By STEVE KRAH
Bringing the “City with A Heart” together, Elkhart (Ind.) High School has melded two high school baseball programs into one.
The Elkhart Lions are scheduled to open their inaugural season since consolidating athletic departments on Wednesday, March 31 against Concord at Elkhart West (formerly known as Elkhart Memorial’s Charger Field), where all baseball contests and practices are slated to take place this spring.
“We’re a one-school community now,” says Elkhart head baseball coach Scott Rost. “Everyone’s Elkhart.
“People have really bought into that.”
Elkhart (enrollment around 3,450) is a member of the Northern Indiana Conference (with Bremen, Jimtown, John Glenn, Mishawaka, Mishawaka Marian, New Prairie, Penn, South Bend Adams, South Bend Clay, South Bend Riley, South Bend Saint Joseph and South Bend Washington).
In 2021, Washington will not field a team. Clay will play a junior varsity schedule.
The Lions are part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with Concord, Goshen, Northridge (the 2021 host), Penn and Warsaw. Elkhart Central won 12 sectional titles plus the 4A state crown in 2013. Elkhart Memorial was a six-time sectional champion.
Besides conference and sectional opponents, Elkhart is slated to meet Andrean, Angola, Chesterton, Edwardsburg (Mich.), Fairfield, Michigan City, Munster, NorthWood, Valparaiso and Westview.
With 36 players in the program, the Lions are planning to take on complete varsity and junior varsity schedules with some C-team games.
One set of Elkhart uniforms will feature blue pinstripes topped with a blue cap adorned by a gold “E.”
Former Memorial head coach Rost guides a staff featuring Brian Blondell, Bruce Baer, Jay Bashore, Steve Asbury, Matt Kloss and Cody Quier.
After the staff was assembled, a few players not in fall sports were able to get together after Labor Day.
When the fall season concluded and weight training and open gyms began Lions baseball really began to take shape.
“It went really smooth,” says Rost. “The seniors have done a really good job. They seem to all get along and work well together. They’ve set the tone for the younger guys in the process.”
Elkhart sports 10 seniors.
“We have some talented young men,” says Rost. “We’re really upbeat and high on that group.
“We have guys with varsity experience. But they have not played high school baseball for two years (because of the COVID-19 pandemic taking out the 2020 season) and our sophomores have not played high school baseball.”
Dylan Rost (Wisconsin-Whitewater). Collin Baer (Anderson University) and Bryce Blondell (Purdue Northwest) — all coach’s son — have committed to play college baseball. Vinny Ambrose and Graham Elli are both planning to play football at the University of Indianapolis.
Rost says Dominic Russo and Cameron Wiltfong are among those that could go on to collegiate diamonds if they make that choice.
While some have had to get used to the way Rost does things, the coach notes that the athletes have not gotten caught up in the Central vs. Memorial or East vs. West mentality.
Academically, students in Grades 9-12 attend Elkhart East or Elkhart West in 2020-21. For athletics and extracurricular activites, there is one entity: The Lions. In 2021-22, freshmen will be housed at East campus with Grades 10-12 at the West campus.