An opportunity to make a difference has led Dan Turner back to the Indianapolis neighborhood where he grew up. Turner was raised two blocks from the Children’s Guardian Home. “I had a good friend that lived here,” says Turner. “We used to sneak in here and play basketball.” That building just inside the I-465 circle on the near east side now houses Irvington Preparatory Academy and Turner is in his second season as the Ravens head baseball coach. IPA is the high school portion of Irvington Community Schools and is a charter school with a diverse student population. “Many students come from low-income families or part of the 21st Century Scholars program (which makes college affordable based on need and other factors). “We want to provide a safe learning environment and raise students who are respectful and prepared for the modern world,” says Irvington Prep principal Jana Goebel. “We want them to be good citizens, hard workers and successful in their life after high school. “We want everyone can go to college, but we know that college isn’t for everyone. We have a few kids every year that join the military, several do apprenticeships for the trades and some just go right into the workforce. But I would say probably 60 percent are college bound. “You don’t have to go to college, but you have to have a plan.” Says Turner, “High school baseball can’t be the pinnacle of our life.” It’s the education-focused model and a chance to better the lives of young people that that drew Turner to the school. “I think the world would be much better if we just took a little pocket and changed our pockets or our neighborhoods,” says Turner, who was hired by former Irvington Prep athletic director Teddy Rogers. “It’s about doing good. It’s about changing the culture. It’s getting kids off the gerbil wheel and making them understand that there’s opportunities in this world and we can make a difference. “If we all made a difference in our communities the big world problems would go away. This is why I like it here.” Diversity also means different ethnic and social backgrounds. Turner does not want those to be a stumbling block to learning and a successful baseball program. “We have to understand we’re all the same race,” says Turner. “We just have different skin colors. We’re all human race.” After playing no games in 2020 (COVID-19 pandemic) and 2021 (low numbers), the Ravens went 10-7 and won the Greater Indianapolis Conference title in 2022 with a roster of 14. The win total is a school record. Before the season started, several Irvington players took part in a National Scouting Report Metrics Combine at Roundtripper Sports Academy in Westfield. The 2023 team is off to a 3-1 start. Turner has high standards. “I’m tough on my guys and I’m brutally honest,” says Turner. “I don’t pull punches. “Accountability is huge. I don’t put up with excuses. One of my favorite sayings is ‘excuses are a justification for failure.’ We’ve got to make our kids better on the field and in the classroom or we’re in trouble.” Irvington Prep (enrollment around 360) is a member of the Greater Indianapolis Athletic Conference (with baseball-playing schools Crispus Attucks, Eminence, Indianapolis Washington, Purdue Polytechnic and Tindley). The Ravens are part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping in 2023 (up from 1A) with Heritage Christian, Indianapolis Scecina, Park Tudor and Triton Central. Irvington has not yet won a sectional title. IPA plays and practice three miles from campus at McNulty Park on Raymond Avenue — home to Irvington Sports Baseball & Softball. That’s the same grounds where Turner played Little League. Hans Lassiter, who played baseball at North Carolina State A&T University, is Chief Executive Officer of Irvington Community Schools. “He’s going to give us the resources to be a handful here on the east side of Indianapolis,” says Turner. “We’re going to be good. “We’re going to drive this thing to be a good program — a program that’s based off education first.” Victories are a priority for the coach. “Winning is important,” says Turner. “I think losing becomes acceptable. And when losing becomes acceptable we transfer that into our lives outside baseball.” The Ravens coaching staff also includes Orien Ogg (father of pro pitcher Kenny Ogg), Warren Belton, Jim Ellis, Roger Rebbnack and oldest son Brandon Turner. “I look at all of us as co-coaches,” says Dan Turner. “This is a team. This is a family.” Turner is a 1983 graduate of the former Indianapolis Howe Community High School. Dan and wife Trischa have been married since 1986. She is a 1984 Warren Central High School graduate who now serves as Vice President for Perioperative Services for Methodist Hosptials. The couple has four children — daughters Courtney and Brittany and sons Brandon and Bradley. All went to Mt. Vernon High School in Fortville, Ind. Brandon Turner played college baseball at Mount St. Joseph University in Cincinnati and Bradley Turner at the University Saint Francis in Fort Wayne. Turner, who is regional sales manager for TW Sales and splits his time between Indiana and Florida, has been in the travel baseball world for many years. He started with the Mt. Vernon Vipers then was with Harold Gibson (father of big leaguer Kyle Gibson) and the Indiana Bandits. Around 2010, Turner helped start the Indy Stix. The organization will field 16U, 17U and 18U teams this summer. Supplements have allowed inner-city kids to play travel ball with a chance to go to college. K.J. Rankin (Irvington Prep Class of 2024) is on the IPA and Indy Stix 16U rosters. Turner also started Lead-Off Consulting, which helps players and the parents though the college recruiting process. A few years ago, Turner went to Arsenal Tech High School in Indianapolis to assist Titans head coach Bob Haney. “I always knew the inner-city needs help — not just on the field but they need a lot of other things,” says Turner, who used his travel team to start a clothing drive when he found a player wrapped in a bed sheet to stay warm because he had no coat. “These are the things that eat at me,” says Turner. “We’ve got to make a difference.”
Hustle on the base paths helped Indianapolis Lutheran High School baseball set theft records the past two seasons. Josh Meaney, who moves up to head coach in 2023 after two years as a volunteer on Adam Gouker’s staff, will again have the Saints running. “Being aggressive is what wins ball games,” says Meaney, who saw Indianapolis Lutheran go 22-9, win the program’s 14th sectional title in 2022 while amassing 186 stolen bases. That number eclipsed the mark of 174 set in 2021. “We’re staying focused at all times no matter the situation — whether we’re down 10 runs or up 10 runs,” says Meaney. “Stay focused with the mission because at any point the tide could change. “Stay aggressive and never feel like you have enough runs and continue to put pressure on the other team.” Meaney subscribes to the system established by New York Yankees baserunning coordinator and Fort Wayne Dwenger High School graduate Matt Talarico (who spoke at the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association State Clinic in January and has addressed the American Baseball Coaches Association Convention on the big stage). “We don’t need to be fast to steal bags,” says Meaney. “It’s all about timing.” Meaney accepted the head coach job — his first at the high school level — last in the summer of 2022. The Saints took part in conditioning during the fall IHSAA Limited Contact Period. This winter, players have got in infield and outfield work on the turf football field when the weather has permitted. There’s also been weight and speed training. Pitchers have been getting used to mechanics so they are ready when it comes time to start ramping up their arms for the season. Indianapolis Lutheran (enrollment around 250) is a member of the Indiana Crossroads Conference (with Beech Grove, Cardinal Ritter, Cascade, Monrovia, Scecina Memorial, Speedway and Triton Central). The Saints are part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping in 2023 with Edinburgh, Eminence, Greenwood Christian Academy, Indianapolis Metropolitan and Morristown. Meaney’s assistants are Russell Parker, Jonas Akers and Jacob Cutter. The expectation is that there will be 21 or 22 players for varsity and junior varsity games. Meaney says the varsity and JV will not play on the same days and he and Parker will go with the JV to evaluate that group. Located on-campus next to the tennis courts and softball diamond, Dick Alter Field is the home of Saints Baseball. Meaney says new fencing is going up down the first base line. Plans call for padding to the be added to the backstop. Fundraising is being done with the hopes of adding a press box and upgrading bleacher seating. Alter coached baseball in central Indiana for four decades, including several years at Indianapolis Lutheran. The high school typically gets most of its students from four Lutheran K-8 school on the southeast side of Indy. The Junior Saints is a team for Grades 6-8 that is coached by Indianapolis Lutheran alum Bryce Lucas. “We want him to build that program and run the same style of baseball (as the high school),” says Meaney. Recent alums playing college baseball include Class of 2019’s Noah Wood (Franklin College) and Class of 2022’s Sean Moore (Lake Erie College). A 1995 graduate of Martinsville (Ind.) High School, Meaney played the outfield at Decatur Central as a freshman and the last three years with the Artesians and IHSBCA Hall of Famer Bill Tutterow. “Not too many people can say they played for a Hall of Fame coach,” says Meaney. “At the time — as a young kid — I didn’t understand what it takes to be honest with your players and let them know where they stand and treat them as young men and not children. It empowers them to work on their own which increased their ability to play baseball. “I take a little bit of that into my coaching.” Meaney also coaches for the Baseball Academics Midwest travel organization and coached many years in the Little League at Brownsburg and Decatur Central. After high school, Meaney served in the U.S. Marines from 1996-2000. He is now a laboratory technician at SRT Prosthetics & Orthotics in Indianapolis. Josh and Robin Meaney have three children — Ahkena Gaines-Meaney (18), Gage Meaney (15) and Nico Meaney (12). Gage is a freshman baseball player at Indianapolis Lutheran.
