Tag Archives: Culver Academy

Baker, Flemm guiding Elkhart Christian Academy Eagles

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A 30-something from Indiana and a 20-something from New Jersey have come together to lead the baseball program at Elkhart (Ind.) Christian Academy.

Shawn Baker, 34, and Matthew Flemm, 24, are co-head coaches for the Eagles. 

Baker graduated from Northridge High School (Middlebury, Ind.) in 2005 and Manchester University (North Manchester, Ind.) in 2009 as a Grades 5-12 Social Studies major.

He played at Northridge for two head coaches — Mike Logan and Troy Carson. Rick Espeset was his coach for four seasons at Manchester.

Northridge was very competitive in Baker’s junior and senior seasons and the friendships started off the field carried on to it.

“We’d have our backs there, too,” says Baker.

“Both Mike and Troy instilled the hard-nosed baseball philosophy in us as players,” says Baker of Logan and Carson. “It’s working hard in practice and seeing the transfer over in games.

“I learned a lot from Coach Espeset about the ‘why’ and the philosophy of the game of baseball.”

As an educator, Baker was at South Bend (Ind.) Career Academy and Westview High School in Topeka, Ind., and has been at Northridge Middle School for the past eight years, teaching eighth grade Social Studies and coaching seventh grade boys basketball.

He has served an assistant baseball coach at Dowagiac (Mich.) Union High School and Westview for Warriors head coach Jason Rahn.

“I had been getting the itch to coach baseball again,” says Baker, who applied at ECA and was hired in mid-February. The first official day of practice was March 15.

Baker has been married for eight years. Shawn and Heather have a girl and two boys — Aleah (6), Colson (4) and Bennett (2).

Shawn’s younger brother, Shannon Baker, played at Northridge and Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne and is now an assistant to A.J. Risedorph at NorthWood High School in Nappanee, Ind.

Flemm is an alum of Veritas Christian Academy in Sparta, N.J., where he pitched for the Lions baseball team and graduated in 2015. He finished his course work at Cedarville (Ohio) University as a History major and double minor in International Studies and Bible in December and is planning to attend May 1 commencement. 

He was contacted by former Veritas Christian administrator and current Elkhart Christian secondary principal Sean Bevier who informed him of the baseball coach opening. Flemm was working with the Sussex County Miners Travel Baseball 13U team. Besides coaching, he is substitute and study hall teacher at ECA.

Baker and Flemm, who are assisted by former Elkhart Christian players Mark Stevens and T.J. Tice, guide a group of 12 players that includes one senior (Matt Elmerick), no juniors and the rest sophomores and freshmen.

Some have played travel ball. Others have little baseball experience.

“It sounds cliche’, but we’re working on getting better each day,” says Baker. “We want them listening to what we tell them and trying to apply it on the field.”

Three — Elmerick and sophomores Jude Reynolds and Luke Schramm — split their time between baseball and the Eagles track and field team coached by Allen Lollis. With the help of athletic director Richelle Viront, game and practice schedules are coordinated to accommodate both spring programs.

Elkhart Christian Academy (enrollment around 160) is a member of the Hoosier Plains Conference (with IHSAA Class 1A schools Argos, Bethany Christian, Lakeland Christian Academy, South Bend Career Academy and Trinity at Greenlawn). Only ECA, Argos, Bethany have baseball teams this spring.

The Eagles are part of an 1A sectional grouping with Bethany Christian, Fort Wayne Blackhawk Christian, Fort Wayne Canterbury, Fremont (the 2021 host), Hamilton and Lakewood Park Christian. ECA won a sectional title in 2013. 

Besides conference and sectional foes, ECA’s regular-season schedule includes games with 4A’s Concord, Mishawaka and South Bend Riley, 3A’s Culver Academy, John Glenn, Lakeland and NorthWood, 2A’s Bremen and LaVille and 1A’s Culver Community and Oregon-Davis.

“We play a lot of these really big school,” says Flemm. “That’s going to set us up for success in the conference and a state tournament time.”

