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Froedge makes success an expectation at Crawfordsville

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

In the heart of Montgomery County is a high school baseball program that’s hard to beat.

John Froedge has been coach at Crawfordsville since age 23 in 1982. His pitching coach and brother-in-law Rhett Welliever is in his 32nd year with the Athenians.

“We have something kind of unique here for a small community,” says Froedge. “Kids who come into the baseball program expect success so they work hard.

“Any of the programs that have had long-standing success have a formula. This is how we do Crawfordsville baseball and these are the expectations.”

The cornerstones of the Athenian way have always been structure, discipline and a love of baseball. With continued success came tradition and expectation.

In the past 26 seasons, Crawfordsville has won 14 IHSAA sectionals, five regionals, two semesters and two Class 3A state championships as well as 20 Sagamore Conference titles.

The Athenians raised the state trophy by besting Mishawaka Marian twice — 5-1 in 2008 and 8-3 in 2011.

C-ville has earned at least 20 victories in 21 of those 26 campaigns. The average record during the span is 24-8.

The 2016 Athenians went 25-5 and won the conference title, but not the sectional. For the first time since 2003-05, Crawfordsville has gone three straight seasons minus a sectional crown.

“We’ve got a bunch of really hungry seniors,” says Froedge of the 2017 squad. “We’ve virtually got the entire team back.”

While proud of the tradition, Froedge deflects from the stress of keeping it going.

“They don’t want to be the first group to go through here and not win something big,” says Froedge. “I tell them ‘Just play the game. There is no pressure. You’re not playing for the legacy. You’re not playing for the past. This is your team.’

“I want them to experience that success at the end of the year. But they’re not going to get it if they’re all uptight about it.”

Froedge, a 1976 Southmont High School graduate, is bearing down on 750 career victories. He is in select company among active Indiana high school coaches. Andrean’s Dave Pishkur is in the 900-win club. Twin Lakes’ Jake Burton has surpassed 800 while Froedge, Chesterton’s Jack Campbell, Indianapolis Scecina’s Dave Gandolph and Jasper’s Terry Gobert have all surpassed 700. All six are in the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame, Froedge’s induction coming 2010.

Early in Froedge’s career, he saw success happening at places like Jasper and LaPorte and said why not Crawfordsville, too? He made it a point to take to LaPorte’s Ken Schreiber when attending the IHSBCA State Clinic each winter.

“When you’re trying to build your program, you find out who try to talk to the best,” says Froedge, who also learned about the game while playing for IHSBCA Hall of Famer Don Brandon at Anderson University.

All but one of Crawfordsville’s IHSBCA North/South All-Star selections — Damon Brown (1978) — have come with Froedge in charge. The others are Matt McCarty (1994), Brett Motz (1995), Adrian Norris (2002), Brandon Moore (2004), Ross Wheeler (2006), Andrew Swart (2008), Brett McKinney (2009), Steven Rice (2010), Cory Rice (2011), Caleb Rasmussen (2012) and Jordan Jackson (2013).

Many Athenians have gone on to play college baseball, but not many at the NCAA Division I level. A couple of exceptions are left-handed pitchers Cameron Hobson and Steven Rice.

When Crawfordsville won the 3A state crown in 2008, Hobson (win) and Rice (save) handled pitching duties in topping Marian.

Hobson went on to pitch for the University Dayton. His professional career took him as far as Triple-A. Rice was a part of Vanderbilt University’s 2014 College World Series champions.

“It sounds cliche, but we’re a team,” says Froedge. “Year in and year out, we’re not the most athletic, the most gifted. We develop strong pitching — and it’s no different this year — but it’s everybody pulling together and working for a common cause.

“We have kids that are super loyal to the program. We have had kids do well by working hard together.”

Kids coming up through feeder programs like Crawfordsville Youth Baseball (CYB-Crawfordsville Youth Baseball on Facebook) and Crawfordsville Middle School dream of one day playing for the Athenian varsity.

There’s also a real family feel. John’s wife Debbie is always around. Son Brandon Froedge, who played for C-ville in the 1990’s, left the baseball staff last year to help assistant his sister Britney Carpenter in her role as Crawfordsville’s head softball coach.

John has been at it long enough that he can now say he has coached several fathers and sons in the royal blue and yellow gold.

Welliever, whom John calls a “baseball junkie” has been pitching daily batting practice for decades.

“One day we counted and he threw 750 pitches,” says Froedge. “He’ll throw to the whole roster multiple times and come back the next day and do it again.”

Tony Bean, Tommy Coy, Daryl Hobson and Connor Smith are also trusted assistants for the Athenians. Justin Dugger is in his 20th season of doing multiple jobs for the team. Bob Taylor has been shooting video of every game for the past 25 years or so.

The current CHS school building opened in 1993-94 and Athenians moved from Miligan Park/Baldwin Field (the program’s home field when it won sectional trophies in 1967, 1970, 1971 and 1974) to the on-campus facility in 1995.

“We’ve got a really beautiful field and the kids do all the work,” says Froedge.

In the Sagamore Conference, Crawfordsville meets Danville, Frankfort, Lebanon, North Montgomery, Southmont, Tri-West Hendricks and Western Boone. Many non-conference games are against bigger schools and the Athenians go to Tennessee at the beginning of the season seeking the best competition available. The final of the C-ville tournament April 15 pitted 3A No. 1 Crawfordsville against 4A No. 1 Carmel (won 13-5 by the visitors).

