John Smolinski, who first wore a baseball uniform for Saint Joseph High School in South Bend, Ind., as a player in 2004 and was an Indians assistant coach for the past eight seasons is now Saint Joe’s head coach.
The last pitch that Brady Gumpf, now at Notre Dame, saw for Saint Joe was thumped for a home run against eventual state champion Andrean in the 2019 Griffith Regional championship game.
“I was fortunate to play for him and coach with him,” says Smolinski of Brady Gumpf’s father, John. “I got to understand his thoughts and how he thinks about the game.
“My goal is to make him proud and build upon the foundation he has started for Saint Joe.
“I’m very loyal to this school. I have big shoes to fill. It’s emotional. It’s high expectations. I’m embracing it.”
Smolinski’s senior year at Saint Joseph (2007) was Gumpf’s first as head coach. The Indians won Plymouth Sectional and one-game regional crowns and lost to future major league pitcher Jarrod Parker and eventual state champion Norwell in the Plymouth Semistate. Norwell finished the 2007 season at 35-0.
“We had a great team and a lot of seniors,” says Smolinski of Saint Joe. “There was a program chance when Coach Gumpf came in there.”
In Gumpf, Smolinski saw a competitor who respected the opposition and demanded the best out of his players and plans to emulate those qualities.
As interim coach, Smolinski led the Indians through Limited Contacted Period practice two days a week with about two dozen players.
“We did not have any positive COVID cases,” says Smolinski. “Our (practice) structure has changed. We take this very serious.”
Attendance was taken before each workout to make sure every student was able to participate. They were put into smaller groups — each player having a group number — and socially-distanced.
Coaches and players were always masked-up. He expects to have 13 seniors and 16 freshmen among 50 players for varsity, JV and freshman squads in the spring.
“It went really well,” says Smolinski. “Everybody bought into it.
“Not having the (spring) season hurt everyone (though most everyone played travel ball in the summer).
“We got after it. I got great feedback from the players. I was happy with the senior leadership. It was great to have some normalcy.”
At the end of the fall, Smolinski applied for the vacant head coaching position and went through the interview process.
Smolinski, who played four years at Manchester University for Rick Espeset before joining the Saint Joe coaching staff, was named head coach this week. Tom Washburn is expected be a varsity assistant and Dan Mentock the junior varsity head coach. There are other assistants, including a freshmen head coach, to hire.
“The last 24 hours have been kind of crazy,” says Smolinski, speaking on Nov. 4. “A lot of people have reached out to me.
“At Saint Joe, we’re a family. You can tell. People are willing to help out.”
Smolinski says players will likely get to help design an alternate jersey for the Indians. Recently, that look has featured black though the school colors are Columbia Blue and White. Coach Smo says Saint Joe will continuing to don a black cap.
Away from his coaching job, Smolinski is a self-employed social media manager that amplifies athletic accounts on Twitter including WhistleSports and FanSided.
Namisnak was a designated hitter in the title game and one of nine seniors in the ECHS lineup.
Tanner Tully led off the bottom of the first inning with a home run — one of three Blazer hits off Ashe Russell — then pitched a five-hit shutout with 13 strikeouts.
There was also left fielder Kaleb DeFreese, shortstop Cory Malcom, first baseman Riley Futterknecht, center fielder Matt Eppers, second baseman Casey Ianigro, third baseman Austin McArt and catcher Kyle Smith. Devin Prater and Nick Ponce were also seniors on that team.
Junior right fielder Jesse Zepeda was the lone non-senior in the starting combo (he went on to play at Bethel College and start the Indiana Black Caps travel organization). Junior Mike Wain was a pinch runner.
Look at the game program and you’ll see Central wearing baby blue uniforms. During the tournament run, they broke out “camouflage” tops and that’s what they wore in taking the title.
Tully pitched at Ohio State University and is now in the Cleveland Indians system.
DeFreese went on to play at Indiana Wesleyan University and become an athletic trainer.
Malcom pitched at the University of Arkansas-Little Rock and in the St. Louis Cardinals organization and became a regional sales manager.
Futterknecht pitched at DePauw University and became a regional sales manager.
Eppers, who was the 4A L.V. Phillips Mental Attitude Award winner in 2013, played at Ball State University and became a national sales and product manager.
Ianigro became an office with the Elkhart Police Department.
McArt went on to become a regional sales manager at Forest River. Malcom, Futterknecht, Eppers and McArt all landed at Forest River Inc.