Purdue Polytechnic Englewood — a charter high school on the Near East Side of Indianapolis — becomes IHSAA baseball tournament-eligible in 2023. The Techies are part of a Class 3A sectional grouping with Beech Grove, Christel House, Herron, Speedway and Washington. Purdue Polytechnic Englewood (enrollment around 580) is a member of the Greater Indianapolis Conference (with Christel House, Eminence, Indiana Math & Science, Irvington Prep, Metropolitan, Riverside, Tindley, Victory Prep and Washington). IMS and Victory Prep are not expected to field baseball teams in 2023. Eric James, who is an IT Specialist at the school and coached offensive linemen for the past four Purdue Polytechnic Englewood football seasons, is the Techies first-year head coach for the third-year baseball program. James was an assistant to Ryan Broadstreet in 2021 and 2022. Player development is a priority for James. “At our school a lot of the students don’t come to the school for athletics,” says James. “The guys that do come out have a love of baseball. I want to see strides of improvement. That’s my satisfaction.” James is a 2013 graduate of Arsenal Tech High School in Indianapolis, where he played football, baseball and golf and participated for a short time in wrestling. He was an Information Technology major and Management Information Systems minor at Indiana State University, graduating in 2017. Purdue Polytechnic Englewood players participated in the Indianapolis RBI program in the summer and fall. “That allowed them to get more reps and opportunities to play the game,” says James, who is assisted by Donald Baker III and Derrick Strode and expects around 18 players for a varsity-only season at Purdue Polytechnic Englewood in the spring. “We’re trying to get some recognition so our guys can play at the next level.” The winter IHSAA Limited Contact Period is going on now. “We’re just trying to get in as much of the fundamentals as possible,” says James, who has his Techies improving their footwork, agility as well as catching and throwing techniques. “We’re putting emphasis on fundamentals and why they do things and how it effects them on the field. “We’re getting them as much baseball knowledge as we can.” James attended his first Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association State Clinic Jan. 12-14 in Indianapolis. He picked up many pointers on drills, strength and conditioning and more. “It was very informative,” says James. “I did enjoy my time there.” The Schweitzer Center at Englewood houses Purdue Polytechnic Englewood and Paramount Englewood (elementary). The schools are in the renovated P.R. Mallory Building. Techies athletics use the facilities at T.C. Howe Community High School located about two miles to the east. Purdue Polytechnic North is located in the former Broad Ripple High School. The Lynx have separate sports programs.
Has it really been a generation since Indiana widely adopted high school class sports? Of course there were classes in football going back to the 1970s, but check the records and you will find that 1996-97 (when Jasper outlasted Carmel 10-8 for the IHSAA baseball championship) was the last year that other sports were in the all-comers category at state tournament time. With the COVID-19 pandemic taking away the 2020 spring season, that makes 2023 the 25th year of class baseball in the Hoosier State. In the multi-class era, 56 different schools have won state baseball championships. Of that number, only Jasper, LaPorte and Penn earned titles prior to 1997-98. There are 22 schools with multiple state runner-up finishes. That accounts for 60 red ribbons — all but 12 coming from 1997-98 forward. Noting that some schools came about in recent years because of consolidation, unification or other reasons, those that won their first sectional championship during the multi-class era include 4A’s Elkhart (2021), Evansville Harrison (1999), Fishers (2017), Fort Wayne South Side (2012) and Michigan City (2002), 3A’s Angola (1999), Charlestown (1999) and Hamilton Heights (2006), 2A’s Austin (2002), Central Noble (2009), Clinton Central (2005), Covenant Christian of Indianapolis (2008), Delphi (2008), Fairfield (1998), Hanover Central (2011), Heritage Christian (2005), Illiana Christian (2022), Lewis Cass (2000), North Decatur (2011), Parke Heritage (2021), Sheridan (2004), South Knox (2004), Southwestern of Hanover (1999), Southwood (1999), Taylor (1998), Triton Central (2003), Whitko (2017) and Woodlan (2005) and 1A’s Argos (1998), Bethesda Christian (2008), Caston (2012), Christian Academy of Indiana (2004), Cowan (2004), Daleville (1999), Edinburgh (2009), Elkhart Christian (2013), Eminence (2005), Fort Wayne Blackhawk Christian (2001), Fort Wayne Canterbury (2009), Greenwood Christian (2014), Hauser (2004), Henryville (1999), Indianapolis Lutheran (2017), Kouts (1998), Marquette Catholic (2002), Milan (1999), Monroe Central (2001), Morgan Township (2004), Morristown (1998), New Washington (1998), Northeast Dubois (1998), North Miami (2019), Oldenburg Academy (2003), Park Tudor (1998), Pioneer (2016), Randolph Southern (2010), Rising Sun (2002), Seton Catholic (2011), South Central of Elizabeth (2005), Southwestern of Shelbyville (1999), Tecumseh (2000), Traders Point Christian (2021), Trinity Lutheran (2009), Triton (2000), Washington Township (1999), Union City (2012), University (2012), Waldron (2001), West Washington (2021), White River Valley (2017) and Whiting (2008). A quarter century in, there are still plenty of opinions in the Indiana high school baseball community about the system. These questions were posed to several coaches around Indiana:
Is class baseball a positive or a negative?
Who benefits the most from class baseball?
If you could change anything about class baseball what would that be?
“(Class baseball) is a positive. It has allowed schools of all sizes to be recognized and have some success at the state level while increasing fan interest in our sport. The players and the communities truly benefit the most from class baseball, in my opinion. “The IHSAA does a great job of administering the state tournament and ending each year at Victory Field allows our sport to be showcased on a big stage! However, the tournament format itself needs to be addressed, especially at the sectional level, and we can’t continue in a ‘one size fits all’ cookie-cutter format. Our sport is different than others and our tournament format needs to reflect that. Seeding, success factor, and travel also need to be looked at in light of the fact(s) that class sports are here to stay and there are geographical constraints/factors based on the location of the school(s). “Baseball in general is changing for the better in Indiana … the IHSBCA and the IHSAA need to continue to work together on formats/philosophies/participation guidelines that foster growth in our sport and develop a mutual relationship where everyone’s input is valued. We, the IHSBCA, have several ideas to share about the state tournament format/setup and how we can better grow our sport, in general. We are all stronger when we are working together and my goal as the Executive Director is to help facilitate positive changes that will grow our sport and unify our coaches at the same time.”
“(Class baseball) is a positive. “I assume that smaller schools are more likely to benefit so they play teams that are more competitive. “I would support adding a fifth ‘super class’ of the largest schools and then balance the rest of the four classes.”
“Class baseball is definitely a positive thing. It levels the playing field for teams when it comes to player depth and facilities. “For example, a school with an enrollment of 2,200 has a lot more players to work with and pull from than a school with an enrollment of 300. Both teams can be good and have good players, but the bigger school is very likely going to have more depth. The smaller school is likely to have one really good pitcher where the bigger school is likely to have two, or even three really good pitchers. As a result, the bigger school would have a big advantage in the sectional and regional. “The other way it levels the playing field is when it comes to facilities. Bigger schools tend to have nicer facilities to train and practice in during the off-season where some schools, usually the smaller ones, don’t have anything close to the facilities of larger schools. Many schools either can’t get access to the facilities they have during the off-season because other in-season teams are using them for practice or games, or they just don’t have the facilities or space period. “It can put teams at a big competitive disadvantage when they can’t train or practice the way they want to and need to during the off-season, and I think class baseball helps in this regard because schools that have similar enrollments tend to have similar facilities. “Everyone benefits from class baseball. The smaller schools obviously because of what I mentioned in my previous answer to the first question, but also the larger schools. When you’re competing for anything, let alone a state championship, you want it to really mean something and be a challenge. It’s what competing is all about. It’s not going to mean as much when a school with an enrollment of 2,200 plus kids goes up against a school with an enrollment of 300 plus kids and beats them in a sectional or regional. They should be able to do that again referring back to what I mentioned in my previous answer to the first question. “Not only would they win but they wouldn’t have to throw their No. 1 pitcher to do so and would have them available for the next game, where the smaller school would likely need to throw their best pitcher in that situation. And if they did win, do they have a pitcher that could compete and win against another team with a large enrollment…not likely. “There are two things I would change about class baseball, and one of them is being talked about right now. First, I would seed the postseason. It’s frustrating when you have teams that have done really well during the regular season and they meet in the first or second round of the sectional, and there are teams that didn’t fair as well in the regular season getting a bye in the first round and/or playing another team that didn’t do as well in the early rounds. “It’s something I feel wouldn’t be too difficult to do or set up and it would make the postseason better and provide even more meaning to the regular season. I like that everyone makes the postseason because you can have something happen with injuries and get a player back, or a team hasn’t quite figured things out yet but later in the year they do and are still in it. “But, there needs to be something in place for teams that do better in the regular season. I think seeding the sectional would be really good for Indiana high school baseball. “The other thing I would change is going from four classes to five classes. Again, for all the reasons I’ve mentioned previously. Many times there’s such a large gap between the teams in 4A. I think going to five classes would help this and it’s something the IHSBCA and IHSAA are talking about and looking into. “The success factor has worked well and is set up well. How they have it set up is good and I think it’s accomplishing what they wanted it to.”