JOHNFROEDGE

John Froedge is in his 36th season as head baseball coach at Crawfordsville High School. The Indiana Hugh School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer is bearing down on his 750th career victory. His Athenians won Class 3A state titles in 2008 and 2011.

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Gernon building successful baseball culture at Western Michigan

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Billy Gernon is reaping the rewards of his labor as a college baseball coach while also giving back to a game he embraced as boy.

Gernon saw his sixth Western Michigan University squad go 22-34 and win the school’s first-ever Mid-American Conference tournament championship in 2016 while the Broncos earned their first NCAA tournament berth since 1989.

“We’ve got a lot of exciting things going on,” says Gernon. “I’m trying to capture that momentum and bottle it.”

Left-handed pitcher Keegan Akin was chosen as WMU’s first MAC tournament MVP and was then selected by the Baltimore Orioles in the second round of the 2016 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, getting an invitation to big league spring training in 2017.

Akin was the Broncos’ highest draft pick since Harry Shaughnessy in 1970. Shortstop Connor Smith was named 2016 MAC Freshman of the Year.

As if to prove that old adage about the importance of pitching and defense, Western was among the nation’s leaders in fielding percentage at .978 — the all-time best mark at a school that started playing baseball in 1911.

“The strengths for me as a coach speaks to where I come from,” says Gernon. “Competition for big bats is heavy. Competition for defense is not as high.”

Gernon’s first season in Kalamazoo was 2011 after two at Michigan State University and nine as head coach at Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne.

Gernon grew up near the baseball fields near Mt. Tabor Road in New Albany, Ind.

“The game became surrogate father,” says Gernon. “The game’s been taking care of me for a long time.

“I came from a broken home at a very early age. I had an unexplainable love for the game. I was gifted at pitching. Being good at it probably made me like it more.”

Now 50, Gernon still fondly looks back to his 13-year-old summer at playing Babe Ruth League baseball in New Albany, Ind., for a trio of enthusiastic coaches — Louis Jensen Jr., Buzz Benson and John Shine.

“They were young guys and they were a lot of fun,” says Gernon. “I remember looking forward to going to practice.”

Jensen is now director of high school eduction for New Albany Floyd County Consolidated School Corp.

After graduating from New Albany High School in 1985, Gernon took his pitching talents to Indiana University Southeast in New Albany. He was the MVP for the IUS and that gave him a chance to play for IU Bloomington as a senior in 1990. Head coach Bob Morgan asked him to join the Hoosiers and he was excited about his opportunity.

Then tragedy struck.

“My brother died it the day I got there,” says Gernon. A car wreck took David Gernon’s life in 1989. “I was a very vulnerable person.”

Morgan’s passion pushed Gernon to succeed on the diamond.

“At Big Ten level, you need to win,” says Gernon. “You need to perform.”

With Morgan’s insistence on hard work, no excuses and accountability, Gernon flourished and became IU’s closer.

“He catapulted me to another level,” says Gernon.

Somewhere along the line, his focus went away from becoming a radio announcer and a chance to coach came along.

“I just decided to go for it,” says Gernon.

There were bumps along the way. At IPFW, Gernon took over a program that made a transition from NCAA Division II to NCAA Division I during his tenure. For seven of his nine seasons in Fort Wayne, the Mastodons were not in a conference and had just five in-state scholarships with no paid assistant coaches. The teams averaged 11 home games and 40 road games per season.

Yet, Gernon still scheduled the best competition he could find even if his record (157-275-3 in those nine campaigns) suffered for it.

“The biggest teacher for me, personally, has been failure,” says Gernon.

Time, maturity and sincerity plus having a son of his own (Jacob David is 16 and a sophomore at Portage Central High School) have also taught him to be a better coach.

“I always try to keep my brother’s spirit alive in me,” says Gernon. “It’s important to me that my players know I love them. I need to do a better job of not only making sure I was saying it, but doing it.”

His Broncos have responded to that passion.

“Players want to perform for me,” says Gernon, who is 136-193 at WMU. “When they don’t, they’re so bothered. They don’t need anything from me but to address the wound.

“Failure is an event, not a person. The game is riddled with failure and great players learn how to deal with it.”

More than ever, Gernon is concerned with building the culture.

“Cultures are more important than anything,” says Gernon. “Great cultures win over talent. It’s my job as a leader to have guys know what the culture is and become great messengers of the team’s philosophy and culture.”

Gernon expects players to spread the word in the locker room: This is how we do things and this is what’s expected.

“Great culture is why Western won the first MAC tournament in school history and went to the NCAA tournament,” says Gernon. “We have great leaders.”

And through it all, he’s giving back.

“I want to thank every player whoever sweated or sacrificed in a uniform in any place I was ever privileged to coach,” says Gernon. “The game’s been taking care of me for a long time. I’m trying to do everything I can to serve it in the form of gratitude. I talk to current players more about their legacy, how they want to be remembered and the mark they want to leave on other players.

“I want to thank every player whoever sweated or sacrificed in a uniform in any place I was ever privileged to coach.”

It’s just that important.

billgernonwmu

Western Michigan University head baseball coach Billy Gernon played at New Albany High School, Indiana University Southeast and IU Bloomington and coached at Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne before heading north. (Western Michigan University Photo)