Nearly 40 years after graduating and more than 25 after first serving as an assistant coach, North Judson (Ind.)-San Pierre Junior/Senior High School alum Rabion Frasure has been selected to lead the baseball program at his alma mater. “I’m looking at creating a baseball culture at North Judson the best we can,” says Frasure, a 1983 graduate. “We want to get the young kids interested in playing baseball like they do basketball and football.” The school’s football team is 21-6 over the past two seasons which both ended at the IHSAA Class 1A semistate level. The boys basketball team went 21-6 and won a sectional crown in 2021-22. In baseball, the Ron Benakovich-coached Bluejays were 15-8 overall and 11-4 in the Hoosier North Athletic Conference in 2022. North Judson (enrollment around 350) is in the HNAC with Caston, Culver Community, Knox, LaVille, Pioneer, Triton and Winamac. Conference foes meet each other twice — either in a weekday home-and-home series or Saturday doubleheader. The Bluejays are part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping in 2023 with Hebron, South Central (Union Mills), Wheeler and Winamac. North Judson has won eight sectional titles — the last in 2006. Frasure played baseball and basketball for four years each at North Judson. Fred Perry (1980), Bud Childers (1981 and 1982) and Dave McCollough (1983) were his head coaches on the diamond and Perry (first two years) and Dave Carrington (last two years with McCollough as an assistant) led the way on the hardwood. As a coach, Frasure first helped Ted White for about eight years beginning in 1996 (Rabion’s brother Paul was a senior player in ’96) and assisted off and on, including the past few years with Benakovich. Last April, Frasure retired from 24 years at Urschel Laboratories in Chesterton, Ind., at 57. His last job with the company world-renown for food cutting technology was a a heat treat supervisor. “I always wanted to be a head coach, but it wasn’t possible,” says Frasure. “Now I have the time.” Paul Frasure is one of Rabion’s Bluejays assistant coaches along with Patrick Allen, Perry Thompson and Alvin Harper. North Judson plays home games on-campus on a field that was upgraded five or so years ago with a new playing surface, dugouts and backstop. Frasure was hired in time to oversee two weeks of IHSAA Limited Contact Period activity (two hours for two days a week) in the fall and looks forward to the next period (Dec. 5-Feb. 4). There were as many as six athletes in the fall with many others in football or other fall sports. Some won’t be able to attend in the winter because of basketball. “You need to play more than one sport,” says Frasure. Rabion and Ruby Frasure were married in March 1990. Andrew Frasure — their oldest of four children — competed in football, basketball and baseball at North Judson. As a senior in 2011, Andrew played on a team with his father as an assistant and was selected for the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series. He was also on the Ryan Bales-coached basketball team that went 20-2 and won a sectional title in 2010-11. Andrew is now dentist in Knox, Ind. Jordann Frasure (North Judson Class of 2013), Liliann Frasure (Class of 2021) and Sophia Frasure (Class of 2023) all played volleyball, basketball and tennis for the Bluejays. After scoring 989 points on the court a nursing degree from Valparaiso University came Jordann’s way. Lillian — aka Lilli — was part of North Judson girls basketball teams that went 43-18 — making her the winningest player in program history. She scored 2,234 points and led the Bluejays to a Class 2A regional title in 2020-21 and was part of a Class 2A state volleyball championship in 2018-19. She is now a sophomore on the NAIA No. 4-ranked Indiana Wesleyan University women’s basketball team. Sophia was averaging 18.8 points through North Judson’s first five girls basketball games of 2022-23.