“1932 was such a fascinating year,” says Wolf. “It was a pretty pivotal year in American history.”
On the diamond, there was Ruth, Lou Gehrig and the rest of the powerful Yankees, Philadephia Athletics slugger Jimmie Foxx belting 58 home runs and a tight pennant race in the National League.
The 1932 World Series was Ruth’s last. That year was also the final time he hit 40 or more home runs and or drove in 130 or more runs in a season.
The Babe had a rather un-Ruthian 1925 campaign, hitting .290 with 25 home runs and 67 runs batted in over 98 games.
“People were writing him off, saying he was past his prime,” says Wolf. “But he had a lot of gas left in the tank.”
From 1926 through 1932, Ruth hit .353 with 343 homers and drove in 1,070 runs. In 1927, his slash line was .356/60/165.
The Cubs ended up taking the NL flag even though manager Rogers Hornsby was fired after 99 games and replaced by Charlie Grimm. Hornsby was at the end of his playing days and had many legal problems, some related to his gambling habits.
“The Rajah,” who hit .358 from 1915-37 with three .400 seasons (.401 in 1922, .424 in 1924 and .403 in 1925), was known to be a prickly character.
“He did not get along well with other players, managers or management,” says Wolf of Hornsby, who was not voted a World Series share by the ’32 Cubs.
Cubs shortstop Billy Jurges was shot by his girlfriend/showgirl Violet Popovich at the Hotel Carlos on Sheffield Avenue near Wrigley and recovered in time to help Chicago down the stretch.
Wolf weaves these and other details together in “The Called Shot.”
“It was fascinating to research the ’32 season and challenging to put all the stories together for the book,” says Wolf. “I wanted to tie in the world outside of baseball since 1932 was such an important year in the nation’s history — again, the research was eye-opening for me, and I learned a lot.
“I suppose that’s true for everyone who writes non-fiction — the research exposes us to facts and characters and perceptions about events that we only vaguely knew — in my case, for example, the history of the Bonus Army.”
Wolf enjoyed studying what it was like for ballplayers in the 1930’s. They spent many hours on trains, playing cards and talking baseball. Old players mentored new ones.
In that era, there were eight teams in each league with St. Louis being the farthest point west or south. Likely for monetary reasons, road trips would take weeks. For instance, the Cubs might play games in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, New York, Brooklyn, Boston and Cincinnati before coming back to Chicago.
As the Yankees travel from New York to Chicago during the World Series, they made a stop in Elkhart, Ind., to change engines.
“Fifty youngsters charged onto the train and searched for ballplayers,” wrote Wolf in “The Called Shot.” “They found Babe Ruth and mobbed him. Ruth and other players signed autographs for their young fans, and then the youths were shooed from the train.”
The routine and relationships between the press and the ballplayers were different in those days.
Wolf notes that today’s athletes will talk to reporters after a game and then tend to their social media accounts — Instagram, Twitter etc.
“Every player is his own brand,” says Wolf. “They’re in their own world with their own followers.”
Wolf says he first began taking notes for what would become “The Called Shot” around 2000, began the writing process around 2013.
He began talking to literary agent Stacey Glick in 2007, began working on a book proposal after that and got contract with the University of Nebraska Press around 2013. He turned the manuscript over to UNP early in 2019 then did the bibliography and end notes.
“It was about a six-year process,” says Wolf.
The book came out during the COVID-19 pandemic, which was not easy with book stores being closed, book festivals being canceled and newspapers doing less reviews on baseball books.
Born in Bloomington, Ind., in 1947, Thomas Wolf is the son of Irvin and Jeanette “Jan” Wolf, who met at Indiana University. Irvin was born and raised in Wabash, Ind., attended Manchester College in North Manchester, Ind., and then got a doctorate in psychology at IU.
Irvin Wolf was a college professor. He was at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill when Thomas was 1 to 7. From second grade through high school, his father taught at Denison University in Granville, Ohio.
Irvin’s brother, Jack, attended DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind., and lived most of his life after college in New York City.
Eugene “Gene” Wolf, grandfather of Thomas and father to Irvin and Jack, moved to Wabash from Germany and was a partner in the Beitman & Wolf department store and married to Rachel Simon Wolf. The Cubs began broadcasting their games on the radio and Gene Wolf became a big fan. He would travel to see games in Chicago.
