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IHSBCA coaches give opinions on IHSAA class baseball, tournament format

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

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?
  • Anything else you’d like to say on the subject?

Some of the responses:

BRIAN ABBOTT (Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Executive Director and IHSBCA Hall of Famer)

“(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.”

DAN AMBROSE (Heritage Christian head coach)

“(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.”

PATRICK ANTONE (Former Boone Grove and Columbus North and current Roncalli head coach)

“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.”

RYAN BERRYMAN (Former Northwestern and current Western head coach)

“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.”

DAVE BISCHOFF (IHSBCA Hall of Famer and New Haven head coach)

“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.”

RYAN BUNNELL (Westfield head coach)

“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.”

JAKE BURTON (IHSBCA Hall of Famer, former McCutcheon, North Newton and current Twin Lakes head coach)

“(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!”

MATTHEW CHERRY (Fishers head coach)

“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.”

JOE DECKER (Silver Creek head coach)

“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.”

GREG DIKOS (IHSBCA Hall of Famer at Penn head coach)

“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.”

BRIAN DUDLEY (IHSBCA Hall of Famer and Wapahani head coach)

“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?”

DAVE GINDER (Fort Wayne Carroll head coach)

“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.”

TERRY GOBERT (IHSBCA Hall of Famer and Jasper head coach)

“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.”

DAVE GOODMILLER (Norwell head coach)

“(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.”

KEVIN HANNON (Knox head coach)

“(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.”

ERIK HISNER (Former Whitko and current Eastern of Greentown head coach and athletic director)

“(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.”

JOHN HUEMMER (Mishawaka head coach)

“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.”

DENNIS KAS (IHSBCA Hall of Famer, former Clinton Prairie and Noblesville head coach and current Lafayette Jeff assistant coach)

“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.”

DARIN KAUFFMAN (Fairfield head coach)

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.”

JUSTIN KEEVER (Noblesville head coach)

“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.”

KEVIN KINNISON (Fort Wayne Blackhawk Christian head coach)

“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.”

BRIAN KIRCHOFF (Former Northeast Dubois head coach and current Jasper assistant coach)

“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).”

KYLE KRAEMER (Terre Haute South Vigo head coach)

“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.”

BRIAN KUESTER (IHSBCA Hall of Famer and South Spencer head coach)

“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.”

DEAN LEHRMAN (Heritage head coach)

“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.”

PAT LOWREY (Lafayette Harrison head coach)

“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.

CHRIS MAY (Gibson Southern head coach)

“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.”

ANDY MCCLAIN (Former Brebeuf Jesuit, Norwell and Lawrence Central and current Indianapolis North Central head coach)

“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.”

MARCUS MCCORMICK (Speedway head coach)

“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.”

JEFF MCKEON (Former Plainfield and South Putnam head coach)

“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.”

BLAKE MOLLENKOPF (Caston head coach)

“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.”

KEITH NUNLEY (Former Monroe Central and current Guerin Catholic head coach)

“(Class baseball) is positive overall
“Smaller schools who make runs (benefit most from class baseball). 
“Sectional and maybe even regional could be seeded.”

PAT O’NEIL (IHSBCA Hall of Famer, former Brownsburg and current Danville Community head coach)

“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.”

JASON RAHN (Westview head coach)

“(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.”

JOEL REINEBOLD (Former Bremen, South Bend Adams and current South Bend Clay head coach)

“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?”

A.J. RISEDORPH (NorthWood head coach and dean of athletics)

“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.”

RANDY ROBERTS (Washington Township head coach)

“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.”

GARY ROGERS (Former Fort Wayne Bishop Luers and current Leo head coach)

“(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.”

SCOTT ROST (Former Elkhart Memorial and current Elkhart head coach)

“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.”

MARK SCHELLINGER (New Prairie head coach)

“(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.”

BRAD SCOTT (Rossville head coach)

“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.”

CORY STONER (Jimtown head coach)

“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.”

STEVE STRAYER (IHSBCA Hall of Famer and Crown Point head coach)
 

“(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.”

TIM TERRY (South Vermillion head coach and athletic director)

“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.”

TED THOMPSON (Tecumseh head coach)

“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.”

CRAIG TROUT (Northview head coach)

“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.”

TONY UGGEN (IHSBCA Hall of Famer, former Northfield and current Blackford head coach)

“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.”