Has it really been a generation since Indiana widely adopted high school class sports? Of course there were classes in football going back to the 1970s, but check the records and you will find that 1996-97 (when Jasper outlasted Carmel 10-8 for the IHSAA baseball championship) was the last year that other sports were in the all-comers category at state tournament time. With the COVID-19 pandemic taking away the 2020 spring season, that makes 2023 the 25th year of class baseball in the Hoosier State. In the multi-class era, 56 different schools have won state baseball championships. Of that number, only Jasper, LaPorte and Penn earned titles prior to 1997-98. There are 22 schools with multiple state runner-up finishes. That accounts for 60 red ribbons — all but 12 coming from 1997-98 forward. Noting that some schools came about in recent years because of consolidation, unification or other reasons, those that won their first sectional championship during the multi-class era include 4A’s Elkhart (2021), Evansville Harrison (1999), Fishers (2017), Fort Wayne South Side (2012) and Michigan City (2002), 3A’s Angola (1999), Charlestown (1999) and Hamilton Heights (2006), 2A’s Austin (2002), Central Noble (2009), Clinton Central (2005), Covenant Christian of Indianapolis (2008), Delphi (2008), Fairfield (1998), Hanover Central (2011), Heritage Christian (2005), Illiana Christian (2022), Lewis Cass (2000), North Decatur (2011), Parke Heritage (2021), Sheridan (2004), South Knox (2004), Southwestern of Hanover (1999), Southwood (1999), Taylor (1998), Triton Central (2003), Whitko (2017) and Woodlan (2005) and 1A’s Argos (1998), Bethesda Christian (2008), Caston (2012), Christian Academy of Indiana (2004), Cowan (2004), Daleville (1999), Edinburgh (2009), Elkhart Christian (2013), Eminence (2005), Fort Wayne Blackhawk Christian (2001), Fort Wayne Canterbury (2009), Greenwood Christian (2014), Hauser (2004), Henryville (1999), Indianapolis Lutheran (2017), Kouts (1998), Marquette Catholic (2002), Milan (1999), Monroe Central (2001), Morgan Township (2004), Morristown (1998), New Washington (1998), Northeast Dubois (1998), North Miami (2019), Oldenburg Academy (2003), Park Tudor (1998), Pioneer (2016), Randolph Southern (2010), Rising Sun (2002), Seton Catholic (2011), South Central of Elizabeth (2005), Southwestern of Shelbyville (1999), Tecumseh (2000), Traders Point Christian (2021), Trinity Lutheran (2009), Triton (2000), Washington Township (1999), Union City (2012), University (2012), Waldron (2001), West Washington (2021), White River Valley (2017) and Whiting (2008). A quarter century in, there are still plenty of opinions in the Indiana high school baseball community about the system. These questions were posed to several coaches around Indiana:
Is class baseball a positive or a negative?
Who benefits the most from class baseball?
If you could change anything about class baseball what would that be?
“(Class baseball) is a positive. It has allowed schools of all sizes to be recognized and have some success at the state level while increasing fan interest in our sport. The players and the communities truly benefit the most from class baseball, in my opinion. “The IHSAA does a great job of administering the state tournament and ending each year at Victory Field allows our sport to be showcased on a big stage! However, the tournament format itself needs to be addressed, especially at the sectional level, and we can’t continue in a ‘one size fits all’ cookie-cutter format. Our sport is different than others and our tournament format needs to reflect that. Seeding, success factor, and travel also need to be looked at in light of the fact(s) that class sports are here to stay and there are geographical constraints/factors based on the location of the school(s). “Baseball in general is changing for the better in Indiana … the IHSBCA and the IHSAA need to continue to work together on formats/philosophies/participation guidelines that foster growth in our sport and develop a mutual relationship where everyone’s input is valued. We, the IHSBCA, have several ideas to share about the state tournament format/setup and how we can better grow our sport, in general. We are all stronger when we are working together and my goal as the Executive Director is to help facilitate positive changes that will grow our sport and unify our coaches at the same time.”
“(Class baseball) is a positive. “I assume that smaller schools are more likely to benefit so they play teams that are more competitive. “I would support adding a fifth ‘super class’ of the largest schools and then balance the rest of the four classes.”
“Class baseball is definitely a positive thing. It levels the playing field for teams when it comes to player depth and facilities. “For example, a school with an enrollment of 2,200 has a lot more players to work with and pull from than a school with an enrollment of 300. Both teams can be good and have good players, but the bigger school is very likely going to have more depth. The smaller school is likely to have one really good pitcher where the bigger school is likely to have two, or even three really good pitchers. As a result, the bigger school would have a big advantage in the sectional and regional. “The other way it levels the playing field is when it comes to facilities. Bigger schools tend to have nicer facilities to train and practice in during the off-season where some schools, usually the smaller ones, don’t have anything close to the facilities of larger schools. Many schools either can’t get access to the facilities they have during the off-season because other in-season teams are using them for practice or games, or they just don’t have the facilities or space period. “It can put teams at a big competitive disadvantage when they can’t train or practice the way they want to and need to during the off-season, and I think class baseball helps in this regard because schools that have similar enrollments tend to have similar facilities. “Everyone benefits from class baseball. The smaller schools obviously because of what I mentioned in my previous answer to the first question, but also the larger schools. When you’re competing for anything, let alone a state championship, you want it to really mean something and be a challenge. It’s what competing is all about. It’s not going to mean as much when a school with an enrollment of 2,200 plus kids goes up against a school with an enrollment of 300 plus kids and beats them in a sectional or regional. They should be able to do that again referring back to what I mentioned in my previous answer to the first question. “Not only would they win but they wouldn’t have to throw their No. 1 pitcher to do so and would have them available for the next game, where the smaller school would likely need to throw their best pitcher in that situation. And if they did win, do they have a pitcher that could compete and win against another team with a large enrollment…not likely. “There are two things I would change about class baseball, and one of them is being talked about right now. First, I would seed the postseason. It’s frustrating when you have teams that have done really well during the regular season and they meet in the first or second round of the sectional, and there are teams that didn’t fair as well in the regular season getting a bye in the first round and/or playing another team that didn’t do as well in the early rounds. “It’s something I feel wouldn’t be too difficult to do or set up and it would make the postseason better and provide even more meaning to the regular season. I like that everyone makes the postseason because you can have something happen with injuries and get a player back, or a team hasn’t quite figured things out yet but later in the year they do and are still in it. “But, there needs to be something in place for teams that do better in the regular season. I think seeding the sectional would be really good for Indiana high school baseball. “The other thing I would change is going from four classes to five classes. Again, for all the reasons I’ve mentioned previously. Many times there’s such a large gap between the teams in 4A. I think going to five classes would help this and it’s something the IHSBCA and IHSAA are talking about and looking into. “The success factor has worked well and is set up well. How they have it set up is good and I think it’s accomplishing what they wanted it to.”
