By STEVE KRAH
Greg Harris learned about discipline, structure and staying on-task from an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer and he’s incorporating those concepts and more in his coaching career.
Harris, who played for Ric Tomaszewski and graduated from South Bend Washington High School in 1992, is heading into his ninth season as head baseball coach at South Bend Riley High School in 2018.
“Coach 6 was very disciplined about how he went about his business,” says Harris of Tomazewski. “All of us understood the expectations he had for us — even from our field maintenance and making sure we did the right things in cleaning up and preparing the field.
“We go about our business and preparing the kids (at Riley) in the same way.”
A cornerstone of the Riley Wildcats program is character.
“We really look for high-character kids and great student-athletes,” says Harris. “Academics is a really big part of what we try to instill in our kids about life after high school.
“Our boys are all high achievers in the classroom and we tell them there’s always a place in college for them somewhere.”
Riley routinely carries a team grade-point average about 3.0 and has been at 3.8.
“From freshmen all the way through, the expectations are really high and the kids take that seriously and focus really hard,” says Harris. “It’s a testament to the kids and the parents.
“Grades come first. Academics are going to carry you a lot farther (than athletics).”
Riley currently has graduate Gabe Douglass on the baseball team at Grace College. Brett Carlson finished up at Purdue University a few years ago. Current Wildcats senior Zach Meert has committed to Indiana University South Bend, now led by former Riley assistant and Washington head coach Doug Buysse.
Harris and his assistant coaches — Mike Armey, Gavin Adams, Cameron Evans, Andrew Teall and Steve Fletcher — stress the importance of being good people all the time and not just on the baseball field.
“You represent South Bend; you represent Riley; you represent your family; you represent me as a coach; and we want to represent each other well,” says Harris, who is married to Sybil and has two boys — Riley sophomore baseball player Jackson Williams (16) and Gregory Harris (10). “I try to be a high-character person myself to make sure I’m representing my family, my baseball family, South Bend and my school well and those expectations stay high.”
Harris is passionate about baseball and the life lessons that can be taught through the sport.
“It helps them prepare for the world,” says Harris. “I love the relationships I’ve built with these kids.”
Adams, Evans and Teall all played for Harris at Riley and are now coaching with him.
Between the lines, Harris wants his hitters to have the ability to manufacture runs if power is not present, to make the routine defensive plays and for pitchers to throw strikes on their first delivery.
“First-pitch strike success will lead to success,” says Harris. “If we don’t throw a strike on that first pitch, the odds are a little bit different.”
Even before the IHSAA adopted 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), Riley coaches were keeping them low.
“We use a program when scoring the game that alerts me early where they’re at and we’ll begin to shut them down,” says Harris. “Mike Armey, my pitching coach, is really on top of that.
“Sixty-five pitches is a long day for us. We never try to over-use a kids arm no matter what.”
Competition among teammates means that players can’t get too comfortable with their position. Coupled with pitching moves, that means that there are many players who can play multiple places on the diamond.
Overall, it’s about the Wildcats giving it their all.
“We want to play the game the right way constantly,” says Harris. “If we put our best effort out there, we’ll take what we get with it. We’ve had some kids with quite a bit of talent and we’ve had some kids come a long way.”
All Riley players receive a defensive playbook that they must know and understand and are expecting to work toward increasing their Baseball I.Q.
“One day they may be parents and pass those lessons on just like I learned from Tomaszewski,” says Harris. “There are still things I believe in that I learned in high school.”
South Bend Community School Corporation has four IHSAA member high schools — Riley, Adams, Clay and Washington — plus Rise Up Academy. There are 10 intermediate centers (grades 5-8) and 18 primary centers (grades K-4).
With smaller freshmen classes than in recent years, overall athletic program numbers are down at Riley. The Wildcats will field a softball team for girls this spring, but did not in 2017.
Harris has 27 baseball players in 2018. Some will split time between varsity and junior varsity.
“We want to fill both and make sure the development is where it needs to be,” says Harris. “With the emergence of travel sports, the Little Leagues aren’t feeding into you the way they used to. With school of choice and magnet programs, kids go where they want.
“We’re trying to reach out in different areas to get kids interested in playing sports.”
New SBCSC athletic director Seabe Gavin and Riley AD Dan Kyle is encouraging high school varsity coaches to meet with intermediate school coaches and it’s likely the primary schools will also be contacted.
“We’re still trying to tap into the Little Leagues and see what they have,” says Harris, who counts South Side and South Bend South East as feeder parks for Riley. “We’re always trying have a place for kids to play baseball.”
While Little League participation is down, travel ball is up.
In the summer, Harris has coached travel baseball with the Michiana Scrappers. This year, he will coach the 16U squad for the Michiana Repetition. The program is directed by new South Bend Washington High School head baseball coach and Riley graduate Marcus LaSane.
Players are encouraged to find some kind of team.
“They need to keep playing ball,” says Harris.
Lessons are offered by Harris at Teddy Ballgames training facility in South Bend.
Harris, who is a product engineer at Dec-O-Art in Elkhart, began coaching baseball at South Bend South Side Little League and then migrated to assistant positions at Riley before following Dave Luczkowski as head coach.
The Wildcats play on-campus at Bob Rush Field. Through fundraising, baseball has found ways to upgrade dugouts and purchase new wind screens while maintaining mounds and playing surfaces.
Harris says getting a new warning track is a goal. A big-ticket item on the wish list is a press box and lights are dream.
Riley belongs to the Northern Indiana Conference along with Bremen, Elkhart Central, Jimtown, John Glenn, Mishawaka, Mishawaka Marian, New Prairie, Penn, South Bend Adams, South Bend Clay, South Bend St. Joseph and South Bend Washington. The NIC produced an IHSAA Class 3A state champion (St. Joseph) and a 4A state runner-up (Penn) in 2017.
“You can’t take a day off (in the NIC),” says Harris.
Non-conference opponents on the Wildcats schedule include Concord, Elkhart Memorial, Kokomo, LaVille, Michigan City, Plymouth, Triton and Warsaw.
Riley is in a 4A sectional group with Adams, Clay, LaPorte, Michigan City, Mishawaka and Plymouth.
“We may take our lumps early,” says Harris. “We want to be better than ‘South Bend good’ and make a run in the tournament.”
Greg Harris is entering his ninth season as head baseball coach at South Bend Riley High School in 2018. (Steve Krah Photo)