“There’s no doubt that class sports have provided more opportunities for athletes, coaches, schools, and communities by creating a level of fairness with classified state tournaments. I understand the traditional approach of one class and experienced it as a player as we advanced to the semistate finals as a small school (at Western) in ’93 and ’94. But as a coach, the class system allows for accomplished small school teams to aspire to be state champions instead of hoping to win a sectional in a one class system. “All stakeholders of a school’s baseball program (benefit most from class baseball). Having ranked teams and winning championships builds a greater sense of tradition within communities and raises interest amongst school children, faculty, and administration. Players and coaches benefit from the sense of accomplishment by developing a highly competitive team within a post-season setting. “I would make the tradition factor a four-year stay in an elevated class — not just two years. Those who are state champion caliber teams seem to continue to dominate the current landscape. Also, if a team moves up in class and wins a sectional, regional, etc., a system needs to be created to keep them in that class because they are showing the ability to compete. “We need to restructure our tournament. Six-team sectionals and format need to be uniformed. Only the sectional final should be played on Memorial Day. We’d have two-team regionals, four-team semistates and seed the tournament. “We are the only sport that, based on pitching restrictions (pitch counts and days rest) and may not have our best lineup on the field in a championship setting. Too many sectional championships are decided by Team 1’s ace dominating vs Team 2’s bullpen because of weather, graduation or the draw. Basketball will always have their point guard.”
“There have been a lot of positives (with class baseball). There have been some very good smaller schools that have gotten the chance to experience state tourney runs that might not have happened in areas where there were perennial large school programs had too much depth for the smaller schools. I think that has been a good thing for Indiana high school baseball. “Small schools with open enrollments and the ability to reach out from beyond what would be considered a normal attendance area have done extremely well (in class baseball). This, however, is not entirely the fault of class sports. Open enrollment and increased club and travel athletic teams have opened up a whole different experience for high school athletes today. “High school athletes are far more likely to travel further, meet and become friends with new teammates outside of their own school in the off-season and subsequently more likely to travel further away to attend a school of their choice. In a way I can’t blame them. Unfortunately, that choice often comes with a greater financial obligation and not all athletes and their families can afford to do so. Smaller schools have benefited in some areas directly. That’s not necessarily a criticism of the class sports, it’s the trend and we aren’t going to a one-class tourney.”
“Overall (class baseball) is a positive. At times, schools being up a class or down a class will dictate how successful they can be. “The smaller schools probably benefit most (from class baseball). Winning a sectional would be a huge feat for a small school (during the one-class era). I know it was for us (at Northwestern) when we played in the sectional with Kokomo). “There’s talk of the IHSAA going to a five-class system. I’d probably be in favor of that. If you’re going to do class might as well break it up a little more. “How are sectionals are being distributed and seeding of the tournament would take much more priority over how many classes there are. “Let’s set up a season where the regular season is more meaningful and the better teams are meeting at the end (with semistate- and state-caliber games at those stages rather than at the sectional level). “I like the way Ohio (has seeded). The way I understand it, teams have been ranked off their MaxPreps ranking. Head coaches have a meeting. If you’re ranked No. 1 you pick your sectional. If you’re No. 2 you pick your sectional and you’re probably not going to put themselves in the same sectional as the No. 1 team.”
“(On the positive side,) class baseball provides more kids, coaches, and communities an opportunity to be a state champion. (On the negative side,) prior to class baseball we were used to minimal travel. We’ve also lost the local rivalries because of class baseball. “Good smaller programs who were fundamentally sound yet they usually didn’t have the pitching to advance deep into the tournament (benefit most from class baseball). “I would place all private schools into Class 4A or 2A. The success factor has helped every two years, but you still have those schools who dominate every two years they move down. “I’ve coached at the 4A and 3A level and even though I am at a 3A school, I would still rather compete against local rivalry teams rather than class baseball. However, we will never return to a one class system and I understand why!”
“Class baseball is a positive and helps balance the playing field. Since I’ve been coaching, I believe all but just a few schools that have made the State Finals in 4A are in the top 32 in enrollment in the state. “Baseball is a game where you are not always putting your best 9 or best team on the field depending on pitching rotation and availability of arms. “The larger enrollment typically means there are more available players trying out, which creates a greater opportunity to development quality depth in your pitching staff. That is one advantage that bigger schools have. So, the idea of class baseball helps to control some of the variables on both sides of the field. It is not perfect, but it is a way to try and help control some of the unique variables that are different in baseball than other sports. “I believe the top half of each class benefits the most from class baseball, especially at the 3A and 4A levels because the range of enrollment is so much bigger from the smallest school to biggest school in those classes. The range in enrollment in 1A and 2A is much closer from top to bottom. “I don’t really want to go down this path, but the private schools also benefit from class baseball, especially in 1A, 2A, and often 3A. Private schools are not limited to school district lines and are able to draw from a wider range of students compared to the smaller enrollment schools in 1A and 2A. “Not really answering the question, but if I could change anything about the IHSAA tournament, I would make the regular season matter and seed the tournament (or at least seed the teams that feed into the regionals). “You might not be in the same sectional each year if you are seeded from the regional level. I would also create double-elimination rounds at the different levels (sectional, regional, etc.). Similar to the thought above that you are not always putting your best team on the field depending on pitcher availability, a double-elimination tournament would help to insure the best team advances and not just the team with the best pitcher and the best blind draw. “Classes need to be set by a specific enrollment range and not try to keep every class the same size. I would add a fifth or even a sixth class and set the range for the enrollment so that each school in the class is close to the same enrollment size. If that means that one class only has 32 teams, another class has 48, another class has 64, and another class has 96, then that is what should be done and would help make the tournament as fair as possible.”
“Overall (class baseball) is a positive. It has given a lot of smaller schools a chance to be successful and show some of these coaches at smaller schools can really coach. “Smaller schools definitely benefit the most (from class baseball). Some of the teams that have won state championships would never make it out of their sectionals if we were one class. Nothing against them but when schools have 2,000 students to pick from they are going to have a lot more athletes and in the sports that require more players like baseball and football that makes a big difference. “(I favor putting) private schools in their own class. I think they have such a huge advantage. Not because they recruit or anything like that, but they tend to get the players that are more apt and able to do the extra things such as lessons, travel ball, etc. “Overall (class) been good for sports in Indiana. I know Silver Creek has won three state championships in boys and girls basketball in the past four years and made we have made some long runs in baseball. Not sure we would have been able to do that in one class. If you ask any of those kids that were on the state championship team and I am sure they could care less whether it was one class or four.”
“I have no issues with class baseball. I like competing against other schools my size because they have the same issues (positive and negative) that I have. “(Class baseball) definitely helps the smaller schools being able to compete against other schools their own size. “Baseball is a sport where a dominant pitcher can have a great bearing on the game. I remember playing Bremen in the semistate in ’94. (John Glenn head coach) John Naldony has had some very good teams that can compete against larger schools. “As far as changes, a double-elimination sectional would be interesting. I am not sure if a five-class baseball system could accommodate that.”
“Wapahani is in favor of class sports. I believe it makes sports a more even playing field. We won the state in 2014 in 2A, that would not have happened if there was one class. “Our girls volleyball just won state, which is a big deal for small communities, they lost to Yorktown twice and HSE (Class 4A finalists) all were sweeps and not really close. “Even though our team in 2014 and our girls last week were very good, competing against the bigger schools in the tournament would be very difficult. That being said, our State Championships are still a very big deal for our community, school, and students. “Therefore, class sports are a positive. As little league participation in small communities keep losing kids to travel ball and other activities small school numbers are seeing less kids playing baseball and softball unless they have a successful program which is a minority. “Small schools at least feel like they have a chance to win in the tournament and maybe even a state championship when they are playing schools close to their same size. Very few 1A or 2A teams can compete in the tournament with the bigger schools, once they realize that kids quit playing or go to another sport where they might have a chance to win. “The current format is fine for the tournament. Adding additional classes or a class would benefit big schools only in my opinion. Four classes has been a success. Can you tweak things? Maybe. But why change if it is not broken?”
