Corey Van Skyock, who was officially named head baseball coach at Centerville (Ind.) Senior High School Sept. 28, was an assistant to John Cate at Richmond back in the early 1990’s. Cate went into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame in 1997 and the RHS Coaches Hall of Fame in 2018. His baseball teams won 285 games, 12 sectionals and eight regionals and made a pair of Final Four appearances during two different stints from 1986-2008. “Most of my coaching styles and beliefs come from Coach Cate,” says Van Skyock, who held his first team call-out meeting Sept. 30. “Work hard. Period. Prepare. “The more that you can prepare and work hard the simpler games become.” Cate also taught his players about field maintenance and Van Skyock plans to pass those lessons along at Centerville. Van Skyock went from Richmond to a three-year stint as New Castle head coach. Two of his Trojans — Wes Ireton (Miami of Ohio) and Ben Smith (Indiana State) — went on to pitch at the NCAA Division I level. Van Skyock, who earned a Secondary Education/English at Indiana University in Bloomington, spent 19 years as a teacher and/or administrator. Later on, he coached at the youth and travel levels. Corey and wife Christy Van Skyock — a financial services/insurance sales veteran — have three sons — Oran, Gaven and Arian. Oran Van Skyock (Class of the 2019) and Gaven Van Skyock (Class of 2021) played baseball at Centerville. Arian Van Skyock (Class of 2026) is planning to take the diamond for the Bulldogs. Centerville — led for 10 seasons by Tracey Crull — is coming off a 2022 season in which the Bulldogs were 21-6 and IHSAA Class 2A state runners-up. Illiana Christian beat Centerville in the championship game. Eight of the players playing for the Bulldogs that day were seniors — Logan Drook, Kasen Duncan, Devin Frazier, Jamari Pamplin, Javontae Pamplin, Bryce Robertson, Keegan Schlotterbeck and Zach Thompson. Juniors included Collin Clark, Jacob Crowe and Alex Wandersee plus sophomores Kollyn Peed and Colton Rinehart. Centerville (enrollment around 550) is a member of the Tri-Eastern Conference (with Cambridge City Lincoln, Hagerstown, Knightstown, Northeastern, Tri, Union City, Union County and Winchester). The Bulldogs were part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping in 2022 with Hagerstown, Northeastern, Shenandoah and Union County. Including 2021 and 2022, Centerville has won nine sectional titles. Van Skyock says Wandersee is committed to Vincennes (Ind.) University and Clark and Crowe are college baseball hopefuls. He plans to meet with parents and players to ask the question “what does your future entail and how can I help you get there?” There will be work, but enjoyment is also the goal. “You may not play baseball in college, but you’ve got to be able to look back and say ‘gosh, that was fun!,” says Van Skyock. As a newly-minted head coach, Van Skyock has to have his assistant coaches approved before announcing his staff. He has also reached out to the leadership at Centerville Youth League, which serves as a feeder system to his program. He helped coach a team with his youngest son this past season. Van Skyock is a 1987 graduate of Union City (Ind.) Junior/Senior High School, where he played baseball for four years. Kevin Lehman was the Indians head coach. By throwing strikeouts and eliminating errors, Lehman saw the key to diamond success. “The game’s a lot of simpler than people want to make it,” says Van Skyock. “Eliminate advantages that you give to the opponent and it makes the game a lot simpler.”
“As a society we need to have more humility. Mistakes are going to be happen in life. We need to be OK with that.
“We need to change our perspective on things and (recognize) if someone is hurting inside (and show empathy).
“We should just be kind to people. Nobody knows what’s going on in people’s life. With COVID-19, a lot of depression going around. I live by these everyday. My parents (Nick and Anne Lawvere) built these in me at a very young age.”
Nick Lawvere is a science teacher at Highland Middle School in Anderson, Ind. Anne Lawvere is Director of Special Education for Eastbrook Community Schools. Older sister Nicole Lawvere (23) was a standout at Eastbrook and a utility infielder at Indiana University, where she is now attending law school.