The Eagles are trying to develop pitchers and catchers on the fly. Many will get a turn on the mound.

“Everybody’s a pitcher until we figure out that’s not your forte’,” says Baker. 

Something that was ingrained during Flemm’s travel and high school pitching career was the importance of control.

“Throwing strikes is the only way you’re going to succeed,” says Flemm. “Our second game (against LaVille) we had more strikes and that was awesome to see.

“It’ll just take a lot of refinement and more experience for the guys on the bump.”

Baker looks for ECA pitchers to develop a fastball and change-up and be able to hit their spots with it.

Flemm is upbeat about the future.

“We see a lot of potential,” says Flemm. “It’s been a blessing working with this group of guys.

“I’m excited for what’s coming and how we can develop these guys even more.”

As a private K-12 school, ECA does not always know who will be attending from year to year.

Flemm says there has been talk of starting a junior high baseball program. He has noticed interest in the game among students in those grades.

“It’s something, hopefully, Coach Baker and I can start.” says Flemm, who notes that he and Baker will lead a youth baseball camp ECA in early June. “We’ll get a chance to see what kind of talent we have coming in.”

The Elkhart Christian campus is located in an open area behind the school and next to the U.S. 20 By-Pass. A breeze seemingly never stops.

“We’re almost in a wind tunnel,” says Baker. “It can be difficult to hear (talk between players and coaches and players and other players). 

“We need to work on communication and use our big-boy voices so people can hear.”

Shawn Baker
Matthew Flemm

Kankakee Valley coach Nelson values discipline, accountability

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Doug Nelson came up in baseball surrounded by successful coaches. There were men who believed in discipline. 

He played for Tom Levandoski at Portage (Ind.) High School, graduating in 1992. The Indians were in the Duneland Athletic Conference with LaPorte, led by legend Ken Schreiber (seven state titles and 1,010 victories). 

Levandoski was a student manager under Hall of Famer Schreiber at LaPorte and emulated the esteemed coach.

“He was very hard core and no-nonsense,” says Nelson of Levandoski. “But he got a lot out of his guys.

“We beat LaPorte in the (1991 LaPorte) Regional final, 1-0. And we didn’t win there (often).”

Nelson knows about the way former McCutcheon and current Twin Lakes coach Jake Burton goes about his business and appreciates it.

“It got to see how Coach Schreiber carried himself,” says Nelson. “He would hold guys responsible and accountable with how they acted off the field and that carries on the field.

“That’s getting more and more challenging these days.”

Nelson, a former head coach at Hanover Central High School in Cedar Lake, Ind., and assistant at Portage and Washington Township Middle/High School in Valparaiso, Ind., took over as head baseball coach at Kankakee Valley High School in Wheatland, Ind., for the 2019 season.

He has also been a head girls basketball coach at Marquette Catholic in Michigan City, Hanover Central and River Forest before taking over at KV in 2018-19.

In the spring of 2019, the Kougars baseball team had eventual IHSAA Class 3A state champion Andrean down 7-3 in the seventh inning of the Kankakee Valley Sectional championship game before bowing 8-7.

“That’s how close we are to beating a good team,” says Nelson. “But you’ve got to get 21 outs.

“A lot of kids from that team that are back (two years later).”

The COVID-19 pandemic took away the 2020 season.

“Boys are champing at the bit and ready to get back on the field,” says Nelson. “We have a mix of seniors doing a good job of being leaders with juniors following their lead and sophomores continuing that.

“I like our depth.”

In the fall, the Kougars held IHSAA Limited Contacted Period practices outside as often as possible with plenty of fungos to fielders and swings by hitters.

“Being out on the field again was awesome,” says Nelson. “We had 20-plus (participants) every time.”

Nelson expects 40 to 45 players in the spring to fill out varsity, junior varsity and freshmen teams. 

Winter workouts have consisted of plenty of weight room and batting cage work. When the weather has allowed, KV players have gone outside and used the baseball field on turf football playing or practice fields.

“We have a pretty nice field,” says Nelson of the lighted facility that has served many times as a sectional host site. Beyond the right field fence is a corn field. In left there is woods.