“I like the one-class system but also know that class sports are not going anywhere so we can take the positives from it and live with it. “It is probably the small class schools and communities that benefit the most as they typically have a greater opportunity to advance when playing similar size schools. “Class sports are here to stay so one change I’d like to see for baseball would be the tournament run in some way that has a series feel to it as baseball is not a sport that is suited for a ‘one and done’ tournament.”
“I’m fine with class sports but concerned about the impact of some private and parochial schools that seem to put great emphasis on athletic success which can make it difficult for public schools to compete on an annual basis. “Class sports are here to stay but this situation and the number of transfers at public schools are the next challenges for the IHSAA.”
“(Class baseball) is a positive. It has created more excitement for more schools and their fans. “Probably the smaller schools feel as if they have a better chance to experience sectional and regional championships than when it was one class. “The only drawback (in class baseb all) I could see is you may have farther travel but in your sectional pairings than when it was one class. When I played in the single class, your sectional would be more local. It would have teams of various sizes, but we seemed have greater rivalries because many times you played against those teams in the regular season or against those players in your summer leagues. “As a coach today, I want to play the best schools we can (no matter the size). I want to prepare ourselves for our conference and sectional. When I was a player, we wanted to be able to compete with Logansport, Kokomo, Marion and LaPorte. Today, we want to compete with Andrean, Jasper, Brebeuf and Southridge.”
“(Class baseball) is a positive. I witnessed first-hand what the state tournament does in small communities. The student-athletes have a more balanced playing field. “The benefits go to the teams that advance the furthest in the tourney. Without class baseball a 1A could defeat a 3A or 4A school in the tournament on a given day. However, in most cases those smaller schools don’t have the depth, especially with pitchers. “We are at the point that we need to look at the number of classes. I would be in favor of adding a fifth class. The current disparity in school sizes is extremely large in the upper class. With the growth and addition of smaller, private schools, other mid-size schools are being bumped up. “The biggest problem facing our tournament currently is the number of schools in the sectionals. Host schools have roughly a week to host a sectional tournament. “Depending on your sectional, you could have anywhere from 5-8 teams in that sectional. Huge difference between five and eight. In a five-team sectional the winning team would have to win two or at most three games, and could possibly do that with two pitchers. In an eight-team sectional, the winning team would have to win three games and would possibly need three if not four pitchers in that 5-7 day window for the games.”
“(Class baseball) is a positive. It levels the playing field for all schools, especially the ones that are not in that top quarter or so. “The smaller schools and even the medium-sized schools benefit the most. “The thing that football did with the Top 32 (being in the largest or super class), I’d like to see that in the other sports. There are different things you could do with the other four (in a five-class system). You could divide it up evenly. There’s been discussion of capping 1A at 128. There’s a big discrepancy right now between the bottom of 4A and the top of 4A. “(The Indiana Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association) has talked about running data and see how people would fall. There would not be (an) equal (amount of) schools in every class. We’re still in the process of gathering information. The IHSAA was at our last two athletic directors conferences and present for those discussions.”
“Class baseball will have a positive effect on high school baseball. I think that it levels the playing field for the state tournament. Also, having class baseball will allow more schools the opportunity to earn a state title just like with football’s six classes. “I believe that the smaller schools will benefit.” “It would be fun to see all state title teams play in a small tournament to see who is the best of all of the classes.” “Even with the change to class baseball, there are very good teams at each class level. It will still not be an easy road to get the opportunity to play at Victory Field.”
“Had class sports been in place (when I was at Clinton Prairie) I may have never left. One of the things class sports does is that you can achieve everything positive you want to achieve from a goals standpoint. “Class sports kind of levels the playing field during the state tournament. I had some terrific teams back at Prairie. In five years, we won two sectionals. “A disadvantage for class sports is that when you get to a bigger school like Noblesville there’s no ceiling on the enrollment. “Believe it or not once we went to class sports Noblesville had the smallest enrollment in our sectional at 1,250 (Clinton Prairie was around 300). “If I were at Clinton Prairie I’d welcome it as a smaller school. I might have one really good pitcher that could help me compete against anybody, but in most years would have a drop-off in pitching depth. “At Noblesville — a larger school — I have the chance to have more depth. In baseball it always comes down to pitching. You can be good in a lot of areas of the game. If you have a question on the mound you’re going to struggle.”
There’s positives and negatives for everything, but it’s good for baseball to have class. “If we expand to another class it’s going to be even better. It makes everyone feel like they have a chance. If you’ve got the right group of guys you can win. “At the State Finals you see a difference between the 1A game and 4A game. The lineups are deeper at the bigger level. The 4A game is little more of a college game than a high school game. “The smaller schools probably benefit more (in class baseball) than the bigger schools). “In baseball, it’s how the pitching lines up. “I like how Iowa does it. They don’t start baseball until the end of April and their tournament’s in July. I don’t know if that will ever happen here.”
“Class baseball is a positive (but classification should be addressed) … The number of schools in each class doesn’t need to be the same. “Breakdown of each class needs to be more than an arbitrary enrollment number. There needs to be thought into why the lines of demarcation are made (spread, standard deviations, range). Athletic department size (percentage of the student body participating in each sport should be used for classes) could be used to determine classes. “Many large schools have very small baseball programs. Some small schools have very large baseball programs in terms of numbers. The class system should be used to place a school into its appropriate level of competition, not just for the number of students that attend a school. There are many other variables to consider.”
“I don’t know if (class baseball) is a positive or a negative per say. I played when there wasn’t any classes and I think the class system has taken away for the local rivalries. Now depending on your class and the location of your sectional, you may have to travel up to an hour to play in sectionals, although more teams have the opportunity to win a state championship, a win over a neighborhood rival might mean more, bragging rights. “There are eight teams every year who have the opportunity to play in a state championship game so that’s a benefit (to class baseball). More players, coaches, and schools who have a chance to experience a state championship game. “I’m not sure that I agree with the success factor movement (for all schools), aside from private schools you may be punishing kids who aren’t even in high school because current classes are winning. In small towns you may have a group of kids who all hit at once and then the next year they have nothing, those young men, in the current format are being punished for the success of prior classes. “For me it comes down to the local excitement, the rivalries, the competition between kids who know each other, who’ve grown up playing each other since little league. That’s what’s I believe is missing with the class system. Coming from a coach at a small school I know that if there wasn’t a class system the likelihood of us winning a sectional would go down dramatically, but just think if we would ever knock off one of the local big boys, it would be remembered forever.”
“Overall you can’t make a real argument that (class baseball) is a negative. You’re putting more kids and more schools in successful situations. I get that part. “We were fortunate enough to win eight sectionals (at Northeast Dubois) which wouldn’t have happened in single-class. “That being said, I’m not sure its been a positive for small-school athletes as far as recognition goes (for all-star consideration or scholarships). “The smaller schools were the target when this all started 25 years ago.” “There are private schools that have it better than other private schools (some have thrived and others have had a hard time fielding a team).”
“Class baseball is a positive for the most part. The obvious plus is that there are more ‘winners.’ The big negative in my opinion is that schools lose local rivalries. Pre-class era, we had great rivalries with all the local schools because you were going to potentially play one of them at the sectional or regional level. Those teams and games are now just another game on the schedule unfortunately, especially in my neck of the woods. “Terre Haute South and Terre Haute North are on a ‘big school island.’ We have to travel at least 50 miles to play another 4A baseball team. It was much easier to have a rivalry with say a West Vigo, South Vermillion, Sullivan, etc. before class baseball because we would most likely see them in the state tournament. It is difficult to have a rivalry with a school that is located in or around the Indianapolis area. “The IHSAA can expand to five classes for baseball — that’s fine. But, in my opinion, the private schools need to have their own class/classes.”
“I think class baseball has been positive even though I was a little skeptical when it first started. “Class baseball probably benefits the smaller schools the most because it gives them a realistic chance in the tournament. “The biggest thing that I think that could help class baseball would be looking at creating a separate parochial school class.”
