely hard with grades,” says Snyder. “That’s part of the discipline factor. I want people to say that’s a baseball player at the school.
“They know we’re different.”
Snyder derived this approach from the men he encountered along his baseball path. A 1986 graduate of South Central High School at Union Mills, Ind., he played for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Bob Schellinger and later coached with him. He also coached C-team boys basketball and was involved in Hanna youth baseball.
Snyder was on the Satellites high school baseball staff for 11 years before taking over the reins at LaCrosse.
While still a player, Snyder was on a world champion Junior Olympic team that featured IHSBCA Hall of Famers Ric Tomaszewski and Len Buczkowski plus Jim Dermody among the coaches. These men all ran extremely disciplined high school programs — Tomaszewski at South Bend Washington, Buczkowski at South Bend Adams and Dermody at Warsaw.
Teammates included LaPorte High School’s Scott Upp and Greg Perschke. Upp went on to be head coach at LaPorte, following legend Ken Schreiber and Perschke the head coach at Trine University in Angola, Ind.
One of Snyder’s best friends in coaching is Washington Township’s Randy Roberts. They share similar styles.
“I had a good upbringing,” says Snyder, 52. “I’m very appreciative of all the people that came into my life.”
While he came back to just in time to have the 2020 season taken away because of the COVID-19 pandemic, there are plenty of positives surrounding LaCrosse baseball.
Nearly $60,000 — most of it donated — has been poured into the improvement of Tiger Field, which is located less than a mile northeast of the school building.
“It’s going to surprise a lot of people,” says Snyder of an ongoing project at the Dewey Township-owned facility that has added a new net back stop with a four-foot brick wall inside and stone outside plus updated dugouts, mound and plate areas and an infield sprinkler system with more to come.
Snyder is approaching 19 years with North Star Stone in Valparaiso, Ind. The company manufactures and installs stone products.
Snyder expects as many as 28 players (including 13 freshmen) this spring, meaning the Tigers will be able to field a junior varsity team for likely the first time ever.
Helping Snyder coach are Brian “Chico” Lipscomb, J.T. Snyder and Dan Snyder. Lipscomb was a standout at LaPorte who played in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization. J.T., Eric’s son, and Dan, Eric’s nephew, played at South Central. Dan Snyder, who pitched and was the athlete of the year at Purdue University Northwest, is LaCrosse’s pitching coach.
Other former college or pro players have come in to help teach the Tigers.
Feeding the high school program is the Southwest County Conference — a youth league for ages 5 to 12 with teams feeding schools at LaCrosse, Wanatah, Clinton, Hanna and Union Mills. LaCrosse uses the softball field near Tiger Field.
“I’m a big part of that,” says Snyder. “I want to teach them everything I need them to know (at the high school level).
“We teach them how to bunt, lead off and steal. We treat the youngest kids just like they were freshmen.”
In coaching LaCrosse fifth and sixth grade boys basketball players this winter, Snyder took over a team with a 1.7 grade-point average. By season’s end it was 3.1.
“That’s why I’m involved at the lower levels,” says Snyder.
LaCrosse conducted fall IHSAA Limited Contact Period workouts and is just getting started with winter conditioning/practice given that so many baseball players also play basketball.
Eric and Sara Snyder have five children (two girls followed by three sons) — Alex (26), Danielle (25), J.T. (23), R.J. (21) and Eli (10). The four oldest were all South Central athletes — Alex in volleyball, basketball and softball, Danielle in softball, J.T. in baseball and basketball and R.J. in baseball and basketball. R.J. Snyder is an outfielder at Grace College in Winona Lake, Ind.
But there are still plenty of Indiana connections for the former pitcher.
Thompson is a 2000 graduate of Bethel College (now Bethel University) in Mishawaka, Ind., where he was a Liberal Studies major and Business minor while pitching for head coaches Sam Riggleman (1998 and 1999) and Mike Hutcheon (2000) learning from Bethel assistant and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Hall of Famer Dick Siler.
As an elementary student, Thompson was always writing out lineups and plays. At first all he wanted to do was play baseball. When that time was over, he turned his attention to coaching.
“I’ve always loved baseball and sports,” says Thompson. “God’s gifted me in that capacity.”
