Tag Archives: Jennings County

Number of turf baseball fields on Indiana high school campuses grows

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Follow social media or drive by your local diamond and you may have seen outdoor baseball activity this week.

And it’s mid-January.

What do they say about Indiana weather: “Don’t like it? Just wait a little while and it will change.”

It’s largely with atmospheric conditions in mind that more and more high schools around the Hoosier State have installed artificial turf or are considering such a move.

Looking at on-campus fields only (in alphabetical order), turf has been installed or is on the way at Cascade, Danville Community, Indianapolis Bishop Chatard, Jeffersonville, Jennings County, Lake Central, Logansport, Mooresville, Noblesville, Northridge, Northwestern, Penn and Providence and idea has been explored in other places.

Here’s an IndianaRBI.com roundup of these places:

CASCADE

The Cascade Cadets played on turf at their Clayton, Ind., campus for the first time in 2019.

The administration (Scott Stevens is the athletic director) made the call to turf the baseball, softball and football fields.

Cascade head coach Ty Foster sees advantages to having turf.

“Last season we were able to be outside for practice or games everyday of the season except for two days,” says Foster. “Rain earlier in the day or week would of normally pushed us inside for a couple days, but now it’s just a matter of hours or even less that we can go out and take advantage of a full practice without the indoor limitations.

“We are able to go out and do things early in the season when it’s usually the wettest and we are getting new players and returning players up to speed on how we prepare for games that most teams in the state aren’t able to because they are inside for the start of the year and are limited in space.

“We were also able to get in a full schedule of games, except a few that scheduling conflicts with conference opponents got in the way of. That is something we weren’t able to do in my first three seasons at Casacde that we were never lucky to do.

“Our varsity can play games, but most importantly our younger players are able to get more experience and play a full slate of JV games in.”

DANVILLE COMMUNITY

The Danville Warriors are guided on the field by Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Pat O’Neil. Jon Regashus is AD.

Danville’s diamond has turf in the infield and grass in the outfield since the 2018 season.

“More and more schools going that route,” says Regashus of a field that has FieldTurf (Cincinnati-based The Motz Group was the subcontractor). “We were dealing with a construction project in general (parking lots, bleachers, fencing). We looked at the financials and since the field was being renovated anyway, it was cost versus maintenance.”

Regashus says debt was falling off the school corporation’s books and it opened up funds for capital projects.

The AD adds that its hard to give an exact figure on cost since it was part of a larger project, but he estimates that the whole thing came in at around $700,000.

A machine is used to sweep the turf and keep it as clean as possible.

O’Neil gives his thumbs up to the turf infield.

“My first two years there, it seemed that everyday we had to get water off the field, fix home plate or the mound or drainage areas,” says O’Neil. “We were spending more time fixing the field than getting ready for games.”

O’Neil say players were expending energy pulling a tarp that could have been spent in other game day activities.

“I would take our field over anybody else’s field,” says O’Neil.

The game and bullpen mounds at Danville are clay and the warning track is brick dust.

O’Neil says there is something to be said about working on the field.

“Tractor time — it is therapy,” says O’Neil. “(In the fall) we’d be edging, pulling a weed here and there and put it to sleep. I guarantee I’d be out there on Thanksgiving to breathe the baseball air. I did it at Brownsburg all the time.

“It’s definitely therapeutic.”

Having turf helped keep the Brebeuf Sectional on schedule when the Greencastle-Tri-West game was moved to Danville. A Little League state tournament was hosted by Danville in 2018. Regashus says travel teams pay a rental fee for practices or tournaments.

INDIANAPOLIS BISHOP CHATARD

Chatard‘s Dave Alexander Field on the northeast side of Indianapolis was the first Indiana high school to have a turfed field on its campus. The 2020 season marks the eighth.

IHSBCA Hall of Famer Alexander led the capital campaign.

“Dave was very generous with his donation,” says Chatard head coach Mike Harmon. (The Motz Group-installed turf) is 2 1/4 inch. The whole field is same height (since it is a multi-use field shared with Trojans soccer programs).

“We were able to structure it any way we wanted. The football and baseball fields were done the same way.

Harmon, who is also an assistant AD to Mike Ford, says the business office has set a rental fee of $125 per hour.

“It’s a decent income generator in the summer,” says Harmon. “It’s used Thursday through Sunday non-stop.”

JEFFERSONVILLE

The Red Devils of Jeffersonville are on pace to debut The Motz Group-installed turf infield on Don Poole Field in 2020.

There was a groundbreaking ceremony in late November and the project funded by Jeffersonville alum John Schnatter (aka Papa John) went full steam ahead.

“We’re blessed,” says Jeff head coach Derek Ellis. “We would have never had a turf infield or upgrades to our baseball field if it wasn’t for Mr. Schnatter’s generosity.”

Upgrades in the works also call for a new scoreboard, outfield fence, dugout railings and more.

Ellis says the Kentucky Bluegrass in the outfield was in really good shape.

The coach says his players should have no problem making the transition to the new infield surface.

“We live in an era now where these kids are playing on turf fields (like the one at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind.) in the summer,” says Ellis. “(Turf) makes you a better fielder with its pretty true consistent playability. Natural surface is a little more aggressive than artificial surface. Of course, it depends on how high or low the grass is cut.”

Ellis notes a turf field is not maintenance-free. The high-traffic areas must be attended so the fibers stand tall.

But the prep time has been cut down considerably.

“Now we’re doing some player development,” says Ellis. “If it’s 35 degrees and the sun’s out it’s like 45 degrees on the turf.

“I’m excited about this. Practices will run smoother. We can get a lot more accomplished.”

Todd Satterly is the Jeffersonville AD.

JENNINGS COUNTY

New baseball and softball fields were in the works at Jennings County in North Vernon, Ind., and the decision was later made to put turf on both diamonds for 2020.

Former Wabash College head baseball coach Cory Stevens is JC’s athletic director and Trent Hardisty is the Panthers head baseball coach.

“We have the ability to get out there much, much earlier in the year,” says Stevens. “It’s not maintenance-free, but we no longer need tarps, rakes or any of those things.

“It’s extremely exciting.”

Stevens says more teams are likely to schedule games at Jennings County.

