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West Vigo baseball’s DeGroote wants to be role model to his players

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

As the son of coach and middle of three athletic brothers, Culley DeGroote soaked in plenty of knowledge on his way to becoming head baseball coach at West Vigo High School. He has led the West Terre Haute-based Vikings since the 2014 season after eight seasons serving under father Steve DeGroote.

The elder DeGroote was an assistant at Indiana State University to American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Bob Warn 1980-85 joined the coaching staff at West Vigo and led the program from 1993-2013. His teams went 441-118 with 11 Western Indiana Conference titles, 10 sectional champions, five regionals, one semistate and one state runner-up finish (2009). In 2017, he was inducted into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame.

“Ninety-five percent of what I do I learned from (my father),” says Culley. “I learned how you treat players. Dad was a master motivator. He got them to buy into something bigger than themselves.”

While the rules were the same for all players, Steve DeGroote knew how to relate to each one as an individual, something he picked up from his athletic career and his days as an ISU recruiter.

“They say that coaching is not the X’s and O’s, it’s the Jimmys and Joes and dad got the most out of those Jimmys and Joes,” says Culley. “He was genius at reading talent. He was one of those who could see a kid come in as freshmen and see the finished product. He could see potential in a kid that very few people could see.”

Culley saw his dad attracted to the student and the athlete who was on a straight path.

“He had that ability to read people,” says Culley. “He could pick up on people’s habits and their priority in life. He navigated toward kids who had their priorities straight like him. Dad doesn’t drink, smoke or party. His faith is important to him. He was the (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) director at West Vigo. He lived a clean life and lived by example.

“I’ve tried to role model that with my players. I know you’re not going to be perfect, but you need to be striving for perfection.”

Steve DeGroote’s boys — Cory (West Vigo Class of 1991), Culley (1995) and Casey (1998) — were all three-sport athletes for the Vikings. Cory and Culley are both in the West Vigo Athletic Hall of Fame.

Cory DeGroote went to The Citadel to play basketball and baseball and then transferred to Indiana State, where he played baseball for three seasons. He coached multiple sports at North White High School and then served 12 seasons as head baseball coach at Mattawan (Mich.) High School. He is now president of Peak Performance, a travel sports organization based in Mattawan.

Casey DeGroote was drafted out of high school by the New York Yankees in the 11th round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft and pitched as a professional until 2004. He served as general manager of the Terre Haute Rex in the summer collegiate wood bat Prospect League and is now a train engineer.

Culley DeGroote earned the McMillan Award as the top male athlete in Vigo County and was an IHSBCA All-Star as a senior. He was a three-year starter in football, basketball and baseball and went on to be a three-year starter on both the hardwood and diamond at Franklin College.

His last baseball season was his junior year (he transferred to Indiana State to finish his degree). It was also the first as head coach for Lance Marshall, who still guides the Grizzlies.

“He cared about us as people,” says Culley. “He wanted to know your story and your background. I told myself that when I become a head coach, I hope my players in some way feel about me the way they felt about Coach Marshall.

“He was quiet and no-nonsense, but a super positive guy. You felt good about yourself after talking to Coach Marshall.”

Culley began his coaching career with a four-year stint on the staff of Scott Spada at Kalamazoo (Mich.) Central High School. Before Spada, Derek Jeter played baseball for the Maroon Giants and went on to be captain of the New York Yankees. Future Green Bay Packers wide receiver Greg Jennings did play for Spada.

Also the school’s head boys soccer coach, Culley heads in the 2018 baseball season with Zack Kent (varsity) and Kyle Stewart (junior varsity) as assistant coaches.

Steve DeGroote is still helping the Vikings baseball program as middle school director. The feeder program fielded two squads last spring — sixth and seventh graders combined and eighth graders. Playing 15 to 20 five-inning doubleheaders, the middle schoolers are heading into their third season in 2018.

“It’s an awesome thing,” says Culley. “It gives you a lot of flexibility and unity. It’s closed the gap between middle school and high school ball. We teach the same things. Getting coached in a lot of the little things that can win you a championship at a younger level.

