Tag Archives: Goshen High School

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

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

What can you hang your hat on?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some are a work-in-progress.

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

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

Then comes the time that the coach dreads.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He also has an open-door policy.

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

DARINMAST

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

 

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Plymouth’s Wolfe looks for players who are competitive, confident, comfortable

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Ryan Wolfe was fiery as a player. He got hot at the beginning of his coaching career.

The flame still flickers to the surface on occasion.

But the Plymouth High School head baseball coach has learned to control the flames a bit with time and experience.

Wolfe graduated from Hamilton High School in northeast Indiana in 2001. He was a four-year varsity player for the Marines, which won the IHSAA Class 1A Bethany Christian Sectional in 2000. He was an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association all-star as senior.

Jim Sanxter was the coach.

A pitcher, Wolfe went on to Manchester College (now Manchester University) and played three seasons for Rick Espeset. The Spartans placed seventh in the 2004 NCAA Division III World Series.

“They had two totally different styles of coaching and both were effective,” says Wolfe of Sanxter and Espeset. “(Sanxter) had a huge influence on me. He was tough. He definitely didn’t go for excuses. He would challenge you and push you and he was very sincere. The more I coach, the more I understand some of the things he did.”

Wolfe came to see in Sanxter a passion and purpose for coaching. Not a teacher, the it was a selflessness that drove the man who coached 30 years, including 18 with Hamilton baseball and passed away in 2014.

“It was how he said things, when he said things and how he reacted to things,” says Wolfe. “I’m humbled to realize I learned from somebody like that.”

A calm demeanor is what Wolfe saw when he observed Espeset, who has led the Manchester program since the 1997 season.

“He had a way of staying even-keeled,” says Wolfe. “I never saw Coach Espeset really get upset.

“You knew he meant business, but he didn’t say it in a brash way. It’s not always what you say, but how you say it.”

Espeset helped his players understand the intricacies of the game and also gave them freedom.

“He let us learn from failure,” says Wolfe. “That’s what I try to do here. We’re not going to win every ball game.”

Wolfe’s post-game remarks after a Pilgrims loss is very minimal. He doesn’t want to harp on the negative.

“We want to get the kids to understand that baseball is much bigger than wins and losses,” says Wolfe, whose first season at Plymouth was 2013 (he was an assistant to Brian Hooker at Rochester High School in 2012 and head coach at West Central High School 2006-11). “We want competitors.”

Even Pilgrims practices — which generally include all 35 to 40 players in the program — have a competitive component. Players must earn a chance to take batting practice on Bill Nixon Field.

“It’s been phenomenal,” says Wolfe, who began combining squads for practice in 2015. “It brings a sense of unity. Our whole purpose is the same — to develop great young men through the game of baseball.”

Practices are broken into stations and one is devoted to work on routines. That’s how important it is to the Pilgrims.

Taking the teaches of mental conditioning and sports psychology expert Brian Cain, Wolfe and his assistant coaches (Brent Corbett, Kevin Garrity, Brian Schuler and Mitch Bowers) tell the players to “get back to green.”

There are green dots on the bats — a visual device that helps them relax and focus.

“We talk about breathing a lot and keeping our heart rate down,” says Wolfe. “We’re constantly talking about confidence.

“We want them to know their routine because a routine breeds confidence because it makes you comfortable.”

While his assistants hone in on hitting, pitching and fielding skills, Wolfe sees his role to develop his players’ mental sides.

“It’s an aspect of the game that’s left out,” says Wolfe. “We take time out of our day and do that.”

“It’s taken awhile for our kids to understand it’s a part of baseball. They’re high school kids. They don’t know how to handle failure. Are we perfect at it? No way.”

Wolfe and his staff are not trying to cram every player into the same mold.

“We are not cookie cutter,” says Wolfe. “We don’t have every kid hit the same or pitch the same. It’s about learning who you are as a player and what works for you.

“We’re trying to get the kids to take ownership.”

Like many coaches, Wolfe has taken concepts he has learned at clinics and American Baseball Coaches Association conventions and adopted them to the needs of his program.

