Tag Archives: Grace College

Character is foundation of program for South Bend Riley’s Harris




Greg Harris learned about discipline, structure and staying on-task from an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer and he’s incorporating those concepts and more in his coaching career.

Harris, who played for Ric Tomaszewski and graduated from South Bend Washington High School in 1992, is heading into his ninth season as head baseball coach at South Bend Riley High School in 2018.

“Coach 6 was very disciplined about how he went about his business,” says Harris of Tomazewski. “All of us understood the expectations he had for us — even from our field maintenance and making sure we did the right things in cleaning up and preparing the field.

“We go about our business and preparing the kids (at Riley) in the same way.”

A cornerstone of the Riley Wildcats program is character.

“We really look for high-character kids and great student-athletes,” says Harris. “Academics is a really big part of what we try to instill in our kids about life after high school.

“Our boys are all high achievers in the classroom and we tell them there’s always a place in college for them somewhere.”

Riley routinely carries a team grade-point average about 3.0 and has been at 3.8.

“From freshmen all the way through, the expectations are really high and the kids take that seriously and focus really hard,” says Harris. “It’s a testament to the kids and the parents.

“Grades come first. Academics are going to carry you a lot farther (than athletics).”

Riley currently has graduate Gabe Douglass on the baseball team at Grace College. Brett Carlson finished up at Purdue University a few years ago. Current Wildcats senior Zach Meert has committed to Indiana University South Bend, now led by former Riley assistant and Washington head coach Doug Buysse.

Harris and his assistant coaches — Mike Armey, Gavin Adams, Cameron Evans, Andrew Teall and Steve Fletcher — stress the importance of being good people all the time and not just on the baseball field.

“You represent South Bend; you represent Riley; you represent your family; you represent me as a coach; and we want to represent each other well,” says Harris, who is married to Sybil and has two boys — Riley sophomore baseball player Jackson Williams (16) and Gregory Harris (10). “I try to be a high-character person myself to make sure I’m representing my family, my baseball family, South Bend and my school well and those expectations stay high.”

Harris is passionate about baseball and the life lessons that can be taught through the sport.

“It helps them prepare for the world,” says Harris. “I love the relationships I’ve built with these kids.”

Adams, Evans and Teall all played for Harris at Riley and are now coaching with him.

Between the lines, Harris wants his hitters to have the ability to manufacture runs if power is not present, to make the routine defensive plays and for pitchers to throw strikes on their first delivery.

“First-pitch strike success will lead to success,” says Harris. “If we don’t throw a strike on that first pitch, the odds are a little bit different.”

Even before the IHSAA adopted 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), Riley coaches were keeping them low.

“We use a program when scoring the game that alerts me early where they’re at and we’ll begin to shut them down,” says Harris. “Mike Armey, my pitching coach, is really on top of that.

“Sixty-five pitches is a long day for us. We never try to over-use a kids arm no matter what.”

Competition among teammates means that players can’t get too comfortable with their position. Coupled with pitching moves, that means that there are many players who can play multiple places on the diamond.

Overall, it’s about the Wildcats giving it their all.

“We want to play the game the right way constantly,” says Harris. “If we put our best effort out there, we’ll take what we get with it. We’ve had some kids with quite a bit of talent and we’ve had some kids come a long way.”

All Riley players receive a defensive playbook that they must know and understand and are expecting to work toward increasing their Baseball I.Q.

“One day they may be parents and pass those lessons on just like I learned from Tomaszewski,” says Harris. “There are still things I believe in that I learned in high school.”

South Bend Community School Corporation has four IHSAA member high schools — Riley, Adams, Clay and Washington — plus Rise Up Academy. There are 10 intermediate centers (grades 5-8) and 18 primary centers (grades K-4).

With smaller freshmen classes than in recent years, overall athletic program numbers are down at Riley. The Wildcats will field a softball team for girls this spring, but did not in 2017.

Harris has 27 baseball players in 2018. Some will split time between varsity and junior varsity.

“We want to fill both and make sure the development is where it needs to be,” says Harris. “With the emergence of travel sports, the Little Leagues aren’t feeding into you the way they used to. With school of choice and magnet programs, kids go where they want.

“We’re trying to reach out in different areas to get kids interested in playing sports.”

New SBCSC athletic director Seabe Gavin and Riley AD Dan Kyle is encouraging high school varsity coaches to meet with intermediate school coaches and it’s likely the primary schools will also be contacted.

“We’re still trying to tap into the Little Leagues and see what they have,” says Harris, who counts South Side and South Bend South East as feeder parks for Riley. “We’re always trying have a place for kids to play baseball.”

While Little League participation is down, travel ball is up.

In the summer, Harris has coached travel baseball with the Michiana Scrappers. This year, he will coach the 16U squad for the Michiana Repetition. The program is directed by new South Bend Washington High School head baseball coach and Riley graduate Marcus LaSane.

Players are encouraged to find some kind of team.

“They need to keep playing ball,” says Harris.

Lessons are offered by Harris at Teddy Ballgames training facility in South Bend.

Harris, who is a product engineer at Dec-O-Art in Elkhart, began coaching baseball at South Bend South Side Little League and then migrated to assistant positions at Riley before following Dave Luczkowski as head coach.

The Wildcats play on-campus at Bob Rush Field. Through fundraising, baseball has found ways to upgrade dugouts and purchase new wind screens while maintaining mounds and playing surfaces.

Harris says getting a new warning track is a goal. A  big-ticket item on the wish list is a press box and lights are dream.

