By STEVE KRAH
Tradition is an important concept for Highland (Ind.) High School baseball.
“We take a lot of pride in wearing our ‘H’ on our chest,” says John Bogner, who enters his sixth season as Trojans head coach and the 23rd in the program in 2019. “ We remember the kids who played at Highland previously. We want to have solid program that everyone should at least have on their radar.”
Bogner (pronounced BOAG-ner) was hired at Highland as a math teacher and has coached football, wrestling and baseball at various levels. He was the head freshmen baseball coach his first five springs then a varsity assistant for 12.
That was under Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dan Miller, who amassed more than 600 wins, nine sectional titles, four regionals and one semistate and sent dozens of players on to college baseball from 1982-2013. Two of Miller’s former players — outfielder Tony Terzarial and left-handed pitcher Jordan Minch — were selected in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.
“It’s hard to replace a Hall of Fame coach,” says Bogner. “But we try to keep the bar as he set it.”
Bogner says he also appreciated Miller’s organization, attention to detail, his ability to handle kids and his game strategy.
Two members of the Highland Class of 2018 — catcher Nick Anderson (Kankakee, Ill., Community College) and third baseman Damen Castillo (Benedictine University in Lisle, Ill.) — on to college diamonds. Current senior right-handed pitcher Jordan Siska is committed to the College of Lake County in Grayslake, Ill.
To get some exposure for players and to give some a taste for travel, Highland will play in the early-season Super Prep Series hosted by Louisville Ballard.
Bogner asks his players to be focused on the field, take a disciplined approach at the plate and throw strikes with command on the mound.
“We want to do everything right,” says Bogner. “My players say, ‘you’re pretty old-fashioned.’
“I take that as a compliment.”
Depending upon the year, Highland generally has 45 to 55 players filling varsity, junior varsity and freshmen rosters.
That means about 16 to 18 with the varsity. Sometimes they rotate on road trips because of the capacity of activity buses.
“Our kids are good about knowing their roles,” says Bogner, who keeps his bench players active with scorebooks and spray charts and as bullpen catchers etc. “Highland’s always had really good kids. It’s made my job easier.”
This year, 22 sophomores indicated their interest in playing baseball for the Royal Blue and Gold.
The 2019 coaching staff will have Matt Bugajski and Bryan Gordon assisting with the varsity and Sam Michel leading the junior varsity. Volunteers at the JV and freshmen levels are Brian Lukich, Nik Mason and Will Kerber. A head freshmen coach is being sought.
The Trojans play on a on-campus diamond that sits along 41st Street. A donation by long-time Highland American Legion Post 180 manager George Bizoukas is bringing lights to the facility.
“This gives us some flexibility for practice times,” says Bogner. “And we can now host a sectional at the high school.”
Highland is in an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with East Chicago Central, Hammond Morton, Lake Central, Lowell and Munster, the host for many years. The Trojans last won a sectional title in 2000.
Bogner’s high school program is fed by Highland Little League and Highland Babe Ruth. He estimates about a third of his players play travel baseball.
“You have to play int he summer to beat schools like Lake Central and Munster,” says Bogner.
The 2019 season will mark the third that the IHSAA has adopted a pitch count rule (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).
“We’ve adapted to it,” says Bogner. “We were never guilty of blowing kids’ arms out (when the rule was 10 innings every three days). We used a lot of common sense.”
Bogner says he recently sent a letter to IHSBCA leadership lamenting that there are coaches out there that don’t show common sense with their pitches.
“You have to trust that your coach knows what’s going on and looks out for you,” says Bogner.
Prior to the rule and even since it has been put in place, Bogner has built up his pitchers arms in the winter. He has them working on pitch sequences and pitch-outs.
“By the end end of February bullpens, our goal is to be up to 80 pitches,” says Bogner. “But I don’t want my guys touching a baseball in December as far as throwing goes. You need to rest.”
This fall, the Trojans that were available to practice took part in a long toss program then players broke into positions. Bogner was coaching football, so practices were usually held late.
Bogner is a 1990 graduate of Griffith (Ind.) High School, where he played baseball for coach Jim Anderson.
“He taught us a lot about the game and its nuances,” says Bogner. “He wanted us to play with class. ‘Don’t play bush league’ was something he often said. He was a very good coach. I don’t know if I’d be where I am without him.”
Anderson did not want his players focusing on their statistics.
“He’d say, ‘play the game right and the rest will take care of itself,” says Bogner, who went on to play two seasons as a catcher and designated hitter at Southwestern Michigan College in Dowagiac, Mich.
Bogner recalls playing catch with Roadrunners coach Courtney Jasiak at the family cabin on Gravel Lake in Lawton, Mich., before committing to the school.
Jasiak had coached future big league star Derek Jeter at Kalamazoo (Mich.) Central High School.
“I was like a sponge with that guy,” says Bogner of Jasiak. “He made me into a technician.”
Purdue University Calumet (now part of Purdue University Northwest) did not have a baseball team when Bogner went there to finish his degree.
Bogner did his student teaching at Calumet High School, where baseball head coach Woody Feeler (who had been his American Legion coach when he was in high school) let him run the show.
“It was like I was an associate head coach,” says Bogner. “I was neck deep.”
In the fall of 1996, he was hired at Highland and has been there ever since.
John is the middle son of Hammond (Ind.) Bishop Noll Institute and Purdue University graduate Jack Bogner and Pam Schuhrke (her husband is Jim). Older brother Jeff lives in St. Louis and younger brother James is in Merrillville, Ind.
Married for 19 years, John and Mandy Bogner have two sons. Justin Bogner is a junior football, wrestling and baseball athlete at Highland. Jason Bogner is a Highland Middle School grader who plays football, basketball and baseball.
John and Mandy Bogner have been married for 19 years. John is the head baseball coach at Highland (Ind.) High School. He also teaches math and coaches football and wrestling.
John Bogner (left) and oldest son Justin Bogner share a moment on the football field as assistant coach and player. John Bogner is head baseball coach and Justin Bogner a player for Highland (Ind.) High School’s baseball program.
Jason Bogner is the youngest son of John and Mandy Bogner. His father is head baseball coach at Highland (Ind.) High School. Jason is a seventh grader who plays football, basketball and baseball.
John Bogner is entering his 23rd season as a coach in the Highland (Ind.) High School baseball program — the sixth as head coach — in 2019.