Justin Dehmer has won multiple state titles in Iowa and has shared his knowledge through his line of 1 Pitch Warrior materials. Plymouth tracks B.A.S.E.2 (Big Inning, Answer Back, Score First, Extend the Lead, Score with 2 Outs, Quality At-Bat System). Wolfe knows that doing three of the five things on the chart often leads to victory.

The Pilgrims are looking for a K.O. — knocking the starting pitcher out by the fourth inning.

Other incentives are the Hit Stick (one each for varsity and junior varsity) and MVP jersey, which players can earn from game to game following a victory. Get the jersey the most times during the season — as voted on by the team — and that player is the season MVP.

“We’ve got to win to get anything,” says Wofle. “There’s nothing if we lose.”

Wolfe and his staff have crunched the numbers and witness enough success to be believers in their methods.

“This stuff does work,” says Wolfe.

Plymouth plays a double round robin in the Northern Lakes Conference (which also includes Concord, Elkhart Memorial, Goshen, Northridge, NorthWood, Warsaw and Wawasee) with games played Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

NorthWood went 14-0 in 2017, taking a pair of 1-0 wins against the Pilgrims. The game at Plymouth pitted NWHS senior Drake Gongwer against PHS sophomore Cam Dennie and was a classic.

“That’s one of the best high school baseball games I’ve ever seen,” says Wofle. “(The NLC) is very competitive. I like the format. In my five years, I have not seem the same pitcher start both games very often.”

Dennie is already verbally committed to Arizona State University, something he did before the 2017 season after showing well in Prep Baseball Report underclassmen games.

Wolfe sees it as his responsibility to engage in the recruiting process.

“I try to make as many connections as I can with college coaches around the area,” says Wolfe. “But I’m going to be honest with (players, parents and college coaches).

“I teach kids there’s a lot of levels of college baseball. You’ve got to show initiative and work hard in the class room also.”

Indiana alone has 38 programs — nine in NCAA Division I, three in NCAA Division II, nine in NCAA Division III, 14 in NAIA and three in junior college.

Wolfe, who also teaches social studies at PHS, lets his players and coaches know what is being sought by college coaches. He wants them to closely assess their situation and pay attention to the intangibles. On-base percentage and pitching velocity are easy to gauge.

But can they handle the grind of college baseball?

What kind if student are they?

What kind of teammate are they?

“These are the kinds of things we want here,” says Wolfe. “I have some of the longest parent meetings of all-time. But I try to be upfront.

“I don’t want to discourage kids from having those aspirations. I want them to reach their own potential and not compare themselves to other kids. You are who you are. It goes back to taking ownership of what you can do to reach that potential.”

Money has been raised to upgrade the playing surface at Bill Nixon Field, a facility named for the IHSBCA Hall of Fame coach. Wolfe says that project is to go forward after the 2018 season.

Tyler Wolfe — Ryan’s brother — really excelled at D-III Manchester and holds school pitching records for career wins, strikeouts, innings pitched and complete games.

Ryan and wife Tara Wolfe have two boys — fifth grader Preston and fourth grader Parker.

RYANWOLFE

Ryan Wolfe, a graduate of Hamilton High School and Manchester University, is entering his sixth season as head baseball coach at Plymouth High School.

 

A tip of the cap to the career of Bethany Christian’s Bodiker

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

To say Dan Bodiker has worn many hats as a fan of baseball and other sports is quite the understatement.

Bodiker, 75, came to northern Indiana from northwestern Ohio in the early 1960’s to attend Goshen College, where he represented the Maple Leafs on the baseball diamond and the soccer pitch.

In the fall of 1964, he was hired just up the road at Bethany Christian High School to coach an entire athletic department.

He led BC in boys soccer, boys and girls basketball, baseball and track.

By the time Bodiker retired, his overall mark in all sports was 918-719-39 and he served terms as athletic director. He was taken into the Indiana Soccer Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2007 and is also a member of the Elkhart County Sports Hall of Fame.

His last season as head baseball coach was 1995-96. After one season under Jason Leichty, Brent Reinhardt led the program through 2017. The new coach for 2017-18 is Jim Kraft.