Riley belongs to the Northern Indiana Conference along with Bremen, Elkhart Central, Jimtown, John Glenn, Mishawaka, Mishawaka Marian, New Prairie, Penn, South Bend Adams, South Bend Clay, South Bend St. Joseph and South Bend Washington. The NIC produced an IHSAA Class 3A state champion (St. Joseph) and a 4A state runner-up (Penn) in 2017.

“You can’t take a day off (in the NIC),” says Harris.

Non-conference opponents on the Wildcats schedule include Concord, Elkhart Memorial, Kokomo, LaVille, Michigan City, Plymouth, Triton and Warsaw.

Riley is in a 4A sectional group with Adams, Clay, LaPorte, Michigan City, Mishawaka and Plymouth.

“We may take our lumps early,” says Harris. “We want to be better than ‘South Bend good’ and make a run in the tournament.”


Greg Harris is entering his ninth season as head baseball coach at South Bend Riley High School in 2018. (Steve Krah Photo)



Rost emphasizes respect, routines as he leads Elkhart Memorial Crimson Chargers baseball




Baseball coaches often talk about “playing the game the right way.”

The concept means different things to different coaches.

Scott Rost, who is going into his 16th season as head baseball coach of the Elkhart Memorial High School Crimson Chargers in 2018, emphasizes the importance of hustle, respect and routines that help with the mental approach.

“As coaches we get caught up with a lot of the mechanical things in the game — all the ins and outs of being a good hitter and a good pitcher etc.,” says Rost. “Sometimes we forget about how important it is to sprint on and off the field and play the game the way it is supposed to be played. Don’t show up umpires. Don’t show up your opponent. Those are things we’ve always tried to preach.”

Not only might there be a college scout in the stands, the way a player acts reflects not only on themselves but others.

“You represent yourself (and family),” says Rost. “You represent the school (and community).”

Rost, who graduated from Concord High School in 1989 and Manchester College (now known as Manchester University) in 1993 and holds a master’s degree from Indiana University, learned many lessons as a player for then-Concord head coach Larry “Jake” Jackowiak and assistant Mike Stout (who went on to be head coach at Jimtown High School for 25 seasons) and later as Jackowiak’s varsity assistant.

“They were just good guys and good baseball guys. I have a lot of good memories of playing at Concord,” says Rost. “I learned a lot about discipline and how to play the game the right way. That means hustling on and off the field.

“They taught us how to deal with adversity and the importance of reacting correctly to negative things that happen in the game.”

Rost reminds his players how baseball is a game of failure and how to best deal with that disappointment.

“In baseball, that’s a huge part of being successful,” says Rost. “You’re going to have a lot of times when things don’t go your way.

“You boot a ball, what do you do to get your mind right to go to the next pitch and make the play?”

When Rost was a player, he was a fiery competitor who got upset when thing went wrong for him on the field and saw some others do the same.

“It’s human nature with a lot of kids to slam the glove or toss the helmet,” says Rost. “Things like that, (Jackowiak and Stout) just didn’t allow and made us understand that you’ve got to find other ways to deal with that than to show your frustrations outwardly.”

Rost can recall two examples in summer ball where Jackowiak got his message across.

In one heated game, there was a play at the plate with Rost as the runner. He did not appreciate the tag to his head and got in the catcher’s face.

“Larry said, ‘it’s time for you to sit down,’” says Rost. “Some of it was respecting the game and some of it was keeping your cool and staying mentally sharp.

“There’s a difference in playing with intensity and getting out of control.”

In another contest, Concord was playing well and ahead by about eight runs when Rost decided to steal third base.

Jake gave him one of those looks and said, “don’t ever do that again.”

It’s about respecting the game and playing it “the right way.”

Over the years, Rost has presented his players with mental skills tools they can use to help them in various diamond situations.

“We talk a lot about breathing,” says Rost. “I’m always talking to them about routines.”

Posted in the Memorial dugout are the routines to be followed by each batter up to the fourth hitter in an inning. The Crimson Chargers are not penalized for not sticking to the script, but this is something that can help them.

“In this game, if you’re not mentally tough and have routines and a way to flush things, you’re not going to be very successful,” says Rost. “There’s going to come an end of the road for you at some point in time regardless of how talented you are.”

Rost has also introduced visualization and getting players to see themselves succeed before it actually happens.

“We don’t try to force it down their throat,” says Rost. “We provide it as a tool for them. Every player is a little bit different. Some guys really grab hold of that and really benefit.”

Rost, who applies some of the theories put forward by sports psychologists Dr. Tom Hanson and Dr. Ken Ravizza in their Heads Up Baseball books and in seminars, podcasts and videos, says there is not of lot of difference between players in minor league baseball in terms of physical tools. In many cases, the ones who end up being big leaguers are the ones who can handle the mental side of the game and use routines.

This applies at the high school level.

“If you have the same routine, there’s only minor adjustments that need to be made,” says Rost. “If kids get into situations where they’re not comfortable and don’t have a routine to fall back on, they have a tendency to get nervous, hurry things and make mistakes they normally wouldn’t make.”

Ravizza is famous for saying that players must learn to perform even when they are not at their peak.

“Every day you step on the field, you’re not going to have your ‘A’ game,” says Rost. “Very seldom are you going to feel like a million dollars and the best in the world. It’s just not reality.”

The best players figure out how to be successful with what you have that day.

Rost has saved notes from Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famers Dick Siler and Jim Reinebold commending Rost on the way his teams played the game.

“For me, that kind of stuff means a lot,” says Rost. “I can see we’re doing things the right way here.”

Siler was Memorial’s head coach in the first 25 years of the program. He is in his 21st season as an assistant at Bethel College in Mishawaka and his 61st year in coaching.

Reinebold, who died in 2017, coached 35 high school seasons and went into professional baseball as a manager, coach and scout. He established the Jim Reinebold Fall Baseball Camp in 1993.

