Matt Voorhees has won regularly in his two stints as head baseball coach at North Montgomery High School in Crawfordsville, Ind. He eclipsed 100 wins 2009-14 and saw the Chargers go 17-11 in 2022. But that’s not the focus for the graduate of Crawfordsville High School (1993) and Wabash College (1997). “At North Montgomery we truly believe in developing the person above the player,” says Voorhees. “Our coaches truly invest in the individual and talk about the importance of helping them become quality people. “We take an active interest in the academics and promote responsibility. Each player is held to a high standard. “We promote team unity and try to make it a family atmosphere. Every player should have leadership qualities and we try to give them the opportunity to be leaders not only on the field but in their everyday lives. The better the person the more complete the player! “Every player in our program should complete their high school career knowing that they mattered.” North Montgomery (enrollment around 525) is a member of the Sagamore Athletic Conference (with Crawfordsville, Danville Community, Frankfort, Lebanon, Southmont, Tri-West Hendricks and Western Boone). SAC teams play each other two times. The Chargers are part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping in 2023 with Frankfort, Northwestern, Twin Lakes, West Lafayette and Western. North Montgomery has won 12 sectional titles — the last in 2018. Voorhees is a law officer. He started with the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Department and has been with the Indiana State Police the last 24 years. He has also served as an assistant coach at Marian University in Indianapolis and coached at Southmont High School in Crawfordsville. As a high schooler, Voorhees played left field as a freshman and three years as a catcher. His head coach was John Froedge, an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer. Rhett Weliever was an Athenians assistant and still fills that role. “Coach Froedge was amazing in the development of men! His Christian values will always stick with me as he demonstrated great concern and care for his players. “Every day I knew that he cared about our integrity and the quality of people that we were. It was easy to give maximum effort for a coach that you admired and trusted. “Never once did I doubt that his decisions were anything but pure and in our best interest. He has gone on to win numerous conference and multiple State championships. He definitely left his mark on Indiana high school baseball.” Voorhees was a catcher at Wabash College in Crawfordsville. Head coach Scott Boone and assistant Bill Boone then led the Little Giants. “(Bill Boone) is an amazing coach that truly invested in our lives,” says Voorhees. “Bill was a person of character that went on to become the head coach at Wabash for a stint. He always would say, ‘Carpe Diem — Sieze the day!!!’ And boy did he live his life that way. Much like Coach Froedge, Bill left all of his players knowing that he truly cared about them. He was a great model for me.” In 1997, Voorhees graduated from Wabash with a degree in English and minor in American Education. He earned a Masters in Organizational Leadership from Indiana Tech in 2020. North Montgomery’s 2023 assistant coaches include Ryan Cole, Bill Warren, Alex Hall, Shawn Verhey, Kai Warren, Curt Dyson, Joe Swick and Griffon Lawson-Fuller. Cole was a four-year starter at Purdue University and a former Indiana Bulls player. Bill Warren was a pitcher and catcher at Wabash College. Hall played middle infield at Wabash College. Verhey was an pitcher/outfielder at Glen Oaks Community College in Centerville, Mich. Kai Warren was pitcher and middle infielder at Wabash College. Dyson played at Crawfordsville and has been an Indiana Thunder coach. Lawson-Fuller played at North Montgomery and is a U.S. Army veteran. There are currently 38 players for varsity, junior varsity and — perhaps — C-team games. “We are very blessed to have such an interest in our program. The Chargers have two on-campus diamonds. “Our coaches take great pride in the field at North Montgomery High School,” says Voorhees. “We believe that it is the least we can do. “Our players work hard on the game so we will work hard to give them a nice field to play on.” Baseball is valued in Crawfordsville and the North Montgomery program is fed by recreation, club, middle school, travel and American Legion baseball. “I cannot begin to thank all of the coaches that have an impact on our players development from 6-year olds all the way through high school seniors,” says Voorhees. “We have a lot of unity throughout the organization.” “I’m just very blessed to work at a school like North Montgomery. The administration is phenomenal and does a great job in investing in the students. “A special ‘thank you’ to our athletic director (and former Rockville High School and Butler University baseball player) Matt Merica. He is amazing to work with.” Matt and wife of 28 years Buffie have two daughters — Jesika Voorhees (25) and Ashlynn Lawson-Fuller (23).
Has it really been a generation since Indiana widely adopted high school class sports? Of course there were classes in football going back to the 1970s, but check the records and you will find that 1996-97 (when Jasper outlasted Carmel 10-8 for the IHSAA baseball championship) was the last year that other sports were in the all-comers category at state tournament time. With the COVID-19 pandemic taking away the 2020 spring season, that makes 2023 the 25th year of class baseball in the Hoosier State. In the multi-class era, 56 different schools have won state baseball championships. Of that number, only Jasper, LaPorte and Penn earned titles prior to 1997-98. There are 22 schools with multiple state runner-up finishes. That accounts for 60 red ribbons — all but 12 coming from 1997-98 forward. Noting that some schools came about in recent years because of consolidation, unification or other reasons, those that won their first sectional championship during the multi-class era include 4A’s Elkhart (2021), Evansville Harrison (1999), Fishers (2017), Fort Wayne South Side (2012) and Michigan City (2002), 3A’s Angola (1999), Charlestown (1999) and Hamilton Heights (2006), 2A’s Austin (2002), Central Noble (2009), Clinton Central (2005), Covenant Christian of Indianapolis (2008), Delphi (2008), Fairfield (1998), Hanover Central (2011), Heritage Christian (2005), Illiana Christian (2022), Lewis Cass (2000), North Decatur (2011), Parke Heritage (2021), Sheridan (2004), South Knox (2004), Southwestern of Hanover (1999), Southwood (1999), Taylor (1998), Triton Central (2003), Whitko (2017) and Woodlan (2005) and 1A’s Argos (1998), Bethesda Christian (2008), Caston (2012), Christian Academy of Indiana (2004), Cowan (2004), Daleville (1999), Edinburgh (2009), Elkhart Christian (2013), Eminence (2005), Fort Wayne Blackhawk Christian (2001), Fort Wayne Canterbury (2009), Greenwood Christian (2014), Hauser (2004), Henryville (1999), Indianapolis Lutheran (2017), Kouts (1998), Marquette Catholic (2002), Milan (1999), Monroe Central (2001), Morgan Township (2004), Morristown (1998), New Washington (1998), Northeast Dubois (1998), North Miami (2019), Oldenburg Academy (2003), Park Tudor (1998), Pioneer (2016), Randolph Southern (2010), Rising Sun (2002), Seton Catholic (2011), South Central of Elizabeth (2005), Southwestern of Shelbyville (1999), Tecumseh (2000), Traders Point Christian (2021), Trinity Lutheran (2009), Triton (2000), Washington Township (1999), Union City (2012), University (2012), Waldron (2001), West Washington (2021), White River Valley (2017) and Whiting (2008). A quarter century in, there are still plenty of opinions in the Indiana high school baseball community about the system. These questions were posed to several coaches around Indiana:
Is class baseball a positive or a negative?
Who benefits the most from class baseball?
If you could change anything about class baseball what would that be?
“(Class baseball) is a positive. It has allowed schools of all sizes to be recognized and have some success at the state level while increasing fan interest in our sport. The players and the communities truly benefit the most from class baseball, in my opinion. “The IHSAA does a great job of administering the state tournament and ending each year at Victory Field allows our sport to be showcased on a big stage! However, the tournament format itself needs to be addressed, especially at the sectional level, and we can’t continue in a ‘one size fits all’ cookie-cutter format. Our sport is different than others and our tournament format needs to reflect that. Seeding, success factor, and travel also need to be looked at in light of the fact(s) that class sports are here to stay and there are geographical constraints/factors based on the location of the school(s). “Baseball in general is changing for the better in Indiana … the IHSBCA and the IHSAA need to continue to work together on formats/philosophies/participation guidelines that foster growth in our sport and develop a mutual relationship where everyone’s input is valued. We, the IHSBCA, have several ideas to share about the state tournament format/setup and how we can better grow our sport, in general. We are all stronger when we are working together and my goal as the Executive Director is to help facilitate positive changes that will grow our sport and unify our coaches at the same time.”
“(Class baseball) is a positive. “I assume that smaller schools are more likely to benefit so they play teams that are more competitive. “I would support adding a fifth ‘super class’ of the largest schools and then balance the rest of the four classes.”