The first BC baseball team wore white T-shirts and blue jeans and only played a handful of games (but only lost one of them).

Starting out as an associate member of the Indiana High School Athletic Association, the school could attract some good athletes who did not have to sit out or be restricted to junior varsity play. The trade-off is that BC was not eligible for tournament play.

That changed when the school became a full member in the early 1970’s.

Today, baseball, soccer and softball teams play on Bodiker Athletic Fields, located across the railroad tracks behind the school.

For years, the baseball team used a field with no fence and surrounded by a cinder track. It was BC’s home when they earned the lone baseball sectional title in school history in 1987.

Dan’s wife, Diane, has preserved the memory of that championship and many other moments in the pages of scrapbooks housed in the couple’s Goshen home.

Bethany — then known as the Braves and later the Bruins — rallied for six runs in the bottom of the seventh inning to beat Goshen 9-8 for the Goshen Sectional title.

With the scored knotted 3-3, Goshen had scored five in the top of the seventh.

In the bottom of the frame, Eric Risser and Scott Bodiker (the oldest of two Bodiker sons; Mike is the youngest) began the comeback with a pair of singles.

Doug Horst, the No. 9 hitter in the BC order, took a 3-2 pitch with the bases loaded and cleared them with a bloop hit. The decisive run was scored from first base by Gary Chupp (who is now athletic director at the school).

“Of all the sports I coached, I thought baseball was the toughest,” says Bodiker. “You have to make so many tough decisions and you have to live with those decisions.”

Bodiker was faced with choices like whether or not to stick with his top pitcher who was not throwing strikes when he knew his No. 2 was not nearly as good.

“What do you do?,” says Bodiker.

There is also the case of a freshman — a poor bunter — being up in the last inning with runners or first and second base and less than two outs.

Bodiker could let him try to bunt or swing away. He chose the latter and the frosh hit into a double play.

The same player came up in the same kind of situation as a senior. He was a better as a bunter and hitter. This time, Bodiker called for the bunt.

The result: Another double play.

“True story,” says Bodiker. “It’s that tightness.”

When the coach wanted to call for a squeeze bunt he would give a verbal cue — “Bust that apple” — so all players could hear.

Sign stealing — sometimes with the help of technology — has been a hot topic in Major League Baseball.

As a regular part of clean play, Bodiker and some of his players were sometimes able to figure out the opposing signs.

“I’d ask (the batter) if you want me to call the pitches if I see them,” says Bodiker. “I might say their first name for a fastball and their last or their number for a curve.”

It’s about making decisions in critical moments.

“There’s a lot of that in baseball that you don’t get in any other sport,” says Bodiker.

It was as a boy in Lima, Ohio, where he was born in 1942, that Bodiker learned baseball and became a lifelong fan of the Cleveland Indians.

“I never like to brag on the Indians because it’s never over until that last out,” says Bodiker, who recalls Cleveland’s World Series teams of 1948 and 1954 and counts many Tribe replicas in his collection of more than 390 big league and minor league caps. He started the collecting hobby in the 1980’s.

As a youngster, Dan and his train engineer father would walk to games of Lima teams in the Class D Ohio State or Ohio-Indiana leagues — like the Red Birds, Reds, Terriers, Chiefs and Phillies.

One of his replica caps pays tribute to the old Lima Pandas.

Dan would grow to be a catcher at Lima Senior High School (which had 1,500 students in the top three grades) and with the local American Legion team. Lima Senior placed second in the Ohio state tournament in Bodiker’s senior year of 1960.

When Bodiker was a junior, he was a back-up to Gary Moeller (who went on to become head football coach at the University of Michigan and with the Detroit Lions).

“What little I got to play, I enjoyed,” says Bodiker.

The Joe Bowers-coached Spartans beat Massillon Washington in the ’60 state semifinals and lost to Cincinnati Elder in the championship — both played in Columbus.

“He knew his baseball,” Bodiker said of Bowers.

Dan Matthews was the Legion ball manager who also took a team to the State Finals and placed third.

