Ivy Tech Community College Board of Trustees voted 8-1 April 7 to discontinue athletics at the Northeast campus in Fort Wayne, Ind., after 2022-23. Titans baseball (established in 2017-18 by Lance Hershberger) is moving forward with the 2022 season and is looking to the 2023 slate, which appears it will be the school’s last. Ivy Tech Northeast is 15-18 heading into a doubleheader Saturday, April 30 at Indiana Tech JV. After that comes a May 3 twin bill at Grand Rapids (Mich.) Community College followed by a National Junior College Athletic Association Region XII sub-regional May 5 in Sandusky, Ohio. The Titans must win two games in the four-team single-elimination event featuring the Nos. 2-4 seeds from the Ohio Community College Athletic Conference to advance to regional play. “I’m enjoying the public response and fight to keep the program,” says Ivy Tech head coach and dual-credit advisor Connor Wilkins, 29. “I’m doing my part. (The board is) pretty dead-set on not having athletics. It comes down to financials and Title IX (gender equity).” Wilkins describes the mood of the team. “There’s a little defiance there,” says Wilkins, a Fort Wayne native. “We’ll show you how good we are and lay everything on the line representing our college. It’s frustrating as a coach knowing what we’ve built as a program and serving the community. “In my opinion, northeast Indiana needs a junior college program.” The Fort Wayne campus is the only one in the statewide Ivy Tech system with sports. An Ivy Tech Northeast volleyball team folded when the coach left and players followed after the COVID-19 year. There are currently three junior college baseball programs in the state — Ivy Tech Northeast in Fort Wayne, Marian University’s Ancilla College in Donaldson and Vincennes (Ind.) University. Ivy Tech’s 2022 baseball team has 38 players with 22 on-target to graduate from the two-year school this spring. Some of that number have indicated that they will come back for a third year (granted because of the pandemic). Six players — right-handed pitcher Matt Peters (Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger High School graduate) to NCAA Division I Miami University (Oxford, Ohio), twins outfielder Conner Beatty and catcher Alec Beatty (Augusta, Mich.) and catcher/outfielder Joel Deakins (Heritage) to provisional NAIA start-up Indiana University-Purdue University Columbus, infielder Brayden Dockery (Continental, Ohio) to the NCAA D-II University of Indianapolis and Coby Griffith (Papillion, Neb.) to NAIA Huntington University — have made commitments to their next school and others are expected to make that announcement soon. This summer, fireballer Peters is to play in the MLB Draft League. Other Ivy Tech players are bound for the Great Lakes, Jayhawk and Florida circuits plus the local Indiana Collegiate Summer Baseball League. Two players whose only college offers coming out of high school were from Ivy Tech Northeast are Grant Lashure (now a starting catcher at NCAA Division I Eastern Illinois University) and Zach Haefer (a right-handed pitcher at NCAA Division II Davenport University in Grand Rapids). There are also 13 recruits coming to the Titans in 2022-23. “We still have next year,” says Wilkins. “The recruits are still coming. It’s a testimony to our staff that they wanted to develop and leave after that. “We’re going to do right by them. It’s our job to get them on to four-year or two-year schools.” Besides Wilkins, the 2022 coaching staff features Scott Bickel (who is heading to IUPUC as part of Crimson Pride head coach Zach McClellan’s staff), recruiting coordinator Drew Buffenbarger (a member of the “Dirty Dozen” — Ivy Tech’s first team and an assistant admissions director at the school), pitching coach Javier DeJesus and hitting coach Mark Flueckiger. Without conference membership, the Titans schedule this spring has been on-the-fly and inclement weather has not helped. NJCAA Region XII has a rule that teams are not supposed to play when the “Real Feel” temperature dips to 35 degrees. Ivy Tech Northeast plays home games at Shoaff Park. The diamond is owned by the city, but is maintained by coaches and players. “We take care of it,” says Wilkins. “We mow it. We weed-and-feed. We do it as a team.” Fundraisers and donors have made it possible to do things like laser-grading the infield. “It was hard to get donations during the COVID year,” says Wilkins. And if the Titans are heading into their final days, the coach wants them to go out with their heads held high, representing their institution and community. Says Wilkins, “We’re going to finish it out and hopefully make them proud.”