“There’s no doubt that class sports have provided more opportunities for athletes, coaches, schools, and communities by creating a level of fairness with classified state tournaments. I understand the traditional approach of one class and experienced it as a player as we advanced to the semistate finals as a small school (at Western) in ’93 and ’94. But as a coach, the class system allows for accomplished small school teams to aspire to be state champions instead of hoping to win a sectional in a one class system. “All stakeholders of a school’s baseball program (benefit most from class baseball). Having ranked teams and winning championships builds a greater sense of tradition within communities and raises interest amongst school children, faculty, and administration. Players and coaches benefit from the sense of accomplishment by developing a highly competitive team within a post-season setting. “I would make the tradition factor a four-year stay in an elevated class — not just two years. Those who are state champion caliber teams seem to continue to dominate the current landscape. Also, if a team moves up in class and wins a sectional, regional, etc., a system needs to be created to keep them in that class because they are showing the ability to compete. “We need to restructure our tournament. Six-team sectionals and format need to be uniformed. Only the sectional final should be played on Memorial Day. We’d have two-team regionals, four-team semistates and seed the tournament. “We are the only sport that, based on pitching restrictions (pitch counts and days rest) and may not have our best lineup on the field in a championship setting. Too many sectional championships are decided by Team 1’s ace dominating vs Team 2’s bullpen because of weather, graduation or the draw. Basketball will always have their point guard.”
“There have been a lot of positives (with class baseball). There have been some very good smaller schools that have gotten the chance to experience state tourney runs that might not have happened in areas where there were perennial large school programs had too much depth for the smaller schools. I think that has been a good thing for Indiana high school baseball. “Small schools with open enrollments and the ability to reach out from beyond what would be considered a normal attendance area have done extremely well (in class baseball). This, however, is not entirely the fault of class sports. Open enrollment and increased club and travel athletic teams have opened up a whole different experience for high school athletes today. “High school athletes are far more likely to travel further, meet and become friends with new teammates outside of their own school in the off-season and subsequently more likely to travel further away to attend a school of their choice. In a way I can’t blame them. Unfortunately, that choice often comes with a greater financial obligation and not all athletes and their families can afford to do so. Smaller schools have benefited in some areas directly. That’s not necessarily a criticism of the class sports, it’s the trend and we aren’t going to a one-class tourney.”
“Overall (class baseball) is a positive. At times, schools being up a class or down a class will dictate how successful they can be. “The smaller schools probably benefit most (from class baseball). Winning a sectional would be a huge feat for a small school (during the one-class era). I know it was for us (at Northwestern) when we played in the sectional with Kokomo). “There’s talk of the IHSAA going to a five-class system. I’d probably be in favor of that. If you’re going to do class might as well break it up a little more. “How are sectionals are being distributed and seeding of the tournament would take much more priority over how many classes there are. “Let’s set up a season where the regular season is more meaningful and the better teams are meeting at the end (with semistate- and state-caliber games at those stages rather than at the sectional level). “I like the way Ohio (has seeded). The way I understand it, teams have been ranked off their MaxPreps ranking. Head coaches have a meeting. If you’re ranked No. 1 you pick your sectional. If you’re No. 2 you pick your sectional and you’re probably not going to put themselves in the same sectional as the No. 1 team.”
“(On the positive side,) class baseball provides more kids, coaches, and communities an opportunity to be a state champion. (On the negative side,) prior to class baseball we were used to minimal travel. We’ve also lost the local rivalries because of class baseball. “Good smaller programs who were fundamentally sound yet they usually didn’t have the pitching to advance deep into the tournament (benefit most from class baseball). “I would place all private schools into Class 4A or 2A. The success factor has helped every two years, but you still have those schools who dominate every two years they move down. “I’ve coached at the 4A and 3A level and even though I am at a 3A school, I would still rather compete against local rivalry teams rather than class baseball. However, we will never return to a one class system and I understand why!”