Rost is assisted at the varsity level by Brian Blondell, Bruce Baer and Troy Carson. Brent Curry and Jay Bashore lead the junior varsity.

Blondell is a former head coach and assistant at both the college and high school levels and founder of the Michiana Scrappers travel ball organization.

Baer was head girls track coach at Memorial for years and has assisted in other sports and coached for the Scrappers.

Carson was a head high school baseball coach at Howe Military and Northridge  and assisted in football and basketball.

Curry was on the baseball staff at Concord.

“I feel blessed with the staff I have,” says Rost. “I have a lot of head coaching experience. I have some very good teachers and very knowledgable baseball guys.”

In the recent parents meeting, Rost spelled out expectations.

“We told them that we’re going to do everything we can to make the guys we have in our program as good as they can be on the baseball field and make them better people,” says Rost. “Everyone is going to have different views on playing time, lineups and all that kind of stuff. If we have a good rapport between our coaches — especially me — and our kids then the kids have a tendency to understand things a little bit more and take things a little bit better. Then, when they go home, the parents have a tendency to understand things a little bit better.

“We’re going to be honest with your kids. We’ll be honest with you. Communication is the key.”

Rost wants parents to know that if they have an issue or a problem, he has an open door and they can talk to him.

“There not always going to like the answer,” says Rost. “But I’m going to tell them the truth. For the most part, people respect that.”

Memorial belongs to the Northern Lakes Conference (along with Concord, Goshen, Northridge, NorthWood, Plymouth, Warsaw and Wawasse). There are 14 conference games.

Beginning with former Memorial athletic director Frank Kurth, Rost says he appreciates the flexibility he has had in his schedule over the years, depending on the program’s needs.

Non-conference opponents on the 2018 schedule include Bremen, Culver Military Academy, Edwardsburg (Mich.), Elkhart CentralJimtown, Mishawaka, Mishawaka Marian, New Prairie, Penn, Portage, South Bend Riley and Valparaiso. The Crimson Chargers are also in the Doc Mueller Classic at LaPorte.

“We jumped on the opportunity to play at LaPorte,” says Rost. “That’s where the regional has been played for a long time.”

Memorial is in an IHSAA Class 4A sectional group with Concord, Elkhart Central, Goshen, Penn and Warsaw.

Memorial generally go to games with 12 to 16 players. It depends upon factors like the number of pitcher-only players and who can play multiple positions.

If it will benefit the program and that player, juniors may be sent down to the JV to get playing playing time.

“Our philosophy is basically if any freshman or sophomore is up on the varsity level, they should be playing the majority of the time,” says Rost. “If not, they should be with the JV getting their reps.

“It can be hard for JV coaches to have kids coming and going. But I equate it to Triple-A and the major leagues. If a guy is really tearing it up (on the JV) or there is a need (on the varsity).”

Rost looks at his 2018 stable of Chargers and sees 11 juniors and seniors and up to seven sophomores and freshman who could contribute.

“There are certain years when we felt like we had a set varsity group and a set JV group,” says Rost. “For us this year, that’s not the case. We have some kids who are probably going to float back and forth. We’re going to see how things go.”

While current Memorial players are pondering college baseball opportunities, recent graduates Scottie Clark and Cameron Maxwell are on the team at Grace College and Justin Walter is in the mix at Purdue University Northwest.

Ryan Strausborger, a 2006 Memorial graduate, played in the Minnesota Twins organization in 2017.

Scott’s wife, Jacquie Rost, is Memorial’s athletic director and a longtime successful volleyball coach. The couple have two sons who play baseball — Dylan (15) is a EMHS freshman and Quinn (11) is a fifth grader. Both play for the Scrappers and Scott helps with coaching.

Rost has had players participate with many travel organizations, including the Indiana Chargers, Elkhart Titans, Indiana Land Sharks and Granger Cubs.

Before taking his current position, Rost was head softball coach at Memorial for four seasons. He has also served one season each as a baseball assistant to Brian Griman at Memorial and Steve Stutsman at Elkhart Central, coached football at various levels, including freshmen at Memorial the past few falls, and coached softball at Norwood High School in Cincinnati.

Rost made the team at Manchester and played in the fall of his freshman year then decided to stop playing.

“I don’t regret too many things in my life,” says Rost. “But that’s something I regret a little bit. I wish I would have done that for the experience. Obviously, I love the game.

“I started coaching in the summer, developed a love for it and it took off from there.”

Rost and friend Phil Eddy coached together at Concord Little League. Scott’s younger brother Nic was on his team a couple seasons and was later a Concord freshman with Scott on Jackowiak’s coaching staff.

Jackowiak turned over his summer program to Rost.

“High school baseball in the summer was still a big thing,” says Rost. “A lot of the schools played 20 or 25 games.

“That was a great experience for me. I learned a lot because a lot of times I was the only one there.”

With a merger of Memorial and Central into Elkhart High School scheduled for the fall of 2020, Rost is not sure about the baseball future.

But he knows about the past and present.

“I’ve enjoyed it here,” says Rost. “I’ve had a lot of support. The parents have been great. We’ve had some great kids. They do some amazing things when they leave here.

“That’s the stuff that means a lot to me.”


Scott Rost is going into his 16th season as head baseball coach of the Elkhart Memorial High School  in 2018. (Steve Krah Photo)


Keister has Goshen RedHawks playing baseball with a purpose




Josh Keister is entering his fifth season as head baseball coach at his alma mater — Goshen High School.

The 2000 GHS graduate has led the program to more victories in each season. The 2017 RedHawks went 21-9 overall and 9-5 in the Northern Lakes Conference.