Being ‘Rock Solid’ aim of Boles, Lakewood Park Christian Panthers

BY STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

“Rock Solid.”
It’s the motto adopted by Lakewood Park Christian School baseball for the way the Panthers want to be — on and off the diamond.
It’s a reference to Matthew 7:24: “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.”
It’s about a firm foundation — a subject that comes up during gameday chapel sessions.
Lakewood Park Christian (a K-12 school with an enrollment around 170 in the top four grades) is an athletic independent.
The Panthers are part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with Bethany Christian, Elkhart Christian Academy, Fort Wayne Blackhawk Christian, Fort Wayne Canterbury, Fremont and Hamilton. Lakewood Park has not yet won a sectional title.
After coaching in area youth leagues, Scott Boles came to Lakewood Park Christian in Auburn, Ind., in 2017 as a volunteer.
“I started volunteering to serve God and do more with my life,” says Boles, who became Panthers head coach for the 2018 season.
In 2022, Lakewood Park Christian went 7-10, tying the single-season school record for victories.
That was accomplished with a roster of 10 aka “The Dirty Diez.”
Three of the players had not played baseball since age 12. One suffered a burst appendix during the season.
“It’s a small Christian school,” says Boles. “It’s all bout hard work and effort.
“We’re relentless. We don’t quit. We want to win. But we also want kids to have a good experience and bring guys up the right way to be men. That’s what we’re all about.”
For 2023, Boles expects to have as many as 18 players with seven at travel ball level.
“The next two years we should break every record that exists,” says Boles, who watched last spring as Corbin White (Class of 2024) set the batting average mark at .469 and pitcher Gabriel Dager (Class of 2024) established the earned run average mark at 1.94.
Also in the mix is Carson Boles (Class of 2024). The 17-year-old is the youngest of Scott and Rachel’s two children. The couple — married in 1999 — also has Makenna (19), a 2020 graduate of Carroll High School where she played tennis.
Boles had Carsten White (Corbin’s older brother and 2018 graduate) and Brian Johnson as assistant coaches in 2022 and hopes to have them both back in 2023.
Carsten White and Andrew Carpenter (Class of 2017) both played for Lance Hershberger at Ivy Tech Northeast Community College in Fort Wayne. Carpenter was killed by a drunk driver in 2019.
“The next three years we should have 3-5 kids play college baseball,” says Boles.
Lakewood Park Christian plays on an on-campus field players dubbed “The Lake.”
The field recently got a new mound thanks to the help of Fort Wayne TinCaps groundskeepers.
A warning track has also been installed that goes all around the field. New fencing in front of the dugouts is on the way.
“We’ve had a lot of upgrades the last six years,” says Boles. “We’ve had $15,000 to $18,000 in donations.”
Bill Jones, who coached at DeKalb High School and is an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer, helped put the field in place decades ago.
Scott Boles is a 1995 graduate of Columbia City (Ind.) High School, where he played baseball for four years and earned three letters as a left-handed pitcher and first baseman.
The Eagles’ head coach was Tom Wood.
“He was just a good man,” says Boles of Wood. “He treated the kids right.”
Boles was at Huntington (Ind.) College (now Huntington University) for a year.
Working in a family business, he is now a distributor for Mission Foods Products.
He opened a 1,500-square foot training facility in Fort Wayne called the Upper Room Baseball Club and has his own travel ball organization.

The 2022 Lakewood Park Christian School baseball team. Head coach Scott Boles is in the middle in the second row. Assistants are Carsten White (far left) and Brian Johnson (far right)
With 10 players, the Lakewood Park Christian Panthers tied the single-season school record with seven victories.
Scott and Carson Boles.
Carson Boles.
Lakewood Park Christian mound meeting with Panthers head coach Scott Boles.
Carson, Rachel and Makenna Boles.
With the help of Fort Wayne TinCaps groundskeepers, Lakewood Park Christian School in Auburn, Ind., gets a new mound.
With the help of Fort Wayne TinCaps groundskeepers, Lakewood Park Christian School in Auburn, Ind., gets a new mound.
With the help of Fort Wayne TinCaps groundskeepers, Lakewood Park Christian School in Auburn, Ind., gets a new mound.
With the help of Fort Wayne TinCaps groundskeepers, Lakewood Park Christian School in Auburn, Ind., gets a new mound.
With the help of Fort Wayne TinCaps groundskeepers, Lakewood Park Christian School in Auburn, Ind., gets a new mound.

‘Making better men’ means most to Bethany Christian coach Kraft

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jim Kraft would like his baseball players at Bethany Christian High School to take the right approach at the plate, hit the cut-off man and throw strikes from the mound.

But’s that not the most-important thing to the man who has led the Bruins program since the 2018 season.

“No. 1 it’s about making better men,” says Kraft. “It starts with being a good teammate, work ethic and things like that.

“The baseball stuff kind of takes care of itself after that.”

Bethany, a school of about 140 in the top four grades with its campus in Waterford Mills, Ind. (south side of Goshen), has 13 players in 2021 and is playing a varsity-only schedule and got off to a 4-0 start through April 22. 

“In a weird way (the COVID-19) pandemic probably benefited us a little bit with being small and not having a JV team,” says Kraft. “We only graduated a senior and junior from the team of two years ago.

“We really only had one player playing travel baseball (last summer). But other schools played less last year.

“We’re really looking forward to growing this year.”

Kraft is assisted this spring by former Fairfield High School players Jason Smith and Jared Christophel  and former Bethany athlete Jared Schlabach.

The Bruins are members of the Hoosier Plains Conference (with Argos, Career Academy of South Bend, Elkhart Christian Academy, Lakeland Christian Academy and Trinity at Greenlawn). Argos and ECA are the other baseball-playing schools this spring.

Bethany is part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with Elkhart Christian Academy, Fort Wayne Blackhawk Christian, Fort Wayne Canterbury, Fremont (the 2021 host site) and Lakewood Park Christian. The Bruins won their lone sectional title in 1987.