“Hometown fans get to see your team play a lot more often,” says Stevens. “We have the convenience of being able to play anytime as long as its not lightning or pouring at game time. It also frees up grounds staff for other things.”

Stevens says there will be a standard rental fee for outside teams.

“We would like to generate revenue in the summer,” says Stevens. “We’d like to host as much as we could.”

The Motz Group-installed turf on the baseball field will be on the infield and in foul territory behind the plate, extending to the back cut of the infield. The actual product from The Motz Group is called Triple Play. It’s 2 inches thick in the grass areas and 1.625 inches in the skinned areas. The batter’s boxes, mound and bullpens are turf as well.

Stevens says putting in turf is represents a significant cost savings over time. There will be less rainouts and makeups and less required field maintenance.

The project was paid for by a bond issued to the school corporation.

JC’s football field was converted to synthetic turf in 2018.

LAKE CENTRAL

Lake Central in St. John, Ind., marked its fifth spring with a turf baseball field in 2019.

Many of the outdoor athletic areas for the Indians, including football (2015 was the first season) and softball (since 2014), are covered by FieldTurf. The baseball field is shared with the Indians soccer programs.

“We’re able to do some things other schools can’t,” says LC head baseball coach Mike Swartzentruber. “Ours is all turf – including the mound. It’s one less thing you have to deal with from a maintenance standpoint.

“I don’t miss that for sure.

“In the three years I’ve been here, we’ve played about 20 games a year at our place (with games scheduled on the road moved to Lake Central). We always get our allotted games in.”

Duneland Athletic Conference games are scheduled on consecutive weekdays and both will often by contested at Lake Central.

While programs with grass and dirt field have to buy materials (clay, diamond dry etc.) every year. That’s not the case at Lake Central.

LC’s old varsity field — now used by the junior varsity — is grass. The JV softball field has a turf infield and grass outfield.

Swartzentruber says maintenance on a turf field includes replaces the rubber pellets and sand in the sliding areas.

“With all the kids it takes about 10 minutes,” says Swartzentruber. The mound is held in place by velcro.

The coach says outside teams have asked to use the field while getting ready for regional or semistate play and there is a rental fee involved.

“We’re pretty particular on who uses it,” says Swartzentruber. “We want to makes sure it stays as nice as possible for as long as possible.

“We’re on it a ton. Other sports will be on it some. Freshmen football team practices on it a lot.”

Swartzentruber emailed all the teams on the Indians schedule to let them no that sunflower seeds, gum, colored drinks and metal spikes are not allowed. Teams can wear  turf shoes, tennis shoes or molded cleats.

The field has the same dimensions as Victory Field in Indianapolis.

“Our field is really, really big,” says Swartzentruber. Home runs are a rarity at LC.

LC AD Chris Enyeart explains why turf was adopted at his school.

“Northwest Indiana weather very unpredictable in the spring seasons,” says Enyeart. “The heaviest rain needs an hour to be ready to go. Maintenance is much easier.

“Tryouts have been outside every year we’ve had it. Some teams stuck in the gym two or three weeks behind us.”

Enyeart notes that when snow doesn’t melt on grass fields, it turns to mud.

Not so with turf.

LOGANSPORT

The Logansport Berries have sported turf at Jim Turner Field since the 2016 season. The school turf down on its football, softball and baseball fields at the same time.

Logansport AD Brian Strong says the total project cost just over $2 million. Previous debt was refinanced and and taxes did not go up.

Strong cites the advantages of turf.

“In northern Indiana, it’s a challenge to get on those fields in early spring for practices etc.,” says Strong. “We’re always worried about over-use (noting that soccer teams and youth leagues also play on the field).

“It’s been a great investment in our community. We have so many different programs taking advantage of it.”

Strong estimates that the Berries wind up hosting 18 to 20 baseball games per season.

Maintenance generally means pulling a groomer weekly behind the Gator.

“We want to keep it looking nice,” says Strong. “It takes about the same time or less than mowing. We were probably mowing every other day in-season (with grass).

The facilities have been rented out to small colleges around the state and allowed travel baseball and softball organizations to use it for free.

Colleges begin their seasons in mid-February and have been able to play on Turner Field’s turf.

New Berries head baseball coach Dan Frye remembers all the time Jim Turner Sr. and Jim Turner Jr. put into the original facility.

“We had a beautiful surface when we had a natural field,” says Frye. “They put in countless hours. It was a great field to play on even back in the day.

“But now won’t have rainouts so much and the care and maintenance has gone way down.”

MOORESVILLE

The Mooresville Pioneers took to the SprintTurf-installed FieldTurf for the third season in 2019. There’s no natural grass or dirt on the diamond at all.

“As long as its not pouring down rain, you can pretty much play on it,” says Mooresville head baseball coach Eric McGaha. “There’s not any weather condition you can not play through (short of thunder and lightning).

“You don’t have to put down material to dry the field, It’s dry within 10 minutes of when rain stops. Our diamond (prior to turf) just held too much water. One to 1 1/2 inches of rain would take two or three days to totally dry out.”

“It’s been a really, really good investment for us.”

Mooresville also put turf on its football and softball fields.

McGaha says the crushed rubber inside the fiber of the new turf makes it bouncy and soft to slide on.

“There not a ton of maintenance involved,” says McGaha. “We can use that extra time to practice and get better.

“You want those guys to have opportunities to practice or play. That’s why they’re playing baseball.

“The kids realize they’re in a very fortunate situation.”

Mooresville hosted a southern semistate.

“We got good, positive feedback,” says McGaha.

Because of the warranty, Mooresville does not allow outside groups to play on the field. The baseball diamond is used by the freshmen football team and physical education classes.

“We don’t rent it out,” says Mooresville AD Mike Mossbrucker. “A number of universities have asked us to play, particularly on our softball field.

“We don’t want to overuse it. It stands to reason the more teams you put out there the more the wear and tear is. There is a life expectancy. We’re just not taking any chances.”

NOBLESVILLE

While the Noblesville Millers do not have turf on Dunker Field (varsity), the adjacent JV field with the same dimensions does sport AstroTurf as of the fall of 2019.

“It’s a big help for us in terms of training,” says Noblesville head baseball coach Justin Keever. “We have three teams (two JV and one varsity).”

