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.
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.
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.”
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.
Having Rick Atkinson around has given the baseball program at Taylor University in Upland, Ind., “second eyes” for the better part of the last two decades.
“I’m the Don Zimmer of the outfit,” says Atkinson, who has seen plenty on a diamond in his 73 years and has lent his insights to the Trojans for 18 years — the past 16 on a coaching staff headed by Kyle Gould.
Bone cancer has not allowed the former Taylor player and longtime Gas City, Ind., resident to travel with the team on its 2021 trips to Arizona and Tennessee.
“I was looking forward to going,” says Atkinson, who tracks the 7-3 Trojans on the internet.
While COVID-19 precautions have also kept him away recently, Atkinson has shared plenty of diamond wisdom over the years.
“On the road, Kyle and I would be together and talk about baseball, the team and what-not,” says Atkinson. “We would not always agree. But when we left our room we were on the same page.”
Atkinson’s health no longer allows him, but he used to coach first base for the Trojans.
“I can’t move too quick,” says Atkinson. The cancer has eaten away his second vertebrae. “It’s good medicine to go over there when I don’t feel good.”
It had once been Atkinson’s responsibility to mow and water the grass and paint the lines at Winterholter Field.
“All of the sudden we can’t do that,” says Atkinson.
With the advent of artificial turf, those staples of baseball coaching are no longer necessary.
Rick and Sondra Atkinson have three children who all live nearby — Molly and Abby in Gas City and Adam in Muncie. There are eight grandchildren.
“They love to come over to Taylor and hit in the barn or get in the new press box,” says Atkinson.
Playing for NAIA Coach of the Year Bob Smith at Greenville in 1969, righty-swinging corner infielder Atkinson hit 12 home runs in 22 games and lead NAIA in homers per game (.55). He was also third in runs batted in per contest (1.55) while hitting .428. Greenville lost in the regional that year and Taylor went on to the NAIA World Series. Smith was also president of the International Baseball Federation that helped get the sport in the Olympics.
As a fast-pitch player, Atkinson helped the Plymouth Club Bombers to three Amateur Softball Association state titles and two runner-up finishes.
Atkinson was in secondary education for 38 years (physical education and health) — eight at Eastbrook High In Marion, Ind., and 30 at Mississinewa High in Gas City.
At Eastbrook, he was on the football staff with Terry Hoeppner (who went on to be head coach at Miami University in Ohio and Indiana University) at Eastbrook.
Before returning in 2005, Atkinson served Mississinewa for 24 years as the athletic director and 20 years as the Indians’ baseball coach. He was the North head coach in the IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series in 1990.
It was while dining at Cracker Barrel that Atkinson ran into Larry Winterholter who asked him to join his coaching staff at Taylor.
“Will you come back and help me?” Atkinson says of Winterholter’s question. “I’ve been there ever since.”
Gould was a freshman during Atkinson’s first season as as Trojans coach.
“We developed a good relationship,” says Atkinson. “A lot of people think I’m Kyle’s dad.”
Many relationships were formed through baseball over the decades. Atkinson got to know Dick Siler when they were both high school coaches.
“They had the ugliest uniforms I’ve ever seen,” says Atkinson of the bright red and yellow donned by Siler’s Elkhart Memorial High School teams, which included all-star pitcher Matt Ruess in 1990.
The friendship continued when they both began college coaching at Crossroads League schools — Atkinson at Taylor and Siler at Bethel.
Atkinson invited Siler to stay with him whenever he was in the area. IHSBCA Hall of Famer Siler died in 2020.
A 1965 graduate of Mississinewa, Atkinson earned 11 varsity letters playing baseball and basketball for coach Junior Mannis and football for coach Charlie Fisher. Nine of those teams won conference championships.
One of his fondest memories is playing five games in three different places in the same day.
“When I was 15 we had a high school doubleheader,” says Atkinson. “My mom took me to Kokomo for an American Legion doubleheader (featuring Jonesboro Post 95) then to Indianapolis for semipro tournament (with the Twin City Bankers).
Atkinson played against one of former major league pitcher and Anderson, Ind., native Carl Erskine’s sons.
Erskine doesn’t address Atkinson by name. It’s “Hey, Gas City!”
He was 14 when Atkinson started playing for the Bankers. His father, John, was the team’s manager.
John Atkinson helped build a diamond that is still used today.
There were days when young Rick sold Cokes while sitting on the back part of a station wagon.
At 15, the Bankers placed third in the state tournament and all-stater Atkinson hit .454.
Atkinson recalls when amateur baseball went from wood to metal bats.
“I didn’t like it,” says Atkinson. “I collect fungos. None of them are aluminum.
“I do not remember breaking a bat. I’m sure I did.”
He does remember mending some clubs.
To keep wood bats in circulation, Atkinson used to use small black brad nails to hold them together.
For a few years, Atkinson was in charge of Taylor hitters.
He’d study the players’ swing to see what suited him best. It was easy to identify the best ones.
“A blind man can come into this barn and tell who the good hitters are just by the sound,” says Atkinson. “It’s a different sound.”
Leading a Taylor-based team in a collegiate wood bat league, Atkinson counted future big league center fielder Kevin Kiermaier as one of his players.
Atkinson encouraged the Fort Wayne Bishop Luers graduate to cash in on his speed.
“I know Coach, bunt the ball,” says Atkinson of Kiermaier’s echoing what the coach often told him. “They don’t teach the bunt anymore.”
The coach also lent his know-how with the independent professional Dubois County Dragons in Huntingburg, Ind., and the Anderson (Ind.) Lawmen. The latter team was managed by Texas Rangers bird dog scout Jay Welker and featured Brian Cruz who also played for Atkinson at Mississinewa.