Others on the BC schedule are Bremen, Concord, Fairfield, Goshen, Harlan Christian, Jimtown, Lakeland, LaVille, NorthWood, Oregon-Davis, Prairie Heights, Triton, Wawasee, Westview and White Pigeon (Mich.).

Bethany plays home games at the Dan Bodiker Athletic Fields, located across the railroad tracks behind the school. Kraft says a capitol campaign is expected to bring upgrades to soccer, track and field, softball and baseball.

There are currently no Bethany graduates playing college baseball. Kraft says three of his seniors could play if they want to pursue that route.

The 2021 Boys of Summer Baseball League is expected to include a Bethany junior high team.

Kraft grew up on a dairy farm near Trufant, Mich., and was active in 4-H and Future Farmers of America. He is a1984 graduate of Lakeview (Mich.) High School and earned an engineering degree at Michigan State University. 

He is employed at Brock Grain Systems in Milford, Ind., as a product director.

Jim and wife Tammy have a son, Logan, and live in New Paris, Ind. Logan played baseball at Fairfield and graduated from Indiana Wesleyan University in 2020.

Logan Kraft played for his father on Boys of Summer Baseball League 10U and 12U teams and Jim coached the New Paris Dukes to a 10U Town & Country Baseball state title in 2016.

Jim Kraft (head baseball coach at Bethany Christian High School)

Baker, Flemm guiding Elkhart Christian Academy Eagles

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A 30-something from Indiana and a 20-something from New Jersey have come together to lead the baseball program at Elkhart (Ind.) Christian Academy.

Shawn Baker, 34, and Matthew Flemm, 24, are co-head coaches for the Eagles. 

Baker graduated from Northridge High School (Middlebury, Ind.) in 2005 and Manchester University (North Manchester, Ind.) in 2009 as a Grades 5-12 Social Studies major.

He played at Northridge for two head coaches — Mike Logan and Troy Carson. Rick Espeset was his coach for four seasons at Manchester.

Northridge was very competitive in Baker’s junior and senior seasons and the friendships started off the field carried on to it.

“We’d have our backs there, too,” says Baker.

“Both Mike and Troy instilled the hard-nosed baseball philosophy in us as players,” says Baker of Logan and Carson. “It’s working hard in practice and seeing the transfer over in games.

“I learned a lot from Coach Espeset about the ‘why’ and the philosophy of the game of baseball.”

As an educator, Baker was at South Bend (Ind.) Career Academy and Westview High School in Topeka, Ind., and has been at Northridge Middle School for the past eight years, teaching eighth grade Social Studies and coaching seventh grade boys basketball.

He has served an assistant baseball coach at Dowagiac (Mich.) Union High School and Westview for Warriors head coach Jason Rahn.

“I had been getting the itch to coach baseball again,” says Baker, who applied at ECA and was hired in mid-February. The first official day of practice was March 15.

Baker has been married for eight years. Shawn and Heather have a girl and two boys — Aleah (6), Colson (4) and Bennett (2).

Shawn’s younger brother, Shannon Baker, played at Northridge and Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne and is now an assistant to A.J. Risedorph at NorthWood High School in Nappanee, Ind.

Flemm is an alum of Veritas Christian Academy in Sparta, N.J., where he pitched for the Lions baseball team and graduated in 2015. He finished his course work at Cedarville (Ohio) University as a History major and double minor in International Studies and Bible in December and is planning to attend May 1 commencement. 

He was contacted by former Veritas Christian administrator and current Elkhart Christian secondary principal Sean Bevier who informed him of the baseball coach opening. Flemm was working with the Sussex County Miners Travel Baseball 13U team. Besides coaching, he is substitute and study hall teacher at ECA.

Baker and Flemm, who are assisted by former Elkhart Christian players Mark Stevens and T.J. Tice, guide a group of 12 players that includes one senior (Matt Elmerick), no juniors and the rest sophomores and freshmen.

Some have played travel ball. Others have little baseball experience.

“It sounds cliche’, but we’re working on getting better each day,” says Baker. “We want them listening to what we tell them and trying to apply it on the field.”

Three — Elmerick and sophomores Jude Reynolds and Luke Schramm — split their time between baseball and the Eagles track and field team coached by Allen Lollis. With the help of athletic director Richelle Viront, game and practice schedules are coordinated to accommodate both spring programs.

Elkhart Christian Academy (enrollment around 160) is a member of the Hoosier Plains Conference (with IHSAA Class 1A schools Argos, Bethany Christian, Lakeland Christian Academy, South Bend Career Academy and Trinity at Greenlawn). Only ECA, Argos, Bethany have baseball teams this spring.

The Eagles are part of an 1A sectional grouping with Bethany Christian, Fort Wayne Blackhawk Christian, Fort Wayne Canterbury, Fremont (the 2021 host), Hamilton and Lakewood Park Christian. ECA won a sectional title in 2013. 

Besides conference and sectional foes, ECA’s regular-season schedule includes games with 4A’s Concord, Mishawaka and South Bend Riley, 3A’s Culver Academy, John Glenn, Lakeland and NorthWood, 2A’s Bremen and LaVille and 1A’s Culver Community and Oregon-Davis.

