By STEVE KRAH
Vince DeDario wanted to be a high school baseball coach when he began his teaching career 15 years ago.
It turned out that he launched into a career as a high school football assistant and spent 15 seasons on various staffs in South Bend, Ind. — Washington, Adams and Clay.
The 2020 will be his first as head baseball coach at South Bend Riley, where he is also a physical education and health teacher.
DeDario inherits a program that graduated several seniors in 2019.
“It’s a pretty fresh start,” says DeDario. “We’ve got two returning seniors and two juniors. The rest are freshmen and sophomores.
“We’re building from the bottom up. It’s all about fundamentals, playing the game the right way and having fun while we do it. I’m recruiting the heck out of the hallways. I’m probably going to end up with maybe six seniors now because of that.”
Demario led the Wildcats through IHSAA Limited Contract practice in the fall and winter workouts are now in progress. The turnout has been high.
“I’m expecting 40 kids for tryouts,” says Demario. “I want to keep 30.
“The kids are excited. I’m excited.”
Weather permitting, Riley will play a full schedule, which features nine road games to open the season.
During spring break, the Wildcats will have an overnight trip with a contest against Lindblom Math & Science Academy on April 7 on the turf of Curtis Granderson Stadium at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
On April 8, Riley plays Bowman Academy in Hammond.
Wildcats assistant Larry Vaznonis was a baseball and basketball standout at Hammond Gavit High School and Purdue University Calumet and is a member of the Hammond Sports Hall of Fame. He reached out to Purdue Northwest and arranged for Riley to practice and play on the turf at Dowling Park.
The following weekend, Riley will play Kokomo in a doubleheader at Kokomo Municipal Stadium.
Riley (enrollment around 1,100) is a member of the Northern Indiana Conference (with Bremen, Elkhart Central, Jimtown, John Glenn, Marian, Mishawaka, New Prairie, Penn, South Bend Adams, South Bend Clay, South Bend St. Joseph and South Bend Washington).
NIC teams play one another once and games are scheduled on Mondays, Wednesdays and sometimes Fridays. The Wildcats’ first conference game is slated for April 13 on the new turf at Penn’s Jordan Automotive Group Field.
Riley is part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with LaPorte, Michigan City, Mishawaka, Plymouth and South Bend Adams. The Wildcats have won two sectional titles — 1975 and 1991.
While retired teacher Vaznonis comes in as varsity first base coach, Mishawaka Police Department detective Mike Armey returns from the 2019 Riley season and will be varsity pitch coach.
Former Benedictine University and Eastern Illinois University pitcher and Notre Dame video crew worker Kyle Arnett is the head JV coach.
Mishawaka Police officer Jacob Craft is a JV assistant.
Former Riley all-conference softball player and current Harrison Elementary teacher Courtney (Armey) Mitchell is the Wildcats’ academic advisor.
DeDario and Arnett are developing a plan for pitchers with arm care in mind.
“We want to limit the number of throws put on each kids’ arm even at practice,” says DeDario. “When a kid pitches on a Monday, I don’t necessarily want him starting at shortstop on Wednesday after going through an entire infield practice on Tuesday.
“We want to be very diligent on how we’re using each kid. You have to be smart about it.”
Riley plans to return to using the diamond at Jackson Middle School for JV games and practices. The varsity will continue to call Bob Rush Field home.
DeDario is a 1999 graduate of Marian High School in Mishawaka. He played baseball freshmen and sophomore year. His freshmen year was the last as head coach for Lou Lanzalotto.
Football was the sport DeDario played throughout high school with Reggie Glon as head coach.
DeDario played some club baseball at Loyola University in Chicago. He earned an associate degree at Holy Cross College and received a bachelor’s degree in education from Indiana University South Bend.
He was on the football staffs of Frank Amato and, most recently, Jay Johnson at Washington, Joe Szajko at Clay and Amato at Adams.
For many years, DeDario has taken to the air waves as a sports broadcaster. He currently helps with color commentary and occasional talk show duty at WSBT AM 960. He is also a Notre Dame football analyst for Blue & Gold Illustrated.
Vince and Kristen DeDario were married in 2004 and have five children — seventh grader Dylan (12), fourth grade twins Ella (10) and Lily (10), second grader Chloe (7) and pre-schooler Liam (4).
DeDario spent the past six years coaching middle school baseball at South Bend’s Jefferson Traditional School.
The Bulldogs had gone winless when he took over the program and got to the point where they competed for the championship in 2017 and 2018 and won it in 2019
Jefferson played against South Bend schools and against Inter-City Catholic League and Catholic Youth Organization members. Besides public schools, the varsity played against ICCL squads and the junior varsity against CYO competition.
Many games were played at Riley.
“We built the program up so much that I had to have cuts the past two years,” says DeDario. “We had 40 kids coming out for the team.”
Some of those players will be part of DeDario’s Riley program.
Vince DeDario is the new head baseball coach for 2020 at South Bend (Ind.) Riley High School, where he also teaches physical education and health. (Steve Krah Photo)