“Having been a high school football coach for 40 years and a head high school baseball coach for 45 years, I have seen the ‘evolution’ of class sports here. My connection to friends and relatives in neighboring Ohio and Michigan has also allowed me to ‘watch’ the evolution of class sports there. In my early years (1981), I was part of Leland Etzler’s Woodlan football staff that went to the Class A state championship game vs. Hamilton Southeastern. There were three classes of football at that time compared with the six we have now. The game was played outdoors in a blizzard on November 20, 1981 (the night before my wife and I were married). It was an awesome experience for everyone connected to the small town communities of Woodburn and Harlan, Indiana. That puts my vote on the positive side of class sports in general and class baseball in particular. “In 2007, I was fortunate enough to be part of the Class 2A baseball championship game at Victory Field with my Heritage Patriots. We came up short to a powerhouse from South Spencer, but once again it was a tremendous experience for the communities of Monroeville and Hoagland. Players, parents and fans were the biggest beneficiaries in both cases. “I have seen point systems both here and in Ohio. I have seen other limited entry systems where not everyone gets to participate. I have seen ‘seeded’ systems (currently in Ohio) where top seeds are given regional choice and early round home games. Later rounds are played at ‘neutral’ sites. There are good and bad characteristics to all of these hybrid systems — depending on where you fall in the ‘rankings.’ I feel that things continue to evolve and therefore should only get better in the future — as long as we keep all kids in mind.”
“I believe it to be positive for the student-athletes throughout the state as class baseball has provided opportunities for schools of all sizes to compete with more of a level playing field. Being at a smaller school for five years (Delphi) and now at a bigger school for the last 11 (Harrison), I have been lucky enough to see several outstanding programs and coaches at all levels. “While at Delphi, we were fortunate enough to advance to the 2010 2A state championship game. While I would like to say we’d compete well in a one-class system, the truth of the matter is, we would have struggled to compete against bigger schools in a two- or three-game sectional (or regional) due to the differences in depth of our roster in comparison to bigger schools. “At Harrison, we have been lucky enough to have several arms that we could run out in an elimination game. At Delphi, that number is quite smaller, which would have really hurt us if we were to play vs. bigger schools in a two- or three-game sectional (or regional). That is a huge competitive advantage for the larger schools and something that is beyond the control of smaller schools. When class baseball started, it provided schools of all sizes the ability to compete on a level playing field in each of the four classes.
“I really see (class baseball) as a positive for the lower classes. Class A and AA have the opportunity to get a State Championship and not have to butt heads with the larger schools. In Class AAA and AAAA, there’s not as big a difference in talent.”
“Class baseball is both positive and negative in my mind. You lose some of the regional rivalries although you could still play local/smaller and larger teams on your regular season schedule. We certainly have more sectional champions and more kids are able to enjoy success playing baseball so that is a huge plus. It leaves more kids with positive experiences while in high school and playing our great game. “I would have to think that the smaller schools benefit the most from class baseball with all respect to them. Our state has tremendous coaches and programs at all levels. Again the opportunity for kids at those schools to be able to compete in the state tournament and enjoy success is a great benefit. “I’m not sure there is much to change for the better — possibly a Champions Tournament but on the flip side it may be rough to win a title and then turn around and possibly get beat. Basketball got away from it, obviously. Some schools have to travel quite a bit for sectional play, but again not sure if there is a way around that. “Baseball at the 3A level on a whole rivals the baseball being played at 4A. Jasper and Andrean’s success when they bumped up is a testament.”
“As in other sports, classification was created to level the playing field keeping schools with similar enrollment sizes within the same bracket and to also create more winners per sport. Classification has added hope to teams who may otherwise not have it if they are put into a sectional with bigger schools. To be perfectly honest most of the time the bigger schools just have access to more choices, such as players, facilities and money. “The smaller schools benefit the most from classification. It has allowed talent to grow and flourish, as having an opportunity to win a sectional breeds hope, which makes it easier to get kids out to play. “I would create a separate class for private schools, the advantage that they have can not be matched by the public school. I will say open enrollment has helped, but the private schools have distanced themselves a lot especially in baseball. “I like where we are at with baseball in the state of Indiana. The training facilities and opportunities that our kids have after high school has grown since I have been in the game the last 20 years.”
“I am somewhat of a traditionalist, so a single class had a little soft spot in my heart. That said, there are some benefits to a class system. The class system allows for: 1. More state winners, 2. A chance for smaller schools to compete at a high level, 3. It helps promote the game of baseball in the state. “I would say the smaller schools and the schools that fall just under the class limits (benefit the most from class baseball). What I mean by that is if the top 101 enrollments go to 4A, school number 102 has an advantage because they are playing in 3A. The private schools also benefit from the class system. “If we are to stay in the class system (which we will), I would say that for baseball there needs to be five classes instead of four. “Another change I would enact would be to not separate by an equal number. If there are 400 schools, it doesn’t need to be 100 in each class of four. “A final change would be the success factor rule. The requirements need to be adjusted, mainly the length at which they must stay up a class should be longer. “One thing that class baseball hurt (along with class basketball) was the community sectionals. I graduated in ’93 when it was still one class and I remember that all the sectionals in every sport were heavily-attended. The attendance has gone down in terms of sectionals.”
“Class baseball is a positive thing, especially for schools with lower enrollment. It helps create a somewhat even playing field for tournament play. Class sports have allowed for multiple smaller enrollment schools to have teams thrive and have success that may not happen if class sports didn’t exist. “Class baseball has allowed our kids to compete against schools of like enrollment. It has allowed our school to enjoy tournament success. It has allowed our school and community to host sectional and regional tournaments, whereas without class sports, we may have not had these opportunities. “I understand the log jam in class sports that occurs at the 4A level, especially in larger city schools. Oftentimes top teams match up early in a tournament, which I am sure is frustrating for those programs. “Overall, class baseball has been a positive thing, especially from the Caston baseball programs perspective. We feel as though it provides parity for our kids, and it gives them a chance to be successful in tournament play. Like in any system, there are pros and cons, but our feel is this has more pros than cons for our student athletes.”
“Class baseball is a positive thing. Teams get a chance to play vs comparable sized teams, better chance for success in state tourney. “The lower classes (benefit most from class baseball) as they all have a legitimate chance for tourney success. “My thoughts about change, which I presented to LaPorte AD, Ed Gilliland, over five years ago is this: All classes play their sectionals. Winners would then meet up in a demographic regional competing with those winners meeting in a four-team semi and finally in a final four State Championship tournament. I actually broke it down statewide with who goes where potentially each stage. This give each class a chance for a sectional title and a tourney overall state champion. I also put this idea for basketball as well. “IHSBCA has done a tremendous job in supporting high school baseball. Baseball and basketball are sports where small schools can compete vs. larger schools. My format would appease all schools with a chance for a sectional trophy, but let’s see one overall state champion.”
“(Class baseball) is a positive. “Smaller public schools definitely benefit the most from class ball. “I don’t feel there is anything wrong with our classification system. There will always be some argument that private schools should perhaps have their own division.”
“I am from the group that favors the one-class system when it comes to the tournament. I think in baseball you can still be competitive with bigger schools if you are a smaller school. “If you have four or five classes then you really don’t have a ‘state champion.’ You have four or five ‘state champions.’ “If you want a true state champion then, let the class winners compete against each other a week later and really come up with a ‘state champion.’ Until then, you just have ‘class champions.’” “If you are going to have class state champions, why are big schools and little schools playing during the regular season?”
“Class baseball is a positive thing. I would say I grew up as a traditionalist and loved the single-class basketball era; however, I’ve grown to appreciate the advantages/disadvantages that come with the size of schools. “Classifying baseball is something that benefits all programs, schools and communities. At the end of the season, eight communities get to compete for the state title at an amazing stadium. Maybe that will soon expand to 10! “I am excited to see the potential of a fifth class built into the state tournament. This would help create more balance among the classes once it is all said and done. It would be interesting to see how things would shake up if multipliers were given to various things like private/public schools, free/reduced percentages, etc. I’ve heard arguments for the success factor to be implemented differently as well. I am not sure it’s entirely fair that the success of graduated juniors and seniors determines the fate of the rising freshman and sophomores who were not directly a part of that success. “I would love to see consistent sectional/regional alignments across as many team sports as possible. I feel this would enhance the rivalry aspect of the state tournament from a sectional/regional standpoint.”
“For us, class baseball has certainly been a positive. Realistically we don’t have the manpower to compete in a tournament with the larger schools. It gives us something to shoot for, and a legitimate chance to win tournament championships. “All small schools benefit from class baseball. Even at the state tournament there is a very noticeable difference in the talent level between the class A game, and the Class AA game. Larger schools have 4-5 times more kids try out for their team. Valpo has over a hundred, we typically get 20 boys out per season.”
“(Class baseball) has been a real positive for high school baseball. Although every once in awhile you have a team you feel can compete in any class, the class system gives teams a level playing field on a more consistent basis. “The kids and community benefit most (from class baseball). At the end of the day when you are a state champion, none of those kids or community identify as a class state champ, they identify as a state champion and the memories from that success. “Baseball should be a double-elimination tournament in order to get a true team champion. A team can eliminate a really good team in a single-elimination tournament with a dominant pitcher. “In 2008 we had Tyler Watts and Kevin Kiermaier get seen by the Parkland College coach because we had the opportunity to advance in the state tournament in Class 2A. They both went to Parkland and Kevin is having a pretty good major league career.”
