By STEVE KRAH
Chris Ulrey enjoys a challenge and he and a staff of experienced assistant coaches are taking one head-on at Warren Central High School in Indianapolis.
Ulrey, a 2006 New Palestine High School graduate who was drafted by the Chicago White Sox in 2006 and has been running the Midwest Astros Baseball and Softball Academy in Greenfield, Ind., and instructing hitters from youth through pro for the last 11 years, was hired to head up the Warriors program at the beginning of the 2021-22 school year.
“I love a challenge,” says Ulrey. “You get to see how good your coaching staff is at developing guys.
“(Athletic Director Isang Jacob) allowed me to bring in guys I thought would be essential.”
Ulrey’s staff features pitching coach Morgan Coombs, infielders coach Jeff Cardenas and operations/outfielders coach T.J. Schooley at the varsity level with Zac Capps and Josh Ott with the junior varsity squad.
Coombs is a West Vigo High School graduate who pitched for Ball State University and in independent and Australian pro ball.
Fort Wayne native Cardenas played at Kankakee (Ill.) Community College (when Ulrey was hitting coach and recruiting coordinator there) and the University of Northwestern Ohio and in independent pro ball.
Schooley is a longtime Ulrey assistant and brings many years of knowledge and coaching to the Warren Central staff at the varsity level.
Ulrey plans to field two competitive teams — varsity and JV — in 2022.
Fall and winter practices plus weight workouts have allowed Ulrey to get to know the talent level of his players.
“Our expectations are high,” says Ulrey. “It comes down to how much these guys want to work, buy in and commit to changing the culture of Warren Central baseball.”
Warren Central had 21 players in the program in 2021 and it’s been more than a decade since the Warriors won 10 games.
There was a Black and Gold World Series in front of parents and fans that allowed players to have fun and compete.
“It was very good for us,” says Ulrey. “We got to see from a live pitching standpoint what we have going into (2022).”
To make it work, there must be buy-in and commitment from the athletes. Some workouts have been at 6 a.m.
Fall sessions averaged 30 to 40 players with many returning starters missing because of football and soccer commitments.
There were 35 to 50 at the beginning of off-season weights and conditioning.
Ulrey is also an assistant strength and conditioning coach to Keith Swift at Warren Central and teaches Athletic Weights, which gives him the chance to work with all of the school’s athletes including baseball players.
Warren Central (enrollment around 3,800) is part of the Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference (with Ben Davis, Carmel, Center Grove, Indianapolis North Central, Lawrence Central, Lawrence North and Pike).
In 2021, the Warriors were in IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with Franklin Central, New Palestine, Perry Meridian, Roncalli and Southport. Warren Central has won nine sectionals — the last in 1991.
Seven varsity players and a talented junior and senior class return from 2021.
Among the returnees are junior right-handed pitcher Eli Shaw, junior right-hander/infielder John “JayJay” Calmes and sophomore center fielder/right-hander Joshua James. All have attracted college interest.
“We are young with a lot of arms,” says Ulrey. “We have a good freshman class as well with some good pitching and big bats that may have opportunities to get some varsity time.”
Warriors Baseball Club has been established to help run camps for elementary and middle school players (nine elementary schools and four middle schools feed into Warren Central) throughout the year and support the high school program.
Gavin Deberry (Warren Central Class of 2021) moved on to play at Purdue Northwest. He was coached by Ulrey with the Midwest Astros and trained with him since age 12.
Ulrey and company are running the Warriors like a college program — from the way the players act to the way they handle themeslves.
“Academics are first and sports are second,” says Ulrey. “We are preparing ourselves for after sports.
“As coaches, we plan to do our part and develop and guide these young men in the right direction. These guys have worked hard up to this point and made the commitment and bought in to this team and program to show what they can do this spring.
“Our motto this year is ‘Prove Your Worth.’ It’s been a long time since Warren Central baseball has done anything and these boys are preparing themselves this off-season and working hard to prove to our school, the community and our opponents they can play and compete with anyone if they work for it.”