By STEVE KRAH
Advancing the player and the person is the driving force behind the Jaguars Baseball Baseball Organization, Inc., based in Lafayette, Ind.
“We focus more so on youth development — all the skill sets,” says Matt Chandler, who founded the Jaguars in the early 2000’s and is in the second year of a re-boot with a 13U squad in 2020 — his 31st year as a baseball coach. “We cover the intangibles that rec ball may not provide.
“We emphasize body and athletic development before we even get to the baseball training.”
Using the gym at Sunrise Christian Reformed Church in Lafayette and Family Sports Center in West Lafayette, the Jaguars do strength and speed work as well as learn about pitching, hitting and fielding.
Chandler says there is an emphasis on arm care, including recovery.
“There is a specific way we develop our pitchers,” says Chandler. “The kids experience what they’re going to experience in high school if they get to that level.
“Typically, we take 30 minutes of every practice for stretching and throwing properly and that includes some long toss.”
All bullpen pitches are charted.
“We have a bullpen goal for each kid,” says Chandler. “For example, we might try to throw at least 50 percent strikes.”
These numbers are turned into rankings and shared with the players.
“We build a lesson on how to compete, hold yourself accountable and improve,” says Chandler. “We do similar things for hitting and fielding.”
During batting practice, all defensive chances are charted and the goal is to go error-free on at least 96 percent of them.
But it’s about more than baseball.
“We’ve got to continue to let kids know it’s OK to pray,” says Chandler, who has lost two former players to suicide — one who had played for him at Harrison High School and another former Jaguar. “After every game, we take a knee and give God the glory.
“We want them to know that their coaches have their best interests at heart and they’re more than a jersey number. Every kid I come in contact with them, that I’m here for them and they’re loved. I want to be an outlet for these kids.”
Chandler says he wants players to continue to learn and grow in the game and also have fun so they don’t get burned out, giving it up even before they get to high school.
The organization’s originator says the Jaguars gives opportunities to families who may not have the time or funds to devote to full-fledge travel ball. The team plays many of its games in Lafayette with the Wea Summer Rec complex being a common site.
In 2019, the Jaguars played around 30 games.
“We’re in wait-and-see mode,” says Chandler. “We ordered equipment and gear in anticipation of playing a 15-game schedule that would begin in May. It’ll be whatever state and federal government allow. We usually have a Tippecanoe County rec league.
“But with the (COVID-19 Coronavirus) pandemic that did not get off the ground. Many local teams shut down for the year. We want to allow kids and families to continue and grow and develop so we organized our own league (run by Ryan Johnson).”
Chandler regularly consults with high school, college and pro coaches to increase his baseball knowledge.
“In order for the Jaguars organization to grow, I have to grow as a coach,” says Chandler. “If I don’t, I’m doing a disservice to my players and my program.”
Over the years, the Jaguars have had high school-age players. There are currently 13 players — mostly sixth and seventh graders.
Chandler was born and raised in Lafayette. He played two years of high school baseball at Lafayette Central Catholic. After transferring to Lafayette Jeff, he was cut in his junior and senior years (1988 and 1989).
“I still loved the game,” says Chandler, who began coaching baseball in local youth leagues at 18 and is still at it.
Chandler served as head junior varsity coach on the staff of Joel Strode at West Lafayette Junior/Senior High School in 2009 and 2010 then went back to the youth leagues while coaching the Jaguars on a part-time basis. He was head JV coach at Harrison, where Pat Lowery is head coach, in 2015 and 2016.
In 2017 and 2018, Chandler was head coach at Faith Christian School in Lafayette. As far as he knows, he was the first African-American head baseball coach at the high school in Tippecanoe County.
“Then God called me to a bigger purpose — to re-start the Jaguars program to give back to the youth of our community,” says Chandler.
Matt is married to Jennifer Chandler and has a 20-year-old step-daughter named Hannah.
For just the third year in 31, Matt is coaching his sons — Matthew Chandler Jr. (13) and Thomas Chandler (12).
“It’s a blessing to mentor and coach them,” says Matthew Chandler Sr.
His Jaguars assistants for the second year are Mark McIntosh, James Casab and Vernon Ford.
McIntosh has been a board member and coach at Frankfort (Ind.) Little League. His son, Xavier McIntosh, is a Jaguar.
Casab (Harrison) and Ford (Faith Christian) both played for Chandler, making more than a dozen former players who have coached with him over the years.
“It’s bigger than any trophy I could ever win,” says Chandler. “They come back and give to the kids. They show (current players) what it looks like to give back.”
Thomas Chandler (left) and brother Matthew Chandler Jr., play for Jaguars Baseball Organization, Inc., in Lafayette, Ind. The Jaguars were formed by Matthew Chandler Sr., in the early 2000’s and re-booted in 2019.
Matthew Chandler Sr., is the founder of Jaguars Baseball Organization, Inc., in Lafayette, Ind. The 2020 season marks his 31st of coaching the sport.