“In our area, the vast majority of schools are 3A and 4A. I’m not sure it makes a ton of difference one way of the other. I’m sure for many small schools, (class baseball) provides some positive benefits. “(Class baseball) is beneficial for some of the smaller schools that may not have a chance for success against bigger schools. “There should be other factors involved in the equation when classifying schools. You’re not always comparing apples to apples when you look at enrollment numbers. You can compare similar-sized schools and athletes in one district that do not necessarily have the same opportunities and resources that athletes in another district do.”
“(Class baseball is a) very positive thing. Enrollment is definitely not the only factor, but it does make a big difference. It’s not realistic to think that small schools can compete consistently with the higher enrollment schools. The depth that the larger schools have because of numbers and the in-team competition that brings gives them a major advantage. Larger schools often have more resources — including indoor facilities and more coaches that is also advantageous for them. “The benefits from class baseball can be seen throughout all classes. The idea is that schools are competing against similar schools is good for all. “I would actually like to see five classes. The descepancy between the biggest schools in 4A and the smaller schools in 4A is very large. We have schools with over 3,500 students competing against schools that have less than 1,500 students. That is a major difference that brings some big advantages for the larger schools.”
“At Rossville, we benefit from class baseball. I cannot speak for any other coaches or programs but my guess is most would say that smaller schools and/or private schools benefit from the most. With that said, sectionals are generally aligned by geographical location so my guess is a 4A Sectional in the Indianapolis area might not see significant change if we had one class. I could be wrong though. “I would love to see baseball do something like basketball did for a short time with the Tournament of Champions. Baseball — unlike basketball or football — has what I consider to be an equalizer with pitching. It would be neat to see it played out. “I am a fan of the old school single-class system as well. I don’t know what it feels like winning a sectional in a single-class system and I do not want to undermine how special winning a sectional championship is. It is a great accomplishment and there is a great amount of pride felt from the program, school and community. “With that said, I would think winning one in a single-class system would feel different for small schools because of the enrollment differences with the teams you would have to beat.”
“Class baseball is a positive. It creates an opportunity for more competition across the board. “Smaller schools with fewer arms benefit the most from class baseball. Larger schools with more pitchers only are at a great advantage over the smaller schools whose best position players are typically also their best arms and usually have far fewer pitcher-only type players. “I would love to play three-game series in the postseason rather than the one-and-done model. I’m not sure it is even possible and have no idea how they could arrange it but I think it better fits baseball. You would get the better TEAMs winning sectionals as opposed to the team with the best arm or two winning them.”
“(Class baseball) is mostly positive. It gives hope for many of the smaller schools to earn a sectional, regional, semi-state ,and state championships. “The negative would be private schools seem to be earning most of these championships. “Private schools (benefit most from class baseball). In the lower classes, private schools have been piling up the state championships. “I would like to have three classes of public schools and one or two classes of private schools.”
“I am old-fashioned, I began coaching when it was a one-class system. I liked the rivalries and going to the local areas to play the sectional games (playing at home or in Terre Haute or Brazil against Northview, Terre Haute North Vigo, Terre Haute South Vigo or West Vigo). “The reason I bring it up, I felt that it was some Hoosier Hysteria in baseball. It was the local teams playing in a sectional and no one had to travel a great distance.
“It is a benefit for a smaller school to advance farther in the (class baseball) tournament. It takes away the big upsets, but more have a chance to reach the state.”
“Class sports has worked out to be a good thing for everyone involved. The competitive nature of each class is relative and that gives everyone the opportunity to see different teams in different years be successful. “The smaller schools most definitely benefit the most due to the shear numbers that are limited they have to choose from. This allows them to compete against like size schools and provide a great experience for the athlete.
“I think the way the IHSAA has it set up is good and there’s not really much to change.”
“Overall class baseball is a positive. It allows for a more-even level of competition. If we look at the schools with larger enrollment it is more common (especially now with pitch count rules) for them to compete with schools their size who have a similar pitching staffs.
“(Who benefits the most from class baseball is a two-pronged answer. On one hand you have smaller schools 1A, 2A, even 3A who have had more of a chance to compete and have success against schools their size. Again, looking at depth of pitching on those levels it creates a more even playing field. Second answer would be the private/parochial/preparatory schools. They have had more success than most public schools in the tournament, yes they fluctuate in classes because of success factor, but also they have the advantage of being able to set an enrollment where public schools do not.
“Maybe add one more class, I’d like to see just what that would look like. Northview is at the top of the 3A scale so that may move us to the bottom of 4A. I don’t know how that would effect everyone. Also maybe look at a multiplier for the private/parochial/preparatory schools in sports like other states have done. Other states have done it and I think it does create a more even system.
“Overall I think class baseball is great. I think however we could all look back to the days of the David vs. Goliath matchups which brought in huge crowds. I would also like to say that I’m not trying to bring anyone down in this because right now I would argue the state of Indiana has as much baseball talent as any state in the Midwest. The coaching in our state has been really great. I enjoy competing against these coaches from all the different classes and I think baseball in Indiana is as good as it has ever been and I think with the classes we’ve seen some great tournaments and will continue to do so in the future.”
“I think (class baseball) is a positive. I was fortunate to have some teams make deep runs in the tournament during my career that likely would not have happened under a one-class system. In fact, one of my best teams at Northfield was during the one-class era and we were beaten by what is now a 4A school. Had that been a class season, we may have had a chance to win state, minimally, made a deeper run. It provides a few more teams the chance to finish as champions thanks to a more level playing field. “More communities (benefit from class baseball). When we came back into town after our first championship years ago, there were thousands of people in the Kmart parking lot waiting for us. Then we took the fire engine ride through town and spent the next week getting treated like royalty … That was a great experience for the community of Wabash and the players and their families. All have a memory that will last a lifetime. In the one-class era, very few small communities got to experience the state level. “(Class baseball) is pretty good overall, but I would like to see a more consistent schedule set at the sectional level for all sites as much as possible. That is hard to do since some sectionals have lights, others don’t, and trying to work around graduations. But host schools have the slight advantage of setting a schedule that best suits their pitching staff. Of course, weather can play havoc to the best of schedules and no matter how the schedule is set, someone will still likely be unhappy. “There’s some talk about a slight revamp of the class system to help break down the large enrollment gap between the top and bottom 4A schools. Like most, those at the bottom of 4A just want to have a more balanced system. I appreciate the IHSBCA and IHSAA exploring possible options.”
Joe Kutch has long taken a leadership role in youth sports in and around Sullivan County, Ind. Kutch (pronounced Kootch) is entering his eighth season as head baseball coach at North Central Junior/Senior High School in Farmersburg. He was junior high coach for about five years before taking over the varsity Thunderbirds. After years as an assistant, Kutch became North Central’s head football coach midway through the 2021 season. The Thunderbirds won their two sectional football titles with Kutch on the staff — 2018 as defensive coordinator and 2021 as head coach/offensive coordinator. COVID-19 hit Kutch the first week of September and he was in the Intensive Care Unit for nine days and missed three football games. He is still on oxygen. But he still coaches, teaches Automotive classes at North Central (through a co-op with Ivy Tech in Terre Haute) and works for Sullivan Auto Group. The Nashville (Tenn.) Auto-Diesel College graduate got his teacher’s license through Ball State University and began teaching eight years ago. Kutch is an alum of Terre Haute North Vigo High School (Class of 1988). While still in high school he started organizing non-high school athletics. As an adult, Kutch once ran the Northeast Youth League, Tri-Towers Softball League (which once had 500 players and was a pilot site for Major League Baseball’s Pitch, Hit & Run contest) and is still on the board of the Southwest Youth Football League (formerly Quad County). Joe and Dianna Kutch have been married 28 years and have two sons — Austin Kutch (North Central Class of 2014) and Brayden Kutch (Class of 2017). Both played football and baseball for the Thunderbirds and graduated from college (Austin from Indiana State University and Brayden from Indiana University). North Central (enrollment around 260) is a member of the Southwestern Indiana Athletic Conference (with Bloomfield, Clay City, Eastern Greene, Linton-Stockton, North Daviess, Shakamak and White River Valley) for baseball and basketball. Eastern Greene and Linton-Stockton have been IHSAA Class 2A schools on the diamond. Shakamak was a 1A state runner-up in 2021. “I like the competition,” says Kutch, 52. “We take our sports serious. We compete every year in every sport.” In 2021, the Thunderbirds were part of a Class 1A sectional grouping with Bloomfield, Clay City, Eminence, Shakamak and White River Valley (the 2021 host). North Central has won eight sectional titles — the last in 2011. During the IHSAA Limited Contact Period, North Central has 26 athletes who have indicated that they plan to play baseball in the spring. “Most of my key players are playing basketball, like six of the starting nine,” says Kutch. “(Our numbers) will will drop when we get to mandatory practice (March 14).” Kutch, pitching coach Andy Fuson and hitting coach Brian Raber make up the current Thunderbirds staff. A few volunteers when official preseason practice begins. The Thunderbirds play home games on-campus. A ball over the right field fence could reach U.S. 41. A few years ago, infield dirt was upgraded. The facility has a grass infield with brick dust running lanes. About a decade, a brick press box was installed. The high school shares the field with the independent junior high program. “You need junior high baseball,” says Kutch. “You need a feeder system to keep your program going.” Connor Strain, a 2012 North Central graduate, pitched at the University of Evansville and in the Los Angeles Dodgers minor league system.