A three-time Academic Honor Roll and one-time Commissioner’s List of Academic Excellence (2018-19) selection by the Summit League, Andrew Lawvere (21) is on track to graduate in the spring with a major in Accounting and minor in and Management and Marketing.
He plans to play summer collegiate ball for the Lafayette (Ind.) Aviators in 2021 and come back for a bonus season in 2022 while either pursuing another degree or applying for graduate school. After that comes law school. Grandmother Judith Golitko and uncle Matthew Golitko are personal injury lawyers with Golitko & Daly P.C. and Andrew did an internship with the firm in 2018.
“I like helping other people,” says Lawvere. “It goes back to my four pillars.”
Lawvere has appearance in 77 games in three seasons for the PFW Mastodons, including 11 (seven as a starter — six at first base and one as designated hitter) during the COVID-19-shortened 2020 campaign.
The righty swinger hit .300 (9-of-30) with one home run, one double, eight runs batted in and four runs scored. He collected three hits with a homer and drove in three runs Feb. 29 at New Mexico State.
As a right-handed relief pitcher, he made four appearances and went 0-1 while striking out five while walking two in 4 1/3 innings. He fanned three in a 1 2/3-inning stint Feb. 23 at Miami (Ohio).
For his career, Lawvere is hitting .242 (48-of-198) with six homers (including a 2019 grand slam against Alabama State), nine doubles, 29 RBIs and 21 runs.
After the 2020 season was called off and Lawvere find himself back at home, he decided to take his strength and conditioning up a few notches. He began training with former Purdue and Ball State pitcher Eric Van Matre at Muncie (Ind.) Crossfit at The Arsenal. He was introduced to Olympic-style weightlifting and lost 20 pounds.
“I really took advantage of quarantine,” says Lawvere. “I’m in the best shape of myself. I educated myself nutritionally.”
Injuries had moved Lawvere away from catching, but he can see himself going back behind the plate again.
“I had a talk with Coach (Doug) Schreiber,” says Lawvere. “This year I think I’ll get to strap up the shin guards.
“I’m pretty confident I’m going to get back to my roots. I’ll do whatever benefits the team.”
Schreiber took over the Mastodons program in July 2019 and had an impact on Lawvere.
“He’s the best coach I’ve ever had. He’s been around the game for a long time
I’ve really picked his brain lot. He’s an Old School, which I love. He’s a hard-working guy. We understand each other. We are very similar in a lot of ways.
“On a personal level, he makes random phone calls just to check up on me. We just talk about life. He gets it.”
PFW team meetings are filled with discussions tying life situations — like obstacles and adversity — to baseball.
While the Mastodons were on the way to Western Illinois in mid-March when they had to turn around and head back to Fort Wayne after just 15 games, Lawvere said the team was just getting started in 2020.
“We saw a lot of improvement,” says Lawvere. “Schreiber is going to get the culture of the team right.
“As a senior, I’m trying to put my best effort into the culture. I think we’ll have a lot of success (in 2021).”
When Lawvere came to to the Mastodons, Bobby Pierce was head coach.
“One thing that really sticks out about Coach Pierce is that he understood that people are going to have different ways of thinking,” says Lawvere. “There’s no one right thing about a swing or mechanics.
“He tried to better us as individuals and focused on our strengths.”
Pierce was also receptive when players would reach out.
“I’m always trying to reach my optimal level,” says Lawvere. “I try to get as much information as possible and do what I believe is correct.”
He has been able share baseball knowledge and trade jokes with Mastodons hitting/catchers/outfielders coach Ken Jones.
“I love taking knowledge from (Coach Jones) and using it at different times,” says Lawvere. “We have that open relationship where we can talk.”