“Class baseball is definitely a positive thing. It levels the playing field for teams when it comes to player depth and facilities. “For example, a school with an enrollment of 2,200 has a lot more players to work with and pull from than a school with an enrollment of 300. Both teams can be good and have good players, but the bigger school is very likely going to have more depth. The smaller school is likely to have one really good pitcher where the bigger school is likely to have two, or even three really good pitchers. As a result, the bigger school would have a big advantage in the sectional and regional. “The other way it levels the playing field is when it comes to facilities. Bigger schools tend to have nicer facilities to train and practice in during the off-season where some schools, usually the smaller ones, don’t have anything close to the facilities of larger schools. Many schools either can’t get access to the facilities they have during the off-season because other in-season teams are using them for practice or games, or they just don’t have the facilities or space period. “It can put teams at a big competitive disadvantage when they can’t train or practice the way they want to and need to during the off-season, and I think class baseball helps in this regard because schools that have similar enrollments tend to have similar facilities. “Everyone benefits from class baseball. The smaller schools obviously because of what I mentioned in my previous answer to the first question, but also the larger schools. When you’re competing for anything, let alone a state championship, you want it to really mean something and be a challenge. It’s what competing is all about. It’s not going to mean as much when a school with an enrollment of 2,200 plus kids goes up against a school with an enrollment of 300 plus kids and beats them in a sectional or regional. They should be able to do that again referring back to what I mentioned in my previous answer to the first question. “Not only would they win but they wouldn’t have to throw their No. 1 pitcher to do so and would have them available for the next game, where the smaller school would likely need to throw their best pitcher in that situation. And if they did win, do they have a pitcher that could compete and win against another team with a large enrollment…not likely. “There are two things I would change about class baseball, and one of them is being talked about right now. First, I would seed the postseason. It’s frustrating when you have teams that have done really well during the regular season and they meet in the first or second round of the sectional, and there are teams that didn’t fair as well in the regular season getting a bye in the first round and/or playing another team that didn’t do as well in the early rounds. “It’s something I feel wouldn’t be too difficult to do or set up and it would make the postseason better and provide even more meaning to the regular season. I like that everyone makes the postseason because you can have something happen with injuries and get a player back, or a team hasn’t quite figured things out yet but later in the year they do and are still in it. “But, there needs to be something in place for teams that do better in the regular season. I think seeding the sectional would be really good for Indiana high school baseball. “The other thing I would change is going from four classes to five classes. Again, for all the reasons I’ve mentioned previously. Many times there’s such a large gap between the teams in 4A. I think going to five classes would help this and it’s something the IHSBCA and IHSAA are talking about and looking into. “The success factor has worked well and is set up well. How they have it set up is good and I think it’s accomplishing what they wanted it to.”
“There’s no doubt that class sports have provided more opportunities for athletes, coaches, schools, and communities by creating a level of fairness with classified state tournaments. I understand the traditional approach of one class and experienced it as a player as we advanced to the semistate finals as a small school (at Western) in ’93 and ’94. But as a coach, the class system allows for accomplished small school teams to aspire to be state champions instead of hoping to win a sectional in a one class system. “All stakeholders of a school’s baseball program (benefit most from class baseball). Having ranked teams and winning championships builds a greater sense of tradition within communities and raises interest amongst school children, faculty, and administration. Players and coaches benefit from the sense of accomplishment by developing a highly competitive team within a post-season setting. “I would make the tradition factor a four-year stay in an elevated class — not just two years. Those who are state champion caliber teams seem to continue to dominate the current landscape. Also, if a team moves up in class and wins a sectional, regional, etc., a system needs to be created to keep them in that class because they are showing the ability to compete. “We need to restructure our tournament. Six-team sectionals and format need to be uniformed. Only the sectional final should be played on Memorial Day. We’d have two-team regionals, four-team semistates and seed the tournament. “We are the only sport that, based on pitching restrictions (pitch counts and days rest) and may not have our best lineup on the field in a championship setting. Too many sectional championships are decided by Team 1’s ace dominating vs Team 2’s bullpen because of weather, graduation or the draw. Basketball will always have their point guard.”
“There have been a lot of positives (with class baseball). There have been some very good smaller schools that have gotten the chance to experience state tourney runs that might not have happened in areas where there were perennial large school programs had too much depth for the smaller schools. I think that has been a good thing for Indiana high school baseball. “Small schools with open enrollments and the ability to reach out from beyond what would be considered a normal attendance area have done extremely well (in class baseball). This, however, is not entirely the fault of class sports. Open enrollment and increased club and travel athletic teams have opened up a whole different experience for high school athletes today. “High school athletes are far more likely to travel further, meet and become friends with new teammates outside of their own school in the off-season and subsequently more likely to travel further away to attend a school of their choice. In a way I can’t blame them. Unfortunately, that choice often comes with a greater financial obligation and not all athletes and their families can afford to do so. Smaller schools have benefited in some areas directly. That’s not necessarily a criticism of the class sports, it’s the trend and we aren’t going to a one-class tourney.”
“Overall (class baseball) is a positive. At times, schools being up a class or down a class will dictate how successful they can be. “The smaller schools probably benefit most (from class baseball). Winning a sectional would be a huge feat for a small school (during the one-class era). I know it was for us (at Northwestern) when we played in the sectional with Kokomo). “There’s talk of the IHSAA going to a five-class system. I’d probably be in favor of that. If you’re going to do class might as well break it up a little more. “How are sectionals are being distributed and seeding of the tournament would take much more priority over how many classes there are. “Let’s set up a season where the regular season is more meaningful and the better teams are meeting at the end (with semistate- and state-caliber games at those stages rather than at the sectional level). “I like the way Ohio (has seeded). The way I understand it, teams have been ranked off their MaxPreps ranking. Head coaches have a meeting. If you’re ranked No. 1 you pick your sectional. If you’re No. 2 you pick your sectional and you’re probably not going to put themselves in the same sectional as the No. 1 team.”
“(On the positive side,) class baseball provides more kids, coaches, and communities an opportunity to be a state champion. (On the negative side,) prior to class baseball we were used to minimal travel. We’ve also lost the local rivalries because of class baseball. “Good smaller programs who were fundamentally sound yet they usually didn’t have the pitching to advance deep into the tournament (benefit most from class baseball). “I would place all private schools into Class 4A or 2A. The success factor has helped every two years, but you still have those schools who dominate every two years they move down. “I’ve coached at the 4A and 3A level and even though I am at a 3A school, I would still rather compete against local rivalry teams rather than class baseball. However, we will never return to a one class system and I understand why!”
“Class baseball is a positive and helps balance the playing field. Since I’ve been coaching, I believe all but just a few schools that have made the State Finals in 4A are in the top 32 in enrollment in the state. “Baseball is a game where you are not always putting your best 9 or best team on the field depending on pitching rotation and availability of arms. “The larger enrollment typically means there are more available players trying out, which creates a greater opportunity to development quality depth in your pitching staff. That is one advantage that bigger schools have. So, the idea of class baseball helps to control some of the variables on both sides of the field. It is not perfect, but it is a way to try and help control some of the unique variables that are different in baseball than other sports. “I believe the top half of each class benefits the most from class baseball, especially at the 3A and 4A levels because the range of enrollment is so much bigger from the smallest school to biggest school in those classes. The range in enrollment in 1A and 2A is much closer from top to bottom. “I don’t really want to go down this path, but the private schools also benefit from class baseball, especially in 1A, 2A, and often 3A. Private schools are not limited to school district lines and are able to draw from a wider range of students compared to the smaller enrollment schools in 1A and 2A. “Not really answering the question, but if I could change anything about the IHSAA tournament, I would make the regular season matter and seed the tournament (or at least seed the teams that feed into the regionals). “You might not be in the same sectional each year if you are seeded from the regional level. I would also create double-elimination rounds at the different levels (sectional, regional, etc.). Similar to the thought above that you are not always putting your best team on the field depending on pitcher availability, a double-elimination tournament would help to insure the best team advances and not just the team with the best pitcher and the best blind draw. “Classes need to be set by a specific enrollment range and not try to keep every class the same size. I would add a fifth or even a sixth class and set the range for the enrollment so that each school in the class is close to the same enrollment size. If that means that one class only has 32 teams, another class has 48, another class has 64, and another class has 96, then that is what should be done and would help make the tournament as fair as possible.”
