By STEVE KRAH
Jaylon Cushenberry is now in charge of the baseball program at Lawrence Central High School in Indianapolis.
His hiring was finalized in November and he went about establishing the culture for the Bears.
“At LC we’ve padded our schedule. It’s a lot tougher than it’s ever been,” says Cushenberry, who won IHSAA Class 1A sectionals in both his seasons as head coach at Traders Point Christian in Whitestown, Ind. “We play teams like Zionsville, Western, Westfield, University and a couple of other teams.
“Our goal with our regular season is to play as many championship caliber teams as we can and see how we stack up.
“When you think of LC Baseball from here on out you’re going to see blue collar workers who won’t quit. We have a lot of grit and determination. “They’ve all bought into the plan — play very, very hard for seven-plus innings.”
Lawrence Central (enrollment around 2,365) is a member of the Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference (with Ben Davis, Indianapolis North Central, Lawrence North, Pike and Warren Central).
MIC teams play home-and-home series on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
The Bears are part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping in 2023 with Ben Davis, Indianapolis Cathedral, Indianapolis Crispus Attucks, Indianapolis North Central, Lawrence North and Pike. Lawrence Central has won eight sectional titles — the last in 2004.
Cushenberry, a graduate of Avon (Ind.) High School and Marian University in Indianapolis, is a Special Education Paraprofessional at Zionsville (Ind.) Community High School, where he is also defensive line coach for the football team.
Because of the timing of his hiring he was not there to guide IHSAA Limited Contact Period sessions in the fall, but Cushenberry has regularly had 35 to 40 as winter activities and expects 10 to 15 more when winter sports are complete.
The focus so far has been on getting to know one another while also teaching the game.
“We want to build a great relationship with our players,” says Cushenberry. “We’re trying to get our guys to buy into who we are.
“We want to build that mindset to be aggressive and not be passive and look for the easy way out.”
A year ago, the Bears fielded varsity and junior varsity teams. Cushenberry says if there are enough quality players LC may have three teams this spring.
Three of Cushenberry’s 2023 assistants — Conner Madding, Nolan Nihiser and Ernie Mudis — were on his Traders Point staff.
At Lawrence Central, Madding is the pitching coach, Nihiser the outfield coordinator and Mudis a varsity assistant.
In addition, there varsity assistant Jack Johnson, varsity assistant/junior varsity head coach Davon Hardy, JV assistant C.J. Wilson and infield coordinator Uriak Marquez. The Venezuelan played several years in professional baseball, including two in the Chicago Cubs system.
Cushenberry is hitting and baserunning coordinator. He will be helped on the hitting side by Nihiser and Marquez.
“Traders Point taught me how to coach,” says Cushenberry. “It taught me patience and understanding how to work with kids of lesser talent and also how to develop players at a high level.
“It also taught me how to be humbled. With every high there’s a low. Our kids found that out very quickly. You win back-to-back sectionals and are a couple or runs or mistakes from being in the regional championship.
“Baseball is a humbling game and teaches you so many life lessons.”
The Bears play on-campus on Community Health Field. Plans call for a new all-turf field with lights next to the current one in 2024.
Like Lawrence Central, Metropolitan School District of Lawrence Township partner Lawrence Central is also due to get turf fields for baseball and softball, according to Cushenberry.
Rainouts — which take away game and practice time — are significantly lessened with turf and a major reason so many schools are going to it.
“Turf is a necessity item for us,” says Cushenberry.
The Lawrence Central program is fed by Belzer and Fall Creek Valley middle schools and Fall Creek Softball & Baseball.
Among Lawrence Central graduates in college baseball there’s Class of 2019’s Zach Lane (Ball State University) and Class of 2022’s Charlie Hawk (Purdue Fort Wayne).
Class of 2024’s Ahmaad Duff is committed to the University of Alabama. Two others from that class — Nick Johnson and Bryson Luter — have been getting looks from collegiate baseball programs.
Cushenberry, who has coach with the Indiana Mustangs travel organization in the summer, was among the many Indiana high school coaches attending the 2023 American Baseball Coaches Convention in Nashville.
“It was so much fun and we learned so much,” says Cushenberry.