The state has added another college baseball program. Indiana University-Purdue University Columbus is launching an athletic department and baseball is a part of it. Zach McClellan is the Crimson Pride’s first athletic director and baseball head coach. The school has applied for membership in the NAIA and hopes to be participating in the River States Conference. IUPUC is awaiting decisions on both. The 43-year-old McClellan says the NAIA is to visit the campus to look at academics and athletics Feb. 28-March 1. McClellan, a Toledo, Ohio, native who pitched three seasons at Indiana University (1998-2000) and 10 years in professional baseball including a stint with the Colorado Rockies (2007), says that regardless of NAIA status in the coming year, Crimson Pride teams will participate in cross country, softball and baseball during the 2022-23 academic year. The AD/coach says there are no immediate plans to build a baseball field on the small satellite campus, but IUPUC is in conversations with local high schools — Columbus East, Columbus North and Hauser among them — as well as CERALand Park (a host to many travel ball events) about a place to play home games. Athletes have already been announcing their commitment to the NAIA-applicant school. “I’m giving (recruits) very transparent answers about what could and couldn’t happen,” says McClellan. “For me, it’s more important for the players to commit to IUPUC and the process.” As a first-time college administrator and head coach, McClellan has welcomed help from those with experience. “One of the guys that I have a lot of respect for is Kyle Gould at Taylor University (in Upland, Ind.),” says McClellan. “He’s the AD at Taylor and he’s the baseball coach and great at both.” To help build the team and culture, McClellan will be hiring assistant coaches. “I want to win,” says McClellan, who had more than 150 players from around the world show interest when word got out about the formation of the start-up program. “To win I’ve got to build a great developmental plan for those kids. “The plan specifically for baseball is to bring in 50 players by the fall to have a varsity and (junior varsity) team and IUPUC. I took the job to help people. I took it to give them an opportunity to go to a great institution and get a degree from Indiana or Purdue with very affordable tuition.” Giving advice to players and their families looking at college baseball, McClellan implores them to do their research to find the right fit. “I don’t think anybody truly wants to transfer four times in four years,” says McClellan. “The transfer portal stuff is a necessary evil. I’m glad it empowers players to become happy. But you really should be looking for that spot you can call home for four to five years. Get your degree, play at a high level and enjoy it. “Pick the right opportunity for yourself and don’t short change any opportunity.” McClellan moved to Columbus, Ind., in 2010 after taking a job with LHP Engineering Solutions. He has established two businesses including Demand Command (a travel sports organization with teams in Indiana, Ohio and Arizona) and CG Velocity (an entity created to develop baseball pitching expertise for players ages 7 to 25). He holds a B.S. degree from Indiana University and an Masters of Business Administration from University of Phoenix and is currently an adjunct faculty member in the Division of Business at IUPUC. “I’m a big advocate for education and teaching,” says McClellan, who enjoyed guiding a Personal Brand class for MBA students. Besides Business, Nursing and Mechanical Engineerina (Purdue) are among the major offered at the school. “There’s a lot of knowledge at IUPUC,” says McClellan. “There’s a lot of knowledgable people with smaller classes. That’s value-added. “Hopefully academics can shine the light on how good academics really is.” “So far everyone has expressed interest in working with us,” says McClellan. “There are a lot of options here in Columbus.” There are just over 900 undergraduate students at IUPUC. Many are commuters. Student-athletes looking for housing are being referred to The Annex of Columbus — apartments within walking distance of the campus. McClellan sees being close rather than having a long commute as ideal. “You have to understand that you are a student-athlete and not an athlete-student,” says McClellan. “You have to be committed to your books. That’s tough because — let’s face it — baseball at the collegiate level is like a second job. It’s hard to commute from more than 30 or 40 minutes away and do what we’re trying to do. You’re going to be working out early in the morning and late at night. You’re going to be studying and finding something to eat. And you have to get your sleep. “We’re looking for elite-level players — on and off the field — that’s what college baseball is.” McClellan notes that there is a reason sports is a pyramid and not a square. “Sometimes it weeds you out when you’re not fully-committed to what you’re doing,” says McClellan. “That’s why The Annex of Columbus is a pivotal piece.” Zach and wife Sarah live in Columbus with three daughters — Mia, Miley and Emery.