“Overall (class baseball) is a positive. It has given a lot of smaller schools a chance to be successful and show some of these coaches at smaller schools can really coach. “Smaller schools definitely benefit the most (from class baseball). Some of the teams that have won state championships would never make it out of their sectionals if we were one class. Nothing against them but when schools have 2,000 students to pick from they are going to have a lot more athletes and in the sports that require more players like baseball and football that makes a big difference. “(I favor putting) private schools in their own class. I think they have such a huge advantage. Not because they recruit or anything like that, but they tend to get the players that are more apt and able to do the extra things such as lessons, travel ball, etc. “Overall (class) been good for sports in Indiana. I know Silver Creek has won three state championships in boys and girls basketball in the past four years and made we have made some long runs in baseball. Not sure we would have been able to do that in one class. If you ask any of those kids that were on the state championship team and I am sure they could care less whether it was one class or four.”
“I have no issues with class baseball. I like competing against other schools my size because they have the same issues (positive and negative) that I have. “(Class baseball) definitely helps the smaller schools being able to compete against other schools their own size. “Baseball is a sport where a dominant pitcher can have a great bearing on the game. I remember playing Bremen in the semistate in ’94. (John Glenn head coach) John Naldony has had some very good teams that can compete against larger schools. “As far as changes, a double-elimination sectional would be interesting. I am not sure if a five-class baseball system could accommodate that.”
“Wapahani is in favor of class sports. I believe it makes sports a more even playing field. We won the state in 2014 in 2A, that would not have happened if there was one class. “Our girls volleyball just won state, which is a big deal for small communities, they lost to Yorktown twice and HSE (Class 4A finalists) all were sweeps and not really close. “Even though our team in 2014 and our girls last week were very good, competing against the bigger schools in the tournament would be very difficult. That being said, our State Championships are still a very big deal for our community, school, and students. “Therefore, class sports are a positive. As little league participation in small communities keep losing kids to travel ball and other activities small school numbers are seeing less kids playing baseball and softball unless they have a successful program which is a minority. “Small schools at least feel like they have a chance to win in the tournament and maybe even a state championship when they are playing schools close to their same size. Very few 1A or 2A teams can compete in the tournament with the bigger schools, once they realize that kids quit playing or go to another sport where they might have a chance to win. “The current format is fine for the tournament. Adding additional classes or a class would benefit big schools only in my opinion. Four classes has been a success. Can you tweak things? Maybe. But why change if it is not broken?”
“I like the one-class system but also know that class sports are not going anywhere so we can take the positives from it and live with it. “It is probably the small class schools and communities that benefit the most as they typically have a greater opportunity to advance when playing similar size schools. “Class sports are here to stay so one change I’d like to see for baseball would be the tournament run in some way that has a series feel to it as baseball is not a sport that is suited for a ‘one and done’ tournament.”
“I’m fine with class sports but concerned about the impact of some private and parochial schools that seem to put great emphasis on athletic success which can make it difficult for public schools to compete on an annual basis. “Class sports are here to stay but this situation and the number of transfers at public schools are the next challenges for the IHSAA.”
“(Class baseball) is a positive. It has created more excitement for more schools and their fans. “Probably the smaller schools feel as if they have a better chance to experience sectional and regional championships than when it was one class. “The only drawback (in class baseb all) I could see is you may have farther travel but in your sectional pairings than when it was one class. When I played in the single class, your sectional would be more local. It would have teams of various sizes, but we seemed have greater rivalries because many times you played against those teams in the regular season or against those players in your summer leagues. “As a coach today, I want to play the best schools we can (no matter the size). I want to prepare ourselves for our conference and sectional. When I was a player, we wanted to be able to compete with Logansport, Kokomo, Marion and LaPorte. Today, we want to compete with Andrean, Jasper, Brebeuf and Southridge.”
“(Class baseball) is a positive. I witnessed first-hand what the state tournament does in small communities. The student-athletes have a more balanced playing field. “The benefits go to the teams that advance the furthest in the tourney. Without class baseball a 1A could defeat a 3A or 4A school in the tournament on a given day. However, in most cases those smaller schools don’t have the depth, especially with pitchers. “We are at the point that we need to look at the number of classes. I would be in favor of adding a fifth class. The current disparity in school sizes is extremely large in the upper class. With the growth and addition of smaller, private schools, other mid-size schools are being bumped up. “The biggest problem facing our tournament currently is the number of schools in the sectionals. Host schools have roughly a week to host a sectional tournament. “Depending on your sectional, you could have anywhere from 5-8 teams in that sectional. Huge difference between five and eight. In a five-team sectional the winning team would have to win two or at most three games, and could possibly do that with two pitchers. In an eight-team sectional, the winning team would have to win three games and would possibly need three if not four pitchers in that 5-7 day window for the games.”
“(Class baseball) is a positive. It levels the playing field for all schools, especially the ones that are not in that top quarter or so. “The smaller schools and even the medium-sized schools benefit the most. “The thing that football did with the Top 32 (being in the largest or super class), I’d like to see that in the other sports. There are different things you could do with the other four (in a five-class system). You could divide it up evenly. There’s been discussion of capping 1A at 128. There’s a big discrepancy right now between the bottom of 4A and the top of 4A. “(The Indiana Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association) has talked about running data and see how people would fall. There would not be (an) equal (amount of) schools in every class. We’re still in the process of gathering information. The IHSAA was at our last two athletic directors conferences and present for those discussions.”
“Class baseball will have a positive effect on high school baseball. I think that it levels the playing field for the state tournament. Also, having class baseball will allow more schools the opportunity to earn a state title just like with football’s six classes. “I believe that the smaller schools will benefit.” “It would be fun to see all state title teams play in a small tournament to see who is the best of all of the classes.” “Even with the change to class baseball, there are very good teams at each class level. It will still not be an easy road to get the opportunity to play at Victory Field.”
“Had class sports been in place (when I was at Clinton Prairie) I may have never left. One of the things class sports does is that you can achieve everything positive you want to achieve from a goals standpoint. “Class sports kind of levels the playing field during the state tournament. I had some terrific teams back at Prairie. In five years, we won two sectionals. “A disadvantage for class sports is that when you get to a bigger school like Noblesville there’s no ceiling on the enrollment. “Believe it or not once we went to class sports Noblesville had the smallest enrollment in our sectional at 1,250 (Clinton Prairie was around 300). “If I were at Clinton Prairie I’d welcome it as a smaller school. I might have one really good pitcher that could help me compete against anybody, but in most years would have a drop-off in pitching depth. “At Noblesville — a larger school — I have the chance to have more depth. In baseball it always comes down to pitching. You can be good in a lot of areas of the game. If you have a question on the mound you’re going to struggle.”
There’s positives and negatives for everything, but it’s good for baseball to have class. “If we expand to another class it’s going to be even better. It makes everyone feel like they have a chance. If you’ve got the right group of guys you can win. “At the State Finals you see a difference between the 1A game and 4A game. The lineups are deeper at the bigger level. The 4A game is little more of a college game than a high school game. “The smaller schools probably benefit more (in class baseball) than the bigger schools). “In baseball, it’s how the pitching lines up. “I like how Iowa does it. They don’t start baseball until the end of April and their tournament’s in July. I don’t know if that will ever happen here.”
“Class baseball is a positive (but classification should be addressed) … The number of schools in each class doesn’t need to be the same. “Breakdown of each class needs to be more than an arbitrary enrollment number. There needs to be thought into why the lines of demarcation are made (spread, standard deviations, range). Athletic department size (percentage of the student body participating in each sport should be used for classes) could be used to determine classes. “Many large schools have very small baseball programs. Some small schools have very large baseball programs in terms of numbers. The class system should be used to place a school into its appropriate level of competition, not just for the number of students that attend a school. There are many other variables to consider.”
“I don’t know if (class baseball) is a positive or a negative per say. I played when there wasn’t any classes and I think the class system has taken away for the local rivalries. Now depending on your class and the location of your sectional, you may have to travel up to an hour to play in sectionals, although more teams have the opportunity to win a state championship, a win over a neighborhood rival might mean more, bragging rights. “There are eight teams every year who have the opportunity to play in a state championship game so that’s a benefit (to class baseball). More players, coaches, and schools who have a chance to experience a state championship game. “I’m not sure that I agree with the success factor movement (for all schools), aside from private schools you may be punishing kids who aren’t even in high school because current classes are winning. In small towns you may have a group of kids who all hit at once and then the next year they have nothing, those young men, in the current format are being punished for the success of prior classes. “For me it comes down to the local excitement, the rivalries, the competition between kids who know each other, who’ve grown up playing each other since little league. That’s what’s I believe is missing with the class system. Coming from a coach at a small school I know that if there wasn’t a class system the likelihood of us winning a sectional would go down dramatically, but just think if we would ever knock off one of the local big boys, it would be remembered forever.”