Keister credits the success to a culture that insists players be engaged and intense and understand the thought process behind things.

“We want you to understand what you’re doing and why,” says Keister. “When guys engage and understand it, they are more likely to get it right and get it right for the right reasons as they encounter it again.

“It’s amazing to see the results you get from approaching things that way.”

Keister and his coaching staff want players to have positive energy.

“We look at things that take no talent — attitude, energy and hustle — and evaluate how we are with those before we do anything situational or mechanical,” says Keister.

The Elkhart County Sports Hall of Famer who earned eight varsity letters at GHS in soccer, basketball and baseball while receiving team MVP honors in each, says high school athletes don’t necessarily know all the different ways to play hard.

With that in mind, Goshen players must always run hard through first base every time; run hard all the way to second base on a fly ball to the outfield; sprint to the deepest part of their defensive position; have their stuff and be ready to get out of the dugout at the end of an inning; once the third out is made on defense, every player is to be across the foul line within eight seconds.

“The reason we do that is to maintain momentum or get it back when we don’t have it,” says Keister.

Goshen varsity assistant coaches are Clay Norris, Aaron Keister, Chad Collins and Tracy Farmwald. All have been with the program since Josh Keister took over and Farmwald was on GHS staffs before that.

Second-year assistant J.J. DuBois and first-year assistant Troy Pickard are coaching Goshen’s junior varsity.

“We are very fortunate to have an excellent staff,” says Josh Keister. “Continuity has been a key to our success. We have grown and gotten better together.”

GHS will field two teams in 2018 — varsity and JV.

Staff and players have worked hard to improve the playing surface at Phend Field, which turns 50 this spring.

RedHawks coaches want players to have a purpose and focus. That includes a great game of catch.

“We want you to hit a target every time you throw the baseball,” says Keister. “It’s not just pitchers. You should sell out to catch it. Not every throw is going to be a great throw and it’s not all on the thrower. Treat every throw as if the game-winning run is on third base and you can’t let it get past you.

“There’s so much cool stuff in baseball with all the analytics, it’s easy to lose sight of those easy, basic things. You do those things and it leads to success with everything else.”

Keister was a left-handed hitter who excelled in both high school and at Goshen College and later was head coach of the Maple Leafs (2006-10; 68-196).

In 2000, he hit .432 with just three strikeouts in 105 plate appearances and socked a walk-off home run to win the Elkhart Sectional.

At GC, Keister was a two-time all-Mid-Central Conference (now Crossroads League) selection and an honorable mention All-American. He established single-season records in batting average (.479), hits (65), runs batted in (50) and runs scored (42) and career marks for average (.412), runs (133) and doubles (44) and most of these GC marks still stand.

GHS coaches are very individualized in how they instruct hitters.

“We want them to all know their strengths and weaknesses and the role they need to excel at for us to be successful as a team,” says Keister. “What are you trying to do up there? We’re doing everything with a purpose.”

Much work has been put into players knowing their roles. One example from 2017 was Trenton Scott, who was often asked to be a pinch-hitter.

“We let him know how hard it is to mentally prepare yourself (for that role),” says Keister. “Against East Noble, he saw one pitch and hit a home run that helped us win the game.

“Everybody on our roster knew what their role was, knew it was important and embraced it. This led to an engaged dugout and team all year. Prior to last year, I took that for granted as a coach. I’m understanding the importance of that more and more.”

Keister says all the coaches he had in his prep and college days have helped him in some way. He played his first three GHS baseball seasons for Brian Eldridge (1989-99; 181-168-3) and the last for Matt Chupp (2000-05; 89-84). One of Chupp’s assistants was DeVon Hoffman (head coach at GHS 1972-87; 310-213; head coach at GC 1988-98; 189-215-1).

Keister’s college coach was Brent Hoober. Keister and Hoober now work for Yoder Insurance. Keister is a business risk advisor.

Feeding the GHS baseball program are Goshen Little League and various travel organizations, including the Indiana Chargers and Elkhart Titans.

“We encourage our kids to play somewhere (in the summer),” says Keister. “We don’t have anything here at Goshen High School. Our focus in the off-season is individual skill development. Once the season starts, we get into the team aspect of things.”

Besides Goshen, the Northern Lakes Conference includes Concord, Elkhart Memorial, Northridge, NorthWood, Plymouth, Warsaw and Wawasee. Teams play a 14-game double round robin schedule with games on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays until the last week.

“I like it like that,” says Keister. “That’s the way it was when I played. I like the idea of seeing a team early and late (instead of twice in the same week as some conferences do).”

Goshen has reigned as NLC champions four times (1986, 1987, 1988, 1998).

The RedHawks (Goshen teams were known as the Redskins from 1922 to 2015) are grouped at IHSAA Class 4A sectional time with Concord, Elkhart Central, Elkhart Memorial, Northridge, Penn and Warsaw.

Goshen has won 17 sectionals (1967, 1968, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1974, 1976, 1981, 1986, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1997, 1999, 2000, 2008) and two regionals (1969, 1981).

Coach Ken Mirer, who led the program 1966-71, had a career 14-0 record in sectional games with five sectional titles.

With a minimum of 120 at-bats, 1988 graduate Steve Cripe (.397) ranks No. 1 in career batting. Tied for second at .392 at 1989 graduate Rick Mirer and 2007 graduate Heath Taylor. The next two spots belong to 2006 graduate Jon Rolon (.391) and the Class of 2000’s Josh Keister (.383).

With 34, 1980 graduate Ed Swoveland tops the career pitching victory list.

