By STEVE KRAH
An athlete knowing and accepting their place can go a long way toward the success of a team.
Bedford North Lawrence High School head baseball coach Jeff Callahan firmly embraces this philosophy and passes it along to his Stars.
“We are working with athletes to understand their role,” says Callahan, who is in his 15th years as BNL athletic director and entering his fifth season in the baseball coaching role. “Everyone wants to start, play shortstop and bat third. We can’t have that to have the best team possible.”
Callahan talks with players about team expectations.
“We’re putting the team first and individual accolades second,” says Callahan, who coached the Stars to an IHSAA Class 4A sectional championship in 2017 — the first for the program since 1994.
As baseball coach, Callahan meets with his parents to talk about team rules and player roles.
As AD, he encourages the other coaches in the BNL athletic department to do the same.
“It’s never going to eliminate all issues or possible conflicts,” says Callahan. “As parents, we all want what’s best for our kids.”
He also wants those youngsters to know that things won’t always go the way they want and that it is helpful to know how to accept and adjust during times of adversity.
“There are a lot of life lessons can be taught to kids in high school athletics,” says Callahan.
As a shortstop and pitcher playing for BNL 1984-87, Callahan learned the importance of fundamentals from Stars head coach Mike Short.
“He was very detail-oriented,” says Callahan. “We worked a lot on the defensive side and on situations. It helps knowing the game of baseball inside and out as a player.
“Pitching and defense is where you’re going to win games and win championships.”
Coach Callahan spends time at every practice on bunt coverages and all kinds of other possibilities. It’s hoped that this repetition will trigger muscle memory during games.
The 2017 Stars said goodbye to 11 seniors, including eight starters.
Two varsity pitching innings return this spring.
“We have a lot of kids battling for positions,” says Callahan. “Early in the season, we may have several different lineups looking for the right combination of players.”
Callahan tends to keep 35 to 40 players in the program. With all the seniors leaving, he says there may be days he has 18 players with the varsity. There are likely to be around a dozen with the junior varsity 10 to 12 freshmen.
While he is still looking to hire a freshmen coach, Duane Higgs and Reggie Joslin are varsity assistants and Dennis Kissinger will coach the JV for BNL in 2018.
Moving on to college baseball from the Class of 2017 were the coach’s oldest child Brandt Callahan (Rockhurst University in Kansas City, Mo.) plus Drew Hensley (Indiana University Southeast), Austin Long (Indiana University), Tanner McBride (Indiana University Kokomo), Brody Tanksley (Indiana University Southeast) and Michael Underwood (Marian University).
“If a kid wants to go play (college baseball), we give them an idea of what it takes and what it’s like to be recruited,” says Callahan. “We help them make sure they’ve got all their ducks in a row. We make them understand that school is more important that the baseball program.”
There’s also things to consider like cost, distance from home and overall fit with the school’s culture.
“A lot of factors go into it,” says Callahan.
Other recent BNL graduates to head for collegiate diamonds include Caleb Bowman (Taylor University), Dillon Hensley (Blackburn College in Carlinville, Ill.), Kyler Sherrill (Blackburn College) and Tanner Tow (Brescia University in Owensboro, Ky).
BNL plays in the Hoosier Hills Conference (along with Columbus East, Floyd Central, Jeffersonville, Jennings County, Madison Consolidated, New Albany and Seymour). Because the HHC is spread out, all teams do not meet during the regular season. There is a conference tournament, slated for Monday, Wednesday and Friday, May 7, 9 and 11. All teams plays three games to determined places 1 through 8.
BNL’s fourth annual Orval Huffman Invitational is scheduled for May 19. Besides the host Stars, the four-team event named in honor of Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer and former BNL coach Orval Huffman will feature Northview, Silver Creek and Speedway.
A year ago, Huffman and members of the Stars’ 1977 State Finals team addressed the current BNL squad.
The rotating sectional is scheduled to move from Bedford in 2017 to Jeffersonville in 2018. Besides BNL and Jeffersonville, the field is to include Floyd Central, Jennings County, New Albany and Seymour.
Callahan played baseball for two seasons at Vanderbilt University. Roy Mewbourne was the Commodores head coach. The VU coach who recruited Jeff Callahan — Gary Burns — is now leading Brandt Callahan as Rockhurst head coach.
Rockhurst is an NCAA Division II school and member of the Great Lakes Valley Conference.
During Jeff Callahan’s time at Vandy, the Southeastern Conference featured stars like Frank Thomas at Auburn University and Ben McDonald at Louisiana State University. Vanderbilt was not yet the powerhouse it has become in recent years with Tim Corbin as head coach.
Callahan graduated from the Nashville-based school in 1991 with a double major in human resources and secondary education.
After college, Callahan taught and was assistant baseball and football coach at Norcross High School in Gwinett County, Ga. His wife, Paige, grew up in Atlanta. The couple met at Vanderbilt.
Moving back to Bedford, Callahan became a U.S. History teacher and assistant in football, basketball and baseball. For a few seasons, he was the Stars head football coach.
Besides Brandt, Jeff and Paige have a freshman son Whitt and eight-grade daughter Merritt.
Bedford North Lawrence became a school in 1974, a consolidation of Bedford, Fayetteville, Heltonville, Needmore, Oolitic, Shawswick and Tunnelton.
Many Indiana basketball fans know BNL’s Damon Bailey is from Heltonville. He played baseball for the Stars as a freshman. That was Jeff Callahan’s senior season.
Celebrating a 2017 IHSAA Class 4A Bedford North Lawrence Sectional baseball championship for the host school are the Callahan family (from left): Merritt, Jeff, Brandt, Paige and Whittt. Jeff, who is married to Paige, enters his fifth season as the BNL Stars head coach in 2018. Brandt is now in college. Whitt is freshman. Merritt is an eighth grader.