In that role, Chase will be working closely with foundation executive director and Performance Center general manager Mark Haley.
“Hales and I connected and, honestly, I just want to help in whatever way that I can,” says Chase. “I’ve had some experiences — both in my playing career and coaching career.
“(On the) player development side, I think I can add some value. On the recruiting side, I can help some of the older guys — 15- 16-, 17-year-old guys looking to play in college and get them to understand what the recruiting process is like. It can seem very confusing a lot of times, especially to families who haven’t gone through it. I would just love to provide some clarity with that.”
Chase also has many connections in college baseball and knows where the opportunities lie.
“I really like working with young kids,” says Chase. “Baseball is such a great game from the relationships that you have to the friends that you meet and learning lessons from the game itself.”
Throughout all his coaching stops, Chase has worked with hitters, infielders and outfielders. He was an infielder at Notre Dame. He will help with instruction at the Performance Center, as an advisor in the recruiting process and be a second set of eyes for Haley when it comes to talent evaluation and other matters.
At Dayton, Chase was recruiting coordinator for Flyers head coach Jayson King, who is also a Massachusetts native.
“We went into a program that we both thought had a lot of promise,” says Chase. “There were a lot of positive things. It was a high academic school. The campus was beautiful. A lot of things you can sell to high school kids.
“We really worked hard at it and were able to get Dayton to where we felt it should be — a competitive school in the Athletic 10 (Conference) and getting good players from that area.”
Chase and King had been together as assistants on the Army staff. It was King who brought Chase to West Point, N.Y., having known about him while at Franklin Pierce University in Rindge, N.H. Chase and coordinator King shared recruiting duties. The Black Knights head coach was — and still is — Jim Foster.
“Coach Foster is a baseball savant. He played many years in the minor leagues as a catcher and he has that kind of brain. He really understands the game. He’s very good at teaching the game to the players.”
Chase says he knew intricacies of the game, but Foster “took it to a whole different level.”
Scott Loiseau is head coach of the Southern New Hampshire Pennmen.
“Scott’s one of the best coaches I’ve been around in terms of working with his players and getting them to play at their highest level,” says Chase. “His ability to develop relationships with guys is to the point where the team wants to run through a wall with that guy.
“He really, really cares about his players and his coaches. He allows coaches to develop. He gave me a lot of responsibility when I stepped on-campus as a young kid. He was a great mentor for me.
“Most guys are coaching college baseball out of the passion that they have either for the game or the people that they’re around and — a lot of time — it’s both. There are a lot of things you have to sacrifice to be a college baseball coach.”
As a volunteer assistant at Navy, Chase first learned about what it means to coach baseball at a military school by Midshipmen head coach a baseball lifer Paul Kostacopoulos, who was assistant and head coach at Providence (R.I.) College and head coach at the University of Maine before landing at Navy in Annapolis, Md.
“He’s been very successful for a very long time,” says Chase for Kostacopoulos. “He took over at Navy and really turned a program around that had been relatively mediocre in the past, but had a great history. He brought it to being consistently competitive and at the top of the Patriot League every single year and winning 30-plus games.
“That’s a hard job. There’s a lot of things at a military academy you need to uphold. It’s not just winning on the field. It goes beyond that. It goes to understanding what the cadet life is being able to foster both commitments to baseball, academics and their military requirements. He does a great job to do all those things.”
Chase says that players at military academies may not have the time to devote to baseball that other schools do. But they bring a resilient, hard-nosed mentality to the field because they compete in everything they do.
UC-Santa Barbara head coach Andrew Checketts gave Chase his first college baseball job as the Gauchos video coordinator.
“I learned what a College World Series program looks like in the inside from the time commitment to the culture to the player development,” says Chase. “As a kid just coming out of college you don’t see what the coaches do off the field.”
Chase still maintains relationships with former Notre Dame bosses Schrage and Aoki.
Chase played three seasons for the Irish. He appeared in six games (all at second base) as a freshman in 2009 and missed the 2010 season following knee surgery with Schrage as head coach.
“Coach Schrage gave me a chance to live my dream of going to Notre Dame and playing baseball there,” says Chase. “He was a very personable guy and really cared about the well-being of his players.
“He was always a positive person. He was not a cutthroat-type coach. There’s a lot to be said for that.”
Aoki took over for 2011 and Chase got into 11 games (one as a starter).
“He’s a New England guy through and through,” says Chase of Aoki. “He allowed me to work my way to a chance to compete on the field and contribute to the team.”
At the end of 2011 season, his teammates thought enough of him to choose him as one of the captains for 2012 as he played in 17 games (four starts).
“It was a great honor,” says Chase of being chosen as a captain. “I enjoyed having a voice to lead the other guys and help them. When you’re a coach, you’re implementing your culture and you’re talking about the things that are important. A lot of times, the thing that’s most important is the leaders on the team saying the same message.
“A lot of times it’s not what the coaches say, it’s what the leaders among the players say to each other. The players have so much influence over the where the team’s headed and the culture of the team.”
Leaders can handle issues like players coming late to the weight room before it ever becomes big and has to be addressed by the coaching staff.
Chase grew up in Cohasset a few years ahead of Mike Monaco, who went on to Notre Dame and served as a broadcaster for the South Bend Cubs and now counts and has called games for the Triple-A Pawtucket (R.I.) Red Sox and the big-league Boston Red Sox.
Tommy and Teresa Chase have three sons — David (2 1/2), Peter (1) and Patrick (5 weeks). They are in the process of buying a home in Granger, Ind. Many friends from Tommy’s Notre Dame days still live in the South Bend area.