Goshen graduates currently with college teams are Deric Haynes and Michael Pinarski at Manchester University. Current GHS seniors with college baseball commitments are Joey Peebles and Philip Wertz at Grace College and  Tyler Colpitts at Manchester.


Josh Keister, a 2000 Goshen High School graduate, is in his fifth season as head baseball coach at his alma mater in 2018. The 2017 RedHawks went 21-9.

Prater now in charge of Tippecanoe Valley Vikings baseball




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

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

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

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

“I loved playing for him.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Among the TV seniors is Trine University commit Drew Hartman.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Benjamin finds his baseball fit at Indiana Wesleyan




Rich Benjamin is not the same person who took up residence in Marion, Ind., as head baseball coach at Indiana Wesleyan University prior to the 2016 season.

“I didn’t realize — in a positive way — how much it would change me in two years,” says Benjamin. “I enjoy being around like-minded coaches who care more about the other coach in the room than their own sport.

“It’s been a great place to be a mentor, to be mentored and grow and develop in the profession.”

Benjamin came to IWU following eighth seasons at Judson University in Elgin, Ill., where his teams amassed 304 wins with three Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference regular-season titles, four CCAC tournament championships. The Eagles also earned five NAIA regional appearances and two National Christian College Athletic Association World Series berths. Near the end of his stay, Benjamin added athletic director to his Judson responsibilities.

He began his coaching career as a student assistant at Martin Methodist College in Pulaski, Tenn. (He played his last two college seasons there following two at Milligan College in eastern Tennessee).

From Martin Methodist, Benjamin became an assistant Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Ill., before landing at Judson. He has extensive experience in coaching summer teams and working at camps and clinics.

Faced with multiple opportunities, Benjamin weighed his options and asked himself some questions before leaving Judson.

“What is the best fit for how I’m wired? What is the best fit for my family?,” says Benjamin, who is married to Casey and has a 5-year-old son in Ty. “Professionally, you do not want your job to cost your family more than what they’re benefitting from it.

“That’s always a delicate balance in the coaching profession.”

He recalls his initial meeting with Indiana Wesleyan athletic director and former Wildcats head baseball coach Mark DeMichael.

“I was blown away with the uniqueness of the environment,” says Benjamin of the NAIA member school. “It is a faith-based institution. It is not Christian in name only. The athletic department is founded on the Philippians 2 vision which — in short — means to be selfless. That was really attractive.”

Benjamin calls DeMichael one of the most-impressive leaders he’s ever been around.

“He really understands people, excellence and humility,” says Benjamin. “All the (IWU) coaches end up in his office at some point to use him as a sounding board for some of the cultural challenges that we are going through with our teams.

“He never tells you what to do. He lets you talk out loud. He asks really healthy open-ended questions and helps you find the answer you feel is the best solution for your program.”

During the interview process, Benjamin also learned from DeMichael about an institution with high academic and competitive standards. Every sport on campus had a combined grade-point average above 3.0 and the department winning percentage was in the top 15 in the nation.

“Here is an athletic department winning championships and killing it academically and they’re focused on people-first,” says Benjamin. “This is paradigm-shifting in college athletics. I was really attracted and wanted to be a part of it.

“Indiana Wesleyan is not one of those places where you can sell out in a couple areas to win games. You have to consider the social, academic and athletic sides of the person.

“We say, ‘if you build the person, the player will follow.’ You bring in a person and put them in a high-motored environment and you see them over their first 24 months. It’s a fun process to watch unfold because you have to do that part well.”

It’s all a matter of the right fit.

“Wherever you’re at, you have to recruit to your culture and the identity of your school, your resources,” says Benjamin. “We’re not fully-funded program (at IWU). Having to stretch dollars is the most-challenging aspect of the job.

“It’s also why we go after high financial-need students because they’ll get some government assistance or we go after high-academic students because they’re going to get a lot of academic aid.”

While attending the 2018 American Baseball Coaches Association Convention Jan. 4-7 in Indianapolis, Benjamin took the time to write in his journal about how he had performed with the knowledge he had gained since his first ABCA convention in 2004.

“It was humbling,” says Benjamin, noting some years were very good and some were not.

With the help of assistant coaches Kris Holtzieter (pitching coach and recruiting coordinator) and Drew Brantley (former Anderson University head coach, base-running/infield coach and assistant recruiting coordinator), Benjamin is looking for his players to grow from the start of the school year until the finish.

NAIA rules allow teams to be full-go for 24 weeks with a dead period between fall workouts (IWU was outdoors for about two months) and preseason training that allows coaches to be present for conditioning, strength training and team development without being able to coach baseball activities.

“That’s really healthy,” says Benjamin of the dead period. “There has to be a moment in which the player has space to go and figure out for himself the concepts you’ve been unpacking

“I’ve never had a great player that didn’t have a high motor to go take a lot of swings on their own and to find answers to the questions that have been exposed.”

To Benjamin, a coach is defined by someone who can help someone learn about themselves and the coach-player relationship works best when the athlete owns the process.

Mental training is also a part of what the Wildcats do.

“We realize your person can get in the way of your player and part of your person is your mental game and it’s your character,” says Benjamin. “We’ve all been around people who play above their skill because of their character and we’ve been around people who play who their skill because of their character.”

There are team values and goals and each player is asked to list three to five character areas they want to focus on.

“We’re able to use their list to interact with them about how they’re handling the performance level,” says Benjamin. “One of areas might be competitiveness or being fearless.

“If they get in the (batter’s) box and they have an unhealthy amount of fear or they’re not competitive or passive, they’re already beat,” says Benjamin. “If we can put guys in these scenarios each day and then talk about their person — those character values they want to grow in — you’re doing mental training right there.”

