Tag Archives: Fairfield

Isaacs in charge of a baseball ‘brotherhood’ with Lakeland Lakers

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Banding together as baseball brothers, the Lakeland High School program has enjoyed a turnaround in two seasons with Michael Isaacs as head coach.

“We call ourselves a brotherhood,” says Isaacs. “We’ve got a group of young men to believe in themselves and believe in each other.

“Our group is pretty loose. We’re not wound tight. We’ve overcome a lot of obstacles the last couple years.”

The Lakers won a combined six games in 2015 and 2016. The first season under Isaacs (2017), Lakeland posted 10 victories.

Heading into three straight Northeast Corner Conference games — Tuesday vs. Hamilton, Wednesday at Churubusco and Thursday at Garrett — the 2018 LaGrange County-based Lakers were 16-5 and with two NECC setbacks tied in the loss column tied atop the standings with Angola.

The rest of the conference includes Central Noble, Eastside, Fairfield, Fremont, Prairie Heights, West Noble and Westview. Each team plays the other once and there is a midseason blind-draw tournament. Westview topped the Lakers 5-2 in the championship game this spring.

Lakeland is in the seven-team IHSAA Class 3A Lakeland Sectional along with Angola, Fairfield, NorthWood, Tippecanoe Valley, Wawasee and West Noble.

The Lakers play their home games on-campus. The field has received upgrades in recent seasons of new lights and re-worked dugouts.

There are 21 players in the Lakeland program, with some rotating between varsity and junior varsity as needed.

Two Lakers seniors have made college commitments — right-handed pitcher/first baseman Drew Grossman (Indiana Tech) and first baseman/designated hitter Tristan Witham (Cincinnati Christian). Juniors with college baseball aspirations are shortstop/right-handed pitcher Hunter Frost and catcher Kole Miller.

All three of Michael Isaacs’ sons are involved with the program. Oldest boy Britain, who was a Lakers catcher, is now an assistant coach. Then there’s senior Nolan and freshman Colton. The latter has rotated in enough to earn his letter in his first year of high school.

Isaacs’ other assistants are Todd Miller, Kevin Witham and Aaron Pieri.

A 1987 East Noble graduate, Michael Isaacs played high school baseball for coach Steve Nelson.

After going to Taylor University in Upland, Ind., to play football, he transferred to the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne, with the idea of playing baseball. But that was the year the Saints temporarily dropped the sport.

Isaacs coached in the Noble/LaGrange Little League out of high school then took about a decade off and got back in when his sons came along.

Besides the Little League, which serves players ages 6 through junior high, some Lakeland players are involved with travel ball organizations such as Hitters Edge and the Indiana Chargers.

The 2018 season marks the second season for pitch count rules in IHSAA-sanctioned games (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days).

“At first, I was very hesitant about it,” says Isaacs. “But then it was not that big a deal. We have mindset for the week of who we’re going to pitch how much we’re going to pitch them. It’s worked out pretty good.

“(The rule) makes you develop four or five pitchers which is good for everybody.”

With teams counting pitches, Isaacs has seen a change in the game. Instead of a pitcher using extra pitches trying to get strikeouts, he’s seen some of them aim for efficiency.

“There’s more of an emphasis on putting the ball in play and letting the defense do the work,” says Isaacs. “It’s something we’re trying to beat into (our pitchers’) heads.”

If Isaacs could change anything about Indiana high school baseball, he would tweak the class structure.

“Personally, I think the private schools should be separate,” says Isaacs, who coaches at a public school. “Now you’re tied to a class because of your size. I’d have public school divisions and the private schools could maybe a big division and small division.”

Isaacs is not an educator. He works in the recreational vehicle industry.  He is a mill room manager for Jayco’s Starcraft division in Topeka, Ind.

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Michael Isaacs (right) bumps fists with oldest son Britain Isaacs during a 2017 Lakeland High School baseball game. Michael Isaacs is in his second season as Lakers head coach in 2018. Britain is one of his assistants.

 

 

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Thompson brings NG3 values of character, community and change to Indiana

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Coaches and educators are busy people.

They are balancing practice schedules, lineups, game strategy, lesson plans and more.

Lending a helping hand in the areas of character development, servant leadership and other positive behaviors is where NG3 — headquartered in Atlanta — comes in.

The “NG” stands for Next Generation and the “3” stands for Character, Community and Change.

Jason Thompson, who has launched N3 in Indiana with Jimtown High School as the pilot in 2017-18 after spending a year learning the program while serving a school in Georgia, explains the C’s a little more.

“Character means do what you say,” says Thompson. “Community means serving others. Change means bring positive change wherever you go.”