Keever says turf fields tend to respond in a more consistent way.

“Not all natural fields respond the same,” says Keever. “The grass is higher or lower. Some are fluffy. Some have high lips. Some don’t.

“The Dunk is very quick. We cut it short. It’s like a billiards table out there.”

Leah Wooldridge is AD at Noblesville, where they will host a 2020 tournament featuring Carmel, Penn and St. X of St. Louis.

NORTHRIDGE

Construction has started for a new athletic complex at the Middlebury, Ind., school. The Motz Group will be putting down turf for football/track, softball and baseball. The new digs are to debut in 2020-21. Northridge AD says the project costs nearly $15 million.

“We didn’t have to raise any taxes,” says Harms. “That’s huge. That gets everybody excited.

“It’ll be nice not have to worry about the weather as much. It could rain all day and you could still get out and play. The turnaround is so much quicker.”

Harms says the two existing varsity fields — baseball and softball — will become JV fields.

“Everything will be here on campus for the first time,” says Harms, noting that JV games have been contested at Middlebury Little League. “It had a lot to do with putting in new fields. It’s been a long, long time since we’ve had an upgrade to our outdoor faculties.

“It also opens door to hosting sectionals etc. which we couldn’t do before. We’ve already been asked to host both baseball and softball sectionals (in 2021).”

Count Raiders head coach Andrew Brabender among the elated.

“I’m super-excited about it,” says Brabender. “I wasn’t a fan of (turf) as a player. It just makes sense in northern Indiana. You’re really not counting on decent weather until the first of May.”

According to the coach, the new field will have a tire and sand ratio in the infield different than the outfield and there will be walnuts on the warning track that will crunch below fielders’ feet.

Brabender says getting outside after the snow melts means constantly rolling the grass field.

“The ball is never a true roll,” says Brabender. “It always has some kind of bounce.”

Brabender has used college teammate at Hannibal-LaGrange as a resource. Neil Richardson is the head baseball coach at Fox High School in Missouri, where there has been a turf infield and grass outfield for years.

Field maintenance at Northridge’s current grass field takes about 45 minutes to an hour a day when it does not rain and that duty falls to Brabender and his coaching staff.

NORTHWESTERN

Northwestern in Kokomo, Ind., had 50 acres of athletic complex to maintain and needed to do some safety upgrades bring all of fields into a small area, according to AD and former Tigers head baseball coach Dan Armstrong.

So Northwestern wound up with new football, softball and baseball fields installed by SprinTurf. Soccer uses all three multi-purpose fields. The first spring for baseball was in 2018.

“I’m a huge proponent for having high school turf,” says Armstrong. “(Instead of) maintaining the field, (athletes) can get home, get something to eat and get their homework done.”

Armstrong notes that the year prior to putting turf on the football field, it was used for 61 hours. The year after turf saw it host 137 events plus practices.

Even though there were eight inches of rain on baseball/softball sectional week, the games were still played.

“The last time we hosted sectional, rain pushed the final to Thursday and the regional was Saturday,” says Armstrong.

Northwestern has an all-rubber infield.

“It has no sand in it,” says Armstrong. “It plays like a (grass and dirt) baseball field. It’s not real bouncy. The fields are not abrasive.

“We wanted to focus on our kids. We play games at 6 p.m. (and use LED lights when necessary). We get bigger crowds. Plus it’s warmer on the turf.

“It’s been worth every penny we’ve spent on it. I just love it.”

Armstrong says fields need to be groomed for every 50 to 100 hours of use. Rakes and other equipment has been donated to youth programs.

“Gum is devastating,” says Armstrong. “It melts into the carpet. We’ve banned all nuts from our facility.”

Northwestern head baseball coach Ryan Ward considers himself a purist.

“I miss the tractor a little bit,” says Ward. “But instead of chalking or lining, I can get to my wife sooner. But extra reps is what it all boils down to.”

The turf also allows for Northwestern to host a Howard County tournament (with Eastern, Taylor and Western)) the first week of the season.

PENN

The Penn Kingsmen had The Motz Group install turf on varsity baseball and softball fields in Mishawaka, Ind., in time to practice on them in the fall of 2019 and will debut them for game play in 2020.

“I never thought of it,” says Penn head baseball coach Greg Dikos, an IHSBCA Hall of Famer. “I thought it was out-of-reach.

“(The administration) got the ball rolling and got it done.”

Dikos sees many positives to turf on Jordan Automotive Group Field.

“We get on there a lot sooner and stay out there a lot longer,” says Dikos. “We can do a lot more things outside. We don’t have to worry about gym space.”

Marketed as a multi-use field, the band also practices on the lighted baseball diamond. Dikos also takes his P.E. classes onto the rug. The field is also marked for soccer use.

Dikos attended a workout on maintaining the field, which involves redistributing and adding rubber pellets and sometimes sand in heavy-use areas.

“Kids will be able to get home a lot sooner,” says Dikos. (With the grass and dirt field), every kid had a job (rake etc.). Repair now is so much quicker.

“The varsity dirt we took to the JV field. We fixed it up pretty nice.”

Penn has to coordinate practice and game schedules for three teams — varsity, JV and freshmen.

Jeff Hart is the Kingsmen’s AD.

PROVIDENCE

The Pioneers of Our Lady of Providence had Triple Play Turf installed on the baseball infield in the fall of 2015 and played the first season on it in 2016. The football/soccer field was turfed before that.

“We were just so pleased with the results on our football field,” says Providence AD Mickey Golembeski. “Let’s do what we can on the baseball field based on what we could raise.”

Golembeski says the project was funded by “in kind” donations by alumni.

“I’m guessing it cost in the $250,000 to $300,000 range,” says Golembeski. “But this include a complete re-do of the Bermuda (grass) outfield.”

Since Providence is private and no public monies were involved, the Pioneers and their feeder programs are the only ones to use it.

“With a baseball field, the wear and tear is much quicker and faster than a football field,” says Golembeski. “Proper grooming and maintenance makes a world of difference.”

Players replaces product and brushes it in all those locations after every game and practice. It gives kids pride and ownership in their area.

“It has to be done on a daily basis,” says Golembeski. “But it’s very quick and easy and takes much less time (the maintaining a all-grass and dirt field).