Assistant coaches for 2021 are Jim Pint (varsity), Jordon VanWienen (varsity), Jeremy Rozhon (JV) and Steve Schmidt (freshmen).

DeMotte Little League and Wheatfield Little League feed the Kankakee Valley program. Though slowed down in 2020 by the pandemic, Nelson hopes to establish a junior high program.

Nolan McKim, a 2020 KV graduate, is on the baseball team at Indiana Tech in Fort Wayne. There are no college commitments yet from current Kougars.

Kankakee Valley (enrollment around 1,100) is a member of the Northwest Crossroads Conference (with Andrean, Highland, Hobart, Lowell and Munster).

The conference plays two-game home-and-away series on consecutive weekdays.

The Kougars are part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Culver Academy, John Glenn, Hanover Central, Knox and River Forest. Kankakee Valley has won four sectional titles — the last in 1999.

During his stint at Portage, Nelson assisted Bob Dixon.

“He was just great for the kids — a players’ coach,” says Nelson. “He would give the shirt off his back for the boys. He had them playing hard for each other.

“Portage takes a blue-collar/us-against-the-world mentality. We stuck together and fought.”

Randy Roberts is the head coach at Washington Township. His 2019 Senators were Class 1A state runners-up.

“Randy Roberts is the best coach of any sport in northwest Indiana,” says Nelson. “He is very humble. The (Porter County Conference) is a very good small-school baseball conference.”

Nelson was introduced to Roberts by brother Dustin. Max Roberts, Randy’s son and a Valparaiso High graduate, has pitched in the Seattle Mariners organization.

At Hanover Central, Nelson took the Wildcats to the 2011 Class 2A championship game where they were topped 8-1 by South Spencer. HC ace Andy Wellwerts stuck out 128 batters in 73 innings that season. He went on to play in the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Stars Series.

Jesse Wilkening, a 2015 Hanover Central graduate, set the state career record for hits (206) and went on to play at the University of Nebraska and in the Philadelphia Phillies system.

Nelson holds an elementary education degree with a physical education endorsement from Valparaiso University, where he played one season of baseball for Paul Twenge. Merel Nelson, Doug’s father, was VU’s athletic equipment manager.

A masters degree in administration was later earned by Nelson.

Doug is married to Ann Marie and has two sons — Nathan Ramian (28) and Kale Nelson (21). Nathan has coached freshman baseball and girls basketball at Portage and works in the IT department for Portage Township Schools). Kale is a junior at Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis.

Doug Nelson (left) enjoys time with wife Ann Marie. Doug is head baseball coach at Kankakee Valley High School in Wheatfield, Ind.

Servant leadership top priority for Bremen’s Gerard

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Being able to field, pitch and hit is essential.

But second-year Bremen High School head baseball coach Chad Gerard places leadership above those diamond skills.

“Teaching leadership to me is just as important as baseball,” says Gerard, who served two seasons as an assistant to Bo Hundt before taking over the Lions program for 2017. “It’s servant leadership. The the theory beyond that is that leaders are put in that position to make other people better.”

Taking a cue from former Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy, Gerard and his staff — former Mishawaka assistant Jim Morris and Bremen graduates Ryan Carpenter and Greg Williams — look to “build leaders that build leaders.”

Beyond baseball, Gerard sees his players as future fathers, husbands, employers and employees and wants them to lead in those capacities.

“That’s what is most important to me,” says Gerard, who has been married to Amanda for nine years and they have a daughter — Kaitlyn (6).

Between the lines, 1998 Mishawaka High School graduate Gerard puts an emphasis on pitching and defense.

Being a “huge Cubs fan,” Gerard enjoyed Chicago beating the Washington Nationals 9-8 in Game 5 of the National League Division Series.

But when coaching, a pitchers’ duel is more his speed.

“I like to win ball games based on preventing the other team from scoring runs as opposed to a slugfest,” says Gerard.

That may stem from his playing days, when he was a catcher for coach Gregg Minegar at Mishawaka and then Glenn Johnson at Grace College.