“Class baseball is a positive and helps balance the playing field. Since I’ve been coaching, I believe all but just a few schools that have made the State Finals in 4A are in the top 32 in enrollment in the state. “Baseball is a game where you are not always putting your best 9 or best team on the field depending on pitching rotation and availability of arms. “The larger enrollment typically means there are more available players trying out, which creates a greater opportunity to development quality depth in your pitching staff. That is one advantage that bigger schools have. So, the idea of class baseball helps to control some of the variables on both sides of the field. It is not perfect, but it is a way to try and help control some of the unique variables that are different in baseball than other sports. “I believe the top half of each class benefits the most from class baseball, especially at the 3A and 4A levels because the range of enrollment is so much bigger from the smallest school to biggest school in those classes. The range in enrollment in 1A and 2A is much closer from top to bottom. “I don’t really want to go down this path, but the private schools also benefit from class baseball, especially in 1A, 2A, and often 3A. Private schools are not limited to school district lines and are able to draw from a wider range of students compared to the smaller enrollment schools in 1A and 2A. “Not really answering the question, but if I could change anything about the IHSAA tournament, I would make the regular season matter and seed the tournament (or at least seed the teams that feed into the regionals). “You might not be in the same sectional each year if you are seeded from the regional level. I would also create double-elimination rounds at the different levels (sectional, regional, etc.). Similar to the thought above that you are not always putting your best team on the field depending on pitcher availability, a double-elimination tournament would help to insure the best team advances and not just the team with the best pitcher and the best blind draw. “Classes need to be set by a specific enrollment range and not try to keep every class the same size. I would add a fifth or even a sixth class and set the range for the enrollment so that each school in the class is close to the same enrollment size. If that means that one class only has 32 teams, another class has 48, another class has 64, and another class has 96, then that is what should be done and would help make the tournament as fair as possible.”
“Overall (class baseball) is a positive. It has given a lot of smaller schools a chance to be successful and show some of these coaches at smaller schools can really coach. “Smaller schools definitely benefit the most (from class baseball). Some of the teams that have won state championships would never make it out of their sectionals if we were one class. Nothing against them but when schools have 2,000 students to pick from they are going to have a lot more athletes and in the sports that require more players like baseball and football that makes a big difference. “(I favor putting) private schools in their own class. I think they have such a huge advantage. Not because they recruit or anything like that, but they tend to get the players that are more apt and able to do the extra things such as lessons, travel ball, etc. “Overall (class) been good for sports in Indiana. I know Silver Creek has won three state championships in boys and girls basketball in the past four years and made we have made some long runs in baseball. Not sure we would have been able to do that in one class. If you ask any of those kids that were on the state championship team and I am sure they could care less whether it was one class or four.”
“I have no issues with class baseball. I like competing against other schools my size because they have the same issues (positive and negative) that I have. “(Class baseball) definitely helps the smaller schools being able to compete against other schools their own size. “Baseball is a sport where a dominant pitcher can have a great bearing on the game. I remember playing Bremen in the semistate in ’94. (John Glenn head coach) John Naldony has had some very good teams that can compete against larger schools. “As far as changes, a double-elimination sectional would be interesting. I am not sure if a five-class baseball system could accommodate that.”
“Wapahani is in favor of class sports. I believe it makes sports a more even playing field. We won the state in 2014 in 2A, that would not have happened if there was one class. “Our girls volleyball just won state, which is a big deal for small communities, they lost to Yorktown twice and HSE (Class 4A finalists) all were sweeps and not really close. “Even though our team in 2014 and our girls last week were very good, competing against the bigger schools in the tournament would be very difficult. That being said, our State Championships are still a very big deal for our community, school, and students. “Therefore, class sports are a positive. As little league participation in small communities keep losing kids to travel ball and other activities small school numbers are seeing less kids playing baseball and softball unless they have a successful program which is a minority. “Small schools at least feel like they have a chance to win in the tournament and maybe even a state championship when they are playing schools close to their same size. Very few 1A or 2A teams can compete in the tournament with the bigger schools, once they realize that kids quit playing or go to another sport where they might have a chance to win. “The current format is fine for the tournament. Adding additional classes or a class would benefit big schools only in my opinion. Four classes has been a success. Can you tweak things? Maybe. But why change if it is not broken?”
“I like the one-class system but also know that class sports are not going anywhere so we can take the positives from it and live with it. “It is probably the small class schools and communities that benefit the most as they typically have a greater opportunity to advance when playing similar size schools. “Class sports are here to stay so one change I’d like to see for baseball would be the tournament run in some way that has a series feel to it as baseball is not a sport that is suited for a ‘one and done’ tournament.”