“The athletic department will groom the field with pull-behind brushes — very corse bristles used in a specific pattern — to refurbish and redistribute the base.

“In the long run, it’s going to save us hundreds of thousands of dollars of when we’re going to have a replacement.”

Count Providence head baseball coach Scott Hutchins as a turf fan.

“There’s a lot of things to like,” says Hutchins. “Not having to deal with rainouts in wonderful. “I loved working on the field.”

But on rainy days, he take sponges to it during his planning period. Raking was a daily occurrence.

“Jokingly, I tell people my wife likes it more than I do,” says Hutchins. “I’m at home more and not working on the field.”

DANVILLEFIELD

The combination turf/grass baseball field at Danville (Ind.) Community High School. (Danville Community High School Photo)LAKECENTRALTURFFIELDThe turf baseball field at Lake Central High School in St. John, Ind. (Lake Central High School Photo)

DAVEALEXANDERFIELDBISHOPCHATARD

Dave Alexander Field — the baseball diamond at Indianapolis Bishop Chatard High School — has had turf since the 2013 season. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Former long-time assistant Hutchins now in charge of Providence Pioneers

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Scott Hutchins has spent 27 years in a Our Lady of Providence High School baseball uniform — four as a player for then-head coach Ben Hornung and the past 23 as an assistant coach to Scott Hornung (Ben’s cousin). In 25 seasons, Scott Hornung went 473-233 with 13 sectional title, six regional crowns, one semistate championship and one state title.

Now 1991 Providence graduate Hutchins is in charge of the Clarksville, Ind.-based Pioneers program and carries things he learned from the Hornungs and ideas he’s formed on his own.

Hutchins recalls how prepared Ben Hornung was for each day’s practice.

“He was very organized,” says Hutchins. “He made every single person feel like they were an important part of the team and that they were a big contributor.

“(Scott Hornung) had the ability to cultivate relationships with all the players. He had a lot of respect for all those guys. He listened to his assistants and would take your advice.

“I hope to take a little bit of all those things when I get started.”

Hutchins has already put Providence players through fall Limited Contact Period baseball workouts (two hours, twice-a-week for seven weeks).

“We had good weather and got all 14 practices in,” says Hutchins. “We really focused on individual player development. We did a little bit of team stuff.

“I like the Limited Contact rule because we are allowed to instruct.”

There was individual defensive work and time spent in the batting cage.

“We had a super productive fall,” says Hutchins. “In December, we’ll do conditioning and lifting. I doubt we’ll even pick up a baseball in December.

“In January, we’ll focus on getting our pitchers ready for the season.”

Ideally, Hutchins would like his players to be able to throw a little during conditioning times, but the rules do not currently allow that though the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association is working with the Indiana High School Athletic Association and Indiana Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association on proposals, including one that would extend the period of arm care.

Hutchins says he would like to stretch out his starters and have his bullpen pitchers throw a lesser number of pitches two or three days a week to get used to doing that during the season.

“Right now, it’s hard to get their arms ready,” says Hutchins.

His assistants include Providence alums Jacob Julius (2004), Tre Watson (2016) and Colin Rauck (2015) plus former Indiana University Southeast pitcher Elliott Fuller and Jennings County graduate and former IUS player Brian Jackson.

Associate head coach Julius played and coached at the University of Arkansas and played in the Baltimore Orioles organization. Watson was on the Pioneers’ state title team in 2016 and is now the hitting coach. Fuller works with pitcher and is the head junior varsity coach. Jackson works with catchers. Rauck is a JV assistant.

Providence (enrollment around 360) is an athletic independent with no conference affiliation.

Among 2019 opponents were Austin, Brownstown Central, Clarksville, Corydon Central, Eastern of Pekin, Gibson Southern, Jeffersonville, Lanesville, New Albany, North Harrison, Salem, Silver Creek, South Central of Elizabeth and Washington in Indiana plus Glenbrook South and Metamora in Illinois and Trinity in Kentucky.

The Pioneers are part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Austin, Clarksville, Crawford County, Eastern of Pekin and Henryville. Providence has won 18 sectional titles — the last in 2017. The Pioneers were 2A state champions in 2016.

Several recent Providence graduates have gone on to college baseball, including Joe Wilkinson (Indiana University), Christian Graf (Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tenn.) and Adam Uhl (Franklin College), Timmy Borden (University of Louisville), Reece Davis (Bellarmine University in Louisville), Jake Lewis (Eastern Kentucky University) and Jay Lorenz (Hanover College).

No current Pioneers have made college baseball commitments.

Hutchins has a bachelor’s and master’s degree from Indiana University Southeast. He teaches Chemistry and is Dean of Students at Providence.

Scott and Traci Hutchins have two baseball-playing sons — senior Bryce Hutchins and freshman Logan Hutchins. Both are second basemen.

SCOTTHUTCHINSFAMILY

The Hutchins family (from left): Bryce, Logan, Traci and Scott. After 23 seasons as an assistant, alum Scott Hutchins is now the head baseball coach at Our Lady of Providence High School in Clarksville, Ind.

 

Armstrong, Madison welcoming IHSBCA all-stars this summer

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A baseball-mad town and surrounding area will be the focus of the Indiana high school diamond community this summer.

The 2019 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North-South All-Star Series are scheduled for the week of June 17.

“We’re going to make it a week-long event,” says Tim Armstrong, head baseball coach at Madison Consolidated High School. “We’re exciting about having an opportunity to host. We want to do it up right.

“We’re going to make the all-stars feel like all-stars.”

Festivities are to be held at Madison Consolidated, nearby Hanover College as well as on and along the Ohio River.

Madison boasts the “largest contiguous national historic district in the United States” with sites, landmarks and tours plus speciality shopping, restaurants and cafes and the lure of Clifty Falls State Park.

Madison Consolidated will be the site of three all-star games for seniors (25 each representing the North and South) on the weekend. Hanover will house the players and be the site of the Futures Games (replaces the Junior Showcase) and all-star banquet.

Armstrong says Armstrong says Governor Eric Holcomb has agreed to throw out a first pitch. Indiana University head coach Jeff Mercer has been tapped to be the keynote speaker at the all-star banquet.