“We play a lot of these really big school,” says Flemm. “That’s going to set us up for success in the conference and a state tournament time.”

The Eagles are trying to develop pitchers and catchers on the fly. Many will get a turn on the mound.

“Everybody’s a pitcher until we figure out that’s not your forte’,” says Baker. 

Something that was ingrained during Flemm’s travel and high school pitching career was the importance of control.

“Throwing strikes is the only way you’re going to succeed,” says Flemm. “Our second game (against LaVille) we had more strikes and that was awesome to see.

“It’ll just take a lot of refinement and more experience for the guys on the bump.”

Baker looks for ECA pitchers to develop a fastball and change-up and be able to hit their spots with it.

Flemm is upbeat about the future.

“We see a lot of potential,” says Flemm. “It’s been a blessing working with this group of guys.

“I’m excited for what’s coming and how we can develop these guys even more.”

As a private K-12 school, ECA does not always know who will be attending from year to year.

Flemm says there has been talk of starting a junior high baseball program. He has noticed interest in the game among students in those grades.

“It’s something, hopefully, Coach Baker and I can start.” says Flemm, who notes that he and Baker will lead a youth baseball camp ECA in early June. “We’ll get a chance to see what kind of talent we have coming in.”

The Elkhart Christian campus is located in an open area behind the school and next to the U.S. 20 By-Pass. A breeze seemingly never stops.

“We’re almost in a wind tunnel,” says Baker. “It can be difficult to hear (talk between players and coaches and players and other players). 

“We need to work on communication and use our big-boy voices so people can hear.”

Shawn Baker
Matthew Flemm

Parkview Field High School/College Series April 2-29

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

The High School and College Baseball Series at Parkview Field hosted by the Fort Wayne (Ind.) TinCaps is to feature 46 different schools for a total of 29 games between April 2-29. The TinCaps begin their 120-game High Class-A season May 4.

Tickets ($6) for High School and College Series games go on sale March 24 at ParkviewField.com. 

The Parkview Field Ticket Office also will be open for ticket purchases beginning one hour prior to each day’s first pitch. 

All transactions must be completed by debit or credit card (no cash). The TinCaps plan to utilize a special seating chart to account for physical distancing between pods of fans. Ballpark concessions will be available as well (no outside food or drink is permitted.) 

HIGH SCHOOL & COLLEGE

BASEBALL SERIES

AT PARKVIEW FIELD

Friday, April 2

Purdue Fort Wayne vs. Northern Kentucky (DH), 4 p.m.

Saturday, April 3

Purdue Fort Wayne vs. Northern Kentucky, 1 p.m.

Wednesday, April 7

Eastside vs. DeKalb, 4:30 p.m.

Wabash vs. Mississinewa, 7 p.m.

Friday, April 9

Saint Francis vs. Marian U. (DH), 4 p.m.

Saturday, April 10

Homestead vs. Wapahani (DH), 10:30 a.m.

Tuesday, April 13

Fort Wayne Northrop vs. Fort Wayne Wayne, 4:30 p.m.

Prairie Heights vs. Lakeland, 7 p.m.

Wednesday, April 14

Indiana Tech vs. Grace (DH), 4 p.m.

Thursday, April 15

South Adams  vs. New Haven, 4:30 p.m.

Northfield vs. Eastbrook, 7 p.m.

Saturday, April 17

Concordia Lutheran vs. Fort Wayne South Side, 10:30 a.m.

West Noble vs. Garrett, 1 p.m.

Tuesday, April 20

Woodlan vs. Leo, 4:30 p.m.

Southern Wells vs. Southwood, 7 p.m.

Thursday, April 22

Fort Wayne Snider vs. Norwell, 4:30 p.m.

Carroll vs. East Noble, 7 p.m.

Friday, April 23

Fort Wayne Bishop Luers vs. Fort Wayne Canterbury, 4:30 p.m.

Warsaw vs. Plymouth, 7 p.m.

Saturday, April 24

Churubusco vs. Manchester, 10:30 a.m.

Whitko vs. Angola, 1 p.m.

Tuesday, April 27

Blackhawk Christian vs. Lakewood Park Christian, 4:30 p.m.

Columbia City vs. Bellmont, 7 p.m.

Thursday, April 29

Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger vs. Fort Wayne North Side (DH), 4:30 p.m.

Parkview Field, Fort Wayne, Ind.

NEIBA looking for Dick Crumback HS Player of the Year nominees

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com 

The Northeast Indiana Baseball Association has been recognizing local baseball players, personnel and ambassadors through a Hall of Fame and honors program since 1961.

Each year, these honorees are saluted at a banquet. In 2018, South Adams’ Grant Besser was the Dick Crumback Player of the Year. The COVID-19 pandemic took away the award and banquet in 2020.