“I’m fine with class sports but concerned about the impact of some private and parochial schools that seem to put great emphasis on athletic success which can make it difficult for public schools to compete on an annual basis. “Class sports are here to stay but this situation and the number of transfers at public schools are the next challenges for the IHSAA.”
“(Class baseball) is a positive. It has created more excitement for more schools and their fans. “Probably the smaller schools feel as if they have a better chance to experience sectional and regional championships than when it was one class. “The only drawback (in class baseb all) I could see is you may have farther travel but in your sectional pairings than when it was one class. When I played in the single class, your sectional would be more local. It would have teams of various sizes, but we seemed have greater rivalries because many times you played against those teams in the regular season or against those players in your summer leagues. “As a coach today, I want to play the best schools we can (no matter the size). I want to prepare ourselves for our conference and sectional. When I was a player, we wanted to be able to compete with Logansport, Kokomo, Marion and LaPorte. Today, we want to compete with Andrean, Jasper, Brebeuf and Southridge.”
“(Class baseball) is a positive. I witnessed first-hand what the state tournament does in small communities. The student-athletes have a more balanced playing field. “The benefits go to the teams that advance the furthest in the tourney. Without class baseball a 1A could defeat a 3A or 4A school in the tournament on a given day. However, in most cases those smaller schools don’t have the depth, especially with pitchers. “We are at the point that we need to look at the number of classes. I would be in favor of adding a fifth class. The current disparity in school sizes is extremely large in the upper class. With the growth and addition of smaller, private schools, other mid-size schools are being bumped up. “The biggest problem facing our tournament currently is the number of schools in the sectionals. Host schools have roughly a week to host a sectional tournament. “Depending on your sectional, you could have anywhere from 5-8 teams in that sectional. Huge difference between five and eight. In a five-team sectional the winning team would have to win two or at most three games, and could possibly do that with two pitchers. In an eight-team sectional, the winning team would have to win three games and would possibly need three if not four pitchers in that 5-7 day window for the games.”
“(Class baseball) is a positive. It levels the playing field for all schools, especially the ones that are not in that top quarter or so. “The smaller schools and even the medium-sized schools benefit the most. “The thing that football did with the Top 32 (being in the largest or super class), I’d like to see that in the other sports. There are different things you could do with the other four (in a five-class system). You could divide it up evenly. There’s been discussion of capping 1A at 128. There’s a big discrepancy right now between the bottom of 4A and the top of 4A. “(The Indiana Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association) has talked about running data and see how people would fall. There would not be (an) equal (amount of) schools in every class. We’re still in the process of gathering information. The IHSAA was at our last two athletic directors conferences and present for those discussions.”
“Class baseball will have a positive effect on high school baseball. I think that it levels the playing field for the state tournament. Also, having class baseball will allow more schools the opportunity to earn a state title just like with football’s six classes. “I believe that the smaller schools will benefit.” “It would be fun to see all state title teams play in a small tournament to see who is the best of all of the classes.” “Even with the change to class baseball, there are very good teams at each class level. It will still not be an easy road to get the opportunity to play at Victory Field.”
“Had class sports been in place (when I was at Clinton Prairie) I may have never left. One of the things class sports does is that you can achieve everything positive you want to achieve from a goals standpoint. “Class sports kind of levels the playing field during the state tournament. I had some terrific teams back at Prairie. In five years, we won two sectionals. “A disadvantage for class sports is that when you get to a bigger school like Noblesville there’s no ceiling on the enrollment. “Believe it or not once we went to class sports Noblesville had the smallest enrollment in our sectional at 1,250 (Clinton Prairie was around 300). “If I were at Clinton Prairie I’d welcome it as a smaller school. I might have one really good pitcher that could help me compete against anybody, but in most years would have a drop-off in pitching depth. “At Noblesville — a larger school — I have the chance to have more depth. In baseball it always comes down to pitching. You can be good in a lot of areas of the game. If you have a question on the mound you’re going to struggle.”
There’s positives and negatives for everything, but it’s good for baseball to have class. “If we expand to another class it’s going to be even better. It makes everyone feel like they have a chance. If you’ve got the right group of guys you can win. “At the State Finals you see a difference between the 1A game and 4A game. The lineups are deeper at the bigger level. The 4A game is little more of a college game than a high school game. “The smaller schools probably benefit more (in class baseball) than the bigger schools). “In baseball, it’s how the pitching lines up. “I like how Iowa does it. They don’t start baseball until the end of April and their tournament’s in July. I don’t know if that will ever happen here.”
