BY STEVE KRAH
Keith Potter and Steve Sotir emphasized the fundamental parts of baseball — making the routine play on defense, pounding the strike zone from the mound and following an approach from the batter’s box — as head baseball coaches at Homestead High School in Fort Wayne, Ind.
Nick Byall, who played for Potter and coached with Potter and Sotir, is carrying on the tradition while adding his own spin as the man in charge of the Spartans.
“We want to be polished and prepared each day,” says Byall. “When you’re doing (the fundamentals) well it makes the game even more fun.
“At the high school level, we can be really successful doing that.”
Byall, a 2000 Homestead graduate, spent 10 years as an assistant coach at his alma mater (two on Potter’s staff and eight with Sotir) and is in his fourth season as head coach in 2019.
Being competitive is also important to Byall.
“We’re always looking to compete — in a drill or a game,” says Byall, who heads up a program with around 50 players for varsity, junior varsity (JV Blue) and freshmen (JV Gold) schedules.
“We have a smaller senior class and kept a larger freshmen class,” says Byall. “We have 18 on the varsity roster most of the time. Some guys will swing between varsity and JV.”
The coaching staff features Shawn Harkness plus volunteers Josh Brock, Maurie Byall (Nick’s father) and Greg Wehling with the varsity, Austin Plasterer and Kyle Plasterer with JV Blue and Brian Landigran and Dominic Schroeder with JV Gold.
Harkness is pitching coach for the Spartan. He was a JV coach when Byall was a Homestead player.
Brock played and coached at Manchester University.
It’s more than the game that keeps Byall around baseball.
“I want to be a decent role model for (the players),” says Byall. “That’s why we do it.
“I enjoy the kids and the coaches I work with. If not, I wouldn’t do it.”
Homestead plays its varsity games on its campus with the JV teams playing on that diamond or at a field near Summit Middle School.
Marching band is a big deal at the school and the band has its own turf practice surface near the baseball field. The baseball team sometimes uses it when it’s facility is too wet.
There is no middle school baseball at Homestead, but many players participate in travel ball.
“We’ve got a lot of kids who enjoy baseball,” says Byall. “They’re pretty fundamentally sound.”
Senior Kade Kolpien has committed to Taylor University. Senior Will Ferguson has garnered some college baseball interest. Junior Eli MacDonald and sophomore Kaleb Kolpien and Carter Mathison are among younger Spartans getting college looks.
Recent Homestead graduates now with college programs include Justin Miller at Purdue Fort Wayne, Isaac Bair at the University of Indianapolis and Nick Davit and D.J. Moore at Huntington University.
Catcher Rob Bowen was selected in the second round of the 1999 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Minnesota Twins and made his big league debut with the Twins in 2003. He also played for the San Diego Padres, Chicago Cubs and Oakland Athletics.
Infielder Andre Jernigan went from Homestead to the Xavier University to the Twins organization.
Right-handed pitcher Taylor Kinzer played at Taylor then in the Los Angeles Angels organization.
Second baseman Ryan Wright played at he University of Louisville and in the Cincinnati Reds system from 2011-15.
Catcher Matt Singleton played at Ball State University and in the Athletics chain.
Outfielder Bobby Glover was a Parkland College, the University of Dayton and with the independent Windy City Thunderbolts (2012).
Left-hander Kyle Leiendecker went to Indiana University.
It’s IU and the allure of Hoosiers basketball that brought Byall to Bloomington.
He was a basketball manager for four years and got to see in the inner workings of big-time college sports and went to the 2002 NCAA tournament championship game with head coach Mike Davis. Byall’s first week on campus was Bob Knight’s last.
Byall earned an education degree from Indiana in 2005 and a masters in business administration from Taylor in 2010. He teaches Advanced Placement U.S. Government and Politics and U.S. Government at HHS.
Homestead (enrollment around 2,430) has charted a schedule that features Bellmont, DeKalb, Evansville Central, Fishers, Fort Wayne Blackhawk Christian, Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger, Fort Wayne Canterbury, Fort Wayne Carroll, Fort Wayne North Side, Fort Wayne Northrop, Fort Wayne Snider, Fort Wayne South Side, Hamilton Southeastern, Indianapolis Cathedral, Mississinewa, Norwell, Wapahani and Warsaw.
For several years, Homestead has made a southern trip during spring break.
“It’s a chance to get away and bond a little bit,” says Byall.
The destination the past few seasons has been Vincennes, Ind. Treks have also been made to Terre Haute, Evansville, Cincinnati and Knoxville, Tenn.
The Spartans are part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with Fort Wayne North Side, Fort Wayne South Side, Fort Wayne Wayne and Huntington North. Homestead has won 14 sectionals — the last in 2016. A 4A state runner-up finish was earned in 2008.
Byall is single and lives in the Homestead district.
“I’m real close with my family,” says Byall, the son of Maurie and Rosi Byall and younger brother of Troy Byall. His father owns Byall Homes, Inc., and has been building houses for 40 years. His mother is the Homestead treasurer and also the statistician for her son’s baseball team.
With three children, chiropractor Dr. Troy and wife Erica Byall have made Nick a proud uncle.
Homestead High School baseball coach Nick Byall (left) slaps hands with Kade Kolpien. Byall is in his 14th season as a Spartans coach — fourth as head coach — while Kolpien is in his senior season in 2019.
Nick Byall is head baseball coach at Homestead High School in Fort Wayne, Ind. He is a 2000 graduate of the school. (Homestead High School Photo)