“I patterned a lot of my coaching after him,” says Bodiker of Matthews, a former New York Yankess minor leaguer. “If I didn’t block a ball behind the plate, he would pull me aside rather than chewing me out.”

Pitchers were led by former Brooklyn Dodgers farmhand Ed Oley. He had been a travel roommate of Hall of Famer Duke Snider.

Many of the blue caps worn by Bethany baseball have had that Brooklyn “B.” It seems to be no small coincidence.

“B” for Brooklyn.

“B” for Bethany.

“B” for Bod.

DANBODIKER

Dan Bodiker started the whole athletic program at Bethany Christian High School when he began working there in the fall of 1964. That includes a long stint as baseball coach. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Batesville’s brand of baseball based on ‘havoc’ thanks to Tucker

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

There’s a new baseball tradition at Batesville High School. Call it the Running of the Bulldogs.

Releasing its brand of “havoc,” Batesville has turned up the heat on opponents with its baserunning and bunting.

It’s a style choice made by Justin Tucker (BHS Class of 2007) when he took over as head coach of his alma mater for the 2016 season. He learned it from John Rigney when both were assistants to Scott Holdsworth at Greensburg High School.

Rigney, who took Batesville to a state runner-up finish in 2002, adopted the go-go model as a freshmen coach under Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Gary O’Neal at Madison.

“We are very aggressive,” says Tucker, who watched his 2017 squad swipe 116 bases while going 21-10 and making it to the championship game of the IHSAA Class 3A South Dearborn Sectional. “Our guys will go first-to-third and force balks. It’s just a fun way to play.”

Tucker’s collection of grinders started the 2017 campaign at 10-8 then went on a run.

“When you’re feeling good, the ball just bounces your way,” says Tucker, who watched his club make the dirt fly on the skinned infield at Batesville’s Liberty Park.

In the sectional final against Lawrenceburg, the Bulldogs led 6-5 going in the seventh inning thanks to a three-run home run in the fifth by sophomore Quinn Werner before losing 7-6.

Senior Zach Britton — a University of Louisville commit and a left-handed slugger who had teammates playing outside the fence to protect nearby houses whenever the team looking batting practice at Liberty Park — was on base when the game ended.

Britton has been reunited with former Batesville teammate Bryan Hoeing at the U of L, while playing for Cardinals head coach Dan McDonnell, a speaker at the 2017 IHSBCA State Clinic in Indianapolis.

“They are probably pitching and catching to one another,” says Tucker. “I’m glad our kids are being put in (McDonnell’s) hands.”

As a center fielder in 2017, Werner made 79 putouts (one short of the single-season state record set by Goshen’s Rick Mirer in 1989). Werner had a shot to surpass the career mark of 191 established by John Glenn’s Lonnie Shetler (2007-10).

Batesville had come back to best South Dearborn 17-12 in the 2017 sectional semifinals. The Knights plated 11 runs in the fourth inning while the Bulldogs tallied seven in the top of the seventh. They finished the game with 12 stolen bases.

“The guys have some grit,” says Tucker.

In his first season in charge at Batesville, Tucker had to fill seven starting positions yet the Bulldogs went 10-10 and bowed 7-3 to Greensburg in the 3A Madison Sectional championship game. Batesville knocked off state-ranked Franklin County in the first round.

Tucker was a primarily a center fielder when he played for Ozzie Smith and Gary Jewell at Batesville. He went on to Indiana University Purdue University-Columbus. While there, he spent two seasons as freshmen baseball coach at Greensburg. When he graduated, he became a teacher and junior varsity coach for the Pirates.

Greensburg made it to the championship game of the Jasper Semistate in 2012, losing 10-9 to Brebeuf Jesuit.

As a Batesville sophomore, Tucker had experienced semistate play as the Bulldogs went to the final at Jasper and lost 3-0 to Evansville Memorial.

Batesville won the Connersville Sectional and beat North Harrison in the one-game regional to make it to the semistate.

Years later, Tucker came back to Batesville when an opening for associate principal and head baseball coach opened at the same time.

He enjoys the release that coaching baseball gives him.