Thompson is a 1995 graduate of Cowden-Herrick Senior High School in central Illinois. His graduating class had 33 students. With too few boys to have a football team, the Bobcats played conference games in the fall and the rest of the schedule in the spring with a healthy American Legion schedule in the summer.
Left-hander Stults, an Argos (Ind.) High School graduate, was in the majors with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Colorado Rockies, Chicago White Sox, San Diego Padres and Atlanta Braves.
Right-hander Humen also pitched at Rice University and Oral Roberts University and made it to Double-A with the Miami Marlins and also logged mound time in the Kansas City Royals system and in independent ball.
Left-hander Kloosterman, an Elkhart Central graduate, competed in the Milwaukee Brewers organization.
Before leaving for Air Force, Hutcheon and Thompson recruited Justin Masterson out of Ohio to attend Bethel. They later faced him in the Mountain West Conference when Masterson transferred to San Diego State University. He went on to pitched in the bigs for the Boston Red Sox, Cleveland Indians and St. Louis Cardinals.
At MNU, Thompson’s coaching staff includes former Huntington (Ind.) University pitcher and Taylor University (Upland, Ind.) assistant Colton Punches as pitching coach. He was recommended by Trojans head coach Kyle Gould.
Cam Screeton, a Rochester (Ind.) High School and Indiana Wesleyan University (Marion, Ind.) graduate and former head coach at Grace College in Winona Lake, Ind., is a graduate assistant working with MNU Pioneers hitters.
In a program with around 60 players (varsity and junior varsity), Elkhart Central alum Brycen Sherwood (Craig Sherwood’s nephew) is a sophomore second baseman and Zionsville (Ind.) Community High School graduate Jake Bisland is a sophomore catcher.
Chad Jenkins, a teammate and roommate of Thompson at Bethel, is MNU’s Sports Information Director.
Thanks to Jenkins’ efforts, the Pioneers stream home baseball games in HD with a center field camera.
MNU’s last game before the shutdown of the 2020 season was March 13. Thompson opted to start the 2021 campaign Jan. 29 at Wayland Baptist in Plainview, Texas.
“It’s a little out of my comfort zone and not ideal, but we’ve been off long enough,” says Thompson of the early start. The Pioneers, a member of the NAIA and the Heart of America Athletic Conference, typically open in mid-February.
Players left campus at Thanksgiving and are due back Jan. 10 for COVID-19 protocol with the first practice Jan. 10 and in-person classes resuming Jan. 12.
The other Indiana connection is at home. Ryan’s wife Kristie is a graduate of NorthWood High School in Nappanee, Ind. The Thompsons have six homeschooled children (three boys followed by three girls) — Ty (15), Kade (13), Beau (11), Bailee (9), Kamryn (8) and Taylor (6). A homeschool hook-up on Fridays in Olathe has allowed the kids to explore different sports.
The ninth-year GC assistant has certain things for pitchers to do six days a week while they each are encouraged to find what works best for them.
These are college athletes. It’s no cookie-cutter or one-size-fits-all system.
“A lot of these kids when they get here never really focused on pitching,” says Grubbs. “If they were at a school where they played multiple positions they might play shortstop, come in and pitch and the next day they’re back at shortstop.
“One of our outfielders — a freshmen — said he never thought of himself as a pitcher through he was the No. 1 at his school. Here, you’ve got to put a lot more emphasis on it if you want to get better at it.”
Having an abundance of quality arms has long been important when playing a 55-game NAIA schedule. But with the Crossroads League going to 36 conference games and Friday and Saturday doubleheaders, it has taken on even more significance for the Maple Leafs.
“You have a really good chance of getting on the field as a pitcher. We need pitching,” says Grubbs. “With this many innings, there’s going to be opportunities.”
Grubbs spells out his points of emphasis.
“What we’re big on the most is being able to attack hitters, have command and be able to throw secondary pitches for strikes,” says Grubbs. “We’re pretty successful with that compared to some other programs.
“A lot of times, we’ll pitch backwards to teams. We’ll always work off our fastball. But you’ve got to be able to mix speeds and change locations.”
In 2019, the GC staff set a school record for strikeouts (345). In the past four seasons, the top four team earned run averages in Goshen’s DakStats-era history have been posted.