“Class baseball is a positive (but classification should be addressed) … The number of schools in each class doesn’t need to be the same. “Breakdown of each class needs to be more than an arbitrary enrollment number. There needs to be thought into why the lines of demarcation are made (spread, standard deviations, range). Athletic department size (percentage of the student body participating in each sport should be used for classes) could be used to determine classes. “Many large schools have very small baseball programs. Some small schools have very large baseball programs in terms of numbers. The class system should be used to place a school into its appropriate level of competition, not just for the number of students that attend a school. There are many other variables to consider.”
“I don’t know if (class baseball) is a positive or a negative per say. I played when there wasn’t any classes and I think the class system has taken away for the local rivalries. Now depending on your class and the location of your sectional, you may have to travel up to an hour to play in sectionals, although more teams have the opportunity to win a state championship, a win over a neighborhood rival might mean more, bragging rights. “There are eight teams every year who have the opportunity to play in a state championship game so that’s a benefit (to class baseball). More players, coaches, and schools who have a chance to experience a state championship game. “I’m not sure that I agree with the success factor movement (for all schools), aside from private schools you may be punishing kids who aren’t even in high school because current classes are winning. In small towns you may have a group of kids who all hit at once and then the next year they have nothing, those young men, in the current format are being punished for the success of prior classes. “For me it comes down to the local excitement, the rivalries, the competition between kids who know each other, who’ve grown up playing each other since little league. That’s what’s I believe is missing with the class system. Coming from a coach at a small school I know that if there wasn’t a class system the likelihood of us winning a sectional would go down dramatically, but just think if we would ever knock off one of the local big boys, it would be remembered forever.”
“Overall you can’t make a real argument that (class baseball) is a negative. You’re putting more kids and more schools in successful situations. I get that part. “We were fortunate enough to win eight sectionals (at Northeast Dubois) which wouldn’t have happened in single-class. “That being said, I’m not sure its been a positive for small-school athletes as far as recognition goes (for all-star consideration or scholarships). “The smaller schools were the target when this all started 25 years ago.” “There are private schools that have it better than other private schools (some have thrived and others have had a hard time fielding a team).”
“Class baseball is a positive for the most part. The obvious plus is that there are more ‘winners.’ The big negative in my opinion is that schools lose local rivalries. Pre-class era, we had great rivalries with all the local schools because you were going to potentially play one of them at the sectional or regional level. Those teams and games are now just another game on the schedule unfortunately, especially in my neck of the woods. “Terre Haute South and Terre Haute North are on a ‘big school island.’ We have to travel at least 50 miles to play another 4A baseball team. It was much easier to have a rivalry with say a West Vigo, South Vermillion, Sullivan, etc. before class baseball because we would most likely see them in the state tournament. It is difficult to have a rivalry with a school that is located in or around the Indianapolis area. “The IHSAA can expand to five classes for baseball — that’s fine. But, in my opinion, the private schools need to have their own class/classes.”
“I think class baseball has been positive even though I was a little skeptical when it first started. “Class baseball probably benefits the smaller schools the most because it gives them a realistic chance in the tournament. “The biggest thing that I think that could help class baseball would be looking at creating a separate parochial school class.”
“Having been a high school football coach for 40 years and a head high school baseball coach for 45 years, I have seen the ‘evolution’ of class sports here. My connection to friends and relatives in neighboring Ohio and Michigan has also allowed me to ‘watch’ the evolution of class sports there. In my early years (1981), I was part of Leland Etzler’s Woodlan football staff that went to the Class A state championship game vs. Hamilton Southeastern. There were three classes of football at that time compared with the six we have now. The game was played outdoors in a blizzard on November 20, 1981 (the night before my wife and I were married). It was an awesome experience for everyone connected to the small town communities of Woodburn and Harlan, Indiana. That puts my vote on the positive side of class sports in general and class baseball in particular. “In 2007, I was fortunate enough to be part of the Class 2A baseball championship game at Victory Field with my Heritage Patriots. We came up short to a powerhouse from South Spencer, but once again it was a tremendous experience for the communities of Monroeville and Hoagland. Players, parents and fans were the biggest beneficiaries in both cases. “I have seen point systems both here and in Ohio. I have seen other limited entry systems where not everyone gets to participate. I have seen ‘seeded’ systems (currently in Ohio) where top seeds are given regional choice and early round home games. Later rounds are played at ‘neutral’ sites. There are good and bad characteristics to all of these hybrid systems — depending on where you fall in the ‘rankings.’ I feel that things continue to evolve and therefore should only get better in the future — as long as we keep all kids in mind.”
