By STEVE KRAH
Baseball is a game filled with moments of failure.
Even the very best players and teams will inevitably have plays or games that don’t go their way.
Ryan Conwell chooses not to dwell on the negatives.
The Cowan High School head baseball coach always looks for the silver lining.
“I’m constantly trying to stay positive — no matter what,” says Conwell, who was hired in the fall of 2014 and heads into his fourth season of leading the Blackhawks program in 2018. “Baseball is such a mental sport. Kids get down on themselves enough. They don’t need me mashing it into their heads as well.
“If you fail 7 out of 10 times at the plate, you’re doing well. We have to find something good out of every at-bat and find what we can do better the next time.”
Conwell is a 2002 graduate of Wapahani High School, where he played four baseball seasons — three on varsity — for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Brian Dudley. After graduation, Conwell coached junior high baseball for the Raiders for seven years.
By observing Dudley, Conwell saw the importance of fundamentals and mental toughness.
“We did a lot of reps of everything,” says Conwell. “Almost every practice there was a drill that focused on the mental part of the game, not just the physical part.”
One drill called for nine players to start in the dugout and sprint to nine different positions on the field then spring back to the dugout. Then players had to quickly figure out the next position they would take and then run there. The object was for everyone eventually being at all nine positions.
If two players ever landed at the same place, the mental toughness/communication drill would start over from the beginning.
There was always a lot of work on defensive situations.
What might happen next?
Where does the throw go if the ball is hit to me?
“(Dudley) also insisted that every player on the field needed to be moving on every play,” says Conwell.
After his time with Wapahani, Conwell moved across Delaware County to Delta High School for four seasons — two as a junior varsity coach and two as a varsity assistant on the staff of Terry Summers.
“He went a lot more into the details of the game,” says Conwell of Summers. “He wanted to make sure things were covered. It could be something as small as the wheel play or certain pick-off moves. We worked a lot on situational hitting.”
Conwell has taken what he’s learned about the game and molded it into his own style, which focuses on positivity and fundamentals.
“We do some team building exercises early in the year,” says Conwell. “We frequently stop during a practice to make sure everyone is on the same page.
“Several players play multiple positions. My whole infield can be different depending on who’s pitching that day.”
At a Class 1A school with an enrollment around 230, the Blackhawks have not fielded a JV team since Conwell has been in charge. He is hoping that might change this spring and get his younger players some more playing experience.
“I have a really good incoming freshmen class,” says Conwell. “I think I’ll have eight or nine freshmen. We could have 20-22 kids total.”
The Blackhawks had 18 players in 2015 (including Luke Miller, who is now on the Indiana University team) and 16 in both 2016 and 2017.
Feeding the program is the emergence of a junior high team in 2017. Playing on the varsity field from late May to early July, a combined squad of seventh and eighth graders is expected to play again in 2018 in the Eastern Central Indiana Junior High Baseball League. It’s a circuit that has been headed up by Wapahani’s Jason Dudley.
Cowan plays its games on-campus.
“Every year, we try to do something (to the facility),” says Conwell. “Money is always an issue.”
In Conwell’s second season, a four-foot fence was put up in front of the dugouts. It enlarges the bench area and brings players a little closer to the action.
Re-surfacing of the infield is on the wish list for after the 2018 season.
The Blackhawks play in the 10-team Mid-Eastern Conference (along with Blue River Valley, Daleville, Eastern Hancock, Monroe Central, Randolph Southern, Shenandoah, Union of Modoc, Wapahani and Wes-Del). Eastern Hancock and Shenandoah joined the MEC in 2017-18.
Conwell also likes to get many of the traditionally-competitive 1A and 2A teams in the area on his non-conference schedule, including Seton Catholic and Union City in 1A, Burris, Centerville, Eastbrook, Hagerstown, Lapel, Northeastern and Winchester in 2A. Cowan is also slated to play 3A schools Delta and Mississinewa.
The Blackhawks are grouped in a 1A sectional with Anderson Prep Academy, Daleville, Liberty Christian, Southern Wells, Tri-Central and Wes-Del. In the future, Conwell would like to get more sectional opponents on Cowan’s regular-season schedule.
Not currently in the classroom, Conwell is taking online classes from Western Governors University toward a teaching certificate. Away from coaching, he works I work LifeTouch, a senior portraits lab in Muncie. Ryan and Katlyn Conwell have a daughter named Kinley. She was born in April of 2016 — in the midst of her daddy’s second season at Cowan.
Former Blackhawks baseball player Justin O’Conner is a minor league free agent who began his pro career right after the catcher was selected in the first round of the 2010 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Tampa Bay Rays.
Ryan Conwell, who heads into his fourth season as head baseball coach at Cowan High School in 2018, shares a moment with wife Katlyn and daughter Kinley (born in April 2016).