By STEVE KRAH
Beech Grove (Ind.) High School baseball adopted a mantra as the Hornets took to the diamond in 2021 under head coach Jacob Wickliff: Turn the page.
“Physically and philosophically one will never reach the end of the book unless you turn the page,” says Wickliff of the fresh-start approach in a program he was hired to lead in the summer of 2019. The COVID-19 pandemic took away the 2020 season.
“The clear message to everyone is that we’re starting over,” says Wickliff. “That’s been big with parents. Our upperclassmen and key underclassmen have bought in.”
Wickliff has been made excitement and standards a high priority at Beech Grove, which is just inside the I-465 corridor southwest of Indianapolis.
“Kids weren’t excited to play here and that’s been our big push,” says Wickliff, who says there is a buzz around the Hornets who play at new all-turf on-campus facility — Jim Hensley Field of Dreams.
The diamond, which debuted in 2021, is part of a district referendum that put turf on the football field and added the baseball and softball fields and other school-related projects.
Baseball games and practices used to be at Sarah T. Bolton Park in Beech Grove.
Since the new baseball field is landlocked, it is 297 feet down the left field line and there’s 10-foot high fence from the pole to left-center.
Planes that fly by can’t miss the place since there’s a huge black, orange and white Hornet logo in center field.
The field also brings in plenty of rental fees that Wickliff turns right back into the baseball program to cover the cost of spirit packs and more.
Wickliff, who teaches at Beech Grove Middle School, wants the excitement to reach down to the community’s younger players from Beech Grove Little League which leads to the junior high program then the high school.
A tradition has been started of inviting junior high players to have a practice and play a game on the turf at the end of the season. Beech Grove Middle School play its home games at South Grove Intermediate.
“It goes back to excitement,” says Wickliff of getting those youngsters charged up about baseball.
Beech Grove (enrollment around 1,000) is a member of the Indiana Crossroads Conference (with Cascade, Indianapolis Cardinal Ritter, Indianapolis Lutheran, Indianapolis Scecina Memorial, Monrovia, Speedway and Triton Central).
Last spring, the ICC adopted a two-game series format. There are home-and-home conference games each Tuesday and Wednesday.
In 2021, the Hornets were part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Herron, Indianapolis Bishop Chatard, George Washington and Indianapolis Shortridge. Beech Grove has won six sectional crowns — the last in 2014.
With a smaller student-athlete pool and so many multi-sport athletes, Beech Grove did not participate in the recent fall IHSAA Limited Contact Period.
But many returnees play travel ball and fall ball in addition to a fall sport.
“Guys doing it year-round deserve a little bit of a break,” says Wickliff. “Winter time is where we have to make the most growth and development.”
Two seniors finished the season at Beech Grove in 2021. One of those — Garrett Esposito — is now on the baseball team at Kaskaskia College in Centralia, Ill.
Wickliff says hopes to have several college baseball-worthy players in the Class of 2023 by the time they’re entering their senior year.
Beech Grove assistant coaches include Garry Hampton, Austin Jones and Ryan Kendall with the varsity and Christian Brown (head coach) and Justin Duhamell (assistant) with the junior varsity.
Wickliff is a 2012 graduate of Franklin Central High School in Indianapolis, where he played baseball for John Rockey and football for Michael Karpinski.
“I’m still in-touch with him to this day,” says Wickliff of Karpinski. “He’s one of my pivotal role models.”
Head JV baseball coach Devin Phillips was someone Wickliff looked up to going through school and had a big impact on him.
“He started process of me becoming a coach,” says Wickliff of Phillips. “It’s the way he was able to relate with the players and build those relationships.”
After earning a Physical Education degree with a Coaching minor at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis, he completed a Masters in Coaching Education and Athlete Development from Xavier University in Cincinnati.
While in college, Wickliff coached baseball with Rockey at Franklin Central and also was a middle school then freshmen football coach in an FC program led by Burt Austin followed by Grant Lewis.
Wickliff has been involved with three travel baseball organizations — the Indiana Astros, Midwest Astros and currently, Baseball Academics Midwest (BAM).
After years of coaching 15U to 17U teams, he is now helms the 18U Signature team and serves as Director of Baseball Operations for high school age groups and is a lead evaluator on the Coaching Evaluation Team.
Jake Banwart, who counted Wickliff as an assistant at Perry Meridian High School in Indianapolis before the latter took his current Beech Grove job, is BAM president.
Jacob and wife Bridget Wickliff were married Nov. 2, 2019. They reside in Perry Township.