“As an assistant principal you deal with a lot of discipline,” says Tucker. “(Coaching is) truly therapeutic. Some people jog. Some people read a book. That’s what I truly enjoy doing.”

Baseball allows him to have a positive impact and build relationships with students.

Tucker had a unique chance to build relationships with top seniors from all over when he was named as a South coach for the 2017 IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series in Muncie.

“It was just awesome to be around all those players and coaches,” says Tucker. “I’m following (the careers of) all those guys I coached now.”

Batesville plays in the eight-team Eastern Indiana Athletic Conference (along with Connersville, East Central, Franklin County, Greensburg, Lawrenceburg, Rushville and South Dearborn). Starting with 2018, the EIAC will play a piggyback type of schedule with home-and-home conference games against the same opponent on Mondays and Thursdays.

The 2017 season brought with it the introduction of the IHSAA pitch count rule (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).

Tucker says he favors the rule because it adds strategy and planning elements for he and his coaching staff, which includes Batesville graduates Alex Meer, Eric Feller, Ian Manlove and Jason Meyer and Franklin County alum Brian Roleson.

At tournament time, the rule really came into play, especially when rain forced the Bulldogs to play once Saturday and twice Monday at the sectional.

“I had a senior I would have loved to pitch in the sectional championship,” says Tucker. “How can you make it even better than it is right now is the real question?”

The Bulldogs fielded a varsity, JV and freshmen team in 2017 and had nearly 50 players try out for the program. Feeder programs include Batestville Babe Ruth League and a travel organization called the Batesville Bats.

step0001

Justin Tucker, a 2007 Batesville High School graduate, is now head baseball coach at his alma mater. In 2017, he was on the South coaching staff for the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series in Muncie.

 

Penn’s Dikos puts program first and piles up hardware

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Everyone knows that the white “P” on those black caps stands for Penn.

But it could just as season stand for another “P” word.

“Bottom line: It’s not a person, it’s the program,” says Penn High School head baseball coach Greg Dikos. “Everybody contributes. You can plug anybody in.”

That’s the way Dikos has operated for three decades on Bittersweet Road in Mishawaka.

The program-first method works.

As the Kingsmen get ready for an IHSAA Class 4A Kokomo Semistate game against Zionsville Saturday, June 10 (following the 1 p.m. 2A game), they are led by a man who has led the program to 702 wins, including 18 sectionals, 10 regionals, three semistates and four state championships (1994, 1998, 2001, 2015) plus 18 Northern Indiana Conference titles in his 30 seasons as head coach (he’s been in the program for 37).

Chasing championships is what they do at Penn.

“Those are definitely our expectations,” says Dikos, who was inducted into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2011. “We try to make the kids realize that when they sign up as freshmen.”

Dikos, 60, ticks off the trademarks of the Penn program: “Hard work. Teamwork. Discipline. Commitment.”

While the Kingsmen have numerous NCAA Division I commits in the 2017 lineup, including Niko Kavadas (Notre Dame), Nolan Metcalf (Kansas) and Trevor Waite (Dayton) plus NAIA two-sporter Matt Kominkiewicz (Saint Francis, Ind. for baseball and football), this is not a typical year.

“We have hard-working kids that come in and give it their all, play together,” says Dikos. “Comparatively speaking, with other athletes around the area, we just hold our own because we play as a team.”

Discipline means showing up on time consistently and following Penn’s athletic code of conduct year-round.

Dikos demands discipline in the school building and class room. His players are not allowed to cut class, get tardies or give the teacher a hard time.

“They know the first person the teacher goes to is me,” says Dikos. “If it gets to me, I know that teacher is frustrated. We’ll take care of it right away.”

Penn High School coaches expect their athletes “to be champions on and off the field” and that’s certainly the case in baseball.

Baseball-playing Kingsmen put in a commitment of quality time. Dikos and long-time assistant Jim Kominkiewicz no longer lead five-hour workouts. They’ve learned to get the job done in about 1 1/2. But players are expected to work. Athletes put in countless hours on their own in the fall and winter, working on skills and lifting weights.