Benjamin’s 2016 Wildcats went 37-25-1 overall and 14-14 in the Crossroads League and followed that up with 27-30 and 12-15 in 2017.

Senior center fielder Brandon Shaffer (Albuquerque, N.M.) hit .348 with home runs and 39 runs batted in and 17 stolen bases made the 2017 all-Crossroads team. Freshman catcher/first baseman Brady West (Rockford, Ill.) hit .350 with 10 homers and was named CL Newcomer of the Year.

Honorable mention selections on the all-league squad were sophomore catcher Andrew Breytenbach (Palatine, Ill.) who hit .326 with 10 homers and 61 RBIs, sophomore right-handed reliever Kyle Hall (Chatham, Ill.), who went 3-1 with a 3.86 earned run average, and freshman right-handed starting pitcher Jon Young (Batavia, Ill.), who went 7-3 with a 3.74 ERA.

In addition, sophomore Caleb Eder (Jennings County High School graduate) hit .346 with eight homers and 40 runs driven in.

Indiana Wesleyan set four school records in 2017. The pitching staff racked up 379 strikeouts. On the offensive side, the Wildcats belted 68 home runs with 317 RBIs and a .478 slugging percentage.

The 2018 squad opens the season Feb. 9 against Stillman College in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Benjamin considers Indiana and the adjoining states of Ohio and Michigan plus the Chicagoland area of Illinois to be fertile recruiting territory.

In comparing the two NAIA conferences where he has been a head coach — the Chicagoland Collegiate and Crossroads — Benjamin sees many similarities.

“Both conferences have a lot of coaches that coach for the right reason,” says Benjamin. “They are very professional in the way they interact with other teams, umpires, players and so forth. In a profession where you’re trying to build the person, it’s nice to be around other people who share the same vision.”

Besides Indiana Wesleyan, the Crossroads League features Bethel, Goshen, Grace, Huntington, Marian, Mt. Vernon Nazarene, Saint Francis, Spring Arbor and Taylor. All 10 schools are private.

Baseball-playing schools in the CCAC are Calumet of St. Joseph, Indiana University South Bend, Judson, Olivet Nazarene, Robert Morris, Roosevelt, St. Ambrose, St. Francis, Saint Xavier, Trinity Christian and Trinity International.

With IWU adding football (the first game is slated for Sept. 1, 2018 against Taylor), the whole athletic department has benefitted, including baseball. A $1.2 weight room has been added.

With the establishment of the football complex came a re-establishing of the dimensions and a brand new wall for the baseball field. A five-year plan includes other upgrades such as playing surface, backstop and fencing.

“Indiana Wesleyan has a vision for everything,” says Benjamin. “They are proactive. They think ahead.”

Looking back, Rich (who has a twin brother Bobby) grew up in Rhode Island and moved to Tennessee as he and his brother were turning 9.

Rich started playing baseball year-round.

“It was my escape. It was fun,” says Benjamin. “I had more passion for it than anybody else in my family.”

When he was 12 and 13, he attended the Doyle Baseball School in Orlando, Fla., and recalls his parents taking extra jobs to pay for his week-long immersion in the game.

“The Doyles (Denny, Brian and Blake) are very professional faith-based people,” says Benjamin. “They were the first people to share Christ with me. It became a very defining moment in my life. I didn’t realize it at the time. But looking back on it, it was certainly a game-changer.”

Bobby Benjamin is restaurant owner in Louisville, Ky. The twins have a stepsister named Kayla. Mother Janet is married to Gary Piper. Father Ben is married to Vicki.

With Casey’s parents, Ty can be spoiled by three sets of grandparents.

“As a 5-year-old boy in Indiana, he wants to be a farmer,” says Rich of Ty. “He’s a John Deere guy right now. That’s where his focus is. But he’ll pick up a bat. He’ll pick up a football. He enjoys jumping on this indoor trampoline.

“He certainly enjoys being around our team.”


Rich Benjamin enters his third season as head baseball coach at Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion, Ind., in 2018. (IWU Photo)


Hatfield asks Center Grove hitters to ‘know your zone’




With Keith Hatfield calling the shots, the Center Grove Trojans are looking to force the issue on the baseball field.

“I’m really aggressive,” says Hatfield of his coaching style. “That goes for hitting, pitching and base running.

“We don’t work a whole lot of counts (as hitters). We have a philosophy: the first fastball we see in the strike zone, we’re going to be swinging.”

Hatfield, who led CG to IHSAA Class 4A sectional crowns in 2015 and 2016 and is heading into his fifth season at the Johnson County school in 2018, spends a good deal of practice time talking with his players about “knowing your zone.”

“It’s knowing where you have the greatest chance to get a hit,” says Hatfield. “For some guys that might be the shins. For some guys that might be at the belt.”

Approach is dictated by game situation. What’s the score? What’s the count? How many outs? How many runners? What’s the inning?

“Our approach in the second inning a lot different than in the sixth inning (with two outs and a man on base),” says Hatfield. “Early, we’re swinging to drive the guy in. Later, we want to make a productive out if we’re going to make an out.”

Trojan moundsmen are encouraged to go after hitters.

“I’m not a fan of waste pitches,” says Hatfield. “Especially with the whole pitch count thing, a waste pitch is just a notch on the counter.”

Talented Center Grove pitchers have gotten a lot of swings and misses and strikeouts the past two seasons, but the intent is to get the hitter out in two pitches and not rack up a lot of K’s.

“When the defense knows we’re trying to make something happen in two pitches, they are not going fall back on their heels,” says Hatfield.

With runners on base, Hatfield looks to make things happen. While errorless games are not unusual at the professional and college levels, they are in high school.

“A lot of things have to go right in order for a baserunner to be thrown out (by the defense),” says Hatfield. “More times than not we’re going to make the defense make a play.

“We’re not going to wait to have three hits in a row. We’re going to push the envelope and put pressure on the defense.”

Hatfield came to Center Grove after four seasons at Roncalli, where he led the Rebels to an IHSAA Class 4A runner-up finish in 2012 with a 1-0 loss to Lake Central.

A 2003 Roncalli graduate, Hatfield played for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Hall of Famer and top-notch in-game strategist John Wirtz.

“He was really good at pulling all the strings,” says Hatfield. “He was also good at relating to the kids. We loved him. He was really fun to be around. He’s a legend on the south side of Indianapolis.”

Hatfield was a pitcher at the University of Indianapolis, making a record 66 mound appearances, and gained wisdom from Greyhounds head coach Gary Vaught.

“He was really good at bringing everybody together,” says Hatfield of Vaught. “He’s a really good motivator. He was good at getting 100 percent out of the guys.”

Hatfield, who graduated from UIndy in 2007, spent two seasons as the Hounds pitching coach prior to going to Roncalli.

In 2017, the IHSAA adopted a new 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).

Hatfield sees a need to adjust the numbers.

“The quantities and days of rest are wrong,” says Hatfield. “They need to talk to a lot more people about it and something needs to be done for the tournament.”

During the regular season, Hatfield uses his starting pitchers once a week and gears the rotation toward home-and-home Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference games on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

Where the pitch count has more of an impact on his squad and other Class 4A teams is with the relievers and whether they hit the thresholds that require one or two days of rest.

Then comes the postseason with the possibility of three sectional games in five days.

“Many of these guys will be playing their last game,” says Hatfield. “If rain pushes sectional championship to Tuesday, you are now making decisions that affect the regional. That’s crazy.”

Hatfield notes that when Roncalli made the run to the state championship game in 2012, Colin Hawk pitched is every single game of the tournament.

Hatfield would also like to see seeding at the sectional level in order to keep the two best teams out of the same side of the bracket.

“But it’s a lot harder than it sounds,” says Hatfield. “There’s not a Sagarin ratings system for high school baseball. There would have to be a central rating system. Prep Baseball Report would have to be involved. They have scouts seeing games all over the state.

“I’m not smart enough to have all the answers, but I know it’s wrong to have the two best teams playing each other in the first round of the tournament. I don’t like the blind draw. It makes non-conference, regular-season games a lot less important than they could be.”

Besides Center Grove, the MIC features Ben Davis, Carmel, Lawrence Central, Lawrence North, North Central of Indianapolis, Pike and Warren Central.

The Trojans are grouped in a 4A sectional with Franklin Central, Franklin Community, Greenwood, Martinsville and Whiteland Community.

Hatfield goes into 2018 with a coaching staff that includes John Carpenter, Mike Grant and Joe Mack at the varsity level, Jordan Reeser and Jason Simpkins with the junior varsity and Jeff Montfort and Drew Garrison with the freshmen.

Player totals fluctuate with the number of pitcher-onlys in the program.

“This year is probably the biggest (total),” says Hatfield. “It could be 55 to 58). We’ll have nine or 10 pitcher-only.”

Hatfield, who also works for BSN Sports, has noticed a trend toward specialization in athletics and that includes pitching. But he will not pass up someone when he sees potential.

“If you have a good arm, you have to prove to me they can’t pitch,” says Hatfield.

Center Grove is well-represented in the college baseball world.

According to online rosters, there’s Ethan Brooks (Grace College), Jacob Cantleberry (San Jacinto North College in Texas and transferring to the University of Missouri), Joey Drury (Olney Central College in Illinois), Devon Hensley and Will Smithey (both at the University of Indianapolis), Eathan Stephen (Marian University) and Tye Thixton (Danville Community College in Illinois).

Current Trojans who have made college commitments are seniors Jacob Gilcrest (Wright State University in Ohio), Shawn Grider (Cincinnati Christian University) and Michael Wyman (Saint Leo University in Florida) and sophomore Bryce Eblin (Purdue University).

These players have various travel baseball affiliations in the summer.

“(Travel ball) is very important for a couple reasons,” says Hatfield. “There not going to get the exposure they need for recruiting during the high school season. It’s hard for college coaches to get out to see you because they’e playing as well.

“It’s good for guys to play for different people. Watch other people and how they do things — good, bad and indifferent. (Travel organizations) play at places the high school team couldn’t take them.”

Those are the pros. The Hatfield also sees a few cons.

“There’s a lack of competition in terms of winning and losing,” says Hatfield. “It’s very individually-driven. Teams are happy if they go 3-2 on the weekend. I don’t think that mentality if good for the kids.”

Hatfield says there are still instances of overuse of pitching arms.

“A lot of travel coaches think a kid can start on Thursday and come back and start on Sunday,” says Hatfield. “I don’t think that’s right at all.”

Center Grove plays on-campus. Behind the plate at the facility, there is an indoor facility with three cages, locker rooms, coach’s office and meeting room. Last fall, the infield was re-done. A few years ago, a new building housing concessions, storage and restrooms was added to a place often referred to as Trojan Park.


Time away from baseball coaching changes Adams Central’s Neuenschwander




Dave Neuenschwander pushed the pause button on his high school baseball coaching career.

While away from the diamond, he gained a different perspective and came back refreshed with a changed outlook.

Neuenschwander, who has also a football assistant for 22 years, led the Adams Central Flying Jets baseball program from 1991-98 then took 1999 through 2002 off. During that time, he read a book by Tony Dungy — “Quiet Strength.”

