BY STEVE KRAH
Phil Webster is proud to call himself a professional educator. A former law education teacher at Decatur Central High School on the southwest side of Indianapolis, he left the high school classroom in 2016 after more than five decades.
His baseball coaching career continues.
Following a few seasons as an assistant, he is the man in charge once again.
Webster, who was inducted into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2015, is now head coach at Southport High School.
Last spring, Phil served as an assistant/pitching coach with son Todd Webster at Pike High School on Indy’s northwest side.
Before that, he was an assistant at Perry Meridian High School (which is in the same Marion County township — Perry — as Southport and parochial powerhouse Roncalli) after serving on the staff at Mooresville High School in Morgan County.
Webster was head coach at North Putnam High School in Roachdale in 2013. The 2012 season was spent as pitching coach at Franklin (Ind.) College.
Why take the Southport Cardinals job now?
“I enjoy being a head coach,” says Webster. “It allows me to be able to keep teaching the game. It was great coaching with my son. Todd gave me a great opportunity.
“Now, I get to be the guy in-charge.”
Webster ran the show at Decatur Central for 27 seasons, finishing his run in 2011. His Hawks went 558-254 with seven Marion County, 11 conference, 11 sectional, two regional and one semistate title to go with the 2008 IHSAA Class 4A state championship. Decatur bested Homestead 7-3 in that game.
Two of Webster’s former players — Jeff Scott (Brebeuf Jesuit) and Jason Combs (Decatur Central) — are now high school baseball coaches in Indiana.
Prep coaching stops have also come at Plainfield and North Salem. He’s also helped son Todd coach the Pony Express in travel ball.
Webster, who resides in Decatur Township, has been conducting fall workouts at Southport.
“We out here to get ourselves a little better,” says Webster. “I like this team. They’re learners. It’s fun when you’re a coach and educator when you’ve got players that want to learn.
“I look forward to every practice and workout.”
A new IHSAA rule allows coaches to work with an unlimited number of players for two hours two days a week. The access window will close Oct. 12 and open up again the first week of December.
“I don’t like it,” says Webster of a rule he sees as limiting. “If the coach is willing to take the time and if you want to play the game, you’re restricting their ability to grow.
“We we never tell kids to stop studying chemistry or math. But we tell them to stop studying (or practicing) baseball.
Webster points out that players who have the resources can go to the professional instructor, but are not allowed get free instruction from their high school coach during the blackout period.
“The rule is what it is and I’ll respect it,” says Webster. “But we’re holding them back.
“From Oct. 12 to Dec. 3, you can’t do anything (with players as an Indiana high school coach). Why?. What’s the rationale?. I guess the reason must be we don’t want to burn (players) out. (Rule makers) need to trust us a little more. We’re not out there to hurt kids. We’re out there to make them a little better.”
Southport plays its home games at Holder Field — a facility on the Mary Bryant Elementary campus it shares with Perry Township Schools mate Perry Meridian.
The Cardinals belong to Conference Indiana (along with Bloomington North, Bloomington South, Columbus North, Terre Haute North Vigo and Terre Haute South Vigo).
Each conference team plays each other once to determine a champion.
Like he was at many of his other coaching gigs, Webster will be a part of the Marion County Tournament.
“One-eighth of the teams in the county are coached by a Webster,” says Phil, noting that Todd’s Pike Red Devils are also in the field.
The elder Webster inherits a 10-9 team from Mike Klopfenstein, who is stepping away from coaching for now to be with his wife and 1-year-old twins.
One of the returning Southport players is Avery Short. The left-handed pitcher is the lone Indiana representative on the USA Baseball 18U Trials roster.
The University of Louisville commit earned an invitation to a USA Baseball event this summer in Cary, N.C., and was placed in the Trials roster.
During tryouts in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in mid-November, a roster of 26 will be cut to 20 on Nov. 20 and go through a series of workouts and exhibition games before playing in the COPABE U-18 Pan-American Championships Nov. 23-Dec. 2 in Panama City, Panama.
Short, an alumnus of Southport Little League, has been clocked at 92 mph with his four-seam fastball and also possesses a two-seam fastball, curveball, slider and “circle” change-up.
He is excited to have Webster leading the SHS program.
“I’m looking forward to working with him for my pitching ability and learning the game since he’s been around it so long,” says Short.
At 76, Webster has assembled a seasoned coaching staff. Mike Chapman was with him for 20 years and Steve Krizmanich (his statistician) 27 at Decatur Central.
“We’re the grey-haired guys,” says Webster. “We may be the oldest staff in the state.”
Dave Chamberlain rounds out the varsity crew. Ken Slaughter and Wendell Slaughter will run the junior varsity. Freshmen coaches have yet to be hired.
In an effort to bring the Southport baseball community together, Webster will keep communication open with coaches, players and parents at the Southport, Edgewood and Indiana Central youth leagues as well as Southport Middle School.
Knowing how important it is to have parent involvement, he is meeting with those who have players in high school and middle school.
“I’d say 90 to 95 percent of parents are very cooperative,” says Webster. “They’re helpful and supportive. The ones who are hostile are very rare.”
Webster has seen a direct correlation over the years to championship teams that have strong parent groups with happy coaches and players.
Noting that high school baseball is played during the “dog days” at the end of the school year, teams must contend with many obstacles.
“At the beginning of the year, you have no demerits and everyone is fresh. Then here comes baseball and the cold weather. It’s a battle. There’s no question about that.”
That’s why Webster appreciates backing from the administration. At Southport that includes Pete Hubert.
“I’ve never had a more cooperative and supportive athletic director,” says Webster of Hubert.
Born six days before the attack on Pearl Harbor — Dec 1, 1941 — Webster grew up in the in the borough of Forest Hills just outside Pittsburgh, Pa.
To this day, he is a diehard rooter for Steel City teams — the Pirates, Steelers and Penguins.
His favorite baseball player is Roberto Clemente. Among his favorite memories are Bill Mazeroski’s walk-off home run in the 1960 World Series and the 1979 “We Are Fam-il-y!” Pirates.
“I bleed black and gold,” says Webster, who stayed with that color scheme when he picked up his masters degree at Purdue University.
Webster graduated from the now-defunct Wilkinsburg High School and pitched at Milligan College in Tennessee. He wound up in Indiana in the mid-1960s and has been here ever since.
Phil Webster, an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer who led Decatur Central to an IHSAA Class 4A state championship in 2008, is now head baseball coach at Southport High School in Indianapolis.