The 2016-17 school year was the first for full-time strength and conditioning coach Matt Cates, who puts Penn athletes through sport-specific exercises either during the school day, before or after.

“Our kids have developed immensely,” says Dikos, a health and physical education teacher at PHS. “It’s going to benefit the freshman class this year the most because they’re going to have four years of Cates.”

Players are willing to put in the quality time because of their baseball adoration.

“It’s a difficult sport if you love it. It’s an impossible sport if you don’t love it,” says Dikos. “The kids that make it to their senior year really love it. They have fun doing baseball stuff.

“You just try to built that chemistry and that will lead to the fun.”

While early-season workouts are more regimented, as Penn gets deeper into the postseason, practices at Jordan Automotive Group Field tend to be more relaxed and players are encouraged to enjoy the experience.

Typical of tournament time, Dikos gave his tournament roster the day off Monday so he could work with his younger players. In many years, the Kingsmen have been practicing for the state tournament, the summer travel season and running a youth camp all in the same week.

In addressing players and parents at the beginning of each season Dikos makes one promise: The season will not be perfect.

“We go through the same things that other teams do,” says Dikos. “We have our same problems that other team do. We just try to deal with them as effectively as we can. We try to nip it in the bud.”

Working through those problems present a life lesson.

“You’re not going to get along with your soulmate every single day.,” says Dikos. “You’re going to have problems with you marriage, with your job. These are things you have to work out. These are values I hope are learned going through our program that kids can take with them in college and the rest of their lives.”

Dikos likes the way Paul Holaway puts it.

“We don’t expect perfection; we expect to be exceptionally good,” says Dikos in quoting his senior manager. “You never perfect baseball. It’s always a learning process and change. It’s a series of adjustments every level that you go up

“We (coaches) have that expectation that we’re going to win. Once you build that, the kids go in there expecting that same thing.”

Many Penn baseball alumni were in the crowd to see the ’17 Kingsmen beat Goshen and Elkhart Central (win No. 700 for Dikos) to win the Elkhart Sectional and Lake Central and Andrean to take the LaPorte Regional.

“It really pumped our kids up a lot seeing their ex-teammates,” says Dikos. “I imagine there’s pressure in not letting those guys down, not letting the program down.

“But it’s certainly not emphasized by the coaching staff.”

Besides Kominkiewicz, who played for IHSBCA Hall of Famer Len Buczkowski at South Bend Adams (graduating in 1973) with his quarter century in the program, the staff features Tom Stanton (Penn Class of 2000), John Westra (Sturgis 2003), Elliott Lares (Penn 2014), Brian Lares (Penn 2008) and Collin McNamara (Penn 2014).

Positional coaches are Dikos (catchers), Stanton (pitchers) Kominkiewicz (infielders) and Westra (outfielders). The other help at the junior varsity or freshmen levels.

Trust is big for Dikos, who has come to rely on the opinions of “Komo.”

“He’s one guy you can depend on,” says Dikos of Kominkiewicz. “I know he’s going to be here everyday. He’s going to give it his all.

“One thing he and I have in common is we just want to win. We just try to put our best nine on the field regardless of who it is.”

The current Penn lineup is not the one that took the field at the beginning of the spring.

“It’s something a veteran staff is able to figure out,” says Dikos. “The parents expect their kids to be given a chance. The kids expect to be given a chance — unless it happens to another kid.

“They don’t understand why you stick with a kid for a few games. In reality, you’re giving them the kind of chances you give everybody. You play yourself out of a position. Some parents and players think it should happen faster or they should be given a little more time. “

All the coaching experience really helps.

“We might lose a game along the way trying to figure things out,” says Dikos. “That’s something parents will have a hard time getting a grip on.

“We’re thinking about making a state tournament run.”

Even in a school the size of Penn, there are multi-sport athletes. Dikos just doesn’t see as many as a he once did.

“It beginning to become quite the rarity but not because of (the coaching staff),” says Dikos. “We encourage multi-sport athletes.”

There are five of those on the 2017 baseball tournament roster

“In the past, it was a lot more,” says Dikos. But kids are beginning to specialize.”