At 51, Roger Hasper still plays the game. He’s also sharing his love of baseball with youngsters — many who are experiencing it for first time. Hasper plays in the Indianapolis Baseball League and has competed in 25-and-over, 35-and-over and 45-and-over leagues. He came back to the diamond as a player at 41 after a two-decade absence. He has been a second baseman and third baseman and in his 35-and-over league, made the all-star team as a pitcher. “I throw a change-up and off-speed — 75 (mph) at the most,” says Hasper. “I use (hitters’) aggressiveness to my advantage.” IBL games are played at a variety of high schools with more than half at Grand Park in Westfield. Hasper is also the head baseball coach at Indianapolis Metropolitan High School and an English Language Acquisition Paraprofessional at the Goodwill-affiliated institution with an enrollment of about 275 about 1.5 miles northwest of Victory Field that caters to “students with barriers.” “We’ll get kids as juniors and seniors who are credit-deficient,” says Hasper. “We don’t get many freshmen.” Hasper started the program in February 2020 — a few weeks before the COVID-19 shutdown took away that season. The revamped revamped Pumas debuted in 2021 as a club team and finished the season with 10 athletes. Only one had played baseball before. “We have really good athletes here,” says Hasper. “It’s just changing their mind from basketball and football to baseball. “We had a really fun year last year.” Hasper, who was the lone coach last year, says there’s been a groundswell of baseball interest at the school. “I’m looking at 20 or 30 kids,” says Hasper. “If that’s the case I’ll definitely need some (coaching) help.” In 2022, Indianapolis Metropolitan will a bona fide IHSAA team with orange, blue and white uniforms. Metropolitan is a member of the Greater Indianapolis Athletic Conference (with Crispus Attucks, Eminence, Indianapolis Washington, Irvington Preparatory Academy, Purdue Polytechnic, Tindley and Victory College Preparatory). Last year, Metropolitan played two games against Purdue Polytechnic — one at Howe. Next spring, Hasper hopes the Pumas will be able to play and practice at either Howe or Rhoadius Park. Hasper got his coaching start at Herron High School in Indianapolis where he assisted Rusty Hughes for five seasons (2015-19). As a high school player and student, he attended what is now Prosser Career Academy in Chicago into the start of his junior year before moving to California and finishing at Los Angeles Baptist. He then went to College of the Canyons, a junior college in Santa Clarita, Calif. Decades later, he’s been taking two courses a semester at Ivy Tech in Indianapolis to finish his degree. Hasper says he plans to give many of his players a chance to pitch in order to cover the pitch county requirement and because of lack of stamina for those just learning mound skills. “I wouldn’t want to hurt anybody,” says Hasper. “Give me a good two (innings) and we’re good.” Hasper also sees baseball as a leverage tool. “You’ve got to get the grades to make the team,” says Hasper. “It’s bigger than baseball.”
Baseball players at George Washington High School in Indianapolis are analyzing data in an attempt to get better. Coach Kyle Carlisle’s Continentals have been going through individualized player development this fall and are crunching the numbers and studying the video. They are looking at on-base percentage, quality at-bats, batting average and more to improve the offensive side of the game. GameChanger clips are being used to change hitting mechanics, plate approach, defensive tendencies, etc. Indianapolis Washington is even doing a little scouting for the 2022 season. This effort is player-led. Carlisle provides the means and lets the athletes take it from there.
Carlisle is heading into his third season (second on the field since the COVID-19 pandemic took away the 2020 campaign).
The Continentals made great strides during the 2021 season, with four players earning First-Team All-GIAC honors. Senior Alfonso Gonzalez was an all-conference catcher and Indianapolis Washington’s 2021 Male Athlete of the Year. Junior outfielder Isaac Kolela earned First-Team honors, boasting a .333 batting average, and .500 OBP. Sophomore standout Frank Amador earned First-Team honors by posting a win vs. Purdue Poly on the mound in the conference tournament, pitching five innings, with 11 strikeouts and only three walks. Sophomore third baseman Darnell Stewart earned First-Team with a .400 batting average, and .600 OBP. His biggest moment was the walk-off single to send the Continentals to the GIAC Tournament Championship game. Carlisle teaches fourth grade at Phalen Leadership Academy 93. He also runs Carlisle Baseball Academy and gives lessons all over the city and consults for travel and youth teams.
“It almost doesn’t feel like work for me,” says Carlisle of coaching baseball. “I love doing it.”
Scott Hicks, George Washington’s athletic director and former Indianapolis Cathedral High School and University of Notre Dame basketball player and longtime Cathedral varsity basketball coach is in Carlisle’s words, “Is our biggest supporter.” Carlisle went on to say, “Scott has done an amazing job in being a mentor to my development as a varsity coach.”
There are challenges in every program and Carlisle and assistant coach James Tradup have their own unique obstacles. Indianapolis Washington went 11 years without baseball prior to Carlisle taking his first varsity head coaching job to reboot Continentals’ baseball.Washington’s “home” diamond is at Indy Sports Park, which is about 10 miles south of campus. The teams’ practices on-campus on a converted softball field and roll in portable mounds.
Indianapolis Public Schools are a “school of choice” – which essentially means that students living in Indianapolis, that attend public schools, can choose where they go to High School. No specific middle schools feed Washington.
“Coaching in the city is the hardest thing in the world to do,” says Carlisle. “We have to build relationships with families whose students play middle school baseball and/or travel ball in the city to commit to George Washington. “And based on proximity to where those families live, can be a hard sell. We hope to build a reputation that does recruiting for us soon.
”While there have been no commitments yet, Carlisle notes that he sees potential college players throughout his team.
A recent graduate received college baseball offers but opted to join the U.S. Army. Coach Carlisle is a 2007 graduate of Flint (Mich.) Kearsley High School. Carlisle was a pitcher for two seasons each at Olivet Nazarene University (Bourbonnais, Ill.) and Grace College (Winona Lake, Ind.). His head coaches were Todd Reid at ONU and Josh Bailey at Grace. Carlisle earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education from Grace in 2012 and holds a Master’s Degree in Organizational Leadership (2015) and a Master’s Degree in Psychology/Life Coaching (2017) from Grand Canyon University (Phoenix). Kyle married his wife, Valerie, in 2013. They reside in Speedway, Ind.
The Class of 2021 played a part in a 14-11 baseball season in 2018 — the first winning season in program history since 1976. The Spartans went 17-9 on the diamond in 2019 and lost the 2020 season to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“They’ve contributed so much to our school,” says Ingels, who heads into his eighth season as Southwestern head baseball coach this spring and is also a boys basketball assistant and head cross country coach at the school where he is also a Social Studies and Physical Education teacher. “They’re pretty special kids and great students.
“When you have really good players it makes the coach look smart.”
Of the Spartans’ six seniors (Anick Harstell, Christian DeArmitt, Ethan Wending, Chance Johnson, Blake Dunbar and Kirk Van Gorden), five played as sophomores with Hartsell, DeArnitt, Wending and Johnson in the starting lineup.
Two juniors (Aiden Hartsell and Jordan Jones) started as freshmen. Matthew Clements is a talented sophomore who grew up in the Indiana Bulls organization. Southwestern lost two players to graduation in 2020.
Ingels’ 2021 assistant is South Dearborn High School graduate and Franklin College senior Alex Smith.
The Spartans could see Triton Central in the Shelby County Tournament at Morristown on May 8.
There are 17 players in the Southwestern program. Ingels says a few junior varsity games will be sprinkled in to get younger players some playing experience.
The Spartans play home games on-campus at the Jeremy Wright Athletic Complex.
The high school program is fed by a junior high club. Seventh and eighth graders play some games in the spring then take part in the Babe Ruth League at Edinburgh during the summer.
“It’s really beneficial,” says Ingels.
Ingels, played tennis for Kevin Rockey, Rodney Klein and Pete Khensouri, basketball for Steve Todd and baseball for Derick Bright and Brian Ingels (his father) at Edinburgh High School and graduated in 2002.