The plan is to get local youth leaguers and Boys & Girls Club members involved in the fun.

Madison has long considered making a bid for the North-South Series. When Armstrong returned to the Madison Consolidated program for his second stint as head coach, he and former assistant Mike Modesitt (who now tends to all of Madison’s outdoor athletic facilities) began planning and got the mayor’s office and tourism folks involved.

Armstrong served as Madison’s mayor (Jan. 1, 2008 to Dec. 31, 2011) and was a city police officer for many years. He is currently certified through the Jefferson County Sheriff’s office and a resource officer at Madison Consolidated.

Basketball is also dear to Armstrong. He was varsity assistant in boys basketball at Madison two different times and was a lay head boys hoops coach at Shawe Memorial Memorial High School in Madison for two seasons.

The baseball-playing Madison Cubs call Gary O’Neal Field home.

Former Madison head coach Gary O’Neal, who retired for the second time after the 2002 season with 601 career victories, is a member of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

Armstrong graduated from Shawe Memorial in 1979. He became an assistant to O’Neal at Madison in 1982.

He started as Shawe’s head coach in 1989 and took the Hilltoppers the IHSAA Class 1A State Finals in 2001, losing 1-0 to eventual state champion Triton in the semifinals.

After sitting out the 2002 season, he returned as Madison’s head coach from 2003-07, resigned to serve as mayor and then got back into law enforcement. He returned to the program for the 2017 season.

Gary O’Neal Field is getting a new scoreboard and windscreen this spring and plans call for an expansion to permanent seating.

During Armstrong’s first stint with the Cubs, he enlisted the help of Madison American Legion Post 9 and got upgrades to the park like irrigation, a new back stop and fencing and a three-tier press box.

“It’s constant work if you want a nice facility,” says Armstrong. “We’ve got a lot of work to do between now and June. But we’re getting there.”

Madison Consolidated (enrollment around 875) is the smallest school in the Hoosier Hills Conference (which also includes Bedford North Lawrence, Columbus East, Floyd Central, Jeffersonville, Jennings County, New Albany and Seymour).

A tournament determines the HHC champion.

“It’s a great conference,” says Armstrong. “It’s traditionally strong.”

The Cubs are part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Batesville, Franklin County, Greensburg, Lawrenceburg, Rushville and South Dearborn. Madison has won 22 sectionals — the last in 2009. A 3A state championship was earned in 1999 as the Cubs topped Fort Wayne Carroll 10-0.

Bryan Bullington was the winning pitcher in that contest, capping off a 15-0 senior season.

Bullington was selected in the 37th round of the 1999 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Kansas City Royals, but opted to go to college. He played three seasons at Ball State University and was chosen No. 1 overall in the 2002 draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates. He made his MLB debut with the Pirates in 2005 and went on to pitch for the Cleveland Indians, Toronto Blue Jays and Royals then in Japan.

Armstrong’s 2019 assistants include Joe Jenner, Ryan Mahoney and Drew Frazier with the varsity and Derek Wynn, Peyton Head and James “Doc” Boyd with the junior varsity or C-teams.

Local attorney Jenner and insurance agent Mahoney both played on Madison’s 1999 state championship team. Frazier played for Armstrong during his first stint as head coach.

Wynn also played one season for Armstrong at Madison. Head is a Hanover student. Boyd played at Evansville Memorial.

Armstrong’s core coaching values include taking responsibility for one’s actions.

“I stress accountability,” says Armstrong. “I hold them accountable for what they do on and off the field.”

The coach also looks to build a relationship and a sense of trust with his student-athletes.

“I’m very personable with my players,” says Armstrong. “We’re building the character and the type of person they will be once leave high school.”

Armstrong says he appreciates the drive and camaraderie of his current group.

“These kids work hard and they get along together,” says Armstrong. “That’s a big part of it.”

There are 30 in the Madison Consolidated program in 2019.

“Our middle school program is really strong,” says Armstrong. “They are athletes and baseball players. They’re going bump our numbers back up.”

There are close to 30 for seventh and eighth grade squads that play in the spring. The Madison Junior High School field is inheriting the old scoreboard and batting cage from Gary O’Neal Field.

This year, Madison Baseball Club aka Mudcats will field eight travel teams ranging from 7U to 14U. The 14U team, made up mostly of seventh and eighth graders, goes by the Madison Fusion.

Not strictly a Madison organization, players are welcomed from all over southeastern Indiana.

“We want to give kids an opportunity where they can play and not travel far and play a lot of money,” says Armstrong, who indicates that costs to families are cut through fundraising and sponsorships.

Mudcats and Fusion players are encouraged to participate with the local recreation leagues during the week and their travel teams on the weekend.

Madison American Legion Post 9, which won a state championship in 2000, went on hiatus in 2018. Armstrong and Jenner were coaches and would like to bring the team back in the future.

“(Post 9) pays for it all,” says Armstrong, who saw American Legion Post 9 Field become a reality at Shawe Memorial and games move to Gary O’Neal Field when he landed there. “It doesn’t cost the kids a dime to play.”

Armstrong played Legion ball for Delbert Liter in the ’70s and later coached with him.

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Tim Armstrong is in his second stint at head baseball coach at Madison (Ind.) Consolidated High School.

Kleber, Trinity Lutheran Cougars are aiming high in 2019

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

First-year head coach Ben Kleber and the Trinity Lutheran High School baseball team have set their sights high for the 2019 season.

“We expect to win the sectional,” says Kleber. “We want to be the first team in school history to win a regional game. That’s our goal.”

Trinity Lutheran (enrollment around 150) is an independent school located in Seymour, Ind. The school opened in 2002 and the first baseball season was 2003.

The Cougars’ schedule features Class 4A’s Bedford North Lawrence and Seymour, 3A’s Brown County, Brownstown Central, Charlestown, Salem and Scottsburg, 2A’s Austin, Henryville and Southwestern (Hanover) and 1A’s Christian Academy of Indiana, Crothersville, Greenwood Christian Academy, Hauser, Indianapolis Lutheran, Jac-Cen-Del, Oldenburg Academy, Rising Sun, Springs Valley and West Washington. The Trinity Lutheran Invitational on April 13 includes a round robin with 2A’s Eastern (Pekin) and Switzerland County and 4A’s Jennings County.