A non-profit, faith-based organization, NG3 invests in the lives of high school students, spending time with them and teaching them valuable lessons while providing mentors in small gatherings known as “Huddle Groups.”

While Thompson and other volunteer mentors have been ever-present at Jimtown, he has also met with student-athletes at other schools in northern Indiana, including Fairfield and Goshen and has established partnerships with Jimtown, NorthWood and Triton for 2018-19.

“My hope is to add at least two schools a year moving forward,” says Thompson, a former football player at Concord High School and Anderson University who established a sports ministry at Nappanee Missionary Church. “We will have a person at each school we work with — people who are invested and embedded in those communities. Long-term, I’d like to see NG3 in every school in Indiana. That’s a big goal.

“NG3 is coming along at just the right time. I am passionate about helping people and teams reach their potential.

“We want to be present on school campuses on a weekly basis. A lot of students are probably skeptical at first. They have adults in their lives that are here and gone. It may be a parent or a coach.

“We don’t want to be a flash in the pan. We aim to be there for the long haul and model all those character traits for them.”

Thompson got involved at Jimtown through his relationship at NMC with former high school principal Jeff Ziegler and continues to work with current JHS principal Byron Sanders.

This spring, Thompson has been able to work closely with the Jimtown baseball program. He is at practice several times a week and makes it a point to be at home varsity and junior varsity contests. “We continue to build relationships. We are there be an encouragers.

“Coaches find that ‘other voice’ is beneficial to them.”

Thompson, who holds bachelor of education and master of ministries degrees from Bethel College, has helped coordinate service projects for Jimtown coach Darin Mast and other Jimmies teams and classes.

“We come in and serve,” says Thompson. “It’s about being available, being present.”

School-wide, Jimtown has about 50 kids involved in huddle groups.

These groups of generally 10 students or less meet once a week, usually in the home of one of the group’s members.

“You can get real,” says Mast of the small group. “You can do life.

“It builds much more community.”

Thompson says the goal is to get to the point that huddle groups can be offered to all students.

Mast has known Thompson for years from serving with him at NMC.

“He’s like a spiritual/mental athletic trainer so to speak,” says Mast of Thompson. “It means something to him.”

Mast continues to compliment NG3.

“I really like the concept of what they’re doing,” says Mast. “The whole point of a team anyway is bringing that togetherness.”

Mast likes taking time to build character and addressing concepts like integrity, commitment, honesty, social media, family, trust, loyalty, perseverance, teamwork and excellence and having the students define those traits and what it means when they add or subtract those from their lives. “So much time is spent with X’s and O’s and the ins and outs of the sport.

“I felt like it was something that needed to be addressed and now we have an avenue to do that.”

Mast said that coaches are ultimately graded on their won-loss record.

“That’s the No. 1 priority,” says Mast. “But I’ve failed them as a coach if I haven’t helped them become productive members of society — great workers, husbands and dads.

“It’s all that stuff goes into character development and leadership with NG3.”

Mast says the IHSAA’s InsideOut Initiative of leaving the “win-at-all-costs” culture goes hand-in-hand with the ideals of NG3.

Darin Kauffman first heard Thompson speak to the Fairfield girls basketball team during their run to the regional last winter. Darin’s wife, Lindsay, is an assistant to Falcons head coach Brodie Garber.

Kauffman, who is in his first season as head baseball coach at Fairfield, invited Thompson to address his players and plans to do it again.

“I have athletes who have not played baseball in awhile,” says Kauffman. “I wanted them to hear about being a great teammate and how we can mesh and play together. And hear it from someone outside

“(Thompson) is a great speaker. He talks at their level. I think the guys got a lot out of it.

“It’s a great program. I’m glad we have that in our area.”

Thompson sends a weekly email called “Coaches are Leaders” to a list of about 75 with tips and links to articles that reinforce the NG3 model.

“I want to find ways to serve coaches,” says Thompson.

Tim Dawson, an Indiana High School Football Coaches Association Hall of Famer, was Thompson’s coach at Concord.

“He brought passion and excitement,” says Thompson of Dawson. “He used football to teach so many life lessons.”

As he headed off to college, Thompson thought he was going to be a teacher and coach.

“I’ve come full circle,” says Thompson. “This almost better than coaching. I get to work with athletes across teams.”

Helping his along the way is his family.

Jason and Rachael Thompson, who will be married 16 years in May, have two daughters Haley (11) and Natalie (7). The family resides in Nappanee. Rachael Thompson, a Goshen High School graduate, teaches at Prairie View Elementary School in Goshen.

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Jason Thompson (second from left in back row) spends time in the dugout with the Jimtown High School baseball team. Thompson is the Indiana director for NG3 and has spent the 2017-18 school year embedded with Jimtown students.

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NG3 Indiana director Jason Thompson addresses baseball players at Fairfield High School.

 

Risedorph has NorthWood Panthers playing baseball with accountability, confidence, toughness

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

If it seems like NorthWood High School baseball players are jacked up all the time, there’s a reason for that.

First-year Panthers head coach A.J. Risedorph asked his players at the Elkhart County school and that’s the way they want to attack the 2018 season.

Several players, including seniors Payton Bear and Brant Mast (a Spring Arbor University signee) and juniors Matt Dutkowski and Alec Holcomb, return from a 2017 squad went 26-2 overall and 14-0 in the Northern Lakes Conference and won IHSAA Class 3A NorthWood Sectional and Bellmont Regional titles with Jay Sheets at the helm.

“We want to be high energy the entire game,” says Risedorph, a former NorthWood assistant baseball coach who returns as the leader of the program after a season away from the diamond. “We celebrate everything — regardless of outcome.”

A batter might see six pitches then fly out to center field.

But it’s a “quality at-bat.”

“We put a positive spin on something they would normally look at as failure,” says Risedorph. “Positive reinforcement is huge.”

In the Panthers’ first two games of the campaign (a 13-0 win against Westview and 9-8 triumph against Mishawaka), Risedorph has noticed Dutkowski coming up to his teammates and lending encouragement and that’s the kind of culture the NorthWood social studies teacher and student council sponsor is trying to build.

Risedorph wants his club to react well to adversity, something the Panthers did when down 8-7 in the seventh inning against Mishawaka.

“We don’t win that game is our guys panic,” says Risedorph. “I’m real happy with the group that we have. They are level-headed. They have ice in their veins.”

A graduate of East Noble High School (2006) and Indiana University Purdue University-Fort Wayne (2011), former right-handed pitcher, shortstop and third baseman Risedorph has drawn some of his coaching philosophies and methods from his high school and college coaches and one current mentor.

“I’ve been blessed to be around a lot of leaders,” says Risedorph.

Kevin Irons was his head baseball coach at East Noble as the Knights competed in the old Northeast Hoosier Conference (along with Bellmont, Columbia City, DeKalb, Huntington North, Leo, New Haven and Norwell).

Billy Gernon and then Bobby Pierce led the way at IPFW. Mastodons pitching coach Grant Birely also played a big role.

Irons brought Risedorph up to the varsity midway through his freshmen season and taught him plenty about the game.

Risedorph recalls the intensity of a Gernon-led practice.

“He really set a standard for that,” says Risedorph. “He made sure guys were going to buy into the program.”

Pierce took over the Mastodons after Gernon left to become head coach at Western Michigan University. Risedorph constantly picked the brains of Pierce and Birely while playing and also while serving as a first base coach during rehabilitation. Injury took away Risedorph’s 2007 and 2010 seasons.

“(Pierce) runs a very pro-style program,” says Risedorph. “He wants you to be you. He wanted players to represent themselves the right way. He didn’t want you to be something you weren’t and he was very big on the mental side.

“(Pierce and Birely) were able to get the best out of us.”

There were no radical changes in batting stances or arm slots. Players were allowed to work within their own approach.

Risedorph lets his players be themselves within a framework.

“They need structure,” says Risedorph. “They do better when they have it.”

Since 2012-13, Risedorph has been a varsity assistant NorthWood head boys basketball coach Aaron Wolfe and the Panthers have gone 123-25 with four sectional crowns during that span.

“He showed me that you can have meaningful professional relationships with student-athletes,” says Risedorph of Wolfe.

Attending his first Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association State Clinic in January, Risedorph picked up some pointers about practice structure from Notre Dame head coach Mik Aoki and outfield play from Indiana University Kokomo head coach Matt Howard.

Risedorph, who counts Matt Cox and Kevin Roberts as varsity assistants and Greg Estepp and Aaron Arnold as junior varsity coaches guiding a group of 32 players, has his practices broken down into individualized instruction, group skills and team skills.

While “Embrace the Pace” means one thing to the Nappanee Chamber of Commerce, it’s another kind of progression for the Panthers.

“There’s no down time,” says Risedorph. “There has to be a pace to our practice.

“We try to put ourselves in stressful situations. It’s so hard to simulate that stuff in practice. It comes from our pace.

“Yet we want to be calm when we do it. You cannot perform when you’re not loose.”

Risedorph says Birely used to say, “Know your numbers” — as in the stress scale.

“Sometimes you need to step back, breathe and slow your heart rate,” says Risedorph. “(The mentality is) Next Pitch. You don’t let the momentum get the best of you — good or bad.”

NorthWood players are also expected to embrace the concepts of being accountable, confident and tough.

Accountability means doing the right thing, at the right time, all the time.

Confidence entails the beliefs and behaviors that result from a passion to make oneself better.

Toughness is part of being ready, relentless and responsive.

The 2017 sectional title marked the 11th in NorthWood history and sixth since 2011. The regional championship was the program’s first since 1983.

In 2018, the Panthers are in a 3A sectional group with Angola, Fairfield, Lakeland, Tippecanoe Valley, Wawasee and West Noble.

Besides NorthWood, the NLC features Concord, Elkhart Memorial, Goshen, Northridge, Plymouth, Warsaw and Wawasee.

Many NorthWood players are part of travel baseball organizations, including the Michiana Scrappers and Indiana Chargers.

Estepp coaches the NorthWood 14U team in the summer.

“We are not short of quality coaches in this area,” says Risedorph. “It’s nice they care about the kids’ future.

“We’re very fortunate so many of these kids are putting in work.”

Risedorph says he is looking to get more involved with Nappanee Youth Baseball League and Wakarusa Baseball/Softball League.

Before landing at NorthWood, a part of Wa-Nee Community Schools and where former Bremen baseball coach Norm Sellers is athletic director, Risedorph taught for one year at East Noble Middle School and was a baseball assistant to Irons. Risedorph did his student teaching at Fort Wayne Snider High School.

A.J. and Jenna Risedorph have two daughters — Quinlynn (4) and Reagan (1). A.J. is the son of Randy and Iolet Risedorph and has three brothers — Ryan, Eric and Brayden.

NorthWood graduate Blake Cleveland is now playing baseball at Central Michigan University.

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A.J. Risedorph is in his first season as NorthWood High School head baseball coach. The East Noble High School and Indiana University Purdue University-Fort Wayne graduate is back with the program after a year away. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Prater now in charge of Tippecanoe Valley Vikings baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Greg Prater wants baseball success for his alma mater and is working toward that goal as he approaches his first season as head coach at Tippecanoe Valley High School in Kosciusko County.

Prater, a 1992 Valley graduate, spent the past three seasons as an assistant to Justin Branock (now an assistant coach at Huntington University).

As a Vikings athlete, Prater played baseball for Duane Burkhart (who is now TV athletic director) and Doug Heinold. His football coaches were Scott Bibler and Jeff Shriver.

“We had a very successful career in baseball,” says Prater, who was part of the program’s second sectional championship in 1990. “(Burkhart) wasn’t easy. He was a tough coach. He worked us hard in practice.

“I loved playing for him.”

Prater has fond memories of Bibler, who was killed along with Charlie Smith, Scott Smith and Tony Elliott in a plane accident in 2015.

“It still affects us daily around here,” says Prater. Tippecanoe Valley School Trustees voted last September to rename the school’s gridiron to Smith-Bibler Memorial Field — Home of Death Valley Football. The Bibler family helped make a new football press box a reality.

While Prater was playing at Valley, Bibler took a group to a run-and-shoot camp at Georgetown, Ky., and there was much team bonding.

“He was a Godly man, which was great,” says Prater of Bibler. “He was a great role model for all of us. I’ve tried to carry on myself like he did and be a friend when (athletes) need somebody.”

Valley’s 2018 assistant coaches include alums Clayton Adamson (pitching coach), Mike Bowers and Jarred Littlejohn (junior varsity). After a call-out, Prater expects the Vikings to field two teams this spring — varsity and JV.

A young varsity squad with four seniors and plenty of sophomores is expected to take the field this spring.

“We’ve got some good ballplayers,” says Prater. “They’ve played a lot of summer ball and played for some good coaches. That helps.”

Among the TV seniors is Trine University commit Drew Hartman.

Recent Valley players to head for college diamonds include Tanner Andrews (Purdue University), Gavin Bussard (Grace College), Alec Craig (Danville Area Community College), Eric Hammer (Northern Illinois University) and Luke Helton (Manchester University).

The Vikings are members of the Three Rivers Conference (along with Maconaquah, Manchester, North Miami, Northfield, Peru, Rochester, Southwood, Wabash and Whitko.).

Valley last won sectional crowns in 2009, 2010 and 2012. The Vikings are in a 2018 3A grouping with Angola, Fairfield, Lakeland, NorthWood, Wawasee and West Noble.

Prater, who runs a milk hauling service that allows him the freedom to coach baseball, has been involved with upgrades to the Valley baseball field. The infield has been raised, dugouts have been changed and new wind screens have been added.

“We make it sharp looking,” says Prater. “We’re getting there.”

Prater intends to get even more involved in community baseball, working with players who come up through Town & Country youth league programs in Akron and Mentone. He wants to re-establish middle school baseball, which will likely start as a club sport in the summer.

“We’re trying to catch them up,” says Prater. “They’ve just never had the opportunity (to play at the level some travel baseball teams do).”

Prater says there is talk of bringing American Legion baseball back in Rochester or Plymouth, which will also help his high school program.

This summer, Prater will help Brian Blondell, Scott Rost and Bruce Baer coach a Michiana Scrappers 15U team.

Greg and wife Amy (a daycare provider) have three children — Katie is a freshman softball player and nursing major at Bethel College, Kinzie is a junior at Valley and Layne is a freshman baseball player at Valley.

KINZIEGREGLAYNEAMYKATIEPRAGERThe Prater family (from left): Kinzie, Greg, Layne, Amy and Katie. Greg Prater is the head baseball coach at Tippecanoe Valley High School.

 

Westview’s Rahn knows little things can go a long way in baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Attention to detail.

Sweating the small stuff because it can lead to big results.

Understand that there is more than one way to do something better.

These are some of the concepts that Jason Rahn brings to his players as the head baseball coach at Westview High School in LaGrange County, Ind.

“You’ve got to be good at that stuff to be able to play at a high level,” says Rahn, who enters his eighth season as Warriors head coach after serving three years as an assistant to Joel Mishler. “We’re fortunate at Westview to be good with things that often get overlooked.”

One area where Rahn looks for improvement is on the basepaths— not just stealing bases, but being aggressive and knowing how to make a dirt-ball read to take an extra base.

“I learned quickly in college that if you know how to run bases you were going to be effective,” says Rahn, who played for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Hall of Famer Mike Frame at Huntington University and graduating from Huntington North High School, where he was on squads led by IHSBCA Hall of Famer Don Sherman and then Chad Daugherty. “You can steal a bag or catch a guy sleeping with the ball in his hand.”

Rahn expects his pitches to throw strikes. But not just pitches in the strike zone.

“Where do you want the strike thrown?,” says Rahn, who knows some strikes can’t be barreled up and others can be crushed.

Rahn goes into each practice with a plan. There is a playbook (written in a way that high school players who have many other things in their life besides baseball can understand).

“It’s repetition and building muscle memory,” says Rahn. “We break down moments and tell why we’re doing it this way. When you see the light bulb come on, you see a huge transition in the kid.”

Mishler, who has experience as a college player, college and high school coach and pro scout and is the founder of the Indiana Chargers travel organization, gets credit from Rahn for his way of teaching game situations.

“He makes it make sense for the kids. You have to realize that some of these kids are 15-year-olds.”

Another dynamic Rahn enjoys is seeing olders players explain things to the younger ones.

“You see who your leaders are just by posting the practice schedule and seeing what happens,” says Rahn.

As a young player on Sherman-coached team, he saw how he interacted with upperclassmen.

“He would push them, but he was also working alongside them as a teammate,” says Rahn. “He was teaching the game as a fan of them.”

Sherman coached the Huntington North baseball team for 38 years until he retired in 2001.

Rahn said some of his best conversations with Sherman came over the fence when first baseman Rahn was playing in college and Sherman was there to watch.

Those moments almost didn’t happen.

In high school, Rahn was all-in for basketball and thought that would be his path in college. He didn’t go out for baseball as a sophomore then watched best friend Thad Frame (Mike’s son) start at shortstop as a freshman.

An ankle injury helped Rahn decide to switch his focus away from the hardwood and onto the diamond.

He was part of a large senior class who enjoyed a special final season in 2003.

He recalls the enthusiastic words of a teammate who said he should be grateful for the opportunity to play and be outside under the blue skies.

As a Huntington University player, Rahn got close with his teammates got to know Mike Frame even better.

“When you sweat and cry next to a guy long enough, you have these tight relationships,” says Rahn. “(Coach Frame) was leading that.

“There has always been a level of intensity about Coach Frame in all aspects of life. He has never been one to not wear his emotions on his sleeve. He’ll always let you know how much he loves you. Coming from a guy who is pushing you physically and mentally, that goes a long way.”

Rahn also gained knowledge from HU assistant coaches Dennis Kas, Brian Abbott and Dave Kennedy. Kas is an IHSBCA Hall of Famer. Abbott is the IHSBCA Executive Director.

At Westview, Rahn guided the Warriors to an IHSAA Class 2A LaVille Sectional title in 2011. His team enjoyed a memorable 2014 season that included a Westview Sectional championship and 18-inning marathon loss to Lafayette Central Catholic championship game of the Whiting Regional.

Five of those Warriors had played for the Indiana Chargers.

Three of them are in college baseball — Judah Zickafoose (Northwestern Oklahoma State University), Tarrin Beachy (Huntington U.) and Jamar Weaver (Huntington U.).

“I knew they were being taught well,” says Rahn, who has also had travel ball players with the Michiana Scrappers, Hitters Edge and Elkhart Titans.

A direct feeder program is Warrior Youth Baseball, which has been overhauled and has Rahn’s thumbprint on it more than ever.

“They use more of my verbiage,” says Rahn, who will have the 12U Warriors (coached by former Westview head coach Mark Engle) playing around 60 games by July 4. There will also be a limited travel scheduled for a 13U/14U team.

Westview is a member of the Northeast Corner Conference (along with Angola, Central Noble, Churubusco, Eastside, Fairfield, Fremont, Garrett, Hamilton, Lakeland, Prairie Heights and West Noble).

Rahn’s 2018 high school coaching staff his a family feel to it. Varsity assistants include Steve Christner, Adam Christner and Nate White. Derrike Johns is the junior varsity coach.

Steve Christner’s is Rahn’s father-in-law and Adam Christner his wife’s brother.

Jason, who is employed at Jayco in Middlebury when not coaching, and Whitney Rahn first met at Huntington University.  They got to know one another better when Jason was living in Fort Wayne and Whitney was attending Indiana Purdue at Fort Wayne. The couple has three children — son Brigham (6), daughter Preslee (6) and son Sullivan (1 1/2).

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Jason Rahn, a product of Huntington North High School and Huntington University, is entering his eighth season as head baseball coach at Westview High School in LaGrange County, Ind.

Jimtown’s Mast asks players to hone in on their strengths

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

What can you hang your hat on?

That’s the question that Darin Mast asks of his players and the team as a whole as head baseball coach at Jimtown High School.

“Find out what you can do and do it well,” says Mast, who enters his 11th overall season with the Jimmies in 2018 (he was JV coach for five years before taking over the varsity reigns in 2013). “Keep the game simple. Baseball is complicated enough.”

Mast got his first impression of organized baseball and how to the do things when he reached Goshen High School and first played on the junior varsity for coach Brian Eldridge. Mast was called up from the to the varsity as a sophomore in 1988 and got to experience the first of three straight GHS sectional championships. He was a letterman when the Redskins reigned in 1989 and 1990.

By that time, Eldridge had taken over as head coach from Elkhart County Sports Hall of Famer Devon Hoffman.

Taking what he learned from Eldridge, Mast went to Adrian (Mich.) College, where Craig Rainey was just getting started (2018 will be his 25th season). Before Mast got to the NCAA Division III school, Adrian had suffered through an 0-22 season.

What he witnessed early on were players who were undisciplined and did not know the fundamentals.

“I was so thankful to come from a (high school) program that did roll out the baseball and just play,” says Mast.

By Mast’s junior year, he was part of the first Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association-winner in school history.

It was the beginning of a winning tradition. The current pack of Bulldogs won a record ninth straight MIAA crown. Rainey 619 (427 in conference play). Adrian went the NCAA D-III championship eight straight times (2008-15).

“I remember back then (Rainey) told us that people want to play us now, but we won’t be a door mat for long,” says Mast. “It’s neat to see someone with that passion and drive succeed.”

Mast finished up his playing career in 1994. While he completed his degree, he got his first taste of coaching when he joined Rainey’s staff and helped with some of the pitchers in the spring of 1995.

A chance to “fly solo” came Mast’s way that summer when he led a Sylvania (Ohio) Mavericks travel team.

He spent some time as a substitute teacher then got hired by Goshen Community Schools in 1996. Mast coached baseball at his alma mater for four seasons — two with the junior varsity and two with the varsity. In the summers, he joined Eldridge in a lawn mowing business. Eldridge died in 2014.

After Goshen, Mast taught and did not coach at Garrett High School for a year before returning Elkhart County as a teacher at Jimtown Junior High. He spent five years as junior varsity baseball coach. When Mike Stout wrapped his 25-year career of leading the Jimmies program after the 2012 season, Mast was promoted to head coach.

“Very instrumental” is the way Mast describes Stout’s impact on his career as a coach and educator. Not only did he learn when he was on Stout’s coaching staff, he is still a teacher in the building where Stout is principal.

“I can pop into his office anytime and run stuff my him,” says Mast. “He is very cerebral.”

While game situations often called for a quick decision, Mast has come to appreciate Stout’s ability to step back and examine all the angles.

“I’ve learned from Mike to think things through,” says Mast. “He is never too quick to react to something. Things are not as bad as young initially perceive them. When I was younger, I would over-react.”

Mast is now one who likes to prepare for what might happen.

“I like to know the answer before the question is asked,” says Mast. “What do I do if a kid can’t (pitch) seven innings?”

Helping him this season will be returning varsity assistants Jordan Smith and Lee Mast (Darin’s father), varsity staff newcomer Kevin McMahon (formerly at Mishawaka Marian) and JV coach Cory Stoner.

Volunteer Lee Mast is a former softball coach at Goshen High School and Goshen College.

“He keeps me out of trouble,” says Darin of Lee. “He’s my sounding board.

“Not a lot of people have had the opportunity to coach with the dads. That’s priceless. We’ve had good times together.”

Goshen is an IHSAA Class 4A school. Jimtown is in 3A.

“We have to the play the cards we’re dealt,” says Mast. “Some classes we’re stacked with good players.”

Some are a work-in-progress.

“We’re going to be young and inexperienced this year,” says Mast. “That’s OK if we learn and get better every time out.”

Mast plans a call-out for 2018 before Christmas break. Pre-season workouts begin January.

Then comes the time that the coach dreads.

“I have one bad day a year — Cut Day,” says Mast. “It’s hard.”

Mast talks to everyone who tries out for his program whether they make the cut or not. He offers pointers to those who might want to work on their game and try out again the following season.

“That’s something I will not compromise on,” says Mast. “That’s the right thing to do.”

Mast tries to project candidates, especially freshmen, based on their coach ability and attitude. He also expects them to have a decent amount of baseball ability. There is not enough time to teach the game from scratch.

About 40 tried out for the 2017 Jimmies. While he has no hard and fast number that he keeps, he likes to have no more than 14 on the JV to allows players a good amount of repetitions.

Jimtown is part of the 13-team Northern Indiana Conference (along with 2A school Bremen, 3A schools John Glenn, Mishawaka Marian, New Prairie, South Bend St. Joseph and South Bend Washington and 4A schools Elkhart Central, Mishawaka, Penn, South Bend Adams, South Bend Clay and South Bend Riley).

The non-conference schedule includes early-April and late-May dates with Goshen of the Northern Lakes Conference. RedHawks head coach Josh Keister was a player when Mast was on the GHS coaching staff.

Other NLC foes include Concord, Elkhart Memorial, Northridge and NorthWood. There’s also games with Northeast Corner Conference teams Fairfield and Westview, Hoosier North Athletic Conference member LaVille and independent Bethany Christian.

Jimtown plays its home contests at Booster Field, which debuted in 1976. The facility, which sports lights, has seen its share of sectional and regional games.

In order to get on the road quickly for away games, the Jimmies often use smaller buses so they can leave soon after dismissal.

No fewer than three of Mast’s former Jimtown players are now on college rosters. There’s Nick Floyd at Ball State University, Collin Gordon at Indiana University South Bend (transferred from Anderson University) and Blane Bender at Ancilla College.

Mast looks at Floyd as a measuring stick of what at D-I player looks like.

“Not everyone who comes through here is a college baseball player,” says Mast. “I owe it to the ones who can get to the next level to get them there.”

Mast notes that a college-bound player is one who is self-motivated to put in the extra work in baseball training and seeking out the program that fits them best.

With Mast, honesty is the best policy. Not looking to over-hype, he will tell it like it is when talking with players, their parents and college coaches.

He also has an open-door policy.

“If a player wants to know about playing time, I want him to come and ask me,” says Mast. “I’ll be honest. I’m not going to beat around bush.”

DARINMAST

Darin Mast, a graduate of Goshen High School and Adrian (Mich.) College, is entering his 11th season of coaching baseball at Jimtown High School in 2018 — his sixth as head coach. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Angola’s Roddy guides team full of three-sport athletes

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

In this era of specialization, Angola High School baseball is an outlier.

The 2017 Hornets varsity has just one player that is not a three-sport athlete at the school.

“It’s something we preach,” says third-year head baseball coach Roger Roddy, who plans to tackle a 12th season as an assistant football coach at the school of around 900 students in the fall. “Our athletic director (Mark Ridenour), football coach (Andy Thomas), (boys) basketball coach (Ed Bentley) and myself are firm believers in two things — No. 1,  we’re not big enough to compete in 4A in football and we still need all our athletes on the field (or court for 3A baseball or basketball).

“We can’t have one of our best athletes decide: I’m just a pitcher or just a basketball player.

“No. 2, if they choose not to (participate during a certain season) we all have the same message: You’re still in the weight room.”

Angola has all its athletes — from 275-pound football lineman to girls who weigh below 100 — doing the same core strength program during the school year and in the summer.

Roddy, a 1983 Angola graduate, said its not only made stronger athletes of the Hornets, but it has helped with school spirit.

“Everybody’s in (the weight room) chipping in and helping,” says Roddy. “All sports support the other sports because they have respect for them now. They all went through the same grueling workout.

“It’s special.”

When Roddy, 52, was in high school, baseball players did not lift weights. About half the players in college lifted and that was on their own and not organized by the school.

Now, incoming Angola freshmen know they will be spending the next four years gaining functional strength.

While he knows it won’t happen, Roddy would love it if the Indiana high school baseball was longer.

“Football is three months long and is basketball is three months long, four if you make a long playoff run,” says Roddy. “Baseball is packed it into two months. Not a lot of fall and winter sports people understand what a challenge that can be.”

But Angola wants the multi-sport athlete and to have success in each season so they understand there might not be much time for baseball players to get ready for their season coming out of the winter.

A salesman in his day job, Roddy was a junior varsity baseball coach for two seasons before succeeding Jerry McDermott as head coach for the 2015 season.

The former Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets pitcher (Roddy was a senior co-captain with future big league pitcher Jim Poole in 1988 and played for coaching icon Jim Morris) coached an Angola-based Yellow Jackets travel team for eight seasons, got out of baseball coaching for a short time and then answered the call at the high school.

Roger’s boys — Jake (now a Trine University baseball and football freshman) and Chance (an Angola junior) also played for the traveling Yellow Jackets. The Homan brothers — senior Jake and sophomore Luke — were also on that squad.

Jake Honer is the lone senior on a 2017 varsity team that regularly has six sophomores in the lineup.

“They’re very, very talented and they have lofty goals (in all sports),” says Roddy of the athletes in the Class of 2019. “They’ve all been sponges. They are willing to put in the work.

“We can not challenge them enough. Most sophomores are real tentative. Sometimes they’ve got more courage than they have sense, but the figure it out pretty quick.”

Angola is a member of the 12-team Northeast Corner Conference (along with Central Noble, Churubusco, Eastside, Fairfield, Fremont, Garrett, Hamilton, Lakeland, Prairie Heights, West Noble and Westview). The Hornets are in the 3A New Haven Sectional.

While rainouts have been stacking up the games and cutting into practice time of late, early Angola workouts are pretty intense.

“We work on situations, rundowns, first-and-thirds and we demand they do it right,” says Roddy, whose coaching staff includes Dan Hammel and Oshea Owens at the varsity level and Russ Tingley and Brett Neveraski with the JV team. “Us coaches will turn up the heat so when they’re in the game, they can respond. It’s not the first time they’ve been under pressure.”

Angola does a four-corner defensive drill with fielders at each base and home plate.

“We see how fast they can get the ball around,” says Roddy. A bad throw or one not right on-target is penalized with push-ups on the spot. “We explain everything we’re doing. We’re not yelling and screaming to seem like maniacs. When get a ball at third base, you don’t have all day to throw it to first.”

Roddy looks at the new pitch count rules (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days) and insists that his hurlers be more efficient and focused to avoid working so deep into the (ball-strike) count.

“What’s wrong with seven ground balls to the second baseman or the shortstop?,” says Roddy. “We have had three games where Chance (Roddy) or (sophomore Aaron) Chao ended up with 101 pitches and required four days rest. If they had 99 or 100, it would just be three days. Then you look back at the kid that kicked the ball in the third inning.

“But it is what it is. One rule to fit everybody, it’s going to have holes … I’m not worried about what’s going on in your dugout. I’ll worry about my team. It’s a trust factor with the coaches.”

For the first three weeks of the 2017 season, Roddy held his moundsmen to 35 pitches. Not because of any rule, but their arms were not yet eady to go beyond that.

Angola coaches meet each Sunday afternoon during the season to plot out who is going to start or relieve at the varsity and JV levels during the week.

Roddy tries to keep 31 or 32 players in the program with 14 dressing for varsity games.

“We’ll have kids who are starting, one on the manual scoreboard, one on the electric scoreboard, one handling GameChanger, our backup catcher warming up pitchers. Everybody has a job. That works out pretty well for us.

“(Getting all the kids playing time) makes JV coach’s hair turn gray real quick, but I love it.”

ROGERRODDY

Roger Roddy is in his third season as head baseball coach at Angola High School. He is also a longtime assistant football coach for the Hornets.