Looking to children of Greg and Sally Dikos, sons Greg Jr. and Garrick were three-sport athletes through junior year at Penn and two-sport athletes as seniors. Daughter Sarah played multiple sports in junior high and found her talents led her to just volleyball in high school.

Dikos keeps the lines of communication open with Penn’s other head coaches.

“The only thing we ask is that the athletes tell us what’s going on and are respectful of everybody,” says Dikos. “We don’t want anybody short-changed. If the kids really want it, it’s workable.”

Dikos is a 1975 Swartz Creek (Mich.) High School and 1979 Ball State University graduate who played briefly in the Atlanta Braves organization and has been giving back to the game ever since.

DIKOSKOMINKIEWICZSTANTON

Greg Dikos (center) and long-time assistants Jim Kominkiewicz (left) and Tom Stanton (right) have helped Penn High School into the 2017 Class 4A Kokomo Semistate. Dikos is in his 30th season as head baseball coach and has 702 win and four state titles on his resume. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Sheets credits community support with role in NorthWood baseball success

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Wa-Nee sports fans have a reputation for backing their teams.

The latest example comes with NorthWood High School winning its fifth straight baseball sectional championship.

The folks of Wakarusa and Nappanee would really have turned out in force if the weather had cooperated and the event was held at NorthWood as scheduled.

But rains forced all but a few innings of the first game to be played at Wawasee.

Plenty of Panthers fans went to Syracuse to see NorthWood top Wawasee and Lakeland for a berth in the Class 3A Bellmont Regional on Saturday, June 3. Yorktown meets Norwell in Game 1, followed by NorthWood against Fort Wayne Concordia with the championship that night.

It’s nearly 90 miles to Decatur. But that’s not likely to stop NorthWood fans.

“It’s like we’re a big family,” says Panthers third-year head coach Jay Sheets, who was part of a sectional baseball championship team and an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association All-Star as a NorthWood senior in 2007 before playing at Manchester University for coach Rick Espeset. “People rally together. “Parents want to see all the kids do well. On Memorial Day — with other things going on — we had a big crowd (at the sectional championship game).”

NorthWood (24-1) lost 1-0 in its season opener against Westview and have won 19 times by allowing three runs or less.

“Our pitching and defense does not give up a lot of runs,” says Sheets. “Our hitting is coming around at the right time.”

The workhorse has been senior Drake Gongwer (a Taylor University commit), but the Panthers have a half dozen capable arms.

Sheets, 29, credits the Class of ’17 for leading the way this spring.

“We have five phenomenal seniors,” says Sheets of a group that includes Gongwer, Drew Minnich, Vincent Herschberger, Jaron Mullet and Travis Stephenson. “They’ve instilled work ethic in our younger guys.”

Gongwer, Minnich, Herschberger and Moore were all regulars as sophomores in Sheets’ first season as head coach after a few leading the junior varsity. “They’re all battle-tested. They know what (regional) is going to be like with the crowd sizes. They can tell the younger guys.”

Even so, the Panthers might have a few butterflies. That does not bother their head coach.

“Nerves are a good thing in my mind,” says Sheets. “They keep you on your toes.”

Sheets, a third grade teacher at Wakarusa Elementary, is helped in the dugout by Todd Cleveland (pitching coach), Matt Cox (hitting and outfielders coach), Greg Estepp (junior varsity head coach) and Aaron Arnold (JV assistant).

Success is a tradition for NorthWood baseball. With the latest hardware, the Panthers have won 11 sectionals.

The 2017 Panthers won the Northern Lakes Conference. Other NLC members are Concord, Elkhart Memorial, Goshen, Northridge, Plymouth, Warsaw and Wawasee.

JAYSHEETS

Jay Sheets, a 2007 NorthWood High School graduate, is in his third season as head baseball coach at his alma mater. The Bellmont Regional-bound Panthers won their fifth straight sectional in 2017.

Reinhardt reflects on two decades at Bethany Christian

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Only three men in the last half century have held the title of head baseball coach at Bethany Christian High School.

Dan Bodiker led the program 1966-95.

Jason Leichty served 1996-97.