IPW has faced challenges since returning to campus this fall. After one practice, the team had to go into a 14-day coronavirus quarantine and returned to the field Sept. 21. All players are on the field but are in pods wearing masks and paying attention to social distancing.
“We’re playing it day-by-day with everything going on,” says Lawvere. “We can’t have another two-week shutdown. We’ve got to set a tone for the Horizon League.”
IPW has moved from the Summit League (with North Dakota State, Omaha, Oral Roberts, South Dakota State and Western Illinois) to the Horizon League (with Illinois-Chicago, Milwaukee, Northern Kentucky, Oakland, Wright State and Youngstown State).
“We’ve talked about intangibles and things we can control,” says Lawvere. “If you want this bad you have to do work on your own (more than 20 hours a week of official team activity).”
In a normal setting, the team would do individual work and then team practice in the fall followed by winter workouts, more individual work and holiday break leading up to the spring season.
Lawvere was born in Muncie and grew up in Upland. With many relatives on his father’s side living close, they refer to the area as “Lawvereville.”
After playing coach pitch baseball in Upland, Andrew played travel ball for the Gas City-based Indiana Rebels coached by Tim Young (his son Nolan Young plays at Illinois State), Greenfield-based Indiana Bandits coached by Dwayne Hutchinson (son Dalton Hutchinson played at Taylor University), the Indiana Prospects coached by Drew Kidd and supervised by Todd Nierman and Indiana Bulls coached by Troy Drosche.
Lawvere played four seasons at Eastbrook for former head coach Todd Farr.
“He was very caring,” says Lawvere of Farr. “He wanted me to get recruited. There were times early in my high school career where I was struggling. He believe in me.
“He saw that I worked hard and wanted to get better.”
Ratcliffe had helped Thunder head coach Greg Perschke during the 2012 and 2013 seasons and assisted in school-record 25-win seasons then went back to the high school ranks before coming back on board in Angola, Ind., for 2020.
Trine, an NCAA Division III school with a 40-game regular-season limit, averaged 17 wins per year from 2014-19 with high-water marks of 19 in 2017 and 2018.
That was not considered good enough.
So the Thunder went to work in the fall.
“We have our limits when we can and can’t be with them,” says Ratcliffe referring to NCAA D-III contact rules. “But there are expectations from Coach Perschke. His passion for the kids is electric. It just gets everybody.
“There’s an off-season weight program. Kids work around their academics to get a workout in.”
The message is clear: If you want the team to get better, this is what has to happen. Here’s how you do it. Do you want to be a part of that?
At a school full of engineering students and others with rigorous majors, the find a way to get the job done.
“We give them a lot of instruction during our weeks,” says Ratcliffe. “They take this and work hard in the off-season.”
Brought in to help with catchers, infielders and hitters and be a bench coach during games, Ratcliffe says there’s a difference between high school and college that has do with more than age.
“Kids at the college level want to be there instead of doing something in high school,” says Ratcliffe. “Development is extremely different. In high school, you’re developing their skills. In college, you’re fine-tuning their skills.”
Through conversations and short videos, Perschke (Trine head coach since 2002 and the Thunder’s pitching coach) and assistants Ratcliffe and Nick Pfafman provided instruction for a month and then the team’s veterans led a few more weeks of workouts heading into the winter.
“We developed a mindset of how to react and respond to things,” says Ratcliffe. “It’s one of the things I was brought in for.”
When the team came back from Christmas break it had less than a month before its first games.
Trine went 1-2 Feb. 22-23 in Kentucky then 8-0 March 1-6 in Florida.
Then — suddenly — the season was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Thunder gathered for an impromptu team photo after a practice and said their goodbyes.
This summer, Ratcliffe is head coach for the 17U DeKalb County Thunder travel team. His assistant is Cody Krumlauf, a graduate of DeKalb High School and Earlham College who has been a player and coach for the Quakers.
The program was started a few years ago when the players were at the 15U level. The Thunder now also fields 15U and 13U teams.
To be eligible to play for the Thunder, players must play in community baseball organizations in Auburn, Butler, Garrett or St. Joe.
While with the Spartans, Ratcliffe got to work with future big league catcher Rob Bowen.
“I remember he was a starter working on being a switch hitter,” says Ratcliffe. “If he hit 50 balls off the tee right-handed, he had to hit 50 left-handed. Balance had to be there if h was serious about being a switch hitter.”
Ratcliffe recalls that Bowen hit homers from both sides of the plate early in his minor league days and went on to play in the majors with the Minnesota Twins, San Diego Padres, Chicago Cubs and Oakland Athletics.
Caleb Kimmel, who went on to play at Valparaiso University and is now CEO of the World Baseball Academy, was also at Homestead when Ratcliffe was on staff.
“(Moustakas) had the same kind of energy as a 17-year-old that he did (with the Kansas City Royals) in the World Series.
“That guy has not changed one bit. He’s such a team player.”
Freeman became of Ratcliffe’s favorites.
“His character in the dugout was unbelievable,” says Ratcliffe of the future Atlanta Braves first baseman. “He was very coachable. Freddie wanted to get better.
“I’ve told my players this is what you need to be like. It’s not all about baseball. Character is very crucial.”
Trout and Bauer are superstars now. But they didn’t make the national team back then. They didn’t sulk. They put in the work to get better.
The Uptons also failed, but learned from those around them and rebounded. Justin’s path to The Show included 113 games with the 2006 Mark Haley-managed South Bend (Ind.) Silver Hawks during his 18-year-old season.
While they were nearly two decades apart, Ratcliffe (Class of 1990) and Parker (2007) were both graduates of Norwell High School in Ossian, Ind.
Ratcliffe had coached against right-handed pitcher Parker in high school and saw him help Norwell to an IHSAA 3A state championship in 2007.
When it came time for Parker to take the mound that summer Joplin, Ratcliffe offered a little advice: “Go be yourself.”
Parker went on to work out with the Top 40 players in Atlanta and was selected in the first round (No.9 overall) of the 2007 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft and pitched in the bigs for the Arizona Diamondbacks and Oakland Athletics. David Price and Moustakas went 1-2 in the ’07 draft.
Ratcliffe’s head coach at Norwell was Stan Reed.
“He had compassion for the players,” says Ratcliffe. “He really cared about us. It showed whether we won or lost.”
A catcher, Ratcliffe went to Purdue University and was redshirted his first season and played sparingly for Boilermakers coach Dave Alexander in his second, though he did get to catch Sherard Clinkscales, a right-handed pitcher who was selected in the first round of the 1992 MLB Draft, later scouted for Atlanta, Tampa Bay and Kansas City and coached at Notre Dame before going into athletic administration.
When Alexander left Purdue to become a scout and pitching coach Steve Green was promoted to head coach, he had a chat with Ratcliffe. It was apparent he was not going to get to play much for the Boilers.
What did Ratcliffe learn from Norwell grad Kinzer during the 1993 and 1994 seasons?
“It takes a lot of hard work to get to that level,” says Ratcliffe. “If you want to get there you’ve got to put some time in.
“Talent doesn’t get you to the next level. It takes things like working hard and having good character.”
By the time Tom Muth took over at IPFW in 1995, Ratcliffe knew he wanted to be a coach so he took the opportunity to play multiple positions and learn their nuances. Since the Dons were in need of a second baseman, Ratcliffe moved there and still took time to catch bullpens.
Ratcliffe played independent professional ball as a middle infielder for the Frontier League’s Richmond (Ind.) Roosters in their inaugural season of 1995. Larry Nowlin was the manger and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer John Cate part owner.
One of his teammates was future major league switch-hitting first baseman/designated hitter Morgan Burkhart. When he came to Fort Wayne as a member of the San Diego Padres coaching staff, Ratcliffe made sure he found a good fishing hole.