“(Middle schoolers) get to play on the high school field and they love that.”

At a cost of more than $10,000, that field was upgraded in the fall of 2016 with more than 100 tons of infield dirt and artificial turf around the mound and home plate areas.

“That was the best idea I ever had,” says Culley. “We were getting in games (in 2017) we never got in before.”

Culley teaches physical education at the middle school and gets a chance to have a relationship with athletes as sixth graders.

West Terre Haute Little League, where Steve Shaffer is president, has three fields and four leagues (T-ball, minor and major).

“They are the lifeline of our program,” says Culley.

All of it has gone to help numbers at the high school. There were 15 freshmen baseball players at West Vigo in 2017 and 19 the year before that.

The varsity Vikings went 17-9 and lost to Edgewood in the semifinals of the IHSAA Class 3A Northview Sectional.

West Vigo is in the West Division of the Western Indiana Conference with Greencastle, North Putnam, Northview, South Putnam and Sullivan. Brown County, Cascade, Cloverdale, Edgewood, Indian Creek and Owen Valley comprise the WIC East Division.

With about 1,023 students, Northview is the biggest school in the 2A/3A league with Cloverdale (370) as the smallest. West Vigo (581) is in-between.

Conference games are played five straight Tuesdays with a crossover game on the sixth Tuesday.

Since 1998, the Vikings have sent eight players on to NCAA Division I baseball and had three players drafted out of high school (Casey DeGroote by the Yankees in 1998, infielder Lenny Leclercq by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 11th round in 2005 and Jeremy Lucas by the Cleveland Indians in the 12th round in 2009).

Right-hander Morgan Coombs, a 2006 graduate, played at Lincoln Trail College and Ball State University and went un-drafted before three seasons with the independent Gary SouthShore RailCats. He was the Australian Baseball League’s Pitcher of the Year in 2015 with the Adelaide Bite.

Middle infielder Tyler Wampler, a 2010 graduate, was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers out of Indiana State in the 17th round in 2014. He was head coach for the Terre Haute Rex in 2016-17.

Three of Culley’s players are currently at the D-I level — pitcher Davie Inman (West Vigo Class of 2015) at Coastal Carolina University, middle infielder Jordan Schafer (2016) at Indiana State and first baseman/pitcher Ty Lautenschlager (2017) at Northern Illinois University.

CULLEYDEGROOTE1

Culley DeGroote, a 1995 West Vigo High School graduate, is entering his fifth season as Vikings head baseball coach in 2018. Before that, he was an assistant to father Steve DeGroote, an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer.

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While wins keep coming, Jasper’s Gobert keeps it fun

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

There used to be a sign near Terry Gobert’s office leading out to Alvin C. Ruxer Field:  “Are you having fun?”

Gobert has coached Jasper High School to five state baseball championships (1996, 1997, 1998, 2000, 2006), three runner-up finishes (2010, 2013, 2015) with 11 State Finals appearances since taking over the program in 1988.

The Wildcats also made it in 1986 with Gobert in his first season as an assistant to Ray Howard.

To put it lightly, Jasper has been winners — more than 700 times — with Gobert running the show.

All the while, he reminds himself to enjoy the journey.

“If you followed our program in the spring to the end of the year, you’re going to see kids pushed like they’ve never been pushed,” says Gobert. “But you’re also going to see humor like you’re never seen humor. You want to make it fun for the kids and also for yourself.

“You catch yourself demanding so much, you forget sometimes they’re kids.”

Winning has been such a constant that there is pressure for players to keep the tradition alive. But it’s not something that Gobert or his assistants — Jason Ahlbrand, Phil Kendall, Jeremy Wolf, Jeff Zink and Eric Dall — harp on.

“We push for excellence, we don’t push for W’s,” says Gobert. “But it’s there and the kids feel it. It’s not something I stress.

“With a single-elimination tournament in a sport like baseball, there are so many things that can happen. We play seven innings. You can have 21 hard-hit balls and nothing to show for it. You can have five bloops and win a state title … A good coach understands you can play well and lose.”

In Jasper’s last two state championship game appearances, the Cats came away a 2-1 loss to Norwell in 2013 and 2-1 loss to Andrean in 2015.

How high are the expectations in this baseball-crazed southern Indiana community?

The day after the ’13 setback, Gobert was back in Jasper pumping gas when he was approached by a citizen saying “this group just didn’t have it.”

“We lost two games that year,” says Gobert. “We lost 2-1 in 11 innings to a kid that got drafted (Mount Vernon-Posey right-hander Cody Mobley) and beat that team in the regional and then we lost to a good Andrean team. To say a team didn’t have it, any other community would be embracing that and they’d be legends. You have to fight that. But I’d rather be somewhere that expects to win than to just accept losing.”

Gobert is proud of the sustained excellence at Jasper, where they have taken 37 sectionals, 25 regionals and 13 semistates. The last season under .500 came back in 1972. Since ’88, the Cats have won 20 or more games 25 times with seven campaigns of at least 30 triumphs. The 2016 squad went 28-4.

Jasper won 265 games with Howard at the helm 1977-87 (the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame director still throws daily batting practice and is a radio analyst on WITZ).

Ken Brelage (1977), Keith Leinenbach (1977), Dan Fuhs (1978), Mark Kunkel (1978), Jerry Alles (1979), Brian Persohn (1979), Joe Birge (1980), Mike Ballenger (1981), Mike Burger (1982), Tim Fehribach (1983), Greg Begle (1983), P.J. Wessel (1984), Rick Rasche (1985) and Todd Krapf (1987) were IHSBCA All-Stars for Howard.

Gobert era All-Stars include Ryan Seidl (1991), Andy Noblitt (1992), Scott Rolen (1993), Aaron Rees (1995), Shawn O’Connor (1996), Matt Mauck (1997), Scott Kluesner (1998), Heath Uppencamp (1998), Jimmy Corbin (1999), Neil Giesler (2002), Ben Schmidt (2003), Adam Klatka (2006), Broc Litherland (2006), J.T. Stenftenagel (2007), Andy Binkley (2008), Austin Ahrens (2010), Tory Hall (2011), Dan Giesler (2012), Nick Gobert (2013), Scott Stallwood (2014), Austin Alles (2015), Cal Krueger (2016).

Rolen was Indiana Mr. Baseball and went on the play 17 seasons in Major League Baseball with the Philadelphia Phillies, St. Louis Cardinals, Toronto Blue Jays and Cincinnati Reds.

Mauck played in the Chicago Cubs system for four seasons.

Wildcats to receive the L.V. Phillips Mental Attitude Award at the State Finals include Phil Rohlehder (1967), Phil Kendall (1996), Matt Mauck (1997), Heath Uppencamp (1998), Sam Linette (2006), Austin Ahrens (2010), Nick Gobert (2013) and Ben Moore (2015).

“I’m more proud that we can maintain that kind of consistency at a public school for four decades,” says Gobert. “Another thing I love about this, the guys who played for Ray and now having their grandkids play for me. Kids I coached at the beginning, I’m coaching their kids now.”

With the advent of travel ball and sports specialization, Gobert has witnessed change over the decades.

A 1979 Greencastle High School graduate, Gobert lettered in football, basketball and baseball for the Tiger Cubs. He still believes in the multi-sport athlete and had many of those on many of his State Finals squads at Jasper.

An active board member with Jasper Youth Baseball, Gobert pleads with parents every year to let their offspring play multiple sports.

“People say it’s a different world now, but I just don’t buy that,” says Gobert. “Kids and parents today think they’ve got to decide at 10, 11 or 12 years of age, Johnny’s going to concentrate on baseball or whatever sport year-round. I don’t think there’s anything good that comes out of it.

“I tell them not to travel to the length they do. I’d rather have a young boy going to bed wishing he could play more baseball than too much baseball. By the time they get to high school it seems they’ve already traveled and they’re tired of it and want something else. Baseball is one of the worst.”