Brent Reinhardt has been in charge 1998 to the present.

Reinhardt, who took a teaching job at the private school on the south side of Goshen the same academic year he assumed baseball coaching duties, has announced that this spring — his 20th — will be his last season as head coach.

While he plans to stay around baseball as a summer youth coach and remain in his role as varsity assistant girls basketball coach, he is stepping away from his spring diamond job.

The father of four (Brent and college sweetheart Marla have BC graduate and Grace College freshman Alex, junior Brooke, eighth grader Mia and fourth grader Jacoby) took the time this week to discuss his baseball past, present and future.

Alex has played junior varsity baseball this spring for the Lancers. The two girls are both athletes and Brent plans to see them play for Bethany in 2017-18. He also intends to form a 12U team in the Boys of Summer League that will include Jacoby and other Bethany students.

Stepping down in the spring will also give him more time for at-home projects and taking care of his sheep.

Reinhardt says he could see himself returning to high school baseball coaching someday, but as an assistant. He would leave the administrative work to the head coach.

Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association members who reach 20 years of service are designated as a “dinosaur” and receive a T-shirt declaring their jurassic credentials.

“It’s kind of interesting being a ‘dinosaur,’” says Reinhardt. “I just had opportunities earlier than most people did.

“But when you look around, there’s hardly anyone still around when I played (Reinhardt is a 1988 NorthWood High School graduate who played for Bob Riley and Dennis Myers before playing for DeVon Hoffman at Goshen College, where he met volleyball player and wife-to-be Marla Gerber).”

Bodiker and Hoffman are to be honored when Goshen visits Bethany at 5 p.m. Tuesday, May 2. RedHawks head coach Josh Keister also played for Hoffman (who is also a former Goshen High head coach) at GC.

Even though Reinhardt is just 47, this is his 25th straight spring of leading teenagers with bats and balls. He was NorthWood’s head softball coach for five seasons before being hired at Bethany.

Why has he stuck around for two decades?

“I just love baseball and I love kids,” says Reinhardt. “I love the turning of winter into spring and the new life. That six to eight weeks just flies by.”

Reinhardt, a social studies teacher, has spread the game to non-players through baseball-themed Interterm/J-Term sessions.

One year, he took students to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y. Another time, he had them develop a minor league franchise where they had to pick the city, name the team, identify the ballpark food and construct a model of the stadium.

Reinhardt grew up a Chicago Cubs fan.

“It’s been a tradition in our family,” says Reinhardt. “Last year was pretty exciting.”

As a high schooler, Reinhardt’s favorite player was Ryne Sandberg. His favorite Cub from the 2016 World Series champions is Anthony Rizzo.

“I really like the way he plays and his leadership,” says Reinhardt. “I think he’s the face of the Cubs.”

Bethany is a Class 1A school with one IHSAA sectional title in school history (1987) and is often taking the field with teams full of players with more skill.

This gives the Bruins chances to see what it’s like to face challenges and overcome adversity.

“There’s a lot of lessons in just going out there and fighting and scratching and clawing and, at the end of the day, saying you gave it your best,” says Reinhardt. “Those are good life lessons.”

Teaching the fundamentals has also been fun for Reinhardt.

“Sometimes I’ve really had to break it down because we had some really inexperienced players in some years,” says Reinhardt. “You see a lot of improvement from freshmen to senior year if they stick with it. That’s gratifying to see that.”

A small school like Bethany allows students to get involved with many activities. Reinhardt knows he will be sharing his players with choir programs and other athletic teams.

“That’s just the way it is,” says Reinhardt. “We want to develop balanced kids who can do lots of things.”

It’s all the educational experiences that count.

“I’d like to win sectionals and state titles and those sorts of the things. But I’ll look back on all those great kids and see what they’re doing now and how they’re changing the world.

“Hopefully, they’ll look back and say baseball was fun. One of my biggest hopes is to have them playing catch with their children, taking them to games and passing on the love of baseball.”

BRENTREINHARDT

Brent Reinhardt has announced that 2017 is his 20th and last season as head baseball coach at Bethany Christian High School.