“It was very positive for me and my coaching,” says Neuenschwander, who altered his style when he returned to the dugout at the school in Monroe, Ind., in 2003. “I’ve learned to enjoy it more and more. I don’t take the winning and losing as personal as I used to. I used to be a screamer and yeller. But there’s other ways of doing this. I have more of a relationship with my players. It doesn’t mean I can’t push them when they’e not putting out.”

Neuenschwander, who has been teaching for 27 years, has come to really appreciate the relationships with current players and those that have graduated and gone on to make their way in the world as husbands and fathers.

“We can fellowship,” says Neuenschwander. “I know that each player is different. Each player’s home life is different. Their expectations are different.”

If they are on the team long enough, youth athletes are also bound to change during their careers.

Take the case of Dalton Combs (Class of 2013), who is now an outfielder in the San Francisco Giants organization after a standout career at Huntington University.

“(Combs) was part of one of most successful senior classes here,” says Neuenschander of a 2013 AC club that won 26 games and lost to Northfield in the IHSAA Class 2A Kokomo Semistate. “He started as freshman. He matured physically, mentally and athletically in four years.”

Five of AC’s eight sectional titles have come on Neuenschwander’s watch — the latest in 2016.

The coach has also come to embrace that no two teams are the same.

“The beauty of coaching high school baseball, each year is a new puzzle and it’s my job to put that puzzle together,” says Neuenschwander. “That’s what keeps me going.”

Neuenschwander is grateful that he got to play baseball for two Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famers — Dean Stahly at South Adams High School and Mike Frame at Huntington College (now Huntington University). Dave graduated high school in 1983 and college in 1987.

“He was there a long time,” says Neuenschwander of former Starfires coach Stahly. “He loved the game of baseball. He taught me how to throw a curveball and still use his old-fashioned drills when I want to teach the curve.”

Neuenschwander was a junior on the 1982 South Adams team that lost to Roncalli in the semifinals of the single-class State Finals. Mike Dull was on that ’82 team and went on to play at the University of South Alabama where he was a roommate of Luis Gonzalez, the man who drove in the winning run in the 2001 World Series.

Many lessons were learned in four seasons the Frame-led Foresters.

“He taught us about discipline,” says Neuenschwander. “Becoming a teacher in general, I was given the fundamentals. There was also integrity. Mike’s a man of faith and his integrity was well taught to us.

“He’s a good friend.”

Tom Roy, founder Unlimited Potential Inc., and is now an assistant coach and chaplain at Grace College was a Frame assistant when Neuenschwander’s time at Huntington.

Neuenschwander has sent Combs and others to play for Frame and currently has a couple players on college rosters — Conner Lengerich at Spring Arbor University and Andrew Hammond at Indiana Tech.

“At a small school (enrollment under 400), we have to be really proactive in letting schools know if our kids are interested,” says Neuenschwander. “I see it as a major part of my job. It’s something I want to do. If a student-athlete wants to go to college, I will assist in any way I can. I will show them how to get on-line and do things.”

AC players attend showcases in order to be seen by college coaches. Younger players in the area play travel baseball for the Bluffton Bandits while others have gone to the Summit City Sluggers and Berne Bears among others.

The three-sport athlete is alive and well at Adams Central.

“We encourage them to do everything,” says Neuenschwander. “One of the biggest challenge high school baseball players have is that they’ve been on the go all year and the seniors getting ready to graduate and ready for school to end. Some kids need to get jobs to pay for college so we have to be flexible with practices during the state tournament.”

Being married to an educator has also helped Neuenschwander. Wife Christy teaches third grade at Salamonie School in Huntington County.

“She is definitely a coach’s wife,” says Dave. “She’s very supportive in what I do. She is very level-headed. We weigh out issues and work through them.”

The couple have a married daughter (Whitney teaches at Speedway) and son in eighth grade (Nick).

The Jets are members of the Allen County Athletic Conference (along with Bluffton, Heritage, Jay County, South Adams, Southern Wells and Woodlan).

“It’s pretty competitive,” says Neuenschwander of the ACAC. “Schools are fairly close to each other. We know the players and coaches very well.”

Neuenschwander was a teammate of current Jay County head baseball coach Lea Selvey back in the early 1980’s with the Portland Rockets.

Winter workouts are starting with about 10 players participating and the others in a winter sport. Neuenschwander’s assistants are Josh Foster (varsity) and Joel Reinhard (junior varsity). Fall open fields were run by Reinhard with Neuenschwander coaching football. Other volunteers are expected to help the Jets on the diamond in the spring.

In 2017, the IHSAA adopted 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).

“It didn’t bother me at all,” says Neuenschwander. “It really makes the game a little more strategic in a sense.”

He and his assistants had to really plan when they would use a pitcher and for how long.

“You need to develop more pitchers — not just throwers,” says Neuenschwander. “At the JV level, it’s really positive. There are more opportunities for players to play.”

JV limits are tighter than varsity and there has been discussions about making it the same as varsity.

We’re still here to protect you because you are a child,” says Neuenschwander. “Some summer coaches may not protect them as much as they should so they put it in the hands of the educators. It became the coach’s responsibility to document (pitcher use). I become liable if he didn’t have the proper rest.”

Dave is the youngest of six children born to Delmar and Dessi Neuenschwander. His father was a butcher. Berne Locker Meats has been in the family for about 70 years.

Brothers Don and Doug also played at Huntington. Doug went on to pitch at Triple-A in the Cincinnati Reds and Pittsburgh Pirates systems. The three girls are Dana, Danita Jo and Dian. Doug and Dana are both in the Huntington University Athletics Hall of Fame.


Dave Neuenschwander is the long-time baseball coach at Adams Central High School in Monroe, Ind.