Baseball coaches from Adams (Adams Central, Bellmont, South Adams), Allen (Bishop Dwenger, Bishop Luers, Blackhawk Christian, Canterbury, Carroll, Concordia Lutheran, Heritage, Homestead, Leo, New Haven, North Side, Northrop, Smith Academy for Excellence, Snider, South Side, Wayne, Woodlan), DeKalb (DeKalb, Eastside, Garrett, Hamilton, Lakewood Park Christian), Noble (Central Noble, East Noble, West Noble), Huntington (Huntington North), Wells (Bluffton, Norwell, Southern Wells) and Whitley (Churubusco, Columbia City, Whitko) counties were emailed and asked to nominate any player(s) that he feels could be in the running for the 2021 Dick Crumback/NEIBA Player of the Year Award. The deadline for submitting players is on 11:59 p.m. on Friday, March 12.

On Sunday, March 14, the NEIBA will be sending out the list of players that are on the “watch list” for this year’s award. 

First off, the award is named after longtime amateur baseball supporter Dick Crumback. The Crumback family has also given a $500 annual scholarship to the high school baseball program recipient. 

The Fort Wayne Baseball Federation, which has run high school and adult leagues in the Summit City since 1931, has also announced a donation of $500 to bring the overall total to $1,000.  

For more information, contact Gary Rogers at grogers@eacs.k12.in.us or Brett Windmiller at brett.windmiller@nacs.k12.in.us. 

VanArsdale builds Elkhart Christian culture of humility, hard work

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

When Tyler VanArsdale was asked to be the varsity baseball coach at Elkhart (Ind.) Christian Academy, the invitation came with a request.

Athletic director Richelle Viront wanted him to establish culture with the Eagles.

VanArsdale, a 2013 ECA graduate who had played baseball, golf and basketball at his alma mater, was a baseball assistant in 2017 and came back to lead the program in 2019.

“I’ve been preaching to the guys to stay humble and work hard,” says VanArsdale. “Humility is so valuable in a team sport.”

VanArsdale, who had also coached many of these same athletes as junior high basketball players, does not put the emphasis on personal statistics but the team.

“We talked about distractions,” says VanArsdale. “One huge one is pride.”

VanArsdale wants his players to know that “everyone matters” and that seniors with experience respect freshmen with little to none.

“When I see someone who is toxic to that culture, we’re addressing it head-on right away,” says VanArsdale. “At the end of the day, ECA baseball is about life development.”

VanArsdale saw the Eagles go from 1-11 in 2018 — a year he stayed out of coaching with the birth of his daughter (Bethel College graduates Tyler and Brittany welcomed Clara on their wedding anniversary of May 10, 2018 at 10:18 p.m.) — to 8-8 in 2019 with him in charge.

“It’s a mindset thing — a change in thinking,” says VanArsdale. “That’s a great turnaround.”

Elkhart Christian lost 4-0 to Fremont in the semifinals of the IHSAA Class 1A Fremont Sectional.

“It was intense and competitive,” says VanArsdale. “I was proud of the guys.”

Two seniors — Bailey Petty and Mark Stevens — were on that squad. Many players return for 2020. Stevens has joined a coaching staff that also includes Tony Tice and Chad Viront.

VanArsdale started his high school athletic career at nearby Penn.

As a sophomore, he transferred to ECA. He was allowed to play junior varsity basketball. The Eagles did not have a JV baseball team, but an arm injury ended his travel season early.

VanArsdale played basketball as a junior and season for squads that won 13 and 14 games.

His senior spring saw ECA go 21-8 and win the school’s first baseball sectional title, reigning at Hamilton and advancing to the finals of the 1A Caston Regional.

That team featured Caleb Stayton (who went on to a standout career at Ball State University) and Tanner Watson (who excelled at Taylor University) and VanArsdale keeps in-touch with many of his former teammates.

A former golf mate of Alec Dutkowski, VanArdale was also able to juggle the links and the diamond in the spring at ECA. He anticipates that he will have some baseball players also competing in track and field this spring.

During the IHSAA Limited Contact Period, the Eagles have been practicing on Tuesdays and Saturdays with weight workouts on other days.

Players and coaches are communication via group chat and VanArsdale, who is also account manager for Legacy Fire Protection, has lunch with his seniors — a group that will have at least six.

“I’m excited,” says VanArsale. “1 through 9, we’ll be stronger at the plate.

“With pitching, we lost Bailey Petty. But we’ll be more diverse and may use three pitchers in a game.”

To keep his pitchers healthy, VanArsdale has them using J-Bands, lifting weights and stretching in the off-season.

For those players who have their sights on the next level, the coach has advice.

“If you have a goal to play college ball, I preach prospect camps,” says VanArsdale. “You don’t want to get worn out on travel ball.”

While ECA (enrollment around 170) is an independent in all sports but soccer now, the school will be part of the Hoosier Plains Conference (with Argos, Bethany Christian, Lakeland Christian Academy, South Bend Career Academy and Trinity at Greenlawn), beginning in 2020-21. It will come with a double robin schedule and end-of-season recognition.

“It’s going to be really good,” says VanArsdale. “It’ll give each school something to shoot for.”

The Eagles are part of a 1A sectional grouping in 2020 and 2021 with Bethany Christian, Fort Wayne Blackhawk Christian, Fort Wayne Canterbury, Fremont, Hamilton and Lakewood Park Christian.

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Elkhart (Ind.) Christian Academy head baseball coach Tyler VanArsdale (center) appears with Bailey Petty (left) and Mark Stevens on Senior Day 2019.