For those who are chasing the few baseball scholarship dollars that are out there, Gobert has this to say:

“I wish they would total up every penny spent, including gas, vehicles, mileage, tires, hotel, food, equipment, entry fees and the damaging effect on their younger sister who is being drug all across the Midwest summer after summer watching a sport they grew to hate because they had to watch their brother play it from the time he was 7 until 14 or whatever.”

The impact that travel baseball has on the high school season is twofold in the IHSBCA Hall of Famer’s mind — players are tired and there’s also the “pool play” mentality coming into the IHSAA’s one-and-done world.

“A good day is they had three hits,” says Gobert. “The Cats may not have won, but they had three hits.

“Every year we have to work harder and harder.”

Growing up in Greencastle, Gobert could name the 10 boys who dressed on every sectional basketball team from 1970-79.

“It used to mean more just to be on your high school team,” says Gobert. “Now so much in society, if you’re not playing by your freshman or sophomore year on varsity, you’re going to move on to something else.”

As a social studies teacher, Gobert presents lessons about civil rights. But it’s the test scores and the grades that parents want to know about more than what their son or daughter is being taught.

“I don’t want to paint a negative picture,” says Gobert.

Jasper has been successful over the decades because of simplicity.

“Get a good pitch to hit and drive it hard,” says Gobert. “(Son Nick who graduated from Jasper in 2013 and played at the University of Dayton) laughs at how simple we keep things.”

While batting averages are distributed to the media, Gobert is more concerned with the Quality At-Bat chart, which accounts for a batter going deep in the count, hitting the ball hard, moving the runner by hitting to the right side or extending an at-bat to eight or nine pitches before striking out.

“I know in my head who’s hitting and who’s not,” says Gobert. “I know in my head who’s making the plays in practice and that’s where the lineup comes from.

“I couldn’t tell you what the kid’s hitting (for average). I can tell you if I want him up there or not in a tough situation.”

Jasper coaches ask players not to give extra outs while on defense or the waste them on offense.

“We don’t want to extend any inning with errors or whatever,” says Gobert. “We don’t want to get doubled up, picked off or run at the wrong time. We want to put the ball in play and put pressure on the (opposing defense).”

Gobert counts it a bonus that all of members of his staff are full-time teachers and all but Forest Park graduate Zink played for the Cats. All are also basketball coaches for boys or girls, leaving much of the preseason work to Gobert, Howard and Kurt Gutgsell. Pitching coach Kendall played six seasons in the minor leagues with Cincinnati Reds and Milwaukee Brewers affiliates.

“I value their input,” says Gobert of his assistants. “It’s great on the one hand, they understand the program and the expectations.

“But it’s also good to have new blood or outside perspective. That’s why you go to clinics. That’s why you talk to people and you’re willing to change. We don’t just do things because that’s the way we’ve always done it. I also don’t go to the national clinic and throw everything out that we’re doing because some clown says this is the way to hit or this is the way to pitch.”

As for pitching, the new pitch count rule has not caused Jasper to alter its ways.

“We try to develop a good staff and we try to get kids where they can go deep in games,” says Gobert. “There’s no magic number (of pitches). Some kids can pick up a ball and throw all day and other kids need four or five days off.”

Gobert believes that daily throwing — not pitching or throwing breaking balls — is the best way to build arm strength.

Four decades ago, Howard was using a chiropractor to keep his team ready and Jasper now uses former player Dr. Jared Brosmer.

“I put a lot of value in that,” says Gobert. “He can do a test and and tell of the kid’s starting to fatigue.”

Jasper plays in the bi-state Big Eight Conference (with Boonville, Mount Vernon, Princeton, Vincennes Lincoln and Washington in Indiana and Mount Carmel in Illinois) and schedules top-flight competition from all over, many of those team’s coming to Ruxer Field with its 2,900 permanent seats, lights and well-groomed playing surface.

“Our field is one of the most beautiful in the country,” says Gobert. “We take a lot of pride and put a lot of work into our facility.”

TERRYGOBERT

Terry Gobert is in his 30th season as head baseball coach at Jasper High School. He has won five state titles and more than 700 games at the southern Indiana powerhouse.