After finishing his degree at the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne, Ratcliffe became a teacher.
Besides coaching baseball, he instructs special education classes at Garrett Middle School. His wife of 19 years — Stacy — is a kindergarten teacher at J.E. Ober Elementary in Garrett. The couple have two sons — GHS senior-to-be Blake (17) and GMS eighth grader-to-be Easton (13).
Athletic director Richelle Viront wanted him to establish culture with the Eagles.
VanArsdale, a 2013 ECA graduate who had played baseball, golf and basketball at his alma mater, was a baseball assistant in 2017 and came back to lead the program in 2019.
“I’ve been preaching to the guys to stay humble and work hard,” says VanArsdale. “Humility is so valuable in a team sport.”
VanArsdale, who had also coached many of these same athletes as junior high basketball players, does not put the emphasis on personal statistics but the team.
“We talked about distractions,” says VanArsdale. “One huge one is pride.”
VanArsdale wants his players to know that “everyone matters” and that seniors with experience respect freshmen with little to none.
“When I see someone who is toxic to that culture, we’re addressing it head-on right away,” says VanArsdale. “At the end of the day, ECA baseball is about life development.”
VanArsdale saw the Eagles go from 1-11 in 2018 — a year he stayed out of coaching with the birth of his daughter (Bethel College graduates Tyler and Brittany welcomed Clara on their wedding anniversary of May 10, 2018 at 10:18 p.m.) — to 8-8 in 2019 with him in charge.
“It’s a mindset thing — a change in thinking,” says VanArsdale. “That’s a great turnaround.”
Elkhart Christian lost 4-0 to Fremont in the semifinals of the IHSAA Class 1A Fremont Sectional.
“It was intense and competitive,” says VanArsdale. “I was proud of the guys.”
Two seniors — Bailey Petty and Mark Stevens — were on that squad. Many players return for 2020. Stevens has joined a coaching staff that also includes Tony Tice and Chad Viront.
VanArsdale started his high school athletic career at nearby Penn.
As a sophomore, he transferred to ECA. He was allowed to play junior varsity basketball. The Eagles did not have a JV baseball team, but an arm injury ended his travel season early.
VanArsdale played basketball as a junior and season for squads that won 13 and 14 games.
His senior spring saw ECA go 21-8 and win the school’s first baseball sectional title, reigning at Hamilton and advancing to the finals of the 1A Caston Regional.
That team featured Caleb Stayton (who went on to a standout career at Ball State University) and Tanner Watson (who excelled at Taylor University) and VanArsdale keeps in-touch with many of his former teammates.
A former golf mate of Alec Dutkowski, VanArdale was also able to juggle the links and the diamond in the spring at ECA. He anticipates that he will have some baseball players also competing in track and field this spring.
During the IHSAA Limited Contact Period, the Eagles have been practicing on Tuesdays and Saturdays with weight workouts on other days.
Players and coaches are communication via group chat and VanArsdale, who is also account manager for Legacy Fire Protection, has lunch with his seniors — a group that will have at least six.
“I’m excited,” says VanArsale. “1 through 9, we’ll be stronger at the plate.
“With pitching, we lost Bailey Petty. But we’ll be more diverse and may use three pitchers in a game.”
To keep his pitchers healthy, VanArsdale has them using J-Bands, lifting weights and stretching in the off-season.
For those players who have their sights on the next level, the coach has advice.
“If you have a goal to play college ball, I preach prospect camps,” says VanArsdale. “You don’t want to get worn out on travel ball.”
While ECA (enrollment around 170) is an independent in all sports but soccer now, the school will be part of the Hoosier Plains Conference (with Argos, Bethany Christian, Lakeland Christian Academy, South Bend Career Academy and Trinity at Greenlawn), beginning in 2020-21. It will come with a double robin schedule and end-of-season recognition.
“It’s going to be really good,” says VanArsdale. “It’ll give each school something to shoot for.”