When you talked with him you knew he was going to ask questions.
“What have you been up to?”
“How’s your mother?”
“Can you tell me something new?”
When he got a chance, he explored historical places and books and soaked in as much new knowledge as he could.
As a coach, he wanted to break down and understand plays and positions so he could convey those to his athletes.
It’s that sense of interest that took Siler through his 84 years.
No doubt he had the sense of wonder as a boy growing up on a poultry farm near Ashland, Ohio, and playing sports on that same land. He was a catcher in baseball and wound up as a center and linebacker in football.
Too busy on the farm to go into Ashland to play ball, a plot was dedicated for that purpose. Sometimes it was used by the circus.
“It was two thirds football field, one third baseball field,” Siler once said. “The east end zone was just dirt.
“Dad let me use a panel truck,” said Siler. “I contacted people and got eight or nine other guys and we went around and played softball or baseball — probably more softball than baseball.
“If we had two bats, that was great. Most guys didn’t have baseball spikes.”
Siler carried big diamond dreams.
“I loved baseball so much,” said Siler. “I wanted to learn and nobody was teaching me.”
When it came time to play at Ashland High School, Siler (Class of 1953) did not play varsity. Future big league catcher John Roseboro (Class of 1951) was ahead of him.
“He threw a lot harder from his knees than I could shoot a gun behind the plate,” said Siler, who was on the junior varsity as a freshman and sophomore and at the start of his junior year.
Then came a call from the varsity. He got to the game on a Farmall F-20 tractor.
“It’s the only way I could get there,” said Siler. “I had no other vehicle.
“I threw on the gear. I didn’t have time to warm up They put me right in.”
The first or second runner got on base and went to steal.
“When I threw the ball, I felt like my whole arm went down to second base,” said Siler. “Something just ripped in there. I couldn’t get the ball back to the pitcher. They ended up pulling me out the game.
“That was the last school ballgame that I played. That was heartbreaking.”
Siler went on to coach baseball for decades, but he never threw batting practice. He caught BP until one of his knees locked up on him. The number of reps made with a fungo bat is nearly incalculable.
From north central Ohio, Siler took his curiosity to North Manchester, Ind., and Manchester College (now Manchester University), where he played football and got the knee injury to remember it by the rest of his days.
More importantly, it was at Manchester that he met Marjorie Thompson. The two wed in 1956 and wound up in her hometown of Elkhart, Ind.
Dick took a job teaching and coaching at Jimtown High School after graduating Manchester in 1957.
His first coaching assignment was with Jimmies football. He was a coach all the way until the end, including the last 23 years as an assistant at Bethel University in Mishawaka, Ind.
The Siler family, which grew to include three children (Scott, Laurie and Julie), lived for years in Elkhart. Scott Siler was the Indiana Umpire of the Year in 2018.
Dick became head baseball coach at Elkhart High in 1968 and led that program through 1972. A split of the school sent him into a 25-year run as head baseball coach at Elkhart Memorial High School, where he also was a football assistant for many years.
The 1992 Crimson Chargers were the first Elkhart County baseball team to play in the IHSAA State Finals.
After retiring as coach and social studies teacher at Memorial (he won more than 500 games at the high school level), Siler accepted an invitation from Bethel head coach Sam Riggleman to join the Pilots staff. Margie came along as a scorekeeper.
She fought a battle with cancer for two decades before dying in 2002. She got to live in a new house in Mishawaka for a short time. Bethel has presented a scholarship in her name and has a plaque in her honor at Patterson Field at Jenkins Stadium.
Dick Siler, who went on to be on the staffs of Mike Hutcheon and Seth Zartman, talked of his wife often. He passed away at his Mishawaka home around 1:45 a.m. Monday, July 20.
What did he gain most from coaching all those years?
“I enjoy the kids just for who they are — seeing them grow or seeing them change,” said Siler. “I get to see the light go on — he finally gets the idea about timing and using the barrel of the bat to hit.”
Whether it was baseball, football, track, wrestling or basketball (he coached those sports, too), it was about instruction.
“I wanted to teach,” said Siler. “I wanted to tell them this is the best way to do it.
“Kids are hungry to learn if you’ll just teach them.
“Too many people do too much yelling and not teaching. Kids want to get better and they love the game.”
Siler said he went into coaching baseball with a football mentality.
“A kid would say to me, ‘Coach, we’re trying not to fail,” said Siler. “That was a big learning and turning point for me. I need to teach them better than just yelling.
“For some, it’s just really hard (to fail). It destroys them. They failed Grandpa. They failed Dad. They failed the girlfriend. They failed the coach. It’s a heavy burden.”
Ever inquisitive, Siler asked these questions: How do we enjoy the sport more? and How do we get there?
“You don’t do it through negativity, I’ll tell you that,” said Siler. “My son (Scott) threw a bat once when he was really young and I made him run the hills. ‘But Daddy, I’m so young.’ I probably handled it a different way and I didn’t. That wasn’t right.
“You make mistakes. You’ve got to live with those, too.”
As a high school baseball coach, Siler was faced with having to cut down his roster.
“Only so many people can make the team,” said Siler. When he took over at Elkhart High, he could not use freshmen and still had about 125 trying out.
Siler and assistant Randy Miller had to do their evaluations inside a tiny downtown gym.
“We tried to be as fair as we could and didn’t have a whole lot of complaints,” said Siler. “Later, I did.”
Siler said figuring out the top and bottom of the roster is the easy part.
“Some of the kids who come up are coached by people who know baseball better than a lot of others,” said Siler. “The better athletes adjust faster and better than the lesser athletes.”