Trinity schedules bigger schools to get ready for the IHSAA tournament series.

The Cougars are part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with Crothersville, Orleans and West Washington. Trinity has won five sectional championships — the last two in 2016 and 2017.

Kleber, a graduate of Seymour High School (2007) and Hanover (Ind.) College (2011), was a varsity assistant and junior varsity coach the past two seasons to head coach Brandon Tormoehlen at Brownstown Central.

“I learned a lot about hitting and catching drills from Coach T,” says Kleber of Tormoehlen. “He’s just a wealth of knowledge when it comes to offense. He definitely valued your option on things.

“I like his philosophy on the game all together. He has his guys playing the game fast.”

The previous two springs before he was at Brownstown Central, Kleber was on the Trinity Lutheran varsity staff of head coach Bob Tabeling.

He spent the 2012 and 2013 campaigns coaching freshmen at Seymour with Jeremy Richey as head coach.

“Jeremy was great,” says Kleber of Richey. “I’ll be forever grateful for him giving me the start in coaching at the high school level.”

After playing at Seymour for coach Bob Bowman (the man who led the Owls to an IHSAA state championship in 1988), Kleber pitched at Hanover for Shayne Stock.

“(Bowman) was a baseball guy,” says Kleber. “He knew a lot about the game.”

Much of what Kleber uses at Trinity Lutheran — from pitching to base running to field maintenance — comes from his time at Hanover with Shayne Stock and Panthers bench coach Wayne Stock (an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer).

“I loved playing for Coach (Shayne) Stock,” says Kleber. “He was

a hard-nosed guy who expected things done the right way. He expected the best of out you. He wanting your playing hard and playing smart.

“I learned so much from sitting and talking to (Wayne Stock).”

Kleber says he is transparent with his players and let’s them know their roles.

“They know what they need to do to get more playing time,” says Kleber. “I’m an open door. I make sure you’re ready to hear the truth and what’s expected of them and what they need to work on.

“Everybody is a piece to a puzzle. We want to be a family as much they want to be a team.”

Kleber’s desire is that his Cougars to be baseball-curious.

“I want our guys to ask questions,” says Kleber. “They have to be students of the game.

“You can’t just show up. You have to understand why.”

During the summers before his junior and senior years at Hanover, Kleber helped Todd Miller coach an Indiana Bulls travel team that included Drew Ellis (who played at Jeffersonville High School and the University of Louisville and is now in the Arizona Diamondbacks system).

Miller, a Franklin (Ind.) Community High Schoolg graduate who played baseball and football at Hanover, is now a baseball assistant at Tusculum University in Greeneville, Tenn.

The Cougars’ roster features 13 players. There is no junior varsity team this spring. Some of those are also on the track team. Four players who logged significant playing time in 2018 are back.

“We’re young,” says Kleber. “Wwe’re learning a lot of fundamentals and how to play the game the right way.

“We’re building for the sectional.”

Recent Trinity graduates who went on to college baseball are Sam Crick (Hanover) and Jacob Schult (Rose-Hulman).

Kleber is assisted by Tyler Reedy, a Seymour graduate whom Kleber coached before Reedy was in high school. Doug Nichols helps with statistics and field maintenance.

Trinity plays its home games on Alf Snyder Field, an on-campus facility built through a donation from Snyder’s family.

Two years ago, the infield went from grass with dirt cut-outs to a conventional infield.

This year, the mound was replaced and one of the batter’s boxes was re-done. There are new sponsors on the scoreboard. Sponsor banners line the outfield fence and a new batter’s eye is on the way. There is also plans to put fences in front of the dugouts.

Feeder schools from Jackson, Jennings and Bartholomew counties for Trinity Lutheran include Immanuel Lutheran (Seymour), Lutheran Central (Brownstown), St. Ambrose (Seymour), St. Bartholomew (Columbus), St. John’s Sauers (Seymour), St. Mary’s (North Vernon), St. Peter’s Lutheran (Columbus) and White Creek Lutheran (Columbus).

Kleber is a dispatcher for Rose Acre Farms, an egg producer in Seymour.

Ben and Katie Kleber were married in September 2015. They have a son — Braxton (2).

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Braxton Kleber (2) is the son of Ben and Katie Kleber. Ben Kleber is head baseball coach at Trinity Lutheran High School in Seymour, Ind.

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Katie and Ben Kleber were married in 2015. Ben Kleber is head baseball coach at Trinity Lutheran High School in Seymour, Ind.

 

Foga looks to be role model for South Decatur Cougars

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Eric Foga has witnessed a good deal of intrigue in the gridiron game during his time at South Decatur Junior/Senior High School near Westport, Ind., and would like enthusiasm to increase for the diamond.

Foga is a football assistant and is entering his second season head baseball coach for the Cougars in 2019.

“South Decatur has been a football school for years,” says Foga. “The interest in baseball at South is not as high as I would like it.”

“Within my first two years, I’ve received a lot of support from parents, administrators and players,” says Foga, who is also in his fourth year as a fine arts and digital design teacher. “We’ve tried to implement a lot of things they were not used to. It’s made that process of who’s in charge and how it’s run much smoother than I’ve expected.

“I’ve gotten buy-in from the kids.”

South Decatur, located 13 miles southwest of Greensburg, plays its game on its campus located along Indiana 3.

That field has been re-edged. Dirt and field conditioner have been added and it’s been rolled to get truer ground balls.

A long-term project is replacing fencing.

“We’re making small improvements every year,” says Foga.

South Decatur (enrollment around 330) is a member of the Mid-Hoosier Conference (with Edinburgh, Hauser, Morristown, North Decatur, Southwestern of Shelbyville and Waldron).

Conference teams play each other twice in home-and-home series, usually on back-to-back days.

The Cougars are in an IHSAA sectional grouping with Hauser, Jac-Cen-Del, North Decatur, Oldenburg Academy and Rising Sun. Jac-Cen-Del has lights and has been the host site in recent years. South Decatur won its two sectional championships in 1972 and 1976.

Foga says 26 boys have signed up for tryouts and 16 will be kept for a varsity-only season. As is the case at most small schools, pitching is at a premium.