“I believe it to be positive for the student-athletes throughout the state as class baseball has provided opportunities for schools of all sizes to compete with more of a level playing field. Being at a smaller school for five years (Delphi) and now at a bigger school for the last 11 (Harrison), I have been lucky enough to see several outstanding programs and coaches at all levels. “While at Delphi, we were fortunate enough to advance to the 2010 2A state championship game. While I would like to say we’d compete well in a one-class system, the truth of the matter is, we would have struggled to compete against bigger schools in a two- or three-game sectional (or regional) due to the differences in depth of our roster in comparison to bigger schools. “At Harrison, we have been lucky enough to have several arms that we could run out in an elimination game. At Delphi, that number is quite smaller, which would have really hurt us if we were to play vs. bigger schools in a two- or three-game sectional (or regional). That is a huge competitive advantage for the larger schools and something that is beyond the control of smaller schools. When class baseball started, it provided schools of all sizes the ability to compete on a level playing field in each of the four classes.
“I really see (class baseball) as a positive for the lower classes. Class A and AA have the opportunity to get a State Championship and not have to butt heads with the larger schools. In Class AAA and AAAA, there’s not as big a difference in talent.”
“Class baseball is both positive and negative in my mind. You lose some of the regional rivalries although you could still play local/smaller and larger teams on your regular season schedule. We certainly have more sectional champions and more kids are able to enjoy success playing baseball so that is a huge plus. It leaves more kids with positive experiences while in high school and playing our great game. “I would have to think that the smaller schools benefit the most from class baseball with all respect to them. Our state has tremendous coaches and programs at all levels. Again the opportunity for kids at those schools to be able to compete in the state tournament and enjoy success is a great benefit. “I’m not sure there is much to change for the better — possibly a Champions Tournament but on the flip side it may be rough to win a title and then turn around and possibly get beat. Basketball got away from it, obviously. Some schools have to travel quite a bit for sectional play, but again not sure if there is a way around that. “Baseball at the 3A level on a whole rivals the baseball being played at 4A. Jasper and Andrean’s success when they bumped up is a testament.”
“As in other sports, classification was created to level the playing field keeping schools with similar enrollment sizes within the same bracket and to also create more winners per sport. Classification has added hope to teams who may otherwise not have it if they are put into a sectional with bigger schools. To be perfectly honest most of the time the bigger schools just have access to more choices, such as players, facilities and money. “The smaller schools benefit the most from classification. It has allowed talent to grow and flourish, as having an opportunity to win a sectional breeds hope, which makes it easier to get kids out to play. “I would create a separate class for private schools, the advantage that they have can not be matched by the public school. I will say open enrollment has helped, but the private schools have distanced themselves a lot especially in baseball. “I like where we are at with baseball in the state of Indiana. The training facilities and opportunities that our kids have after high school has grown since I have been in the game the last 20 years.”
“I am somewhat of a traditionalist, so a single class had a little soft spot in my heart. That said, there are some benefits to a class system. The class system allows for: 1. More state winners, 2. A chance for smaller schools to compete at a high level, 3. It helps promote the game of baseball in the state. “I would say the smaller schools and the schools that fall just under the class limits (benefit the most from class baseball). What I mean by that is if the top 101 enrollments go to 4A, school number 102 has an advantage because they are playing in 3A. The private schools also benefit from the class system. “If we are to stay in the class system (which we will), I would say that for baseball there needs to be five classes instead of four. “Another change I would enact would be to not separate by an equal number. If there are 400 schools, it doesn’t need to be 100 in each class of four. “A final change would be the success factor rule. The requirements need to be adjusted, mainly the length at which they must stay up a class should be longer. “One thing that class baseball hurt (along with class basketball) was the community sectionals. I graduated in ’93 when it was still one class and I remember that all the sectionals in every sport were heavily-attended. The attendance has gone down in terms of sectionals.”
“Class baseball is a positive thing, especially for schools with lower enrollment. It helps create a somewhat even playing field for tournament play. Class sports have allowed for multiple smaller enrollment schools to have teams thrive and have success that may not happen if class sports didn’t exist. “Class baseball has allowed our kids to compete against schools of like enrollment. It has allowed our school to enjoy tournament success. It has allowed our school and community to host sectional and regional tournaments, whereas without class sports, we may have not had these opportunities. “I understand the log jam in class sports that occurs at the 4A level, especially in larger city schools. Oftentimes top teams match up early in a tournament, which I am sure is frustrating for those programs. “Overall, class baseball has been a positive thing, especially from the Caston baseball programs perspective. We feel as though it provides parity for our kids, and it gives them a chance to be successful in tournament play. Like in any system, there are pros and cons, but our feel is this has more pros than cons for our student athletes.”