Kinnison helping Blackhawk Christian baseball players reach their goals

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Kevin Kinnison is a facilitator.

As head baseball coach at Blackhawk Christian School in Fort Wayne, Ind., Kinnison helps gets athletes where they need to go.

“As a Class A school, we focus on individuals striving to be consistent and the best they can be,” says Kinnison, who has led the Braves since the 2009 season and knows he has some players who see high school as the end of their baseball careers and others who want more. “We push some to where they want to go.”

Baseball is a team sport, but Kinnison sees it as an opportunity to “play against yourself.”

Individuals find what they can do and how they fit into the puzzle and push themselves — even when no one is watching.

“The game should be easy,” says Kinnison. “Practice should be hard. It’s human nature to only do as much as someone would push you to do.

“We want the best version of you on the ball field. Give me 100 percent of what you have today.

“You’re responsible for what you do. At the end of the day, results are bases on the work you put in.”

Kinnison encourages his players to study the game and the opponent.

“Figure out a weakness and exploit it,” says Kinnison. “If you’re fast, steal bases.

“I don’t think kids think the game as much as they could. They just play.”

College-bound players, especially, will be served by understanding the game.”

Recent graduates to play college baseball include Nathan Targartt and Kole Barkhaus at Taylor University in Upland, Ind., and Nate Moonen at  Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Ill. Current Blackhawk Christian junior Callan Wood is among those with college baseball aspirations.

“We give as much information as we have as a staff,” says Kinnison, who is assisted by Matt Harmon (the Harmon brothers — Mark, Matt and Jake — were involved in bringing state titles to Blackhawk in 2002, 2005 and 2006), Brice Urschel, Nick Braun and Ryan Davis. Harmon and Braun are BCS teachers. Urschel played for Kinnison then at Huntington (Ind.) University.

Some things become instinctual.

“We don’t use signs very much,” says Kinnison. “We take what they’re giving us.”

Kinnison is a 1988 Fort Wayne Snider High School graduate who played baseball for three years for Jim Russo then one for Dave Hay as well as football for Mike Hawley and two years of basketball before playing baseball at Garden City (Kan.) Community College and Huntington College (now Huntington University) for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Mike Frame.

“(Frame) had a greater influence on me after I left than when I was there,” says Kinnison. “He is probably one of the best ambassadors for baseball in northeast Indiana.”

Kinnison was a lead-off or No. 9 hitter who would bunt on his own.

As a coach, he is not inclined to insist his Blackhawk Christian batters lay one down. He usually leaves it up to them.

“I don’t like to take the bat of the the kids’ hands if they going good,” says Kinnison.

After college, Kinnison was an assistant to Matt Kinzer at Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne (now Purdue Fort Wayne) and coached for the independent Richmond (Ind.) Roosters, run by IHSBCA Hall of Famer John Cate.

Kinnison, who was assistant director of construction for a retail investment company in Cincinnati and came back to Fort Wayne on the weekends, was encouraged to apply for the Blackhawk Christian job by Kinzer.

Blackhawk Christian (enrollment around 240 for high school in the K-12 system) is an independent.

Among teams the BCS played in 2019 were Bellmont, DeKalb, Fort Wayne Canterbury, Fort Wayne South Side, Fort Wayne Wayne, Fremont, Heritage, Homestead, Lakewood Park Christian, New Haven, Northfield, Prairie Heights, Southern Wells and Woodlan.

Athletic director Joel Cotton makes up the schedule with some input from the coach.

“I didn’t want a bunch of 1A schools on it,” says Kinnison. “I would rather take our lumps (and get better against tougher competition).

“It’s about taking pride in performing. The team that is able to relax and play their normal game can beat you.”

Since Kinnison has been in charge, there has only been a varsity team with about 18 to 20 players per season. For 2020, he expects to have two seniors, two juniors and seven or eight sophomores.

As a way of supporting the school, all players help with a program established in 2011 by BCS Foundation, Inc., called reNEW Upscale Resale.

The Braves part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with Bethany Christian, Elkhart Christian Academy, Fort Wayne Canterbury, Fremont, Hamilton and Lakewood Park Christian. Blackhawk has won 14 sectional titles — the last in 2017.

Blackhawk Christian played only a handful of games on-campus in 2019 because of wet conditions. The rest of their home dates were contested on the turf at the ASH Centre, home of the World Baseball Academy.

Kevin and Annette Kinnison have three daughters — Taylor, Kenzie and Karlee. Taylor is 22. Eighth grader Kenzie and sixth grader Karlee have attended Blackhawk since they were in kindergarten. Kevin is co-owner of Blue Apple Construction.

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Kevin Kinnison has been the head baseball coach at Blackhawk Christian School in Fort Wayne, Ind., since the 2009 season. He played at Fort Wayne Snider High School, Garden City (Kan.) Community College and Huntington (Ind.) College (now Huntington University). (Steve Krah Photo)

 

 

 

Byall, Homestead Spartans value preparation

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Keith Potter and Steve Sotir emphasized the fundamental parts of baseball — making the routine play on defense, pounding the strike zone from the mound and following an approach from the batter’s box — as head baseball coaches at Homestead High School in Fort Wayne, Ind.

Nick Byall, who played for Potter and coached with Potter and Sotir, is carrying on the tradition while adding his own spin as the man in charge of the Spartans.

“We want to be polished and prepared each day,” says Byall. “When you’re doing (the fundamentals) well it makes the game even more fun.

“At the high school level, we can be really successful doing that.”

Byall, a 2000 Homestead graduate, spent 10 years as an assistant coach at his alma mater (two on Potter’s staff and eight with Sotir) and is in his fourth season as head coach in 2019.

Being competitive is also important to Byall.

“We’re always looking to compete — in a drill or a game,” says Byall, who heads up a program with around 50 players for varsity, junior varsity (JV Blue) and freshmen (JV Gold) schedules.

“We have a smaller senior class and kept a larger freshmen class,” says Byall. “We have 18 on the varsity roster most of the time. Some guys will swing between varsity and JV.”

The coaching staff features Shawn Harkness plus volunteers Josh Brock, Maurie Byall (Nick’s father) and Greg Wehling with the varsity, Austin Plasterer and Kyle Plasterer with JV Blue and Brian Landigran and Dominic Schroeder with JV Gold.

Harkness is pitching coach for the Spartan. He was a JV coach when Byall was a Homestead player.

Brock played and coached at Manchester University.

It’s more than the game that keeps Byall around baseball.

“I want to be a decent role model for (the players),” says Byall. “That’s why we do it.

“I enjoy the kids and the coaches I work with. If not, I wouldn’t do it.”

Homestead plays its varsity games on its campus with the JV teams playing on that diamond or at a field near Summit Middle School.

Marching band is a big deal at the school and the band has its own turf practice surface near the baseball field. The baseball team sometimes uses it when it’s facility is too wet.

There is no middle school baseball at Homestead, but many players participate in travel ball.

“We’ve got a lot of kids who enjoy baseball,” says Byall. “They’re pretty fundamentally sound.”

Senior Kade Kolpien has committed to Taylor University. Senior Will Ferguson has garnered some college baseball interest. Junior Eli MacDonald and sophomore Kaleb Kolpien and Carter Mathison are among younger Spartans getting college looks.

Recent Homestead graduates now with college programs include Justin Miller at Purdue Fort Wayne, Isaac Bair at the University of Indianapolis and Nick Davit and D.J. Moore at Huntington University.

Catcher Rob Bowen was selected in the second round of the 1999 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Minnesota Twins and made his big league debut with the Twins in 2003. He also played for the San Diego Padres, Chicago Cubs and Oakland Athletics.

Infielder Andre Jernigan went from Homestead to the Xavier University to the Twins organization.

Right-handed pitcher Taylor Kinzer played at Taylor then in the Los Angeles Angels organization.

Second baseman Ryan Wright played at he University of Louisville and in the Cincinnati Reds system from 2011-15.

Catcher Matt Singleton played at Ball State University and in the Athletics chain.

Outfielder Bobby Glover was a Parkland College, the University of Dayton and with the independent Windy City Thunderbolts (2012).

Left-hander Kyle Leiendecker went to Indiana University.

It’s IU and the allure of Hoosiers basketball that brought Byall to Bloomington.

He was a basketball manager for four years and got to see in the inner workings of big-time college sports and went to the 2002 NCAA tournament championship game with head coach Mike Davis. Byall’s first week on campus was Bob Knight’s last.

Byall earned an education degree from Indiana in 2005 and a masters in business administration from Taylor in 2010. He teaches Advanced Placement U.S. Government and Politics and U.S. Government at HHS.

Homestead (enrollment around 2,430) has charted a schedule that features Bellmont, DeKalb, Evansville Central, Fishers, Fort Wayne Blackhawk Christian, Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger, Fort Wayne Canterbury, Fort Wayne Carroll, Fort Wayne North Side, Fort Wayne Northrop, Fort Wayne Snider, Fort Wayne South Side, Hamilton Southeastern, Indianapolis Cathedral, Mississinewa, Norwell, Wapahani and Warsaw.

For several years, Homestead has made a southern trip during spring break.

“It’s a chance to get away and bond a little bit,” says Byall.

The destination the past few seasons has been Vincennes, Ind. Treks have also been made to Terre Haute, Evansville, Cincinnati and Knoxville, Tenn.

The Spartans are part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with Fort Wayne North Side, Fort Wayne South Side, Fort Wayne Wayne and Huntington North. Homestead has won 14 sectionals — the last in 2016. A 4A state runner-up finish was earned in 2008.

Byall is single and lives in the Homestead district.

“I’m real close with my family,” says Byall, the son of Maurie and Rosi Byall and younger brother of Troy Byall. His father owns Byall Homes, Inc., and has been building houses for 40 years. His mother is the Homestead treasurer and also the statistician for her son’s baseball team.

With three children, chiropractor Dr. Troy and wife Erica Byall have made Nick a proud uncle.

NICKBYALLKADEKOLPIEN

Homestead High School baseball coach Nick Byall (left) slaps hands with Kade Kolpien. Byall is in his 14th season as a Spartans coach — fourth as head coach — while Kolpien is in his senior season in 2019.

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Nick Byall is head baseball coach at Homestead High School in Fort Wayne, Ind. He is a 2000 graduate of the school. (Homestead High School Photo)

 

 

Skelton, Meyer span eras of Fort Wayne Snider Panthers baseball

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

They’ve got continuity happening on the northeast side of Fort Wayne, Ind.

Marc Skelton has been coaching baseball at R. Nelson Snider High School for three decades.

Skelton, a 1985 Snider graduate, enters his eighth season as Panthers head coach in 2019 after 22 as an assistant.

Bruce Meyer, who has also coached at Snider for 30 years, and Skelton can trace their lineage back to the origins of the Panthers program.

“We played for or coached with every (head) coach in Snider history,” says Skelton, who is Snider’s fifth head baseball coach. Jerry Miller (1971-83) was the first, followed by Jim Rousseau (1983-87), Dave Hey (1988-92) and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Andy Owen (1993-2011).

Miller and assistant Adrian Deusler held the first practice April 15, 1971 and had 95 boys trying out.

“He loved baseball and worked hard it it,” says Skelton of Miller. “He’s still our No. 1 fan. He comes out to games. It’s always good to see Coach.

“(Rousseau) stressed fundamentals and doing things the right way.”

Skelton leads the current Panthers squad while putting effort and excellence at the forefront.

“We believe in hard work,” says Skelton. “You want to give it your best effort every time you’re getting after something.

“Ten quality reps are better than 100 sloppy ones, just going through the motions.”

Besides Meyer, Snider assistants include Josh Clinkenbeard, Rob Hale, Peyton Bieker with the varsity and Tim McCrady, Eric Cirillo and Brandon Phelps with the junior varsity. All but Cirillo and Phelps are returnees to the staff.

Marc is the son of David and Karen Skelton. David Skelton has been scorekeeper for the Panthers for 30 years.

Skelton says he tends to have between 30 and 40 players in the program each season.

During the current IHSAA limited contact period, Snider players are working to get their arms in shape while position players and hitters are also getting in their training.

“We’re getting pitchers arms built up so we avoid injuries down the road,” says Skelton, who can take his team to a couple of tunnels in the gym to get things done.

Snider (enrollment around 1,900) is a member of the Summit Athletic Conference (with Fort Wayne Concordia, Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger, Fort Wayne Bishop Luers, Fort Wayne North Side, Fort Wayne Northrop, Fort Wayne South Side and Fort Wayne Wayne as baseball affiliates).

SAC teams play each other in a home-and-home series, usually within the same week, to determine the conference champion.

“Theoretically, you need more than one pitcher to do it,” says Skelton.

Non-conference opponents include Blackhawk Christian, DeKalb, East Noble, Fort Wayne Canterbury, Fort Wayne Carroll, Homestead, Huntington North, New Haven and Norwell. The Panthers play in the Warsaw Invitational on May 18. DeKalb and Penn have been a part of that even in the past.

The Panthers are part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with DeKalb, East Noble, Fort Wayne Carroll, Fort Wayne Northrop. DeKalb and Carroll have rotated as the host site in recent years. Snider has won 11 sectional crowns — the last in 2017. State championships were earned in 2006 and 2009.

Snider plays its home games at Hawley Field, which is about 2 1/2 miles off-campus on Long Road. The facility is owned by Fort Wayne Community Schools and is maintained mostly by the baseball team.

The 2019 season marks the third of the IHSAA’s 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). This year, the standards will be the same for varsity and below varsity.

“It’s for the health of the arm so it’s a good thing,” says Skelton. “We want you to throw strikes because you are on a limit. Pitch to contact, so to speak.

“Strikeouts are boring. Work quick so the the defense doesn’t have time to wonder and can say sold behind you.”

Snider senior Mason McMurtry recently made a college baseball commitment to Ivy Tech Northeast Community College in Fort Wayne. Recent graduates Michael Brewer (Eastern Kentucky University) and Matt Eastman (Ivy Tech Northeast) have gone on to the next level.

The Panthers get players from many sources, including Georgetown Little League and several travel organizations.

“The last 10 years it’s been going strong,” says Skelton of travel ball. “As long as they don’t over-do it, it’s a good thing they’re playing baseball. It gets them in competitive situations.”

Even though Snider is a large school, there are a number of multi-sport athletes in the school.

“We leave them alone during other seasons,” says Skelton. “When they come to us (in baseball), they participate with us.”

Skelton graduated from Indiana University in December 1989 and came back to Fort Wayne to be an educator and coach.

Blackhawk Middle School is where Skelton, Meyer and Terah Brogan (Skelton’s sister) are teachers.

Snider graduates have gone on to professional baseball.

Andy Replogle pitched at Kansas State University and two seasons in the majors with Milwaukee Brewers.

Right-hander Kevin Cahill pitched at Purdue University and in the Washington Nationals system.

Catcher-outfielder Kyle Day took the field for Michigan State University and in the Cincinnati Reds system.

Left-hander Adam Sheefel hurled at Ball State University and in the minors with the Reds.

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Marc Skelton, a 1985 Fort Wayne (Ind.) Snider High School graduate, enters his eighth season as Panthers head baseball coach in 2019 after 22 as an assistant.