By STEVE KRAH
Raising baseball’s profile.
It’s the goal of Tom Stevens as the third-year head coach at Bethesda Christian School in Brownsburg, Ind.
Stevens took over the Patriots just a few months before the 2019 campaign, got through a year without games because of the COVID-19 pandemic (2020) and expects up to 20 players in 2021 at a private school of about 85 students.
“I’m trying to make this program relevant again,” says Stevens. “Baseball has been an afterthought for awhile.”
Bethesda Christian’s junior high baseball coach for a few seasons, Stevens was asked to head up the varsity in January 2019.
“We had to circle the wagons and get some practices going,” says Stevens. “We had no equipment and no set routine for the varsity schedule.
“We started building it basically from scratch.”
The school has replaced its rickety press box and Stevens would like to get a new backstop.
The Patriots began workouts for 2020-21 in October and just finished the latest IHSAA Limited Contact Period for bat-and-ball activities. Players are now using a speed and agility routine devised by strength and conditioning expert Zach Dechant and a throwing strength training course put together by Jason Taulman, a former college coach who runs the Indy Sharks travel organization.
“I can’t tell you what a difference it’s made in the speed on my baseball team,” says Stevens of Dechant’s system. “It really works.
“I use (the throwing program) with the entire team. We use med balls and J-bands and do core work.”
With Bethesda’s basketball teams getting first priority on gym time in February, a handful of baseball players were at the school a 6 a.m. Friday workout.
Stevens’ assistant coach is Bethesda Christian graduate Josh Stroud.
Besides the junior high team, Stevens would like to establish a feeder system at the elementary level.
“I want to get them younger if I can,” says Stevens. “You have to build a program from the bottom up.”
Bethesda Christian is a member of the Pioneer Academic Athletic Conference (with Anderson Preparatory Academy, Central Christian Academy, Greenwood Christian, Indianapolis Shortridge, International, Liberty Christian, Muncie Burris, Seton Catholic and University). Since Stevens has been involved, CCA and International have not fielded baseball teams.
PAAC teams are set up in two divisions and play each other one time.
The Patriots are part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with Indiana School for the Deaf, Irvington Preparatory Academy, Providence Cristo Rey, Tindley and Traders Point Christian. Bethesda won sectional titles in 2008 and 2011.
A 1994 graduate of Southmont Senior High School in Crawfordsville, Ind., Stevens ran the Walnut Township youth league then headed Southmont Little League when it joined the national organization.
“Before that Southmont played Crawfordsville and North Montgomery (school system players) and that was it,” says Stevens, who helped the league branch out to find a variety of competition around Indianapolis.
Tom and wife Christy’s daughter, Madi, transferred to Bethesda when she was a ninth grader. She’s now an elementary education major at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va.
When their sister changed schools, brothers Garrett and Wyatt — who began playing T-ball at Southmont — decided to also make the switch.
Garrett Stevens is now a Bethesda senior. Bethesda is preparing to put stage “Beauty and The Beast” in March and Garrett is to play The Beast.
The Patriots’ top pitcher touches 90 mph on the radar gun, Garrett will be a teammate of freshman Wyatt.
Garrett is committed to play baseball at Anderson (Ind.) University.
“(Ravens head) Coach (Matt) Bair knows baseball, but he’s a good mentor and cares about the boys,” says Stevens. “I’m more interested in these boys become good young men and that they become all-stars at leaders in their communities and their families.”
Bethesda Christian graduate Brayden Sayre is on the baseball roster at Manchester University in North Manchester, Ind.
Stevens is a licensed electrician, but has not worked in that field for about five years. He had a home improvement company in Crawfordsville. For the past three years, he’s been an apprentice to his wife in Winding Creek Ranch, a Crawfordsville-based dog breeding business specializing in Goldendoodles and Labradoodles.
Stevens has coached travel ball, but he’s partial to the community leagues for younger players.
“Travel ball has no place for any kid below the junior high level and that’s pushing it,” says Stevens. “Let’s play ball locally.”