“Class baseball is a positive thing. Teams get a chance to play vs comparable sized teams, better chance for success in state tourney. “The lower classes (benefit most from class baseball) as they all have a legitimate chance for tourney success. “My thoughts about change, which I presented to LaPorte AD, Ed Gilliland, over five years ago is this: All classes play their sectionals. Winners would then meet up in a demographic regional competing with those winners meeting in a four-team semi and finally in a final four State Championship tournament. I actually broke it down statewide with who goes where potentially each stage. This give each class a chance for a sectional title and a tourney overall state champion. I also put this idea for basketball as well. “IHSBCA has done a tremendous job in supporting high school baseball. Baseball and basketball are sports where small schools can compete vs. larger schools. My format would appease all schools with a chance for a sectional trophy, but let’s see one overall state champion.”
“(Class baseball) is a positive. “Smaller public schools definitely benefit the most from class ball. “I don’t feel there is anything wrong with our classification system. There will always be some argument that private schools should perhaps have their own division.”
“I am from the group that favors the one-class system when it comes to the tournament. I think in baseball you can still be competitive with bigger schools if you are a smaller school. “If you have four or five classes then you really don’t have a ‘state champion.’ You have four or five ‘state champions.’ “If you want a true state champion then, let the class winners compete against each other a week later and really come up with a ‘state champion.’ Until then, you just have ‘class champions.’” “If you are going to have class state champions, why are big schools and little schools playing during the regular season?”
“Class baseball is a positive thing. I would say I grew up as a traditionalist and loved the single-class basketball era; however, I’ve grown to appreciate the advantages/disadvantages that come with the size of schools. “Classifying baseball is something that benefits all programs, schools and communities. At the end of the season, eight communities get to compete for the state title at an amazing stadium. Maybe that will soon expand to 10! “I am excited to see the potential of a fifth class built into the state tournament. This would help create more balance among the classes once it is all said and done. It would be interesting to see how things would shake up if multipliers were given to various things like private/public schools, free/reduced percentages, etc. I’ve heard arguments for the success factor to be implemented differently as well. I am not sure it’s entirely fair that the success of graduated juniors and seniors determines the fate of the rising freshman and sophomores who were not directly a part of that success. “I would love to see consistent sectional/regional alignments across as many team sports as possible. I feel this would enhance the rivalry aspect of the state tournament from a sectional/regional standpoint.”
“For us, class baseball has certainly been a positive. Realistically we don’t have the manpower to compete in a tournament with the larger schools. It gives us something to shoot for, and a legitimate chance to win tournament championships. “All small schools benefit from class baseball. Even at the state tournament there is a very noticeable difference in the talent level between the class A game, and the Class AA game. Larger schools have 4-5 times more kids try out for their team. Valpo has over a hundred, we typically get 20 boys out per season.”
“(Class baseball) has been a real positive for high school baseball. Although every once in awhile you have a team you feel can compete in any class, the class system gives teams a level playing field on a more consistent basis. “The kids and community benefit most (from class baseball). At the end of the day when you are a state champion, none of those kids or community identify as a class state champ, they identify as a state champion and the memories from that success. “Baseball should be a double-elimination tournament in order to get a true team champion. A team can eliminate a really good team in a single-elimination tournament with a dominant pitcher. “In 2008 we had Tyler Watts and Kevin Kiermaier get seen by the Parkland College coach because we had the opportunity to advance in the state tournament in Class 2A. They both went to Parkland and Kevin is having a pretty good major league career.”
“In our area, the vast majority of schools are 3A and 4A. I’m not sure it makes a ton of difference one way of the other. I’m sure for many small schools, (class baseball) provides some positive benefits. “(Class baseball) is beneficial for some of the smaller schools that may not have a chance for success against bigger schools. “There should be other factors involved in the equation when classifying schools. You’re not always comparing apples to apples when you look at enrollment numbers. You can compare similar-sized schools and athletes in one district that do not necessarily have the same opportunities and resources that athletes in another district do.”
“(Class baseball is a) very positive thing. Enrollment is definitely not the only factor, but it does make a big difference. It’s not realistic to think that small schools can compete consistently with the higher enrollment schools. The depth that the larger schools have because of numbers and the in-team competition that brings gives them a major advantage. Larger schools often have more resources — including indoor facilities and more coaches that is also advantageous for them. “The benefits from class baseball can be seen throughout all classes. The idea is that schools are competing against similar schools is good for all. “I would actually like to see five classes. The descepancy between the biggest schools in 4A and the smaller schools in 4A is very large. We have schools with over 3,500 students competing against schools that have less than 1,500 students. That is a major difference that brings some big advantages for the larger schools.”
“At Rossville, we benefit from class baseball. I cannot speak for any other coaches or programs but my guess is most would say that smaller schools and/or private schools benefit from the most. With that said, sectionals are generally aligned by geographical location so my guess is a 4A Sectional in the Indianapolis area might not see significant change if we had one class. I could be wrong though. “I would love to see baseball do something like basketball did for a short time with the Tournament of Champions. