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McMahon keeps it positive for Canterbury Cavaliers baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Mixing academic and athletic achievement, Pat McMahon continues to encourage and challenge baseball players at Canterbury School in Fort Wayne.

Canterbury was founded as an independent, coeducational day school in 1977. A college preparatory education is offered to students in early childhood through Grade 12. Of nearly 1,000 students, around 300 of them are the high school.

According to McMahon, yearly tuition is around $22,000.

The 2018 season marks McMahon’s 28th in charge of the Cavaliers on the diamond.

Why does he still do it?

“I’m still helping kids,” says McMahon, 54. “I want to teach the game and I want to teach it right.

“It’s the influence on the players.”

His guidance has been appreciated.

McMahon is one of 50 national recipients of the Positive Coaching Alliance’s coveted National Double-Goal Coach Award presented by TeamSnap, named for coaches who strive to win while also pursuing the more important goal of teaching life lessons through sports.

Besides website and newsletter mentions, the award carries a $200 prize, a certificate and two tickets to PCA’s National Youth Sports Awards Dinner and Benefit to be held April 28 at Stanford University in California.

In teaching a “game of failure” and dealing with many situations like interacting with parents, McMahon turned to the PCA for resources.

“I’ve been attending classes and seminars for 14 years with PCA,” says McMahon. “I get a lot out of it.”

In turn, so do his athletes.

Of the 25 letters of recommendation for the award, 19 came from former players.

“That means a lot to me,” says McMahon, who sees all of his student-athletes go on to college. Eighteen of them have played college baseball.

Switch-hitting corner infielder Simon Klink played at Purdue University and then made it to Double-A with the San Francisco Giants organization.

Right-handed pitcher Chris Squires was a relief pitcher at Indiana University and advanced to Double-A with the Florida Marlins system and also played independent pro baseball.

Both of Pat and Kim McMahon’s outfield-roaming sons played baseball in college — Paddy McMahon with he club team at Tulane University in New Orleans and Danny McMahon at  Swathmore College near Philadelphia.

More recently, McMahon and Canterbury has sent Matt Kent to Xavier University, Sam Tallo to Trine University, Tommy Filus to Ave Maria University, Curtis Hoffman to Washington University in St. Louis and Ben Yurkanin to Taylor University.

With its college prep mission, academics absolutely take precedence at Canterbury.

During exam week, no games can be scheduled and practices are voluntary.

“I call it ‘money week,’ says McMahon. “That’s when they get really good grades to get good college offers.”

Two baseball players scored a perfect 36 on the SAT.

“My kids can miss any practices for academics at any point,” says McMahon. “It’s STUDENT-athlete and we’ve lost track of that (at many places).

“We just don’t let them get complacent.”

Top juniors on the current Cavaliers squad are Ben Axel and Liam Ward.

Canterbury has a no-cut policy. Everyone who goes out for the team makes it.

“That makes it unique,” says McMahon. “I’m mixing kids who really can’t play the game with college prospects.

“I’ve found they bring out the best in each other. That really helps my kids at the next level.”

McMahon, who spent the early part of his life in Detroit and his the nephew of Tigers minor league outfielder Don DeDonatis II and cousin of Tigers minor league second basman and United States Speciality Sports Association assistant executive director Don DeDonatis III, is a big believer in team chemistry and likes to say “culture eats strategy for lunch.”

“I’m very big on culture,” says McMahon. “I have to see how the mold together.”

Canterbury players have parents who are accomplished business professionals.

“These kids have to be successful,” says McMahon, who helps operate McMahon’s Best One Tire & Auto Care.

The company, established by his father Pat in 1969 after moving from Detroit, has 104 employees. While Pat is called Coach around the field. Around the shop, he is known as Bubba.

Kim McMahon runs the company and stays involved with Canterbury baseball.

“She’s the whole reason this has worked,” says Pat. “She helps with parents. She knows the history of the program.”

Canterbury’s academic calendar features three weeks off at Christmas and a two-week spring break.

The Cavaliers do not belong to a conference and play in an IHSAA Class 2A group with Adams Central, Bluffton, Churubusco, Eastside and South Adams.

Canterbury hosted the 2017 sectional, The Cavs hoisted sectional trophies in 2009 and 2014 and took regional hardware in 2009.

Canterbury’s 22-game regular-season schedule in 2018 includes opponents in 4A (Fort Wayne North Side, Fort Wayne South Side, Fort Wayne Snider, Fort Wayne Wayne, Homestead) and 3A (Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger, Heritage, Leo) plus Central Noble in 2A, Fort Wayne Blackhawk Christian and Lakewood Park Christian in 1A and non-IHSAA member Harlan Christian.

A 1982 Dwenger graduate, McMahon played at Valparaiso University and learned from Emory Bauer and was a teammate of future big league player and manager Lloyd McClendon. Both are Crusader and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famers.

“Em Bauer taught me so much about life,” says McMahon. “He was a neat guy.”

McMahon graduated Valpo U. in 1986 and came back to the Summit City. He was a pitcher for Mexican Joe’s in Fort Wayne’s Stan Musial League when he was approached about the possibility of coaching at Canterbury. He accepted.

The first few seasons, the Cavs played all their games on the road. Canterbury funded new dugouts and bleachers at the University Saint Francis for the right to play games there.

With the help of baseball ambassador and IHSBCA Hall of Famer Bill Jones and financial backing of former New York Yankees minor leaguer Pete Eshelman (who is owner Joseph Decuis restaurant and other properties in Roanoke and Columbia City), Canterbury got its own field with dimensions mimicking Yankee Stadium.

Former Yankees owner George Steinbrenner and National Baseball Hall of Famer Tommy Lasorda have visited the field.

“It’s the most gorgeous facility I’ve ever seen,” says McMahon. “I learned everything from Bill Jones. He’d bring in (IHSBCA Hall of Famers) Ken Schreiber, Chris Stavareti and Jack Massucci. Those guys just knew baseball.”

IHSBCA coaches in Canterbury’s district — many of who are educators — continue to make McMahon their representative.

“That means a lot to me that my peers say I can be that person,” says McMahon. “I really admire teachers.”

PATMCMAHON

Pat McMahon is in his 28th season as head baseball coach at Canterbury School in Fort Wayne in 2018. He is also one of 50 national recipients of the Positive Coaching Alliance’s coveted National Double-Goal Coach Award presented by TeamSnap, named for coaches who strive to win while also pursuing the more important goal of teaching life lessons through sports. (PCA Photo)

 

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Combs brings intensity, love for the game to Decatur Central baseball

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jason Combs brought passion to the Decatur Central High School Hawks as a player and he’s still bringing it as he goes into his seventh season as head baseball coach in 2018.

Combs earned eight letters at DC in football, basketball and baseball. His head baseball coach was Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Phil Webster.

“I loved him from the get-go,” says Combs of the fiery leader. “Webby is the best one I’ve been around as far as taking a player and developing him. I matched him beat for beat in intensity.

“He had this attention to detail and got me understanding the game.”

Combs was part of a 2000 squad that won Conference Indiana, sectional and Marion County championships.

Webster, who would see his Hawks win an IHSAA Class 4A state championship in 2008, put Combs in center field and used the right-hander as a No. 3 pitcher behind 2001 IHSBCA All-Star John Tolson and Matt Elder.

“In all the years I played and have coached, Tolson’s still the nastiest curve ball I’ve ever seen,” says Combs.

A decade after playing for him, Combs joined Webster as his varsity assistant and followed him as DC head coach in 2012. The two still talk regularly and Combs leads his program at Phil Webster Baseball Complex — aka “The Web.”

Combs graduated from Decatur Central in 2001 and played four seasons for head coach Steve Farley at Butler University, receiving a secondary education degree in 2005.

Farley used Combs in the outfield with a few games on the mound and taught many off-field lessons.

“There’s more to being a baseball player than playing baseball,” says Combs. “There being a good human being and a good student.”

Farley pointed his players toward community service opportunities and got them to work youth camps.

Combs also learned to curb his on-field temper.

“I learned to control my emotions, which was always a problem with me,” says Combs. “If I slam down my helmet, I’ll find someone else standing at my position.

“I saw that it’s not all about me. It’s about the team.”

Not that he figured out all his coach was telling him right away.

“When I was playing for him, I was not smart enough to realize how good of a coach he was,” says Combs. “A couple years later, when I became a coach, I figured out Coach Farley was right.”

Combs and Farley stay in touch and he had his former Butler boss address his DC team last season.

Doing his student teaching at Westfield High School, Combs was invited by Shamrocks head baseball coach Ryan Bunnell to join his staff and he wound up serving three seasons as junior varsity head coach and two as varsity assistant. He was there when Westfield, featuring current MLB catcher Kevin Plawecki, finished as 2009 IHSAA state runners-up.

“(Bunnell) taught me the ins and outs and logistics of being a head coach,” says Combs.

If it were possible, Combs would like to see every player get a chance to be a coach. By explaining the game to others, it will help their own understanding of baseball.

Jason’s baseball passion was first stoked by his father, Steve Combs. The retired fireman was a fixture at Carnine Little League in Rhodius Park on the near west side of Indianapolis and did everything from coaching to cutting grass.

It’s in that atmosphere that Combs developed into a fierce competitor.

“We had people who taught us how to compete,” says Combs. “It was grown-men baseball at 10 and 11 years old. You had to fight and not give up no matter what.

“I still embrace that today.”

Donna Combs was also supportive of Jason’s athletic exploits.

“She was a loving, caring, awesome woman,” says Jason of the mother who passed away in February 2017.

Jason’s older brother Josh graduated from Washington High School in Indianapolis in 1995. When Jason was in the eighth grade, the family moved into the Decatur Central district.

Along the way, the youngest Combs gained an affinity for the history of the game.

“You respect what happened before you,” says Combs, who teaches social studies at DCHS. “You know it, learn it and love it.”

He received baseball books as gifts while growing up.

He came home from school and watched Chicago Cubs games on TV and heard famed announcer Harry Caray telling stories about the game’s past.

Combs has watched Ken Burn’s Baseball documentary series numerous times.

His favorite player was a tall shortstop named Cal Ripken Jr.

Decatur Central is part of the Mid-State Conference (along with Franklin Community, Greenwood, Martinsville, Mooresville, Plainfield and Whiteland). Next year, Perry Meridian is to join the circuit.

“It’s a really good baseball conference,” says Combs. “It’s always been pretty even. It’s competitive and it will be again this year.”

MSC games are played in a Tuesday and Wednesday home-and-home series.

“You’ve got to prove it,” says Combs. “You can’t have one guy who can (pitch every conference game). You’ve got to have a team.”

There has been discussion in going to Friday night doubleheaders like the Hoosier Heritage Conference.

“I like the way we do it,” says Combs.

There are 35 players in the program this spring for varsity and junior varsity games. The coaching staff features Alan Curry (pitching coach), Ben Ferrell and Jeff McKeon with the varsity and Brandon Curry (Alan’s son) and Brayton Lake with the JV. Curry joined Combs in his second season as DC head coach and Ferrell in his third. McKeon was head coach at Plainfield High School and head coach of the South squad at the IHSBCA North/South All-Stars in Muncie last summer.

Recent Decatur Central graduate Jack Wohlert is a pitcher for Indiana University Southeast. Current seniors Bradley Brehmer (Wright State University) and Alex Mitchell (Indiana Tech) have made commitments and Austin Mitchell (twin brother of Alex) and Devin Gross are among those Combs expects to play college baseball.

The Hawks are scheduled to open the season with three games at historic Bosse Field in Evansville against Evansville Reitz, Evansville North and Indian Creek. Other 2018 non-conference opponents include Beech Grove, Ben Davis, Franklin Central, Homestead, Perry Meridian, Roncalli, Southport, Speedway and Warren Central.

Decatur Central plays in a Class 4A sectional group with Ben Davis, Perry Meridian, Pike, Roncalli and Southport. The host rotation lands on Ben Davis this year.

Phil Webster is helping son and Pike head coach Todd Webster  this spring.

The Hawks last won the sectional in 2015 and the games were played at Decatur Central.

“I like to play a tough schedule,” says Combs. “You’ve got to get ready (for the IHSAA tournament) somehow. You’ve got to see what you’ve got.”

Located less than 10 miles apart, Decatur Central and Mooresville are backyard rivals.

Thanks to Webster and current Pioneers head coach Eric McGaha, the two baseball programs play each spring for the “Battle of 67” trophy.

The school that holds the trophy — currently Decatur Central — must be beaten on their own field to have it taken away. That means the “trophy” game in 2018 will come when Mooresville visits DC.

Mooresville is heading into its second season with artificial turf, causing many in the Decatur Central community to ask, “Are we next?”

Combs knows of no immediate plans for that kind of investment.

The coach is thankful for the assistance of Hawks athletic director and close friend Justin Dixson. They went to Decatur Central and Butler together and were in each other’s weddings.

“Within reason, he does just about anything I want,” says Combs.

Helping to feed the high school program are seventh grade and eighth grade teams at Decatur Middle School.

“I’m going to do that as long as we can,” says Combs. “There’s something to playing middle school baseball. We try to teach them our system. Plus they have to act right in school and stay eligible.”

Add Decatur Central Little League at Southeastway Park and travel baseball and some seventh graders are playing games with 60 feet between bases then 70 then 90 — sometimes in the same week.

“But the more you play, the more chances you have to get better,” says Combs. “We let the kids play where they feel comfortable.”

Jason and Jamie Combs reside in Decatur Township with daughters Amelia (5) and Josie (2).

JASONAMELIACOMBS

Decatur Central High School head baseball coach Jason Combs (left) embraces with oldest daughter Amelia following a game against Whiteland in 2017. DC graduate Combs heads into his seventh season as Hawks head coach in 2018.