“Everybody that plays starts out pitching,” says Foga. “Of our potential roster, 10 to 12 guys will pitch for us throughout the year.”

Foga, who is assisted by Anthony Jarvis, Ben Vanderbur and Joe Storm, says his team has benefitted from the new IHSAA limited contact rules (two days of baseball activity two days a week during certain periods).

“Not having a true feeder system in place, it has allowed me to get in the gym and work on those fundamentals early,” says Foga. “We can keep moving and progressing forward.”

The start of spring break at South Decatur coincides with the first official day of practice (March 11).

“Kids will practicing on spring break to be able to hit their (IHSAA) practice count before the season begins,” says Foga.

To create a feeder, a junior high baseball club is starting this spring. Games will be played against many of the schools in the Mid-Hoosier Conference.

There is a local youth league, but it does not play by high school rules. There is no leading off etc. That’s why the junior high program was started.

Foga sees players on his squad with the potential to play college baseball, including senior center fielder Nolan Storm (Joe Storm’s son), senior right-handed pitcher/shortstop/third baseman Brogan Howard, junior catcher/outfielder/first baseman Charlie Frensemeier and right-hander/outfielder Riley Peele.

A 2002 Jennings County High School graduate, Foga competed in football, wrestling and baseball for the Panthers.

His baseball coach was Bob Howe.

“The huge thing I learned from him the idea of structure,” says Foga of Howe. “It allows you to focus on what needs to happen and fundamentals.

“He’d tell us that everybody not he team had potential to play at the collegiate level. But potential doesn’t mean anything unless you are able to work for it. I’ve applied that to general life experiences.”

Foga was 5-foot-5 and 125 pounds in high school.

Jennings County football coach Jerry Bland told him not to make that a deal-breaker.

“Coach Bland really pushed me to look past my size and not let that hold me back,” says Foga. “I could take on any challenge.”

He remembers wrestling coach Howard Jones more for what he did off the mat than on it.

“He approached sports in general and coaching almost as a father figure,” says Foga. “He really looked out for the best interests of every kid on the team.

“He wanted you to really strive for what we want in life. He was a really good mentor for all aspects of life.

“I really try to implement that here at South. I want to be a mentor to them, guide them through life’s issues and be a positive role model. A lot of kids we have don’t have that in place.”

In football, Foga has assisted former South Decatur head coach Garry Sauley and was at the junior high level when Tony Bell was varsity head coach.

“For (Sauley), it was always trying to do the right thing and always taking the higher path no matter what the situation was,” says Foga. “(Bell) was passionate about football. He talked about having a passion for something and pushing it.”

Foga, a 2011 graduate of Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis, is married to Tiffany with five boys — Roman (11), Drake (10), Ayden (9), Hudson (7) and Grayson (5). They are all involved in hockey or soccer. Baby No. 6 is due in July.

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Eric Foga is head baseball coach at South Decatur Junior/Senior High School near Westport, Ind.

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Head coach Eric Foga with his South Decatur Junior/Senior High School baseball team.

With Barber as president/CEO, The BASE Indianapolis offers diamond, educational opportunities to urban youth

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A group of concerned community leaders have been making a difference in the urban areas of Boston with The BASE and it is starting to branch out in Indianapolis.

The BASE is a not-for-profit organization that provides free-of-charge baseball and softball training and competition plus mentoring, education and life support to inner-city young men and women.

It helps them overcome the negative stereotypes and barriers that come with single-parent homes, government housing and poverty and to enjoy athletic and academic achievement.

These young people from “at-risk” areas are given a chance to believe in themselves because someone else believes in them.

A video for The BASE puts it this way: “Too many people keep saying what our young folks can’t do and where they’re going to end up … We will strive and achieve.”

Founded in Massachusetts by Robert Lewis Jr., The BASE seeks to change mindsets and perceptions by providing opportunities to these kids.

“Every child deserves to be educated, safe, healthy, warm, fed and un-abused,” says Lewis. (The BASE) is a passion point. You can take an opportunity and find things young folks love to do. It could be baseball, football. It could be arts or technology.

“Our young folks have to participate in the 21st century work force. They have to be educated and skilled to do that.”

With support from many, programming is free to these young people.

“Money isn’t going to be the determining factor to keep them from playing the greatest game in the world,” says Lewis. “Every child can love a great game and also participate at the highest level.”

Lewis and The BASE celebrated the 40th year of the Boston Astros at Fenway Park — home of the Boston Red Sox. The BASE has a facility in Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood and a stadium complex with first-class learning facilities is in the works.

The BASE carries this motto: Success Begins Here.

“Excellence is the new minimum and we’re going to keep pushing,” says Lewis. “I got into this to really change the trajectory for black and Latino boys.

“That’s a moral standard. That’s where we start. How do we solve problems?”

Lewis counts former Red Sox and current Chicago Cubs executive Theo Epstein as a friend and financial supporter of The BASE and the organization is now in Chicago with plans to open a clubhouse later this month in Grant Park.

Lewis says The BASE has no bigger fan than famed writer and broadcaster Peter Gammons, who calls the organization the “best urban baseball program in America today.”

Leading the charge to serve urban youth in central Indiana through The BASE is Rob Barber.

“We consider them to be under-served assets,” says Barber of the young people. “Help and love is on the way.”

Barber, a former Indiana University player and long-time member of the baseball community, is the president and chief executive officer of The BASE Indianapolis. He is working to form partnerships with individuals and businesses.

He’s gone inside baseball circles, including Play Ball Indiana, Major League Baseball-backed Indianapolis RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities), travel organizations, high school and colleges. He’s also gotten the ears of politicians, civic leaders and more.

A launch team has been formed and board, staff and advisory positions are being filled. Current and former big league ballplayers with central Indiana ties lending their support include Tucker Barnhart, Justin Masterson, Kevin Plawecki and Drew Storen. Barber says more are expected.

Barber has relationships all around the baseball community, including with instructors Chris Estep (Roundtripper Sports Academy) and Jay Lehr (Power Alley Baseball Academy), Indianapolis Indians president and general manager Randy Lewandowski, Warren Central High School head coach Emmitt Carney and Kansas City Royals are scout Mike Farrell.

