By STEVE KRAH
Justin Hartman is bringing a mix of old school and new school as the first-year head baseball coach at West Lafayette (Ind.) Junior/Senior High School.
Hartman comes to the Red Devils after two assistant coach stints totalling seven years at his high school alma mater — McCutcheon.
“Today, they talk about being a player’s coach,” says Hartman. “That’s important. You need vested in these kids not only on the field but off the field.
“You can be strict and have discipline and still be there from a personal standpoint. When they see that you have their best interests (at heart), that’s how you get the most out of them.”
As a Mavericks player and then an assistant, Hartman learned from Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Jake Burton.
“I learned many things, like how to build the program from the bottom up, player personnel, coaching strategy and (fundraising),” says Hartman. “It was a little bit of everything.”
Hartman, who holds a Law and Society degree from Purdue University and is a patrolman for the Lafayette Police Department, appreciates the new IHSAA rules that allow periods of limited contact. During these periods, an unlimited number of players can receive instruction two days a week for two hours at a time.
“I like the change,” says Hartman. “I need as much time as I can with these kids to get ready for that opener in March.”
“A lot is accomplished in those two hours. We’re getting a lot of team stuff done now that wouldn’t be done before March (under the old rules).”
The Red Devils have been practicing in the Cumberland Elementary School gym. Coaches man up to six stations for drill work. After that, everything is cleared out for the team to go over defensive coverages.
Hartman’s varsity staff includes Dan Penale, Dan Walbaum, Brent Talcott, Steve Hartman and Joe Richardson. Former McCutcheon and Lafayette Central Catholic assistant Penale is the pitching coach. Former West Lafayette head coach Walbaum is the hitting coach. Talcott directs the defense. Steve Hartman, Justin’s father, helps with base running and player personal. Richardson is the bench coach.
Bryan Dispennett is the head junior varsity coach and Buck Nelson is the JV assistant. Dispennett has coached all around Tippecanoe County, including at Central Catholic and Lafayette Jeff. Nelson is a former McCutcheon assistant.
Senior catcher Owen Walbaum has committed to play at Purdue.
Upon taking the job, Hartman established West Lafayette travel teams for 9U, 11U, 12U and 14U. They will play in five or six tournaments during the summer — some at the Noblesville (Ind.) Field of Dreams.
“To be competitive and improve, you have to be in those travel leagues,” says Hartman.
These players plus some from West Lafayette Little League serve as the feeder system for the high school.
The Red Devils play home games at Bob Friend Field, which is located adjacent to Cumberland Elementary and West Lafayette Little League.
Hartman has gotten approval to have padding installed in front of both dugouts. A local turf group is improving the surface. An irrigation system is on the way.
Friend, who played at Purdue and pitched 16 seasons in the big leagues with the Pittsburgh Pirates, New York Yankees and New York Mets, attended West Lafayette graduate.
West Lafayette (enrollment around 770) is a member of the Hoosier Conference (with Benton Central, Hamilton Heights, Lafayette Central Catholic, Lewis Cass, Northwestern, Rensselaer Central, Tipton, Twin Lakes and Western). Burton is now head coach at Twin Lakes.
Each conference team plays each other twice in a home-and-home series during the same week.
The Red Devils are part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Benton Central, Maconaquah, Northwestern, Peru and Western. West Lafayette has won nine sectional titles — the last in 2011.
Justin and wife Megan have been married for 10 years. The couple has two children — daughter Chesney (9) and son Koen (8).
Justin Hartman, a graduate of McCutcheon High School and Purdue University, is entering his first season as head baseball coach at West Lafayette (Ind.) Junior/Senior High School.