While Siler could teach technique and improve upon it, he knew that “some talent is just God-given.”
Siler said the difference in a successful high school player and an unsuccessful one came down to attitude.
“I’m not much on all-ness statements,” said Siler. “Sometimes the dog wags the tail and sometimes the tail wags the dog. In my perspective, the program is more important than the individual. Period.
“If you think you are going run the program or effect the program in a negative way, you’re not going to be around. The program is what it’s all about.”
Siler insisted on a pregame prayer.
“They’ll have to fire me,” said Siler. “I’m not changing. That was very important to me.
“I live and die on the idea of ‘family first.’”
Many family members came to visit or called in Dick’s final days.
Many programs are planning to play a few games once restrictions are lifted July 1.
Teams will be using this opportunity to recognize the Class of 2020 after the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out the entire IHSAA spring sports season, including baseball.
Regional tournaments would have been played Saturday (June 6).
Following is a sampling of some the salutes across Indiana.
Hornets head coach Roger Roddy says current plans call for Monday and Thursday practices and Friday intrasquad games the last two weeks in July with senior recognition July 30.
A family picnic is in the mix. Like many programs, Angola has been giving social media shout-outs via Twitter.
Greyhounds head coach Matt Buczkowski traveled to the homes of his seniors to present a commemorative bat.
Warriors coach Pat O’Neil made video wrap-ups after every games of a faux season. The Hall of Famer “saw” his team win a virtual state title.
Once the quarantine began but before the season was canceled, O’Neil asked his players to send him a 20-second video of them working on offensive and defensive skills. There was an award for the most dedicated player.
There was a parade of cars at the baseball field.
“One coach gave a letter certificate, one coach gave letters or chevrons, one coach gave new jerseys,” says O’Neil. “They took individual photos in center field with new jerseys.
“It was good to see them be enthusiastic.”
When July arrives, O’Neil is planning to have practices for junior varsity and varsity players, including seniors.
A scrimmage with a senior recognition that includes souvenir bats and a cookout is slated for July 6.
A youth camp is also planned at the end of July.
In the last year of the program before the merger of Elkhart Memorial and Elkhart Central, Crimson Chargers head coach Scott Rost conducted a Twitter tournament and voters selected their favorite jersey.
Rost was also hired to be head coach of the Elkhart High School Lions in 2020-21.
Tigers head coach Matt Cherry hopes his team will be able to play doubleheaders July 13-14 with seniors being saluted.
“It’s the craziest spring I’ve ever been a part of,” says Eagles head coach Brad Douglas. “I’ve tried to reach out to the boys the best we can following all the social distancing protocol.”
Gift baskets with sunflower seeds, Gatorade, bubble gum and a baseball painted by Brian Borumn was taken to the seniors.
Tributes were placed on Twitter and new jerseys were made available for photos.
“At least once, we want to put them on and get a team picture,” says Douglas. “I don’t want these boys to be forgotten just because we didn’t get to play this year.”
Panthers head coach Brian Jennings turned on the lights at his field at 9:20 p.m. as a tribute to the Class of 2020.
Trojans head coach John Bogner, who counted son Justin among his seniors, has done his best to acknowledge the Class of 2020.
Social media has been part of that.
Without games to play on what would have been Senior Day for the Vikings, head coach Mark Fluekiger spent 12 hours working on Viking Field.
As the sun was setting, he took photos and recorded a video tribute to seniors.
The Jimmies are looking forward to a unique doubleheader on July 11.
Early in the day comes delayed commencement. At 7:30 p.m., Jimtown plays Bristol Americn Legion Post 143 in a game at Booster Field.
Jimmies coach Cory Stoner says he expects that all 11 of his seniors will be able to play catch with their fathers prior to playing in the contest.
Stoner, who is also the JHS head football coach, also plans to have baseball practices in July.
Drive Main Street in Lanesville, Ind., and you’ll see banners on light poles for senior sports athletes — that includes 11 baseball seniors.
“They’ve meant a lot to our program,” says Swingin’ Eagles head coach Zach Payne. “They’e good kids and good leaders.”
Payne says there may be a joint event with Lanesville softball. There has also been talk about games in late July featuring Corydon Central, North Harrison, South Central (Elizabeth) and Crawford County.
Slicers head coach Scott Upp had Schreiber Field lit up at 8:20 p.m. as a nod to his seniors.
May 20 was supposed to be Senior Night for Mishawaka.
Cavemen head coach John Huemmer went to Freddie Fitzsimmons Field, hung nine senior jerseys on the backstop and turned on the lights.
A Senior Night dinner was being planned. An engraved gift bat will include the bats of seniors.
Huemmer is hopeful that there will be a few practices and games in July.
Bear Tolman Field had the numbers of New Prairie’s eight seniors painted on it and there’s drone photos to prove it.
Cougars head coach Mark Schellinger says its not likely that high school teams will practice or play this summer though his players have connected with their various travel organizations.
“We’re hoping to get together as a team to recognize team and seniors,” says Schellinger, who was the head coach for the North at the 2019 IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series in Madison (the 2020 series in Evansville was canceled). “(Seniors) made very big contributions to our program — on and off the field. They added to the culture and raised the expectations. They set examples for younger players.
“We still spent a lot of time together as a team and a group (in the preseason) — even though games didn’t start.”
Raiders head coach Andrew Brabender says his team gathered at a player’s house for a senior dinner.
Nothing is set in stone, but Brabender says he’d like to put together an alumni game in late July or early August to be staged at the new turfed athletic complex.
“It’s a little closure for seniors,” says Brabender. “They weren’t going to get to play on that field anyway.”