Plans call for The BASE Indianapolis to build a clubhouse or two around the city where kids can come year-round for assistance — whether that’s with their athletic skills or homework. The group partners with many colleges to provide scholarships.

Last summer, the Indianapolis RBI team played in the Pittsburgh Urban Classic. The GameChangers Baseball Club, based in Canonsburg, Pa., and led by Elkhart (Ind.) Central High School and Bethel College graduate Greg Kloosterman and business partner Kristi Hilbert, has also partnered with The BASE.

(Kloosterman) loves the model that we have,” says Lewis. “You earn your spot. It’s not based on pay-for-play. It’s a loving commitment.

“It’s a culture.”

The Pittsburgh Pirates are also backers of The BASE.

Lewis says The BASE is on-track to have a presence in Indianapolis in 2019.

“We’re building alliances and partnerships,” says Lewis. “We don’t want to come in and crash. We want to be part of the party.”

Barber says he hopes to have a fundraising event in Indianapolis February. He plans to invite Carl Erskine and Chuck Harmon.

Anderson, Ind., native Erskine played with Jackie Robinson on the Brooklyn Dodgers. Harmon, who hails Washington, Ind., was the first black to play for the Cincinnati Reds.

Bill Harmon, Chuck’s brother, was a mentor to Bob Barber (Rob’s father who died in 2010) and a coach to Rob as he grew up in Jennings County, Ind.

Barber played three seasons at Indiana in the late 1980’s for Hoosiers coach Bob Morgan and was a teammate of future big leaguers Mickey Morandini and John Wehner.

Later, Barber worked with Jeff Mercer Sr. (father of current IU head baseball coach Jeff Mercer Jr.) and helped form the Indiana Bulls travel organization.

Barber founded USAthletic and was an assistant coach to Dan Ambrose at Heritage Christian School in Indianapolis the past seven years.

To concentrate on The BASE Indianapolis, he is turning over USAthletic to Wes Whisler and stepping away from his high school coaching duties.

In one visit to The BASE in Boston, Rob and wife Nichole met Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez. The Barbers have two children. Mary is in graduate school in Nashville, Tenn. Alec is an accounting analyst for Roche in Indianapolis.

Rob took Alec to Boston and spent three days with The BASE. That convinced Lewis of the level of the elder Barber’s commitment.

Lewis and his Boston kids showed their appreciation when they came out to support Barber’s team at a tournament in Indianapolis. They were there with hugs and positivity.

“Folks like Rob are shifting the paradigm,” says Lewis. “Baseball is a game for everybody. We want to support him.

“I love Rob like a brother. He doesn’t have to do this at all. The safest thing he could do is keep going.”

“But it’s about family.”

For more information, contact Barber at rbarber@thebaseindy.org or 317-840-6488. Contact Lewis at Rlewisjr@thebase.org.

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Founded in Boston, The BASE serves urban youth through baseball, softball and educational opportunities and is expanding to Indianapolis. (The BASE Graphic)

With emphasis on fundamentals, Gratz has Columbus East Olympians in the regional

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Placing a premium on fundamentals, Columbus East finds itself playing in an IHSAA baseball regional in 2018.

Under the direction of seventh-year head coach Jon Gratz, the Olympians beat Columbus North 7-6 Monday, May 28 to win the Class 4A Shelbyville Sectional and are headed to the Evansville Reitz Regional at Bosse Field on Saturday, June 2.

Columbus East (20-7) plays Castle at 10 a.m. CST, followed by Franklin Central vs. Jeffersonville. The regional final is scheduled for 6 p.m. CST.

Gratz, who was a junior varsity and freshman coach for the Olympians for five years before taking over the program, is a 2001 Manchester High School graduate.

At Manchester, he gained an affinity for “playing the game the right way” from Squires head coach Jack Rupley.

“He believed in playing hard and taking care of the little things,” says Gratz. “We’ve had great pitching all year long and very good defense. We’re not necessarily the fastest team, but we run the bases well.

“We had a dry spell early in the season, but we’re starting to hit the ball really well.”

Gratz, who teaches math at Columbus East, played his college baseball at DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind.

The Olympians’ top pitchers are junior left-hander Julian Greenwell, sophomore right-hander Cole Gilley, and senior right-handers Alec Burnett and Drew Hasson. When not pitching, Greenwell plays in right field, Gilley at third base, Burnett in left field and Hasson at first base.

The leading hitters are sophomore catcher Dalton Back, Gilley, Greenwell, Hasson and junior shortstop/lead-off man Jonah Wichman.

Greenwell and Gilley have committed to Indiana University, Hasson to Northern Illinois University and Wichman to Murray State University.

The Class of 2017 sent Jon Crawford to the University of Indianapolis, Jonathan Foster to Taylor University and Luke Hostetler to Jackson College in Jackson County, Mich.

Gratz, who teaches math at Columbus East, is assisted by John Major, Andrew Golinvaux (pitching coach), Jerry Schoen and Chris Fox at the varsity level with Levi Pollert and Nathen Swafford guiding the junior varsity.

Columbus East won its 18th all-time sectional this spring and first since 1999.

“We don’t really talk about that here,” says Gratz. “We’re concerned with this team, this year.”

For the record the other sectional titles came in 1973, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1996 and 1997.

The Olympians will have a chance at the program’s 10th regional title Saturday, having won at that stage in 1978, 1979, 1982, 1983, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989 and 1993 with semistate crowns earned in 1979, 1987 and 1989.

Columbus East has also won three semistates and appeared in the State Finals, bowing in the semifinals all three times (1979, 1987 and 1989).

The Olympians belong to the Hoosier Hills Conference. They finished as runner-up in 2018 to Jeffersonville. Other HHC members are Bedford North Lawrence, Floyd Central, Jennings County, Madison Consolidated, New Albany and Seymour.

Columbus East plays its games on-campus. Gratz says he is hopeful that the facility will get a new scoreboard this summer.

Jon and Kathleen Gratz have two children — daughter Morgan (5) and son Michael (2).

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Columbus East High School head baseball coach Jon Gratz celebrates a 2018 sectional title with his family. Above is the seventh-year Olympians leader with daughter Morgan and son Michael. Below, Jon and wife Kathleen and kids mug with the trophy.

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