“We’d like to pitch to weak contact at times, too,” says Grubbs, recognizing that strikeouts tend to raise the pitch count. “We have a nice core of veterans back that are going to be able to help us (in 2021).”
Now in the sixth of seven fall practice weeks, the Maple Leafs are looking to get better even as the COVID-19 pandemic took away or shortened the 2020 spring and summer seasons.
Goshen was 7-11 overall and 2-1 in the Crossroads and on a two-game win streak when the season ended soon after a March 7 doubleheader sweep of visiting Taylor.
Newcomers and veterans are getting roughly the same amount of playing time in intrasquad games so the coaching staff can see what the players can do.
“We try to even up teams so they get a fair crack at it,” says Grubbs. “They have an opportunity.”
In a typical non-pandemic year, Goshen would be playing outside competition in the fall. Not so in 2020.
“We’re getting a lot of reps against each other,” says Grubbs. “Some nights we have to grind through it a little bit.”
The Maple Leaf World Series — Purple vs. Black — is slated for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of next week.
Right now, Childers is with his wife Amber and family at Riley Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis while Wellenreiter and Grubbs run the team.
“Alex is the type of coach that has given us so much responsibility and given us the reins to lead our components of the team,” says Grubbs. “He gives us that freedom to coach.”
During the season, Grubbs helps Childers with in-game decision-making and also handles much of GC’s recruiting.
The Leafs roster includes players from Indiana, Michigan, Illinois and Ohio. But it also features those from California, Georgia, Idaho, Maryland, Nevada and Texas plus Alberta in Canada, Puerto Rico and Venezuela.
Once the pandemic hit, there was a slow start to recruiting for the 2021 class. But with the help of the admissions office, virtual visits soon became the norm.
“These were guys we’d already done research on,” says Grubbs. “We’d seen videos and texted back and forth. We had an idea of who they are and talked with their coaches.”
Following the school’s protocol and precautions, there was one short recruiting trip to Michigan in the summer. In most years, Grubbs would log many miles in pursuit of players.
Grubbs grew up just outside Bourbon, Ind., and graduated from Triton Junior/Senior High School in 1998. The Trojans won the old Northern State Conference title in 1997 and were perennial NSC contenders.
Eric Stults, who went on to star at Crossroads League member Bethel College (now Bethel University) and pitch in the big leagues, lived just a couple of miles away. In Justin’s final high school game — left-hander Stults hurled Argos to a 3-2 victory over Triton.
Landon Grubbs — Justin’s brother — was the starting right fielder and clean-up hitter on Triton’s 2001 IHSAA Class 1A state championship team.
Both Grubbs brothers were coached by Jim Shively.
“He got the best out of his players,” says Grubbs of Shively. “He had a lot of enthusiasm. He taught guys how to hit. I never knew how to hit until I got (to high school). I was also more of a pitcher type who hit at the bottom of the order.”
Grubbs ended up in the No. 2 hole on a squad featuring Kyle Gould (who is now the head baseball coach at athletic director at Crossroads League member Taylor University).
On the mound, Grubbs was 15-4 and a two-time all-NSC selection. He also played football and was academic all-state in 1997.
Grubbs was relief on the baseball team at Indiana Wesleyan University. Mark DeMichael was then head coach of the Wildcats. He learned lessons of pitching and spirituality from IWU pitching coach Mike Burchette.
“He talked about the side work and what a pitching program really looks like,” says Grubbs of Burchette. “He had a really good Christian twist to everything and would really lead us spiritually.”
After a couple years, Grubbs decided to begin his coaching career while working toward a Indiana Wesleyan degree he earned in 2002 (he got a masters in Administration of Physical Education and Sport).
Grubbs then became varsity assistant and pitching coach to head coach Steve Shugart at Madison-Grant Junior/Senior High School in Fairmount, Ind. The Argylls regularly won 20 games as season and were state-ranked in Class 2A. M-G won a Central Indiana Conference championship.
After that, Justin and wife Emily (who also went to Triton and Indiana Wesleyan), opted to move closer to home to start a family (their daughters are Eliana and Maycee).
The couple, married since 2004, settled in Bremen, Ind., and Justin took a job as a math teacher and assistant baseball coach at Goshen (Ind.) High School. He was the varsity assistant for the Redskins (now RedHawks) for five years.