“Overall you can’t make a real argument that (class baseball) is a negative. You’re putting more kids and more schools in successful situations. I get that part. “We were fortunate enough to win eight sectionals (at Northeast Dubois) which wouldn’t have happened in single-class. “That being said, I’m not sure its been a positive for small-school athletes as far as recognition goes (for all-star consideration or scholarships). “The smaller schools were the target when this all started 25 years ago.” “There are private schools that have it better than other private schools (some have thrived and others have had a hard time fielding a team).”
“Class baseball is a positive for the most part. The obvious plus is that there are more ‘winners.’ The big negative in my opinion is that schools lose local rivalries. Pre-class era, we had great rivalries with all the local schools because you were going to potentially play one of them at the sectional or regional level. Those teams and games are now just another game on the schedule unfortunately, especially in my neck of the woods. “Terre Haute South and Terre Haute North are on a ‘big school island.’ We have to travel at least 50 miles to play another 4A baseball team. It was much easier to have a rivalry with say a West Vigo, South Vermillion, Sullivan, etc. before class baseball because we would most likely see them in the state tournament. It is difficult to have a rivalry with a school that is located in or around the Indianapolis area. “The IHSAA can expand to five classes for baseball — that’s fine. But, in my opinion, the private schools need to have their own class/classes.”
“I think class baseball has been positive even though I was a little skeptical when it first started. “Class baseball probably benefits the smaller schools the most because it gives them a realistic chance in the tournament. “The biggest thing that I think that could help class baseball would be looking at creating a separate parochial school class.”
“Having been a high school football coach for 40 years and a head high school baseball coach for 45 years, I have seen the ‘evolution’ of class sports here. My connection to friends and relatives in neighboring Ohio and Michigan has also allowed me to ‘watch’ the evolution of class sports there. In my early years (1981), I was part of Leland Etzler’s Woodlan football staff that went to the Class A state championship game vs. Hamilton Southeastern. There were three classes of football at that time compared with the six we have now. The game was played outdoors in a blizzard on November 20, 1981 (the night before my wife and I were married). It was an awesome experience for everyone connected to the small town communities of Woodburn and Harlan, Indiana. That puts my vote on the positive side of class sports in general and class baseball in particular. “In 2007, I was fortunate enough to be part of the Class 2A baseball championship game at Victory Field with my Heritage Patriots. We came up short to a powerhouse from South Spencer, but once again it was a tremendous experience for the communities of Monroeville and Hoagland. Players, parents and fans were the biggest beneficiaries in both cases. “I have seen point systems both here and in Ohio. I have seen other limited entry systems where not everyone gets to participate. I have seen ‘seeded’ systems (currently in Ohio) where top seeds are given regional choice and early round home games. Later rounds are played at ‘neutral’ sites. There are good and bad characteristics to all of these hybrid systems — depending on where you fall in the ‘rankings.’ I feel that things continue to evolve and therefore should only get better in the future — as long as we keep all kids in mind.”
“I believe it to be positive for the student-athletes throughout the state as class baseball has provided opportunities for schools of all sizes to compete with more of a level playing field. Being at a smaller school for five years (Delphi) and now at a bigger school for the last 11 (Harrison), I have been lucky enough to see several outstanding programs and coaches at all levels. “While at Delphi, we were fortunate enough to advance to the 2010 2A state championship game. While I would like to say we’d compete well in a one-class system, the truth of the matter is, we would have struggled to compete against bigger schools in a two- or three-game sectional (or regional) due to the differences in depth of our roster in comparison to bigger schools. “At Harrison, we have been lucky enough to have several arms that we could run out in an elimination game. At Delphi, that number is quite smaller, which would have really hurt us if we were to play vs. bigger schools in a two- or three-game sectional (or regional). That is a huge competitive advantage for the larger schools and something that is beyond the control of smaller schools. When class baseball started, it provided schools of all sizes the ability to compete on a level playing field in each of the four classes.
“I really see (class baseball) as a positive for the lower classes. Class A and AA have the opportunity to get a State Championship and not have to butt heads with the larger schools. In Class AAA and AAAA, there’s not as big a difference in talent.”
“Class baseball is both positive and negative in my mind. You lose some of the regional rivalries although you could still play local/smaller and larger teams on your regular season schedule. We certainly have more sectional champions and more kids are able to enjoy success playing baseball so that is a huge plus. It leaves more kids with positive experiences while in high school and playing our great game. “I would have to think that the smaller schools benefit the most from class baseball with all respect to them. Our state has tremendous coaches and programs at all levels. Again the opportunity for kids at those schools to be able to compete in the state tournament and enjoy success is a great benefit. “I’m not sure there is much to change for the better — possibly a Champions Tournament but on the flip side it may be rough to win a title and then turn around and possibly get beat. Basketball got away from it, obviously. Some schools have to travel quite a bit for sectional play, but again not sure if there is a way around that. “Baseball at the 3A level on a whole rivals the baseball being played at 4A. Jasper and Andrean’s success when they bumped up is a testament.”
“As in other sports, classification was created to level the playing field keeping schools with similar enrollment sizes within the same bracket and to also create more winners per sport. Classification has added hope to teams who may otherwise not have it if they are put into a sectional with bigger schools. To be perfectly honest most of the time the bigger schools just have access to more choices, such as players, facilities and money. “The smaller schools benefit the most from classification. It has allowed talent to grow and flourish, as having an opportunity to win a sectional breeds hope, which makes it easier to get kids out to play. “I would create a separate class for private schools, the advantage that they have can not be matched by the public school. I will say open enrollment has helped, but the private schools have distanced themselves a lot especially in baseball. “I like where we are at with baseball in the state of Indiana. The training facilities and opportunities that our kids have after high school has grown since I have been in the game the last 20 years.”
“I am somewhat of a traditionalist, so a single class had a little soft spot in my heart. That said, there are some benefits to a class system. The class system allows for: 1. More state winners, 2. A chance for smaller schools to compete at a high level, 3. It helps promote the game of baseball in the state. “I would say the smaller schools and the schools that fall just under the class limits (benefit the most from class baseball). What I mean by that is if the top 101 enrollments go to 4A, school number 102 has an advantage because they are playing in 3A. The private schools also benefit from the class system. “If we are to stay in the class system (which we will), I would say that for baseball there needs to be five classes instead of four. “Another change I would enact would be to not separate by an equal number. If there are 400 schools, it doesn’t need to be 100 in each class of four. “A final change would be the success factor rule. The requirements need to be adjusted, mainly the length at which they must stay up a class should be longer. “One thing that class baseball hurt (along with class basketball) was the community sectionals. I graduated in ’93 when it was still one class and I remember that all the sectionals in every sport were heavily-attended. The attendance has gone down in terms of sectionals.”
“Class baseball is a positive thing, especially for schools with lower enrollment. It helps create a somewhat even playing field for tournament play. Class sports have allowed for multiple smaller enrollment schools to have teams thrive and have success that may not happen if class sports didn’t exist. “Class baseball has allowed our kids to compete against schools of like enrollment. It has allowed our school to enjoy tournament success. It has allowed our school and community to host sectional and regional tournaments, whereas without class sports, we may have not had these opportunities. “I understand the log jam in class sports that occurs at the 4A level, especially in larger city schools. Oftentimes top teams match up early in a tournament, which I am sure is frustrating for those programs. “Overall, class baseball has been a positive thing, especially from the Caston baseball programs perspective. We feel as though it provides parity for our kids, and it gives them a chance to be successful in tournament play. Like in any system, there are pros and cons, but our feel is this has more pros than cons for our student athletes.”
“Class baseball is a positive thing. Teams get a chance to play vs comparable sized teams, better chance for success in state tourney. “The lower classes (benefit most from class baseball) as they all have a legitimate chance for tourney success. “My thoughts about change, which I presented to LaPorte AD, Ed Gilliland, over five years ago is this: All classes play their sectionals. Winners would then meet up in a demographic regional competing with those winners meeting in a four-team semi and finally in a final four State Championship tournament. I actually broke it down statewide with who goes where potentially each stage. This give each class a chance for a sectional title and a tourney overall state champion. I also put this idea for basketball as well. “IHSBCA has done a tremendous job in supporting high school baseball. Baseball and basketball are sports where small schools can compete vs. larger schools. My format would appease all schools with a chance for a sectional trophy, but let’s see one overall state champion.”
“(Class baseball) is a positive. “Smaller public schools definitely benefit the most from class ball. “I don’t feel there is anything wrong with our classification system. There will always be some argument that private schools should perhaps have their own division.”
