By STEVE KRAH
What Columbia City (Ind.) High School baseball needed was a dose of discipline and a culture of competitiveness.
That’s way Rob Bell saw it so he decided to apply to be the Eagles head coach going into the 2018 season.
The previous two Columbia City teams had won three games. In Bell’s first campaign in charge last spring, the Eagles went 6-21.
“We got better,” says Bell, who had coached basketball, football and softball at the high school level before taking on baseball. “The best thing we did last year is we competed. We were in the majority of our games.”
Just two players from that team graduated and up to nine seniors and 10 players who started in 2018 are expected back in 2019.
“How these guys pull together as a team, that’s going to determine how well we do this year,” says Bell. “We’re trying to drive some of that individuality out of it.”
Bell was an assistant to Indiana Basketball Hall of Famer Wayne Kreiger for Columbia City’s girls basketball program and served on the Eagles boys basketball staff of Chris Benedict and coached middle school basketball and football at Columbia City.
There have also been stints as girls basketball head coach at Whitko and girls basketball freshman coach at Angola as well as football and softball assistant jobs at Garrett, the school Bell graduated from in 1991.
Bell, 45, has been at Columbia City for 18 years — first as a science teacher and now as dean of students. He was convinced that he was the man to help Eagles baseball.
An Eagle Scout while he was in high school, Bell brought in the Boy Scout Law (A scout is: Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean and Reverent) as a code of conduct in his first head coaching job with Whitko girls basketballers.
With Columbia City baseball, he’s added Disciplined to the list.
“What this program needed I believe is discipline with someone who knew how to build a program and a culture and who could define the expectations of all the members of the program,” says Bell. “If you discipline yourself and nobody else has to.”
He also wants his athletes to know that each of them represents a piece of a much bigger puzzle.
“We’re trying to build that culture of selflessness and get our guys to understand that,” says Bell. “We’ve got them to volunteer in the community.”
This culture includes his own family. Rob and Lori Bell, who have been married for 20 years, have two baseball-playing sons at Columbia City — senior Dalton and freshman Brady.
Bell counts five men as the biggest influences on his coaching career. Besides Kreiger and Benedict, there’s his football coach at Garrett (Greg Moe), the head girls basketball coach when he was student-teaching at Angola (Doug Curtis) and the head softball coach when he was assisting at Garrett (father-in-law Alan Hunter).
“I’d like to think I’m a combination of all of them mixed in with what I do well to make it my own,” says Bell. “I wanted to be a lot like (Moe). He had a huge impact on my life.
“There was his intensity, work ethic and willingness to prepare. He loved us and because he loved us, he would not let us settle for anything less than our best. He drove us to get that out of us.
“I’m extremely intense. I’d like to think I’m as organized and prepared as he was.”
Bell played baseball his first two years at Garrett then switched to track. He went to Butler University to study pharmacy and play football. Along the way, he gave up the grid and switched to education. He finished college at Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne.
So far, Columbia City’s 2019 coaching staff includes Bell, Skylar Campbell, Jared Ambrose with the varsity and Justin Dailey with the junior varsity. Campbell is an agriculture teacher/Future Farmers of America advisor and Ambrose a business teacher at the school. Dailey is still attending Indiana Tech. Bell says he expects to add one more to his staff.
Last spring, there were 31 players for varsity and JV teams. This fall, 31 freshmen have indicated their interest in playing baseball in the spring, causing Bell to look into the possibility of fielding a C-team or freshmen squad in 2019.
“I’d love to be able to carry 45 guys,” says Bell. “The biggest hamstringing thing is pitching depth.
“We may be able to keep kids as pitcher-onlys — at least for this year.”
The pitching depth issue really comes to the front when the schedule gets stacked up. Between having one field on-campus and the weather, last spring saw one stretch where Columbia City’s JV played six-days-a-week for two straight weeks.
Looking to the future, Columbia City is planning to build a new high school and move into it in 2020-21. With that will come new athletic facilities.
Long before that happens, Bell wants to field a squad to fans can get behind.
“We’d like to have a really quality product in terms of guys in the program,” says Bell. “People will come to watch good guys OK baseball.
“It’s not enjoyable to watch a bunch of jerks.”
Columbia City plays in the Northeast Eight Conference (along with Bellmont, DeKalb, East Noble, Huntington North, Leo, New Haven and Norwell). Conference games tend to be played twice a week and each team plays the others once.
The Eagles are in an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger, Fort Wayne Bishop Luers, Fort Wayne Concordia Lutheran, Garrett, Leo and New Haven. Columbia City has won nine sectional titles all-time — the last in 2007.
Rob Bell is the dean of students and head baseball coach at Columbia City (Ind.) High School.
Head coach Rob Bell (right) talks with Cameron Harris during the 2018 Columbia City (Ind.) High School baseball season. Harris is expected back for his senior year and Bell’s second in charge in 2019.
Rob Bell (center) enjoys time with sons Dalton (left) and Brady (right). Bell is heading into his second season as head baseball coach at Columbia City (Ind.) High School in 2019. The Bell boys are both ballplayers, Dalton a senior and Brady a freshman.