Grubbs continues to teach at Goshen and coach at Goshen College. When deciding whether to take the college job, Grubbs consulted with former GHS teacher and coach and GC coach DeVon Hoffman.
He also talked with GHS principal Barry Younghans, who makes it possible for him to teach and get to college games — sometimes the second half of a doubleheader.
“Alex is very flexible as a coach,” says Grubbs. “He’s even said there are times that I need you even more in practice than I do at the games because that’s where all of our work is put in and it’s just performance at the game.
“I’m thankful I’m around people that are really good people to work for at the high school and here at the college.”
Athletic director Richelle Viront wanted him to establish culture with the Eagles.
VanArsdale, a 2013 ECA graduate who had played baseball, golf and basketball at his alma mater, was a baseball assistant in 2017 and came back to lead the program in 2019.
“I’ve been preaching to the guys to stay humble and work hard,” says VanArsdale. “Humility is so valuable in a team sport.”
VanArsdale, who had also coached many of these same athletes as junior high basketball players, does not put the emphasis on personal statistics but the team.
“We talked about distractions,” says VanArsdale. “One huge one is pride.”
VanArsdale wants his players to know that “everyone matters” and that seniors with experience respect freshmen with little to none.
“When I see someone who is toxic to that culture, we’re addressing it head-on right away,” says VanArsdale. “At the end of the day, ECA baseball is about life development.”
VanArsdale saw the Eagles go from 1-11 in 2018 — a year he stayed out of coaching with the birth of his daughter (Bethel College graduates Tyler and Brittany welcomed Clara on their wedding anniversary of May 10, 2018 at 10:18 p.m.) — to 8-8 in 2019 with him in charge.
“It’s a mindset thing — a change in thinking,” says VanArsdale. “That’s a great turnaround.”
Elkhart Christian lost 4-0 to Fremont in the semifinals of the IHSAA Class 1A Fremont Sectional.
“It was intense and competitive,” says VanArsdale. “I was proud of the guys.”
Two seniors — Bailey Petty and Mark Stevens — were on that squad. Many players return for 2020. Stevens has joined a coaching staff that also includes Tony Tice and Chad Viront.
VanArsdale started his high school athletic career at nearby Penn.
As a sophomore, he transferred to ECA. He was allowed to play junior varsity basketball. The Eagles did not have a JV baseball team, but an arm injury ended his travel season early.
VanArsdale played basketball as a junior and season for squads that won 13 and 14 games.
His senior spring saw ECA go 21-8 and win the school’s first baseball sectional title, reigning at Hamilton and advancing to the finals of the 1A Caston Regional.
That team featured Caleb Stayton (who went on to a standout career at Ball State University) and Tanner Watson (who excelled at Taylor University) and VanArsdale keeps in-touch with many of his former teammates.
A former golf mate of Alec Dutkowski, VanArdale was also able to juggle the links and the diamond in the spring at ECA. He anticipates that he will have some baseball players also competing in track and field this spring.
During the IHSAA Limited Contact Period, the Eagles have been practicing on Tuesdays and Saturdays with weight workouts on other days.
Players and coaches are communication via group chat and VanArsdale, who is also account manager for Legacy Fire Protection, has lunch with his seniors — a group that will have at least six.
“I’m excited,” says VanArsale. “1 through 9, we’ll be stronger at the plate.
“With pitching, we lost Bailey Petty. But we’ll be more diverse and may use three pitchers in a game.”
To keep his pitchers healthy, VanArsdale has them using J-Bands, lifting weights and stretching in the off-season.
For those players who have their sights on the next level, the coach has advice.
“If you have a goal to play college ball, I preach prospect camps,” says VanArsdale. “You don’t want to get worn out on travel ball.”
While ECA (enrollment around 170) is an independent in all sports but soccer now, the school will be part of the Hoosier Plains Conference (with Argos, Bethany Christian, Lakeland Christian Academy, South Bend Career Academy and Trinity at Greenlawn), beginning in 2020-21. It will come with a double robin schedule and end-of-season recognition.
“It’s going to be really good,” says VanArsdale. “It’ll give each school something to shoot for.”