“I am from the group that favors the one-class system when it comes to the tournament. I think in baseball you can still be competitive with bigger schools if you are a smaller school. “If you have four or five classes then you really don’t have a ‘state champion.’ You have four or five ‘state champions.’ “If you want a true state champion then, let the class winners compete against each other a week later and really come up with a ‘state champion.’ Until then, you just have ‘class champions.’” “If you are going to have class state champions, why are big schools and little schools playing during the regular season?”
“Class baseball is a positive thing. I would say I grew up as a traditionalist and loved the single-class basketball era; however, I’ve grown to appreciate the advantages/disadvantages that come with the size of schools. “Classifying baseball is something that benefits all programs, schools and communities. At the end of the season, eight communities get to compete for the state title at an amazing stadium. Maybe that will soon expand to 10! “I am excited to see the potential of a fifth class built into the state tournament. This would help create more balance among the classes once it is all said and done. It would be interesting to see how things would shake up if multipliers were given to various things like private/public schools, free/reduced percentages, etc. I’ve heard arguments for the success factor to be implemented differently as well. I am not sure it’s entirely fair that the success of graduated juniors and seniors determines the fate of the rising freshman and sophomores who were not directly a part of that success. “I would love to see consistent sectional/regional alignments across as many team sports as possible. I feel this would enhance the rivalry aspect of the state tournament from a sectional/regional standpoint.”
“For us, class baseball has certainly been a positive. Realistically we don’t have the manpower to compete in a tournament with the larger schools. It gives us something to shoot for, and a legitimate chance to win tournament championships. “All small schools benefit from class baseball. Even at the state tournament there is a very noticeable difference in the talent level between the class A game, and the Class AA game. Larger schools have 4-5 times more kids try out for their team. Valpo has over a hundred, we typically get 20 boys out per season.”
“(Class baseball) has been a real positive for high school baseball. Although every once in awhile you have a team you feel can compete in any class, the class system gives teams a level playing field on a more consistent basis. “The kids and community benefit most (from class baseball). At the end of the day when you are a state champion, none of those kids or community identify as a class state champ, they identify as a state champion and the memories from that success. “Baseball should be a double-elimination tournament in order to get a true team champion. A team can eliminate a really good team in a single-elimination tournament with a dominant pitcher. “In 2008 we had Tyler Watts and Kevin Kiermaier get seen by the Parkland College coach because we had the opportunity to advance in the state tournament in Class 2A. They both went to Parkland and Kevin is having a pretty good major league career.”
“In our area, the vast majority of schools are 3A and 4A. I’m not sure it makes a ton of difference one way of the other. I’m sure for many small schools, (class baseball) provides some positive benefits. “(Class baseball) is beneficial for some of the smaller schools that may not have a chance for success against bigger schools. “There should be other factors involved in the equation when classifying schools. You’re not always comparing apples to apples when you look at enrollment numbers. You can compare similar-sized schools and athletes in one district that do not necessarily have the same opportunities and resources that athletes in another district do.”
“(Class baseball is a) very positive thing. Enrollment is definitely not the only factor, but it does make a big difference. It’s not realistic to think that small schools can compete consistently with the higher enrollment schools. The depth that the larger schools have because of numbers and the in-team competition that brings gives them a major advantage. Larger schools often have more resources — including indoor facilities and more coaches that is also advantageous for them. “The benefits from class baseball can be seen throughout all classes. The idea is that schools are competing against similar schools is good for all. “I would actually like to see five classes. The descepancy between the biggest schools in 4A and the smaller schools in 4A is very large. We have schools with over 3,500 students competing against schools that have less than 1,500 students. That is a major difference that brings some big advantages for the larger schools.”
“At Rossville, we benefit from class baseball. I cannot speak for any other coaches or programs but my guess is most would say that smaller schools and/or private schools benefit from the most. With that said, sectionals are generally aligned by geographical location so my guess is a 4A Sectional in the Indianapolis area might not see significant change if we had one class. I could be wrong though. “I would love to see baseball do something like basketball did for a short time with the Tournament of Champions. Baseball — unlike basketball or football — has what I consider to be an equalizer with pitching. It would be neat to see it played out. “I am a fan of the old school single-class system as well. I don’t know what it feels like winning a sectional in a single-class system and I do not want to undermine how special winning a sectional championship is. It is a great accomplishment and there is a great amount of pride felt from the program, school and community. “With that said, I would think winning one in a single-class system would feel different for small schools because of the enrollment differences with the teams you would have to beat.”
“Class baseball is a positive. It creates an opportunity for more competition across the board. “Smaller schools with fewer arms benefit the most from class baseball. Larger schools with more pitchers only are at a great advantage over the smaller schools whose best position players are typically also their best arms and usually have far fewer pitcher-only type players. “I would love to play three-game series in the postseason rather than the one-and-done model. I’m not sure it is even possible and have no idea how they could arrange it but I think it better fits baseball. You would get the better TEAMs winning sectionals as opposed to the team with the best arm or two winning them.”
“(Class baseball) is mostly positive. It gives hope for many of the smaller schools to earn a sectional, regional, semi-state ,and state championships. “The negative would be private schools seem to be earning most of these championships. “Private schools (benefit most from class baseball). In the lower classes, private schools have been piling up the state championships. “I would like to have three classes of public schools and one or two classes of private schools.”
“I am old-fashioned, I began coaching when it was a one-class system. I liked the rivalries and going to the local areas to play the sectional games (playing at home or in Terre Haute or Brazil against Northview, Terre Haute North Vigo, Terre Haute South Vigo or West Vigo). “The reason I bring it up, I felt that it was some Hoosier Hysteria in baseball. It was the local teams playing in a sectional and no one had to travel a great distance.
“It is a benefit for a smaller school to advance farther in the (class baseball) tournament. It takes away the big upsets, but more have a chance to reach the state.”
“Class sports has worked out to be a good thing for everyone involved. The competitive nature of each class is relative and that gives everyone the opportunity to see different teams in different years be successful. “The smaller schools most definitely benefit the most due to the shear numbers that are limited they have to choose from. This allows them to compete against like size schools and provide a great experience for the athlete.
“I think the way the IHSAA has it set up is good and there’s not really much to change.”
“Overall class baseball is a positive. It allows for a more-even level of competition. If we look at the schools with larger enrollment it is more common (especially now with pitch count rules) for them to compete with schools their size who have a similar pitching staffs.
“(Who benefits the most from class baseball is a two-pronged answer. On one hand you have smaller schools 1A, 2A, even 3A who have had more of a chance to compete and have success against schools their size. Again, looking at depth of pitching on those levels it creates a more even playing field. Second answer would be the private/parochial/preparatory schools. They have had more success than most public schools in the tournament, yes they fluctuate in classes because of success factor, but also they have the advantage of being able to set an enrollment where public schools do not.
“Maybe add one more class, I’d like to see just what that would look like. Northview is at the top of the 3A scale so that may move us to the bottom of 4A. I don’t know how that would effect everyone. Also maybe look at a multiplier for the private/parochial/preparatory schools in sports like other states have done. Other states have done it and I think it does create a more even system.
“Overall I think class baseball is great. I think however we could all look back to the days of the David vs. Goliath matchups which brought in huge crowds. I would also like to say that I’m not trying to bring anyone down in this because right now I would argue the state of Indiana has as much baseball talent as any state in the Midwest. The coaching in our state has been really great. I enjoy competing against these coaches from all the different classes and I think baseball in Indiana is as good as it has ever been and I think with the classes we’ve seen some great tournaments and will continue to do so in the future.”
“I think (class baseball) is a positive. I was fortunate to have some teams make deep runs in the tournament during my career that likely would not have happened under a one-class system. In fact, one of my best teams at Northfield was during the one-class era and we were beaten by what is now a 4A school. Had that been a class season, we may have had a chance to win state, minimally, made a deeper run. It provides a few more teams the chance to finish as champions thanks to a more level playing field. “More communities (benefit from class baseball). When we came back into town after our first championship years ago, there were thousands of people in the Kmart parking lot waiting for us. Then we took the fire engine ride through town and spent the next week getting treated like royalty … That was a great experience for the community of Wabash and the players and their families. All have a memory that will last a lifetime. In the one-class era, very few small communities got to experience the state level. “(Class baseball) is pretty good overall, but I would like to see a more consistent schedule set at the sectional level for all sites as much as possible. That is hard to do since some sectionals have lights, others don’t, and trying to work around graduations. But host schools have the slight advantage of setting a schedule that best suits their pitching staff. Of course, weather can play havoc to the best of schedules and no matter how the schedule is set, someone will still likely be unhappy. “There’s some talk about a slight revamp of the class system to help break down the large enrollment gap between the top and bottom 4A schools. Like most, those at the bottom of 4A just want to have a more balanced system. I appreciate the IHSBCA and IHSAA exploring possible options.”
Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School baseball ended the 2022 season as IHSAA Class 3A state runners-up. The 2021 Braves participated at the semistate level. Wes Neese was an assistant coach with those clubs and is now Brebeuf head coach after Jeff Scott stepped away from the post. “There won’t be a ton of changes,” says Neese. “Our philosophies were so much the same. We did everything together.” Neese and Scott met each other as assistants on the Mooresville (Ind.) High School staff led by Eric McGaha. Scott was Neese’s assistant during his time leading the Pioneers program. Neese aided Scott for two previous seasons at Brebeuf, three at Martinsville (Ind.) High School and the most-recent stint with the Indianapolis-based Braves. “I’ve been fortunate to be with coaches who didn’t have a big ego and let you coach as an assistant,” says Neese. “Coach McGaha did not micro-manage us. Jeff and I have continued that.” As a Brebeuf assistant, Neese was third base and pitching coach. He called the pitches. “I was able to learn a lot,” says Neese, who looks forward to getting ready for 2023 during the upcoming IHSAA Limited Contact Period. “I’m letting kids get settled into school roles right now,” says Neese. “Starting Sept. 6 we’ll go two days a week for two hours until fall break.” There will be practices on Father O’Brien Field and weightlifting days. “We have quite a few fall athletes so we won’t have our whole team,” says Neese. “We’ll get to know as many kids as we can.” Many position players are expected back for 2023. About 15 varsity innings return to the pitching staff with the graduation of Andrew Dutkanych IV (Vanderbilt University commit), Sam Reed (Eastern Michigan University), Chase Golden (Western Illinois University) and A.J. Rinebold (who plans to try to walk on at Purdue University). Luke Bauer is bound for baseball at Georgetown University (Washington, D.C.) and Anthony Annee football at Marian University in Indianapolis. Neese says there are no college baseball commitments yet in the Class of 2023 but Jayden Ohmer has gotten D-I schools to indicate interest. First base coach Thomas Parker (a former Huntington North High School and Anderson University player) and infield coach/data and analytics coordinator Eric Hartung (who works for the NCAA in Indianapolis) return to the varsity coaching staff. Mooresville graduate and retired Ford Motor Company quality lead Eric Fenwick is an addition and will guide outfielders. Neese is interviewing junior varsity coach candidates. The Class of 2021 had to two college players in 2022 — Nathan Bingman at Virginia Military Institute and Jack Moronek at Butler University in Indianapolis with the Class of 2020’s Shane Bauer at Dartmouth College (Hanover, N.H.), Karl Meyer at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Andrew Pickett at Hope College (Holland, Mich.). Gabe Wright extended his prep school time at IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.). Neese is a 1997 graduate of Greencastle (Ind.) High School, where Stan Ward was the head baseball coach his freshman year and Glen Hile was in charge of the Tiger Cubs the last three. After being cut from baseball in fall at DePauw University in Greencastle, Neese opted to change his major to Secondary Education and began coaching at the youth and high school levels. After a long stint as a teacher at Mooresville, Neese opted for a career change and went to work for Adrenaline Fundraising territory owner Scott and works from his Plainfield, Ind., home as business operations manager. Wes and wife Jean Ann, a pharmacist at Eli Lily, celebrated 20 years of marriage in June. The couple has two sons — Brebeuf sophomore football/baseball player Steven Neese and Plainfield Community Middle School eighth grade footballer Brayden Neese. What Wes Neese appreciates is the support Brebeuf baseball gets from president Fr. William Verbryke, athletic director Ted Hampton and assistants AD’s Brad Weinstein and Jacob Weinstein. “There’s never been a time when we needed something that they weren’t there to provide it,” says Neese. “Working of the right people is credibly important to me and Brebeuf is the right place because of the people.” Brebeuf (enrollment around 825) is four-year private school a member of the Circle City Conference (with Covenant Christian, Guerin Catholic, Heritage Christian, Indianapolis Bishop Chatard and Roncalli). The Braves were part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping in 2022 with Danville Community, Greencastle, Indianapolis Cardinal Ritter and Tri-West Hendricks. Brebeuf has won 16 sectional titles — the last dozen coming in the 2000’s.
An investment has been made in the future of baseball at Western Boone Junior/Senior High School in Thorntown, Ind., and Michael Nance is part of it. After coaching travel ball in the community, in the junior high program that feeds the high school and helping at the high school level, Nance was hired in July 2021 to guide the Webo Stars. The junior high team has players in Grades 6-8 and plays 12 to 14 games in the spring. Nance reached out to Western Boone Little League and a partnership was formed. The Western Boone Baseball Club offers instruction on Sundays to players age 9 to 12 not involved in travel ball. “It’s an opportunity to get these kids more baseball reps all year,” says Nance. Out of that came 12U and 10U club teams that offer additional games to the Little League schedule. Knowing his current players and what’s in the pipeline, Nance is upbeat in leading a program which produced five varsity victories in 2019 and four in 2021. “I think we can win,” says Nance. “I’m very excited about the next six or eight years from what I can see coming.” Western Boone’s four seniors are Casey Baird, Will Barta, Evan Hine and Mitch Miller. Baird, who has committed to Franklin (Ind.) College for football, will be called on to play multiple positions, including shortstop, second base, catcher and relief pitcher. Barta is a designated hitter. Georgetown (Ky.) College-bound Evan Hine (.325 average with a team-best .509 on-base percentage in 2021) is a third baseman. Miller, who led the Stars with .349 average last season, is a center fielder and lead-off hitter. There’s also junior first baseman Andrew Foster, sophomore left-handed pitcher/right fielder Jackson Grimes, sophomore right-hander/left fielder Luke Jackson, sophomore righty/shortstop Bryce Kopriva, sophomore catcher and clean-up hitter Cole Wiley and freshman second baseman Gavin Hawkins. Nance labels Kopriva, Jackson and Grimes as 1, 1A and 1B on his pitching staff. He points out that athletic Hawkins was the No. 1 singles player in tennis and played on the junior varsity team in basketball. Former Marian University pitcher Gabe Westerfeld is a varsity assistant coach and the program’s pitching coordinator. “We are really, really young on the mound,” says Nance. “Gabe has our young guys believing and there have been velocity increases.” Eric Gubera is JV coach and is also in charge of outfielders and base runners. He has coached with Nance in the summer since their sons were 8. Two years ago, they became affiliated with the Indiana Braves. This summer, they will guide the 12U Indiana Yard Goats — a squad that includes six players from Western Boone, three from Avon and one from Brownsburg player. Nance, who was a catcher at Lebanon (Ind.) High School, Ancilla College (Donaldson, Ind.) and MacMurray College (Jacksonsonville, Ill.), handles catchers, infielders and hitters. There are 22 players in the program and all practice together. Western Boone (enrollment around 510) is a member of the Sagamore Conference (with Crawfordsville, Danville Community, Frankfort, Lebanon, North Montgomery, Southmont and Tri-West Hendricks). The Stars are part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Clinton Prairie, Delphi (2022 host), Fountain Central and Seeger. Western Boone has won two sectional titles — 1982 and 1983. Western Boone is scheduled to open the 2022 season with three games this weekend in Unionville, Tenn., south of Nashville. An optional part of the spring break trip is attending Sunday’s Tennessee at Vanderbilt college game. The Stars play home contests on-campus with side-by-side varsity and JV diamonds north of the school building. This year, the Stars got new brick dust for the infield and new wind screens for the outfield as well as a Hack machine and new L screens. At the end of the season, lights will go up. “It’s a really nice place to play,” says Nance. A 2004 Lebanon graduate, Nance played for Tigers head coach Rick Cosgray. “He demanded a lot but got more out kids than they knew they were capable,” says Nance. “You knew he really loved the game. He was always so upbeat and positive. “I have nothing but admiration for Coach Cosgray. I try to run my program like him.” Nance played for two head coaches at Ancilla — Rockie Dodds and Joe Yonto. “(Yonto) had a profound impact on me,” says Nance. “He showed me how to see the ball out of the pitcher’s hand (through eye-specific muscle training.” In Nance’s last year at MacMurray, former high school coach Fred Curtis led the Highlanders. “He just loved the game,” says Nance. “He said if you do the fundamentals right and not walk people, you can win ball games.” Nance says he also appreciates the mentoring and assistance he’s received from men also leading high school programs — among them Matthew Cherry (Fishers), Troy Drosche (Avon) and Andy Dudley (Frankfort). “There’s been such support from the coaching community,” says Nance. “They’ve been willing to help.” Nance earned a Special Education degree at MacMurray and a masters in Criminal Justice from Xavier University in Cincinnati. This summer will mark 15 years with Boone County Community Corrections. After starting out as a probation officer, he is now executive director. Michael and wife Emily (who played softball at Manchester University and MacMurray and now works in cancer research at Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis) have a son and daughter attending Thorntown Elementary — Easton (12) and Harper (10). He enjoys tennis, baseball and duck hunting. She likes soccer and plays travel softball with the Indiana Magic.
Nick Spence wants to bring pep to the steps of ballplayers in yet another part of Hendricks County, Ind. Spence, who played and coached at nearby Brownsburg (Ind.) High School and coached at neighboring Avon (Ind.) High School, was hired as head baseball coach at Tri-West High School in Lizton, Ind., in August 2021 and set about spreading his enthusiasm from the youth level on up. “I want my kids to be excited to be a part of Tri-West baseball,” says Spence. “It’s easier to get kids to play when they’re excited to come to the ballpark. “I’ve gotten nothing but positive vibes from the community.” The fall IHSAA Limited Contact Period was mostly about getting to know athletes and showing them what he plans to implement. “I’m pretty fiery and I’m energetic,” says Spence. “We want competition to come through with whatever we’re doing. Baseball is an individual game played by a team. “Baseball is a sport of failure and you have to learn from failure. Don’t let it come to your next AB or on the mound with you.” A big believer in situational baseball, Spence prefers to devote his practices to either offense or defense. “I’m not a big station guy,” says Spence, who looks forward to the first official IHSAA practice date of March 14. Spence’s coaching staff includes Bryan Engelbrecht and Adam Montgomery with the varsity, Gordie Lucas and James Miller with the JV and Mike Gongwer as youth coordinator. Engelbrecht is a longtime Tri-West coach. Montgomery and Gongwer were with Spence at Avon. He wants establish his system and spread the excitement at the youngest levels. “In the past, we’ve had a really good community-based program at Tri-West,” says Spence, who remarried on Dec. 20, 2021 and lives with wife Allison in Pittsboro, Ind. (Nick has three children from a previous marriage all attending Brownsburg schools — junior Madyson (who turns 17 next week), eighth grader Easton (14) and fifth grader Maya (10). “I’ve been working with youth directors, trying to get that back.” Younger players will be involved with Tri-West Little League and Bruin Heat. Spence says he can see that morphing into the Tri-West Baseball Club by 2023. That’s when Tri-West High is scheduled to debut a four-field baseball/softball complex. “They’re starting to push dirt,” says Spence of the project that will bring varsity and junior varsity grass fields with stadium seating, netting and more. In addition, coaches offices and a hitting tunnel will be located on the north end of the football field. “It’ll beautiful.” Spence played for Wayne Johnson and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Pat O’Neil at Brownsburg High, graduating in 2001, and served as JV coach in 2006 and 2007 then helped current Bulldogs head coach Dan Roman as pitching coach in 2021. Spence counts 2009 Brownsburg graduate Tucker Barnhart as his best friend and was the best man in Barnhart’s wedding. Tucker is now a catcher with the Detroit Tigers. An Indiana Bulls assistant to Troy Drosche during the travel ball season, Spence was the pitching coach on Drosche’s Avon High staff for five years while the Orioles won sectional titles in 2016, 2017 and 2019 and a regional crown in 2019. Spence has also coached with the Bill Sampen-led Indiana Expos travel organization. Spence’s college playing career included one season on the field each pitching for Dennis Conley at Olney (Ill.) Central College, Tim Bunton at Danville (Ill.) Area Community College and Joe Decker at Indiana University Southeast. He went to spring training with the independent Evansville (Ind.) Otters then began focusing on helping others. “I always wanted to coach,” says Spence. “I always wanted to be involved.” Spence has also been an assistant to Bulldogs head coach Mike Silva (now head coach at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, La.) at Clarendon (Texas) College, where Adrian Dinkel (now head coach at Southeastern University in Lakeland, Fla.) was an assistant. He landed there after meeting Silva at a tournament in Stillwater, Okla., while working for Tom Davidson and Blake Hibler at Pastime Tournaments. Indiana Tech head coach Kip McWilliams had Spence on his staff for one season. Tri-West (enrollment around 630) is a member of the Sagamore Athletic Conference (with Crawfordsville, Danville Community (coached by Pat O’Neil), Frankfort, Lebanon, North Montgomery, Southmont and Western Boone). In 2021, the Bruins were part of the IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Brebeuf Jesuit, Danville Community, Greencastle and Indianapolis Cardinal Ritter. Tri-West has won seven sectional crowns — the last in 2018. Recent Tri-West baseball players Riley Bennett (Trine University) and Kai Ross (DePauw University football) have moved on to college sports.
For the 11th time, Rockport Post 254 toted away the hardware. Rockport beat Crawfordsville Post 72 by a 4-2 count in the Indiana American Legion Baseball Senior State Finals championship game. The contest was staged Tuesday, July 27 at CFD Investment Stadium at Highland Park in Kokomo and closed out a five-day run for the eight-team double-elimination tournament. Rockport (20-7) came out of the winners’ bracket, meaning that losers’ bracket survivor Crawfordsville (20-12) had to win twice to earn its first state crown and instead took home its first runner-up trophy. Post 254 and Post 72 advanced to the championship game with wins in Monday’s semifinals. With the state crown, Rockport moves on to the Great Lakes Regional Wednesday through Sunday, Aug. 4-8 at Dale Miller Field in Morgantown, W.Va. Besides the Indiana champion, there will be state title-takers from Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and West Virginia. Eight regional winners advance to the American Legion Baseball World Series Thursday through Monday, Aug. 12-16 on Veterans Field at Keeter Stadium in Shelby, N.C. Post 254 prevailed Tuesday by staying away from the big Post 72 inning. “That’s been one of the secrets of this bunch,” said Rockport manager Jim Haaf, who has been involved with all 11 state titles. “They overcome and they did it several times today.” Crawfordsville plated one run in the top of the seventh inning. Drew Bradley (2021 Danville Community High School) led off with a walk. With two outs, Post 254 right-handed starter Jake Stuteville (South Spencer Class of 2021) reached the 105-pitch count limit (he finished with 107 while finishing a batter) was spelled by right-hander Reece Davis (Perry Central Class of 2021), who yielded a single to center from George Valencia (Fountain Central Class of 2020) that plated Bradley then coaxed a championship-clinching infield pop-up. “I trusted my fastball,” said Stuteville, who struck out six, walked three and gave up five hits and two runs in his 5 1/3 innings. “It was moving. “I just had confidence in myself.” Rockport scored one run in the sixth for a 4-1 lead. Right-hander Landen Southern (Clinton Prairie Class of 2021) reached the pitch limit (he tossed 109 while being allowed to finish a batter) and was relieved by Bradley with the bases loaded and two outs after a pair of Southern strikeouts. Bradley walked Ashton Tindle (South Spencer Class of 2022) to force in Bren Miller (Tell City Class of 2021), who led off the inning with a single to left) and the frame ended with a strikeout. Southern gave up four runs and seven hits with seven strikeouts and three walks in 5 2/3 innings. There were runners at first and second base against Stuteville at the close of the Post 72 sixth. “It’s rough,” said four-year Crawfordsville manager Kyle Proctor, who saw his team strand eight runners, including four in scoring position. “I think we could have won the championship, but they beat us the first time and put us in the losers’ bracket, making it a lot tougher.” Jacob Braun (North Montgomery Class of 2021) rapped a one-out single to left and Matthew Harris (Tri-West Hendricks Class of 2021) drew a walk before an inning-ending forceout and third base off the bat of Zach Fichter (Crawfordsville Class of 2021). The Rockport fifth ended with a defensive gem. Post 72 first baseman Cade Walker (Seeger Class of 2021) made a diving catch of a line drive by Jackson Raaf (South Spencer Class of 2022) and threw to shortstop Owen Gregg (North Montgomery Class of 2020) to double off Jalen Johnson (South Spencer Class of 2022), who had reached on an error and stolen second base. Southern was on the mound for Crawfordsville. Stuteville worked his way in and out of a jam in a scoreless Crawfordsville fifth. With one out. Fichter was hit by a pitch, Bradley reached on an error and Austin Motz (Crawfordsville Class of 2022) walked to lead the bases before Stuteville got a strikeout and fly-out to end the threat. “Our pitcher got squared away,” said Haaf. “Then we made some plays and began to hit the ball a little bit.” Rockport went down 1-2-3 against Southern in the fourth with swinging strikeout, pop-up and looking strikeout. Post 72 sent four batters to the plate against Stuteville in a score-free fourth and left Braun at first base following a two-out single to left. Rockport went scorless against Southern in the third. Crawfordsville turned a double play for the first two outs — shortstop Gregg to sprawling first baseman Walker. The inning ended when Crawfordsville left fielder Ficther took away a hit from Diond’re Jacob (Tell City Class of 2021). Fichter made a dive and catch heading toward the fence. Crawfordsville went down in order against Stuteville in the third with a fly-out, groundout and strikeout. Post 254 went up 3-1 with two runs in the second. Wes Scamehorn (Perry Central Class of 2021) drew a lead-off walk and scored on a two-run home run by Houston Compton (South Spencer Class of 2022). The blast to left came on a 3-2 delivery from Southern that concluded an at-bat where Compton fouled off three pitches. Post 72 pulled even at 1-1 with a run against Stuteville in the second. Braun lashed a lead-off double to left, moved to second on a single to left by Walker and scored on a fielder’s choice forceout by Harris. The frame ended with Rockville catcher Raaf firing to second baseman Johnson to cut down Harris attempting to steal. Rockport scored the game’s first run in the bottom of the first. Raaf drew a one-out walk from Southern and later scored on a single to center by Davis. Southern struck out the side in Crawfordsville first. Crawfordsville’s roster was full of older players so Proctor expects a different look next summer. “We scout in the spring and see which players can join us,” says Proctor. “We play for everything. (Players) don’t pay anything.” Indiana crowned its first American Legion Baseball state champion in 1926.
INDIANA AMERICAN LEGION SENIOR STATE FINALS (At Kokomo) Championship ROCKPORT POST 254 4, CRAWFORDSVILLE POST 72 2 Crawfordsville 010 000 1 — 2 6 2 Rockport 120 001 x — 4 7 1 Landen Southern (L), Drew Bradley (6); Jake Stuteville (W), Reece Davis (7, S). Crawfordsville: Hits — Jacob Braun 3, Owen Gregg 1, George Valencia 1, Cade Walker 1. 2B — Braun. RBI — Valencia 1, Matthew Harris 1. Runs — Braun, Bradley. LOB — 8. Rockport: Hits — Davis 3, Bren Miller 2, Jackson Raaf 1, Houston Compton 1. HR — Compton. 2B — Davis. RBI — Compton 2, Davis 1, Ashton Tindle 1. Runs — Raaf 1, Compton 1, Miller 1, Wes Scamahorn 1. SB — Davis, Jalen Johnson. LOB — 5. T — 2:08. Records: Rockport 21-11, Crawfordsville 20-12.
Dudley expects three current Hot Dog seniors — Casey Henry, Christian Lopez and Jose Valdes Sandoval — to play college ball. All three are right-handed pitchers. Henry and Lopez (brother of Leo) are also outfielders while Valdes Sandoval plays third base.
Dudley’s varsity coaching staff includes two of his former Frankfort players (Blake Ayers and Kansas Varner) as well as an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer (Dennis Kas). Ayers played at Huntington University and Varner at the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne, Ind.
Isaac Field and Steve Royer will run the junior varsity program.
Dudley says he typically has carries about 25 players for the two squads, which play their games on-campus at a field which has added a pro-style backstop and new dugouts in recent years. Decorative blocks are part of the backstop facade with salutes to alumni and prominent former players and teams.
“It looks really nice,” says Dudley. “We did most of the work ourselves (the team and local baseball backers).”
“The biggest thing I got from Coach Miller was the way handled himself as a role model and an adult,” says Dudley, who was a catcher for the Panthers in the spring and while playing for the Bulls and coach Bret Shambaugh in the summer.
As IUPUI head coach, Shambaugh attracted Dudley to play in the capitol city.
“A lot of what I do as a coach and did as a player came from (Shambaugh),” says Dudley. “He was really demanding as a coach but I learned a lot.”
In his second year, he became a full-time pitcher.
Former Jaguars assistant Brian Donahue was IUPUI’s head coach in Dudley’s last two seasons.
“We were just converting to a Division I athletic program,” says Dudley. “I got to be put into a leadership role.”
Andy and Mandy Dudley have two children. Daughter Alaina (12) is a sixth grader. Son Brock (10) is in fourth grade. The couple met when both taught at Greenwood (Ind.) Middle School.
Head coach Andy Dudley (far left in back row) celebrates with his Frankfort (Ind.) High School baseball team after it won its second straight IHSAA Class 3A sectional title in 2016.
Andy Dudley has been the head baseball coach at Frankfort (Ind.) High School in the 2003 season.
As a third baseman and pitcher, Wells started on varsity as a freshman for head coach John Heckman at Owen Valley. It wasn’t a common practice at the school at that time.
“Age doesn’t really matter,” says Wells of the message being sent by his coach. “You put your best nine out there and go with it.”
After the spring of 1999, John Heckman turned the Patriots program after that season to his son, Trent Heckman.
“I I learned a lot about quality of practice and to work hard at all times,” says Wells of the Heckamans. Wells graduated from OV in 2002.
Gary Vaught, who retired after the 2018 season with 808 career victories and a pair of trips to the NCAA Division II World Series, passed on the importance of discipline to Wells in his two campaigns with the Greyhounds (2003 and 2004).
Vaught held his players accountable. They knew where they needed to be and when. If they failed to do so, there was a price. It could involve playing time or, perhaps, extra running or conditioning.
“Kids don’t understand that being a college athlete is a full-time job,” says Wells, who found that out first-hand. “I also picked up valuable techniques and skills I try to instill in my players today.”
Finishing his history eduction degree at UIndy in 2006, Wells had an idea that he would like to be a baseball coach. He is heading into his third season as Greencastle head coach in 2019 after four campaigns as an assistant.
With about 550 students, Greencastle is the fourth-smallest 3A school in Indiana. The Tiger Cubs are in an IHSAA sectional with Brebeuf Jesuit, Danville Community, Indianapolis Cardinal Ritter, Indianapolis Northwest and Tri-West Hendricks.
The schedule includes some varsity/junior varsity doubleheaders.
The one-day Putnam County tournament brings Greencastle, Cloverdale, North Putnam and South Putnam together for competition. The Tigers Cubs won the event in 2018.
What about the 2019 team?
“We have a pretty talented sophomore group,” says Wells, who expects to have number of players who played varsity as freshmen in last spring. Among those are Bryce Barger, Ethan Maier, Jordan Meyer, Nick Sutherlin and Brody Whitaker.
Seniors Alex Costin, Tanner Sanders and Trey Wood are also in the mix.
The Tigers Cubs have not yet had any college baseball commitments. Wood plans to attend Taylor University in Upland, Ind., to play football. Recent graduate Tanner Nicholson is on the baseball team at Franklin (Ind.) College.
Wellls’ assistant coaches are Greencastle head boys basketball coach Bryce Rector (who is also head JV baseball coach) and boys basketball assistant Craig Whitaker.
The Tiger Cubs play on-campus on a field that was recently added new infield dirt, clay mixture around home plate and upgrades for drainage.
“There’s still a lot more we want to do,” says Wells.
A seventh grade social studies teacher at Greencastle Middle School, Wells has the opportunity to get to know future players before they get to high school.
“It’s an interesting dynamic,” says Wells. “I get a head start building relationships with those players.”
“What we’ve lacked in the past is a feeder program,” says Wells. “When I grew up, Babe Ruth was the big thing. When we got to high school, we had known each other and played together since we were young.”
Such a system would build camaraderie and Wells would know what he had coming at the high school level.
“It’s something I’m trying to build,” says Wells. “We have not been able to get it pulled off yet.”
Greencastle is coming to the end of its fall baseball workouts. A new IHSAA rule allows coaches to practice with their teams for two hours two days a week during a certain period of time. The window closes after Oct. 12 and opens against the first week of December.
“I kind of like it,” says Wells. “I puts us all on a similar playing field. We’re a smaller school and have to share a lot of our athletes. (The rule) allows us to get as many guys together at once to throw and get in their cuts. It keep us in baseball shape throughout the year.
“It also helps us not burn out students on one thing.”
Ben and Kristen Wells have been married 11 years and have three children — 5-year-old son Lincoln and 3-year-old twin daughters Britain and Brooklyn.
Greencastle (Ind.) High School won the 2018 Putnam County baseball tournament. Tiger Cubs with the hardware are (from left): assistant coach Bryce Rector, Gus Manion, assistant coach Craig Whitaker, Abe Wade, head coach Ben Wells and Jacob Harris.