Knights coach Craig Trout has gotten banners and jerseys to his players for photo opportunities.
Senior numerals have been painted on the field.
Northview is hoping to have a wiffle ball game after July 4.
“It’s hard right now for (the players),” says Trout. “It’s hard for their parents.”
Panthers head coach A.J. Risedorph has filled his time not only with online teaching and helping with Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Zoom meetings, he’s been dressing his diamond.
Senior numbers have been emblazoned on the field.
SOUTH BEND CLAY
Colonials head coach Joel Reinebold saw that uniforms were distributed for photos.
Twitter appreciation was spread on Twitter.
Yard signs were made as was a video to the tune of “Centerfield” by John Fogerty.
Clay assistant coach Tony Cruz, who recently was released from the hospital following COVID-19 treatment, has invited players to join his South Bend American Legion Post 151 team this summer.
“It’s an unfortunate situation for everybody at all levels,” says Warriors head coach Jason Rahn. “First and foremost, everyone’s health and safety is the top priority.”
Westview lost several top players to graduation in 2019, but there was excitement for 2020.
“We thought we did a good job of re-loading,” says Rahn.
Seniors have been spotlighted on Twitter with vintage-looking baseball cards.
The Class of 2020 has been invited for a July 16 home game against Bristol American Legion Post 143. Westview looks to play at Lakeland July 20 and host another Northeast Corner Conference foe July 22.
While the local recreation season has been canceled with local parks just now opening, travel ball (8U to 14U) is on.
“We feel like we’re making the best of it,” says Rahn, who indicates a camp is being planned for rec ball players.
The NLC plays 14 double round-robin games to establish its champion.
Warsaw, coming off a 2018 season in which it was 7-17 overall and 3-11 in the conference, is in a seven-team 4A sectional grouping with Concord, Elkhart Central, Elkhart Memorial, Goshen, Northridge and Penn. The Tigers last won sectional titles in 2006 and 2010.
Three players from the Warsaw Class of 2018 — Jared Hawley, Mike Nunez and Matt Shapiro — planned to play college baseball.
A new sprinkler system went in this fall at Tiger Field. On the wish list is lights.
“We’re the only athletic facility on-campus without lights,” says Manes. “It prevents us from hosting sectional. But I know you can’t have everything at once.”
Manes works as a financial advisor at 1st Source Bank in Warsaw.
His Tigers assistants are John Edwards and Adam Augustine with the varsity as well as Eric Lane and Aaron Christenberry with the junior varsity.
Augustine played at Warsaw and was an NCAA Division III All-American at Manchester University in 2005. Christenberrry played at WCHS and Grace College in Winona Lake, which is adjacent to Warsaw.
Manes (pronounced MAN-us) played for four seasons (1997-2000) at Grace College. As a catcher, first baseman and designated hitter, he made his way onto Lancers Top 10 lists for career hits (140), career runs batted in (110), career doubles (30), career home runs (11), single-season runs (33 in 1999), single-season RBIs (38 in 1998) and single-season doubles (11 in 1999).
After his college playing days, 2000 Grace graduate Manes turned down an offer to try out with the independent Lincoln (Neb.) Saltdogs.
Glenn Johnson, who was then the Grace head coach, drove 10 hours to recruit Manes out of Lincoln. He convinced the 1996 Lincoln Christian High School graduate to come to northern Indiana.
A small school, Lincoln Christian plays American Legion baseball in the summer. Manes played Legion ball from his eighth grade through senior years and was a part of district championship teams each year and two state runner-up finishes. Andy’s father, Mike Manes, was his head coach.
Andy is the oldest of Mike and Connie Manes’ four children. All of them went to Lincoln Christian and then to college athletics.
Second son Tony Manes played baseball at Northwestern College in Orange City, Iowa, and is now a chiropractor.
Daughter Michelle Manes played volleyball at John Brown University in Siloam Springs, Ark.
Andy and wife Jennifer Manes celebrated two years of marriage in 2018. Their large blended family includes Jacob Rios (Trinity International freshman football player), Braden Rios (Lakeview Middle School eighth grader), Michael Manes (Lincoln Elementary sixth grader), Sophia Rios (Jefferson Elementary third grader) and Luca Manes (Washington Elementary third grader).
After four years as a volunteer varsity assistant, Andy Manes is now head baseball coach at Warsaw (Ind.) Community High School. He played at Grace College in nearby Winona Lake, Ind. (Warsaw Community High School Photo)
With clear communication as a priority and continuity on the coaching staff, Wawasee High School baseball is looking forward to the 2019 season.
Brent Doty, a 2002 Wawasee graduate, is entering his sixth season as head coach at his alma mater, which is located in Syracuse, Ind.
Primarily a catcher, Doty was a four-year player for head coach John Blunk at Wawasee. He played two seasons for Mitch Hannahs (now head coach at Indiana State University) at Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill., and two seasons at Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne (now Purdue Fort Wayne) for Billy Gernon (now head coach at Western Michigan University).
“I was very fortunate to have those three great baseball coaches,” says Doty. “I was able to pick the nuances that they were really, really good at and try to influence the players in our program with those things.”
With Blunk, it was his knowledge of the game and his drive.
“His passion for it was huge,” says Doty. “Coach Hannahs was just so detailed in everything he did. He always wanted things done correctly. He would show you specifically how it needs to be done.”
Gernon was also very organized.
“We had a schedule we followed every day to a T,” says Doty of Gernon. “It was timed out — 15 minutes here, 30 there. It’s the detail they go into at the college level because they have to, they have such limited time each day and each season.
“I thought that would transition nicely with us to get as much accomplished in a day’s practice as we can.
Wawasee players know what to expect when they come out to practice.
“It’s never, ‘Hey, coach! What are we doing today?’,” says Doty. “They know the expectation and it makes practice run a lot smoother. Hopefully that’s going to turn into success as we continue to go down the road.”
An IHSAA rule change allows for a limited coach-athlete contact period. Coaches can work with an unlimited number of players for two two-hour practice slots per week during a window in the fall.
Doty and his staff, which includes associate head coach Vince Rhodes, Scott Beasley and volunteer Kent Doty (his father) at the varsity level and a to-be-named head coach and assistant Brett Carson with the junior varsity, have been leading outdoor practices for a few weeks.
“That’s nice for us,” says Doty. “We can get live swings, grounders and fly balls.”
Team concepts — like bunt coverages — can be drilled outside and give them a true look as opposed to doing it indoors.
“It’s been nice to implement some of those things,” says Doty. “But you don’t have your full team so you’re not gong to go so in-depth.”
With fall sports going on, there have been 10 to 12 at most sessions.
“A lot of our guys play multiple sports,” says Doty. “At a school of our size (around 950 students) they have to. We can’t just rely on single-sport athletes.
“We want you to get in as many sports as you can.”
The IHSAA-adopted pitch count rules (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 now been on the scene for two seasons.
What does Doty think of it?
“It’s definitely good for the kids,” says Doty. “Player safety is always going to be No. 1.
“The 120 max is good, too. I can’t see myself going farther than that.”
Doty says one change in 2019 is that the JV will be on the same regimen as the varsity.
“It’s good,” says Doty of the switch. “Why does a sophomore playing on varsity get to throw more than a sophomore throwing on JV?”
One way that Doty and company build pitching depth is by giving many players an opportunity to see what they can do on the mound, especially at the JV level.
“If you’ve got a healthy arm, you’re probably going to pitch at some point,” says Doty.
A year ago, Wawasee had more than three dozen players for varsity and JV squads. Being very senior-laden, the varsity carried 21 players.
The number depends largely on the number of potential pitchers and those who can play multiple positions.
It’s important for each player to know how they can contribute to the program.
“We talk with each player individually and say this is where we see this as your role for the year,” says Doty. “It doesn’t mean it’s going to stay there or written in stone. But this is what we expect of you or as a varsity or JV player or a swing guy (that could see playing time on both).
“If they start to develop into something we didn’t foresee at the start of the year, we transition them into that. We allow them to have ownership of their role because once they buy into their role, it’s only going to make us better as a program.”
Staff stability also translates to a consistent message.
Doty began his post-college career as a teacher and an assistant baseball coach at Jack Britt High School in Fayetteville, N.C. When he took over the program for the 2014 season, he was the third head coach in three years for that junior class.
“Building that continuity and having that same staff year after year is only going to help us be successful going forward,” says Doty.
The 2018 season saw Wawasee go 8-16 with some growing pains.
“We also saw some bright spots that we can build on,” says Doty, who identifies juniors Levi Brown and Carter Woody and sophomores Kameron Salazar and Parker Young as being among the top returning Warriors.
“I truly can’t wait to get started,” says DuBois, 28. “(Former Goshen head coach) Josh (Keister) made unbelievable strides in a short time.
“I want to keep the momentum going.”
While J.J. says the fast pace of basketball got much of his attention growing up, he came to enjoy the strategy and nuances of baseball. He appreciates the life lessons that it can help impart.
“It teaches you how to bounce back from failure,” says DuBois. “You get humbled real quick in baseball.
“Coaching — in any sport — can make a huge impact on kids.”
While roles could change, J.J. DuBois says he expects to have the same men return to coach Goshen baseball in 2018-19, including Aaron Keister, Clay Norris, Troy Pickard, Tracy Farmwald, Chad Collins and Daniel Liechty.
Aaron Keister was the RedHawks pitching coach and Norris a varsity assistant in 2018. Pickard helped DuBois at the junior varsity level. Liechty served as elementary coordinator and a liaison to Goshen Little League.
After years at Rogers Park, the JV was moved to the Little League. DuBois says he wants to conduct camps for Goshen’s youth players.
The varsity plays on Phend Field, located across U.S. 33 from Goshen High School.
DuBois coached junior varsity baseball at Goshen the past two seasons and now gets to educate young people in his first job as a head coach.
“There’s nothing better than helping kids find out what they want to pursue and get the most out of them as an athlete and turn that into some wins,” says DuBois, who played baseball and tennis for four years and basketball for one at Jimtown High School in Elkhart, Ind., graduating in 2008.
DuBois was a first baseman and pitcher on the diamond for coach Mike Stout and a singles player on the court for coach Steve Fledderman.
“Coach Stout was the most calm anybody could ever ask for,” says DuBois of Stout, who spent in 25 seasons leading the Jimmies. “He never got in your face and screamed at you. I was never afraid to make a mistake. All he did was instill confidence in guys.
“He never let his emotions get the best of him. He respected you as a player and a person and cared for every single guy. He got a lot out of us because he let us be ourselves.”
Jimtown won a sectional baseball title when DuBois was a junior (2007) and were very good his senior year.
DuBois credits Fledderman for instilling discipline and self control. There was a certain way to act and “Fled” insisted upon it or there would be extra running or push-ups.
“In tennis, you have to have self control,” says DuBois. “I could not lose my mind out on the court.”
DuBois continued to learn about the X’s and O’s of baseball in four seasons (concluding with graduation in 2012) as a pitcher at Bethel College in Mishawaka, Ind., where he played for head coach Seth Zartman and assistant Dick Siler (an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer).
While at Bethel, DuBois did an internship in the athletic department at the University of Notre Dame. He enjoyed the experience, but missed interacting with athletes.
When wife Holly, who was an NAIA All-American softball player at Bethel, went to Hazelhurst, Miss., as part of the Teach for America program, J.J. enrolled in graduate school at Belhaven University in nearby Jackson, Miss., where he gained experience in game day operations and marketing. He also volunteered for the Blazers baseball staff, watching Belhaven go 37-21 in 2013 and 42-21 in 2014.
Belhaven is where DuBois encountered head baseball coach Hill Denson.
“He had the biggest influence in making me want to pursue coaching,” says DuBois of Denson, who made such an impact in his time at the University of Southern Mississippi that baseball field is called Pete Taylor Park/Hill Denson Field.
After a season as an assistant coach at Grace College in Winona Lake, Ind., DuBois came to Goshen to teach and spent one season with wife Holly on the softball coaching staff led by Brent Kulp.
Holly (Weaver) DuBois is a teacher at West Goshen Elementary and will guide first graders in 2018-19. The couple have a daughter (Hope) and will soon welcome a son (Owen).
Jim and Laurie DuBois (who worked for many years at Elkhart General Hospital) have four children — Zach, J.J., Sarah and Jessica.
Zach DuBois, 11 months older than J.J. and a Notre Dame graduate, is a country music artist (wife Katy performs with the trio Maybe April).
Sarah (DuBois) McMahon is a nurse at Memorial Hospital in South Bend. Her husband, Kevin McMahon, is a teacher at Jimtown Elementary and has been an assistant baseball coach for Jimtown High School.
Jessica DuBois is a recent Indiana University graduate who has been active in theater with Premier Arts in Elkhart.
J.J. DuBois teaches business at Goshen (Ind.) High School, where he was just named head baseball coach. (Goshen High School Photo)
J.J. DuBois, a Jimtown High School and Bethel College graduate, is now the head baseball coach at Goshen (Ind.) High School. J.J. and wife Holly have a daughter Hope (shown above) and are expecting a son (Owen).
“We want to be high energy the entire game,” says Risedorph, a former NorthWood assistant baseball coach who returns as the leader of the program after a season away from the diamond. “We celebrate everything — regardless of outcome.”
A batter might see six pitches then fly out to center field.
But it’s a “quality at-bat.”
“We put a positive spin on something they would normally look at as failure,” says Risedorph. “Positive reinforcement is huge.”
In the Panthers’ first two games of the campaign (a 13-0 win against Westview and 9-8 triumph against Mishawaka), Risedorph has noticed Dutkowski coming up to his teammates and lending encouragement and that’s the kind of culture the NorthWood social studies teacher and student council sponsor is trying to build.
Risedorph wants his club to react well to adversity, something the Panthers did when down 8-7 in the seventh inning against Mishawaka.
“We don’t win that game is our guys panic,” says Risedorph. “I’m real happy with the group that we have. They are level-headed. They have ice in their veins.”
Irons brought Risedorph up to the varsity midway through his freshmen season and taught him plenty about the game.
Risedorph recalls the intensity of a Gernon-led practice.
“He really set a standard for that,” says Risedorph. “He made sure guys were going to buy into the program.”
Pierce took over the Mastodons after Gernon left to become head coach at Western Michigan University. Risedorph constantly picked the brains of Pierce and Birely while playing and also while serving as a first base coach during rehabilitation. Injury took away Risedorph’s 2007 and 2010 seasons.
“(Pierce) runs a very pro-style program,” says Risedorph. “He wants you to be you. He wanted players to represent themselves the right way. He didn’t want you to be something you weren’t and he was very big on the mental side.
“(Pierce and Birely) were able to get the best out of us.”
There were no radical changes in batting stances or arm slots. Players were allowed to work within their own approach.
Risedorph lets his players be themselves within a framework.
“They need structure,” says Risedorph. “They do better when they have it.”
Since 2012-13, Risedorph has been a varsity assistant NorthWood head boys basketball coach Aaron Wolfe and the Panthers have gone 123-25 with four sectional crowns during that span.
“He showed me that you can have meaningful professional relationships with student-athletes,” says Risedorph of Wolfe.
Risedorph, who counts Matt Cox and Kevin Roberts as varsity assistants and Greg Estepp and Aaron Arnold as junior varsity coaches guiding a group of 32 players, has his practices broken down into individualized instruction, group skills and team skills.
While “Embrace the Pace” means one thing to the Nappanee Chamber of Commerce, it’s another kind of progression for the Panthers.
“There’s no down time,” says Risedorph. “There has to be a pace to our practice.
“We try to put ourselves in stressful situations. It’s so hard to simulate that stuff in practice. It comes from our pace.
“Yet we want to be calm when we do it. You cannot perform when you’re not loose.”
Risedorph says Birely used to say, “Know your numbers” — as in the stress scale.
“Sometimes you need to step back, breathe and slow your heart rate,” says Risedorph. “(The mentality is) Next Pitch. You don’t let the momentum get the best of you — good or bad.”
NorthWood players are also expected to embrace the concepts of being accountable, confident and tough.
Accountability means doing the right thing, at the right time, all the time.
Confidence entails the beliefs and behaviors that result from a passion to make oneself better.
Toughness is part of being ready, relentless and responsive.
The 2017 sectional title marked the 11th in NorthWood history and sixth since 2011. The regional championship was the program’s first since 1983.
Before landing at NorthWood, a part of Wa-Nee Community Schools and where former Bremen baseball coach Norm Sellers is athletic director, Risedorph taught for one year at East Noble Middle School and was a baseball assistant to Irons. Risedorph did his student teaching at Fort Wayne Snider High School.
A.J. and Jenna Risedorph have two daughters — Quinlynn (4) and Reagan (1). A.J. is the son of Randy and Iolet Risedorph and has three brothers — Ryan, Eric and Brayden.
NorthWood graduate Blake Cleveland is now playing baseball at Central Michigan University.
A.J. Risedorph is in his first season as NorthWood High School head baseball coach. The East Noble High School and Indiana University Purdue University-Fort Wayne graduate is back with the program after a year away. (Steve Krah Photo)
Greg Harris learned about discipline, structure and staying on-task from an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer and he’s incorporating those concepts and more in his coaching career.
“Coach 6 was very disciplined about how he went about his business,” says Harris of Tomazewski. “All of us understood the expectations he had for us — even from our field maintenance and making sure we did the right things in cleaning up and preparing the field.
“We go about our business and preparing the kids (at Riley) in the same way.”
A cornerstone of the Riley Wildcats program is character.
“We really look for high-character kids and great student-athletes,” says Harris. “Academics is a really big part of what we try to instill in our kids about life after high school.
“Our boys are all high achievers in the classroom and we tell them there’s always a place in college for them somewhere.”
Riley routinely carries a team grade-point average about 3.0 and has been at 3.8.
“From freshmen all the way through, the expectations are really high and the kids take that seriously and focus really hard,” says Harris. “It’s a testament to the kids and the parents.
“Grades come first. Academics are going to carry you a lot farther (than athletics).”
Harris and his assistant coaches — Mike Armey, Gavin Adams, Cameron Evans, Andrew Teall and Steve Fletcher — stress the importance of being good people all the time and not just on the baseball field.
“You represent South Bend; you represent Riley; you represent your family; you represent me as a coach; and we want to represent each other well,” says Harris, who is married to Sybil and has two boys — Riley sophomore baseball player Jackson Williams (16) and Gregory Harris (10). “I try to be a high-character person myself to make sure I’m representing my family, my baseball family, South Bend and my school well and those expectations stay high.”
Harris is passionate about baseball and the life lessons that can be taught through the sport.
“It helps them prepare for the world,” says Harris. “I love the relationships I’ve built with these kids.”
Adams, Evans and Teall all played for Harris at Riley and are now coaching with him.
Between the lines, Harris wants his hitters to have the ability to manufacture runs if power is not present, to make the routine defensive plays and for pitchers to throw strikes on their first delivery.
“First-pitch strike success will lead to success,” says Harris. “If we don’t throw a strike on that first pitch, the odds are a little bit different.”
Even before the IHSAA adopted pitch count rules (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), Riley coaches were keeping them low.
“We use a program when scoring the game that alerts me early where they’re at and we’ll begin to shut them down,” says Harris. “Mike Armey, my pitching coach, is really on top of that.
“Sixty-five pitches is a long day for us. We never try to over-use a kids arm no matter what.”
Competition among teammates means that players can’t get too comfortable with their position. Coupled with pitching moves, that means that there are many players who can play multiple places on the diamond.
Overall, it’s about the Wildcats giving it their all.
“We want to play the game the right way constantly,” says Harris. “If we put our best effort out there, we’ll take what we get with it. We’ve had some kids with quite a bit of talent and we’ve had some kids come a long way.”
All Riley players receive a defensive playbook that they must know and understand and are expecting to work toward increasing their Baseball I.Q.
“One day they may be parents and pass those lessons on just like I learned from Tomaszewski,” says Harris. “There are still things I believe in that I learned in high school.”
South Bend Community School Corporation has four IHSAA member high schools — Riley, Adams, Clay and Washington — plus Rise Up Academy. There are 10 intermediate centers (grades 5-8) and 18 primary centers (grades K-4).
With smaller freshmen classes than in recent years, overall athletic program numbers are down at Riley. The Wildcats will field a softball team for girls this spring, but did not in 2017.
Harris has 27 baseball players in 2018. Some will split time between varsity and junior varsity.
“We want to fill both and make sure the development is where it needs to be,” says Harris. “With the emergence of travel sports, the Little Leagues aren’t feeding into you the way they used to. With school of choice and magnet programs, kids go where they want.
“We’re trying to reach out in different areas to get kids interested in playing sports.”
New SBCSC athletic director Seabe Gavin and Riley AD Dan Kyle is encouraging high school varsity coaches to meet with intermediate school coaches and it’s likely the primary schools will also be contacted.
“We’re still trying to tap into the Little Leagues and see what they have,” says Harris, who counts South Side and South Bend South East as feeder parks for Riley. “We’re always trying have a place for kids to play baseball.”
While Little League participation is down, travel ball is up.
In the summer, Harris has coached travel baseball with the Michiana Scrappers. This year, he will coach the 16U squad for the Michiana Repetition. The program is directed by new South Bend Washington High School head baseball coach and Riley graduate Marcus LaSane.
Players are encouraged to find some kind of team.
“They need to keep playing ball,” says Harris.
Lessons are offered by Harris at Teddy Ballgames training facility in South Bend.
Harris, who is a product engineer at Dec-O-Art in Elkhart, began coaching baseball at South Bend South Side Little League and then migrated to assistant positions at Riley before following Dave Luczkowski as head coach.
The Wildcats play on-campus at Bob Rush Field. Through fundraising, baseball has found ways to upgrade dugouts and purchase new wind screens while maintaining mounds and playing surfaces.
Harris says getting a new warning track is a goal. Abig-ticket item on the wish list is a press box and lights are dream.