Todd was the first to talk to Chris about coaching and gave him the opportunity to volunteer with the Lancers.
“(Bright) was a really good baseball coach,” says Ingels. “He changed the way we practiced. Everything was structured. In (batting practice), we’d have two-strike swings, hit-and-run swings, bunt, hit to the right side and swing away.”
Brian Ingels, who had been head football coach at Edinburgh when Chris was young and a longtime cross country and track coach at the school. He was Bright’s assistant before stepping in as head baseball coach for his son’s senior year. The Industrial Arts instructor is currently in his 43rd year of teaching at Edinburgh.
Ingels began coaching boys basketball before finishing at Franklin College in 2007 as an assistant to Edinburgh head coach Todd Tatlock.
After that, Ingels aided Kerry Brown then Toby Carrigan at South Dearborn before helping Brent Keck at Perry Meridian. He is on Brady Days’ staff at Southwestern.
Lance Marshall, the Franklin College head baseball coach, has let Ingels sit in on Grizzlies practice and has offered advice.
“He’s a great guy,” says Ingels.
Ingels values his relationships and connections to his young athletes.
“Through baseball you are dealing with a lot of failure and adversity,” says Ingels. “You’re trying to get kids to be able to handle that and push their way through it and succeed in the end.”
Ingels sees a lot of lessons in baseball.
“It starts with preparation and having to put a lot of work into each little part,” says Ingels. “That adds up in the end.”
The coach appreciates the team aspect of the sport and that you’re
“A lot of people think baseball is an individual sport on your own island at each position and getting your stats at the plate,” says Ingels. “It’s the ultimate team sport when it comes down to it.”
One player can’t carry the whole load.
On the offensive side, Ingels sees worth in batting average. But that doesn’t rank first in his eyes.
“On-base percentage is so much more important,” says Ingels. “We’ve got to get men on base.”
While the Spartans may not chart it in 2021, there will be discussions about quality at-bats.
“Sometimes a groundout to the right side can be productive,” says Ingels.
Holtsclaw, who was recently named as the Cardinals head coach, is a 1991 Bloomfield graduate and recalls the competitive teams of the past. In the pre-IHSAA class days, the Cards went to Bedford for the sectional.
These days, Bloomfield is part of a Class 1A sectional grouping with Clay City, Eminence, North Central (Farmersburg), Shakamak and White River Valley. The Cardinals’ two sectional titles came in 1970 and 1971.
Bloomfield (enrollment around 250) is a member of the Southwestern Indiana Conference (with Clay City, Eastern Greene, Linton-Stockton, North Central of Farmersburg, North Daviess, Shakamak and White River Valley).
“We’ll have our work cut out for us,” says Holtsclaw. “But we want to get back to playing good, solid baseball.”
Holtsclaw has coached travel ball with the Washington-based Bombers, in the Bloomfield youth league (which spans from T-ball to major league) and, the past couple of springs, with the junior high program at Bloomfield. It was started a few years ago as an independent organization by Shane Evans and is now affiliated with Bloomfield School District.
The coach notes that it’s important that the gap between major league and high school is filled to build and keep some kind of momentum for the sport.
“We have to keep as many kids involved in baseball as possible,” says Holtsclaw.
Some years, there have been enough sixth, seventh and eighth graders for an A and B squad. Last year, there was just an A team playing games between April and early June on the high school field and high school rules.
“We want to get them used to expectations of the high school kids,” says Holtsclaw.
What about the Cardinals’ home facility?
“It’s a quirky little field,” says Holtsclaw. “It has fairly short dimensions. The school property ends at the right field fence.”
The right field fence has been raised and there is talk of raising it again.
“Maybe we can sell sponsorships and have our own Red Monster in right?,” says Holtsclaw.
After IHSAA Limited Contact Practice this fall, the school plans to put down new sod and refresh the dugouts. On the wish list is also the expansion of batting cages and an upgraded sound system.
Being a small school, sharing of athletes is a must at Bloomfield. This fall, Holtsclaw has had 16 athletes come to voluntary baseball workouts. Of that number, 14 are in one or more fall sports.
“Time on the diamond is so limited,” says Holtsclaw. “But we can work on defense and arm strength.”
Pitching and defense will be a priority for the Cardinals on Holtsclaw’s watch.
“That will keep you in every ball game,” says Holtsclaw. “Over the years here, we’ve had struggles developing enough pitchers.”
The coach says he approves any steps the IHSAA will take to assist in arm care and development.
“They could give us a little more time to get kids’ arms ready to go,” says Holtsclaw.
With one spot yet to be filled on his coaching staff, Holtsclaw counts Mike Sherrard and Bill McIntosh as Bloomfield assistants for 2019-20.
Holding undergraduate (1995) and law degrees (1998) from Indiana University, Holtsclaw became a deputy prosecutor in Greene County in 1998 and has been the county’s elected prosecutor for the past 13 years.
Jarrod Holtsclaw is the new head baseball coach at Bloomfield (Ind.) Junior/Senior High School. He is a Bloomfield graduate.
Hardy teaches his youngsters how to play the game. But the teaching and the mentoring to does not end with a game or practice.
“I’m very involved with the boys,” says Hardy. “I’m not just a coach between the lines. I’m their coach all the time.
“I’ll help in any way.”
Hardy has his own remodeling business and he has some of his players help with cleaning up job sites, painting, drywalling and other handy skills.
“It keeps them out of trouble,” says Hardy. “We’re constantly stressing the importance of being a good person.
“It’s God, family, baseball and the classroom. It’s the total package.”
For players wishing to go to college, he will do what he can to make that happen.
“I’ll help in getting them tutoring,” says Hardy. “We stress the student-athlete.”
Former major league pitcher Justin Masterson, who lives in Fishers, Ind., came by practice last week to talk about faith, family and baseball with the IPA crew.
Hardy has watched his players come so far in the time he has been at Irvington Prep.
“Now that my (original class of) freshmen are juniors, I’m seeing a pay-off,” says Hardy. “That’s my satisfaction.
“That’s a W in my book.”
The inner-city high schools in Indy include Indianapolis Public SchoolsArsenal Tech, Crispus Attucks, Shortridge and Washington. Besides Irvington Prep, others include Herron, Howe, Manual, Providence Cristo Rey, Purdue Poly and Tindley. This spring, Howe and Washington did not field a baseball team.
What is now known as Irvington Prep Academy opened in 2006 as Irvington Community High School. The original location was on East Pleasant Parkway and is now home to Irvington Community Middle School on East Pleasant Run Parkway. IPA is housed in the former Children’s Guardian Home on University Avenue.
Baseball and softball teams play about three miles away in Irvington Park on Raymond Street.
Before landing at Irvington Prep, Hardy was an assistant to Jerry Giust at Broad Ripple.
The IPA Ravens went against the Broad Ripple Rockets a couple times before the latter IPS high school was closed.
Giust was the one who suggested that Hardy look into becoming a head coach.
“He knew I had been around the game for a long time and saw the enthusiasm I approach the game with and my knowledge,” says Hardy of Giust. “I loved him for it.”
Hardy graduated from Broad Ripple in 1997 after moving from South Bend, where he grew up. He went to South Bend Washington High School for three years and was drawn to swimming to fight his asthma. He was also drawn to baseball. He competed in summer ball before leaving for Indianapolis. Washington’s varsity and junior varsity both won summer titles.
“I loved the way the game was broken down,” says Hardy, who played as a sophomore and junior in a program then led by Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Ric Tomaszewski, who learned much from South Bend coaching legends like Jim Reinebold and Len Buczkowski and LaPorte’s Ken Schreiber.
“The knowledge T gave us was phenomenal,” says Hardy. “He told us everybody has a job to do.”
Players at each position were supposed to know the duties of the other players on the diamond.
Rain in the first half of the season means IPA will be trying to make up many games leading up to the postseason.
The Ravens are part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Eastern Hancock, Heritage Christian, Indianapolis Howe, Indianapolis Scecina Memorial, Knightstown and Triton Central. Irvington Prep has been competing in the tournament since 2013 and has not won a sectional title.
Hardy and fiancee Sandi have been together for seven years. They have one child together — Isaiah. He has three other children (Josiah, Iyanah and Ariyana) and she has two (Sylvanna and Gianna). Josiah plans to play baseball next year at Herron.
Davon Hardy (foreground) is the head baseball coach at Irvington Preparatory Academy in Indianapolis.
Former major league pitcher Justin Masterson delivers the baseball during an Irvington Prep Academy practice.
Former major leaguer Justin Masterson visited coach Davon Hardy and his Irvington Prep Academy baseball team to talk about faith, family and the game.