“At the college level, you play doubleheaders every time out,” says Gerard. “Catchers don’t want to be out there for a big inning.”

Big is the task that Bremen faces as the only IHSAA Class 2A school in the 13-team Northern Indiana Conference (which also includes Elkhart Central, Mishawaka, Penn, South Bend Adams, South Bend Clay and South Bend Riley in 4A and Jimtown, John Glenn, Mishawaka Marian, New Prairie, South Bend St. Joseph and South Bend Washington in 3A).

“That certainly is a challenge,” says Gerard, noting the number of athletes who participate at the bigger schools. “But we’ve gone into the tournament extremely prepared the last two years. Day in and day out, we’re playing quality opponents. There’s no fear coming from these kids.”

The NIC is divided into two divisions — Bremen, Jimtown, John Glenn, Mishawka Marian, New Prairie and South Bend Riley in the South and Elkhart Central, Mishawaka, Penn, South Bend Adams, South Bend Clay, South Bend St. Joseph and South Bend Washington in the North. Each team plays the other once in conference play and there are titles for overall and games won within the division.

The Lions’ non-conference schedule includes Bethany Christian, Culver Academy, Elkhart Christian, Elkhart Memorial, Knox, LaVille, Tippecanoe Valley, Rochester, South Central and Triton.

Bremen won the Northern State Conference (which featured Culver, Jimtown, John Glenn, Knox, LaVille, New Prairie and Triton) in 2015 before that league disbanded.

At 2018 sectional time, Bremen is grouped with 2A schools Central Noble, Eastside, LaVille, Prairie Heights and Westview.

The Lions won the 2016 Westview Sectional and lost to eventual winner Eastside in the semifinals of the 2017 Westview Sectional.

Gerard coached in the Harris Township Junior Baseball Softball Association for three summers before spending 10 years as an assistant Mishawaka head coach John Huemmer then heading to Bremen. He has long kept track of pitches for his own hurlers and the opposing team. At any point in the game, he knows the pitch count for all.

With that in mind, he encourages his batters to work the count and get the opponent’s pitch count up.

He favors keeping track, but says the pitch count rule adopted by the IHSAA for 2017 (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) “has room for improvement.”

“It’s got it’s ups and downs,” says Gerard. “It’s great for the kids’ arm health. But they threw a monkey wrench in it when they added another day (of rest) once you hit 100 pitches.”

The old rule allowed a pitch to go 10 innings every three days.

“I remember when you could look in the newspaper and see who pitched and how many innings they have available,” says Gerard.

Hitting the 100-pitch plateau now means a required four days of rest, which really comes into play with a compacted sectional schedule.

“That forces some decision making (on when and how much to use a pitcher),” says Gerard.

Another sticking point is the enforcement of the new rule. Teams are now supposed to self-report and give their pitch count totals to their athletic directors and led AD’s communicate with one another.

It’s a matter of accountability.

“The umpire doesn’t keep track. It’s not his job,” says Gerard. “Who am I supposed to tell (if there’s a violation)?

“I caught two guys over the maximum number (120).”

The penalty for going over the limit is a team forfeit and Gerard says that did happen around the state last spring.

If Gerard got his way, he would also see baseball participation numbers go up across the board. He laments the shrinking of youth leagues.

“Little League is dying,” says Gerard. “Travel ball numbers are growing. A lot of kids are being left out. They are getting cut (from travel ball). I’m not sure how to do it, but we need get more kids playing baseball.”

Gerard notes that it depends on the number of baseball players in a given class whether Bremen will field a junior varsity team. Two years ago, the Lions had 11 seniors. Last year, Bremen did not have a JV team. He says he expects there will be enough freshmen this year to have one.

Bremen has one diamond. It is located a few blocks southwest of the Marshall County school’s campus.

BREMENLIONS

CHADGERARD

Chad Gerard, a 1998 Mishawaka High School graduate, is entering his second season as head baseball coach at Bremen High School in 2018. He was Mishawaka assistant for 10 seasons and Bremen assistant for two before taking over the Lions program.