The ’32 Series was aired by the Mutual Broadcasting System, CBS and NBC.
Thomas Wolf has a bachelor’s degree from Knox College Galesburg, Ill., and a master’s in Fiction Writing from the University of Iowa.
Wolf taught at Carl Sandburg College in Galesburg, UNC Chapel Hill and Santa Clara (Calif.) University and was a testing specialist and writing consultant before focusing on writing projects.
Patricia Bryan, Wolf’s wife, is a professor at the UNC School of Law and has been teaching at the university since 1982. She was a visiting professor at her alma mater — the University of Iowa — when she and her husband toured the prison grounds at Anamosa.
Wolf has produced several articles (many in conjunction with Bryan), including “The Warden Takes a Murderer to the World Series: A Tale of Depression-era Compassion,” “On the Brink: Babe Ruth in Dennis Lehane’s The Given Day,” “The Golden Era of Prison Baseball and the Revenge of Casey Coburn” and “Jack Kerouac and Fantasy Baseball.”
There are plans to write another true crime book set in Iowa.
Thomas Wolf and Patricia Bryan have three sons — John and twins David and Mike. John Wolf (29) is a dog trainer living in North Carolina. David Wolf (27) works in the public relations department for the Jacksonville Jaguars. Mike Wolf (27) is an assistant men’s basketball coach at Purdue-Fort Wayne.
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.
Primarily a middle infielder, Barmes enjoyed 13 seasons in Major League Baseball.
Barmes is a graduate of Vincennes Lincoln High School (1997), played one season each at Olney (Ill.) Central College and Indiana State University, the latter for Hall of Fame coach Bob Warn.
While at ISU, Barmes was voted all-region and all-conference after hitting .375 with 93 hits, 10 home runs, 18 doubles, seven triples, 37 runs batted in, 63 runs scored and 20 stolen bases.
He was drafted by the Colorado Rockies in the 10th round in 2000. He played eight seasons with the Rockies (2003-10), one with the Houston Astros (2011), three with the Pittsburgh Pirates (2012-14) and one with the San Diego Padres (2015), hitting .245 with 89 homers, 415 RBI, 932 hits, 434 runs scored and 43 stolen bases.
Barmes appeared in the postseason twice (2009 and 2013) and hit .286 in the 2013 National League Division Series.
Upp is active as the head coach at LaPorte (Ind.) High School. He is a 1986 LPHS graduate. He coached the Slicers to an IHSAA Class 4A state title in 2000.
In 21.5 years, Upp is 472-197 with five Duneland Athletic Conference titles, eight sectional championships, three regional crowns, two Final Four appearances and one state championship in 2000.
He is a six-time IHSBCA District Coach of the Year, the State Coach of the Year, and District 4 National Coach of the Year. He has been IHSBCA president and served on its board of directors and numerous committees. He is a member of the IHSBCA, American Baseball Coaches Association and National High School Baseball Coaches Association.
Upp coached the 1997 IHSBCA North All-Stars and has sent several players on the college baseball with four making it to the professional ranks.
A graduate of LaPorte, where he played and later coached with 13-time Hall of Famer Ken Schreiber, played at and earned his bachelors degree from Missouri State University. He has a Masters in Administration from Indiana University and is in his 28th year in education, currently serving as associate principal at LPHS.
Scott and Pam Upp have three sons — Kevin (who played baseball at Valparaiso University), Kyle (who played baseball at Purdue University) and Travis (who currently plays at Purdue Fort Wayne).
Uggen has been the head coach at his alma mater — Blackford High School — for the past six years after 20 at Northfield and has 476 victories, 13 conference titles, seven sectional championships, four regional crowns, two semistate titles, Class 2A state championships in 2001 and 2012 and a 2A state runner-up finish in 2013.
He has coached six IHSBCA North All-Stars, 15 all-state players and 20 have gone on to the next level.
A two-time 2A Coach of the Year, he was IHSBCA North All-Star head coach in 2006 and seven times a District Coach of the Year. He has served on several IHSBCA committees.
Abbott has been the IHSBCA executive director since 2012 and spent 21 years as a high school coach, serving at Eastbrook and Huntington North.
He amassed more than 300 wins, seven county championships, four conference titles, three sectional crowns, one regional title and a Final Four appearance in 1999. Abbott is also the pitching coach at Huntington University and has been on the baseball coaching staffs of Manchester University and Indiana Wesleyan University.
Ticket information for the Hall of Fame dinner is available through HOF Chairman Jeff McKeon at 317-445-9899 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
“We wanted something similar and thus the Black Caps came into motion,” says Zepeda. “We share the same values as the Chargers did and will continue to do so.
“My philosophy is simple: I hope to build a program that is known for tradition and will help develop the kids in to the best version of themselves on and off the field.”
Zepeda considers Chargers founder Joel Mishler and former Chargers assistant coach Wes Bogan among his mentors.
“I’ve only known Joel for about a year and half,” says Zepeda of Mishler. “The man has a great baseball mind and he has taught me a lot about the game in a short period of time of knowing him — things I wish I knew when I was a player.
“I helped him run Charger practices, camps, showcases and tryouts the past year.
“I look to him for advice and tips for coaching. He almost always will have a response to it.”
Zepeda credits Bogan for showing him how to manage the game.
“I learned a lot from him and still continuing to learn,” says Zepeda of Bogan. He has been a big contributor in my young coaching career.”
“I learned so much from the coaches I’ve had throughout the years. One thing that specifically comes to mind was, ‘Don’t think, just have fun’ that one coach told the team.
“This stuck through the hardships and struggles throughout my career.”
Zepeda and Bogan will lead the Black Caps along with Derek Coy and Brant Mast.
The organization plans to do off-season training at Elkhart Sports Center will play and practice around the Elkhart/Goshen area.
Zepeda says the Black Caps will likely play in USSSA (United States Specialty Sports Association), Game Day USA, BPA (Baseball Players Association) and Bullpen tournaments around Indiana. There will be approximately eight tournaments from mid-April to mid-July with built-in development weekends.
“In those weekends, we will solely-focus on the players’ development and play one game or a doubleheader against a team,” says Zepeda. “This gives us time to really focus on what we need to improve on.”
Why the Black Caps?
“Coming up with a name was probably one of the hardest parts for us. We kicked around many different names over the course of a couple weeks and the Black Caps just resonated with us,” says Zepeda. “We wanted to try and come up with something unique and that people would remember.”
Jesse Zepeda, a graduate of Elkhart Central High School and Bethel College, has helped start a new travel baseball organization — the Indiana Black Caps. (Bethel College Photo)
Doherty played four baseball seasons at Concord and earned three letters for head coaches Cary Anderson and Mike Jackowiak. He also earned three letters in swimming and participated in cross country and football one year each and played baseball for Jim Treadway-managed Bristol American Legion Post 143 following his junior and senior years of high school and freshman year of college.
“I’m a big proponent of the three-sport athlete,” says Doherty, who will be meeting with returning seniors this week after having open fields two times a week this fall. “To be out on a baseball field at this time of year is always good at this time of year.”
While it is early in his tenure, Doherty has talked to some potential assistant coaches and has been talking with a few area head coaches about bringing back some instructional summer games, like the ones he played when he was in high school.
Another fond high school memory is of the Concord Marching Minutemen Band. He helped earn a state championship in 2003 and was drum major as a junior and senior.
The Minutemen are in an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with Elkhart Central, Elkhart Memorial, Goshen, Northridge, Penn and Warsaw.
Pat and Kelly Doherty (a 2006 Concord graduate) have been married for nine years. They live in Elkhart with daughters Addison (7) and Ryleigh (9 months).
In addition to coaching, Pat Doherty is plant manager for Lippert Components in Mishawaka, Ind., and broadcasts high school football and basketball and hosts a talk show on Froggy 102.7 FM. Kelly Doherty is about to embark on a teaching job with Headstart in Elkhart.
Pat Doherty, a 2005 Concord High School graduate, has been named head baseball coach at his alma mater. His hiring was approved Sept. 17, 2018. (Concord High School Photo)
“We’re not going to settle for ‘good enough,” says Stoner, who has been with the Jimtown junior varsity the past five springs. “We want to push ourselves and get back to competing for sectional and conference championships.
“There is a goldmine of talent here. We’ve just got to mine that gold a little bit.”
“Doing other things makes them better baseball players, too,” says Stoner. “It makes them better athletes all-around.”
For athletes not in a fall sport, Stoner just held a session to help some Jimtown baseball players get better. There was even a fall athlete who came to get in some extra work.
John Huemmer was Stoner’s head coach at Mishawaka High and has made an impact on his life.
“What a great role model,” says Stoner of Huemmer. “I remember how hard he worked for me. You could tell he was working for the kids.
“He worked so hard to get me into Bethel and improve my skills and talents. I really appreciated him as a role model and a figure and, hopefully, I can do that here at Jimtown.”
At Bethel, head coach Seth Zartman displayed a contagious zeal.
“He had a passion for the game,” says Stoner, who played all over the infield and some in the outfield for the Pilots. “Playing high school and college baseball are two different things and you find out quickly if you have a passion for the game. He brought that everyday.
“I really appreciated that from him.”
Stoner will be assisted at Jimtown by former Jimmies head coach Darin Mast, Luke Smith and some others to be determined. Smith will be the pitching coach.
“I want kids who have bought in and ready to work and get better,” says Stoner. “We want to dig into the whole character aspect and build young men who will be successful outside of baseball as well.
“I’m a big believer in the little things matter — staying mentally into games. That stuff carries over into life, too. That’s what I hope to relay to these guys and imprint on their lives.”
In order for a program to be successful, athletes must accept their roles and putting the team first.
Stoner says he’s seen that attitude so far in his years with the Jimmies and expects it to continue.
“This is a special place,” says Stoner of Baugo Community Schools. “I see that in these kids. They accept their roles, understand what it is and embrace and enjoy it.
“They want to get better in their roles because it’s about the team. That’s part of The Gold Standard — what can I do get us where we want to be?”
New IHSAA rules allow coaches to work with an unlimited number of players in the off-season, but only two times a week for up to two hours at a time.
“One of the big things that I want to focus on is getting into the weight room and growing physically,” says Stoner. “There are muscles for baseball that are different for other sports.
“And pitching is huge. We want to get that arm built up. There’s a reason pitchers and catchers come in early (for spring training) in the major leagues. You’ve got to get that arm strength built up. We’ll focus on that early.”
Stoner notes that even though rules limit off-season team activities to four times a week, that doesn’t prevent players from working on their own.
“Those are the kids that have that passion and can’t get enough of it,” says Stoner.
What changes has Stoner noticed in the education field?
“It’s crazy,” says Stoner. “Technology is huge now. We’re using (Google) Chromebooks in class and researching.
“(Technology) is also huge in baseball, too. We can get the iPad out and videotape a swing, slow it down and talk about certain points. There’s definitely connections there.”
Cory and wife Richele Stoner have two sons — Luke and Sam. Sam Stoner recently had his first birthday. Luke Stoner turns 3 in September. Cory and Richele are expecting a third boy — Cole — in December.
Kirby and Barb Stoner are Cory’s parents. Kirby Stoner is retired from the Mishawaka Police Department. Barb Stoner keeps busy babysitting her grandkids. Scott Stoner, Cory’s older brother and a social studies teacher at John Young Middle School in Mishawaka, is married with a daughter.
Cory Stoner is in his sixth year as a teacher and coach in Baugo Community Schools. After five seasons as an assistant, the graduate of Mishawaka (Ind.) High School and Bethel College is now head baseball coach at Jimtown High School. (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.
Elkhart Central beat visiting Angola 5-0 in the second game of a high school baseball doubleheader, giving Stutsman the 300th victory of his coaching career.
Stutsman and his team enjoyed cake and cupcakes to mark the moment then the man reflected on the “program” that brought him this special day.
“I’ve had great players, great coaches and great parents,” says Stutsman. “It’s an honor to get to 300 victories and someone helped in every one of those along the way.”
That includes former assistants like Scott Rost (now head coach at Elkhart Memorial), Andrew Brabender (head coach at Northridge who picked up his 200th career win earlier this season), Jim Treadway (former head coach at Concord and the long-time Bristol American Legion Post 143 manager) plus solid baseball men like Dave Hicks, Jimmy Malcom, Mike Doherty and Pat Doherty and on and on.
“Being part of the program. That’s what it’s all about,” says Stutsman. “It’s not me. Kids come and go. Parents come and go. You’ve got to have one thing and that’s the program. That’s what I’ve tried to build here.”
After serving two years as assistant to Randy Miller as he was ending his second head coaching stint with the Blue Blazers, Stutsman took over in 1996.
“I thought I had a good 20 years in me,” says Stutsman, 64. “I got the job kind of late in life in my late 30’s, early 40’s.
“I’m in my 22nd year and I feel better than when I first started.”
Stutsman, a 1971 Concord High School graduate, leads a 2017 team full of veterans players.
“They’re just a great group of kids,” says Stutsman. “They are young men who really play well together. They listen to you. They try to correct the things we ask them to correct.”
Stutsman sees a collection of young athletes that genuinely like each other and play loose.
“I said to them a couple of weeks ago that I’d rather have a team that has great team chemistry than two or three superstars on the team,” says Stutsman. “I really believe that.”
Those Blazers featured Indiana Mr. Baseball Tanner Tully (the left-hander homered and fanned 13 batters to the title game and is now at Low Class-A in the Cleveland Indians organization) plus L.V. Phillips Mental Attitude Award winner Matt Eppers (now a senior center fielder at Ball State), Cory Malcom (a successful senior right-handed starting pitcher at Arkansas-Little Rock) and Riley Futterknecht (who is wrapping up a strong college career as a left-handed hurler at DePauw).
“That was a great group, too,” says Stutsman. “They liked each other and played well together.
“Championships are awesome and people ask me, ‘why didn’t you retire after you won (in 2013)?’ and I said, “Because I’m still having fun. I still enjoy what I’m doing. I still enjoy watching them go on after high school to college or into a profession and be successful citizens. That — for me — is what coaching is all about.”
Since 1996, Central has won four sectionals (2001, 2011, 2012, 2013) with the one regionals semistate and one state title in 2013.
Stutsman’s “associate head coach” is Steve Asbury, who is in his 14th season on the Blazers staff.
“It’s scary because he knows what I’m thinking and I know what he’s thinking,” says Stutsman. “He has his responsibilities and he does them really well. It’s like I don’t have to tell him what to do.”
Lonnie Weatherholt and Chad O’Brien been with Stutsman for a decade. Brandon Squibb joined the cohesive varsity staff a few seasons ago. The junior varsity is led by Bodie Bender and longtime assistant Paul Bates (son Devin Prater played for the ’13 state champions).
“It’s nice to have your friends for your assistant coaches,” says Stutsman. “We really work well together.
“I feel like I’m just the head of the whole program and I let my assistants go and do their own thing.”
Stutsman has accomplished much of what he has without the feeder program that many Indiana schools enjoy. There is no junior high baseball in Elkhart and the local Little League parks send players on to various high schools.
Travel baseball is firmly established in the area and Stutsman knows it and accepts it — with a caveat.
“As long as they’re playing baseball and as long as I can trust the travel ball coach to make sure their arms are taken care of, I have no problem,” says Stutsman. “I think it’s good they play under different coaching philosophies.
“But when they hit high school, they know from January until the end of May they are Central ballplayers. I take great pride in making sure that the boys know that.”
Going back to the split of Elkhart High School into Central and Memorial, beginning in 1972-73, there have only been three head baseball coaches at Central — Miller (twice), Mike Lutz and Stutsman.
“I’m really proud of that,” Stutsman said. “If I could, if there’s a merger (and one is planned in 2020-21), I want to hang on until the merger and be the last Central baseball coach.”
Talk about the split has been on the lips of many Elkhartans for the past 44 years. Stutsman is no different.
“Selfishly, I’d like to see what we could do with one school,” says Stutsman. “There have been numerous years that had Central and Memorial been combined we could have went down to State. I don’t know if we could have won it all, but we could have been down there quite often.
“But that’s not why I coach. I coach for the kids and seeing them improve and making them into young adults.”
Stutsman also takes took him up on his invitation in the ‘90s to resurrect the Bristol American Legion Post 143 baseball program that was dormant for a short time after being originally started by Lutz.
“(Treadway) has done a great job and he’s taken a lot of our Central boys with the Bristol Legion,” says Stutsman.
Post 143 played its home game at Rice Field (the former varsity and current Central JV field) before moving around to various facilities and returns to that diamond in 2017.
“There’s better communication with coaches throughout the state (mostly via email and newsletters),” says Stutsman. “The pitch count (rule) that we’re doing now was needed. I know it’s a struggle with the smaller schools to find pitchers, but its good to limit the pitches.
“(The IHSBCA) does a great job. I only joined one union and that’s it.”
Steve Stutsman celebrates his 300th career coaching victory with his 2017 Elkhart Central High School baseball team after the Blue Blazers beat visiting Angola 5-0 in the second game of a doubleheader Saturday, May 6. Stutsman’s first season as ECHS head coach was 1996. (Steve Krah Photo)