 

Homestead graduate Jernigan enjoying experience as second-year pro

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Andre Jernigan grew up in Fort Wayne watching young baseball players chase their professional dreams in the Midwest League.

Jernigan, 23, is now doing the same as an infielder with the Cedar Rapids Kernels.

A Homestead High School graduate in 2012 and Louisville Slugger All-American at Xavier University in 2016, Jernigan was selected by the Minnesota Twins in the 14th round of the ’16 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft after being named Big East Conference Player of the Year.

At spring training this year, Jernigan enjoyed picking the brains of former Minnesota Twins who were Fort Wayne Wizards coming through the minors — LaTroy Hawkins (with Fort Wayne in 1993) and Torii Hunter (1994).

“It’s incredible to play on the same fields and in the same league as them,” says Jernigan, who played 36 games for Elizabethton (Rookie-level Appalachian League) after the draft and four contests for the E-Twins in ’17 before being assigned to Cedar Rapids June 29.

“We’re lucky to come out here and just play,” says Jernigan. “I just like to take it day by day and enjoy the experience. It’s that fun and excitement you had when you were a kid that made you want to become a professional baseball player.

“It’s very easy once you get out there to lose sight of that. You start to think of it as a job. My main goal is to come out and learn something new and get better each and everyday.”

Playing so many games, pro baseball can become a mental and physical grind. But Jernigan chooses not to see it that way.

“You don’t think I have to play today, I get to play today,” says Jernigan. “It’s really just a blessing to be out here.”

Jernigan grew up playing shortstop and accept for being moved to third base by then-Homestead head coach Steve Sotir during his sophomore year, he was an everyday shortstop until he became a pro. The Twins have used him at second base, third base, shortstop and even one game at catcher.

“A ground ball’s a ground ball though the ball gets too you faster at third base,” says Jernigan. “The Twins talk about (playing multiple positions). I’ve always been told the more versatile you are, teams can get you more playing time.”

Jernigan is thankful for a foundation laid by Sotir, who now works at The Base in El Paso, Texas, and current Homestead head coach Nick Byall.

“They run a great program,” says Jernigan of Sotir and Byall. “I look back on the drills and some of the things we did. I can’t thank them enough with helping me with my development.”

Scott Googins, who became head coach at the University of Cincinnati after the ’17 season, was head coach at Xavier during Jernigan’s days as a Musketeer.

“Coach Googins made sure that we put together a tough schedule and faced the Vanderbilts and the Arizona States and some high-power arms,” says Jernigan. “Playing those teams in those series definitely helped in the sense that I’ve seen the velocity and the breaking balls.

“I seen some of that electric stuff. The biggest thing (in the minors), everyone you face now is a Friday night guy.”

The key is to hit the pitcher’s mistakes.

“I want to find a pitch and drive it,” says Jernigan. “You must be ready for the fastball at all times. You can adjust to the off-speed after that.”

Andre was born to Frankie and Stacey Jernigan in Muncie and the family landed in Fort Wayne around the time Andre was starting school.

Frankie Jernigan graduated from Muncie Central High School and earned a baseball letter at the University of Nebraska (1989). He passed along his knowledge and love of the game to sons Andre and Austin (who played baseball at Homestead and is now a senior student at Ball State University).

“I can’t thank him enough for all those days when he threw us BP and hit us ground balls,” says Andre of his father.

Andre played travel in younger days with the Mavericks and then with the Fort Wayne Cubs (now the Fort Wayne Diamondbacks).

In one of those small world phenomenons, The Diamond Baseball and Softball Academy owner/senior baseball instructor and director of player development Manny Lopez was a minor league teammate of Ramon Borrego when both played in the Twins organization. Borrego is now manager of the Gulf Coast League Twins.

Jernigan graduated from Xavier with a degree in finance.

“I’ve always been good with numbers,” says Jernigan. “It’s one of those things that I find interesting.”

Another interesting family connection is former NBA standout Bonzi Wells. He is connected in Andre’s mother’s side.

Wells shined on the hardwood at Muncie Central and Ball State and then played with the Portland Trail Blazers, Memphis Grizzlies, Sacramento Kings, Houston Rockets and New Orleans Hornets before stints in China and Puerto Rico.

At 40, Wells now plays in the new BIG3 pro 3-on-3 league.

Jernigan says Wells recently talked with youngsters at Muncie Central.

“He has that inner drive that keeps you going,” says Jernigan.

ANDREJERNIGAN

Andre Jernigan, a graduate of Homestead High School and Xavier University, is in the Minnesota Twins organization with the Cedar Rapids Kernels. (Steve Krah Photo)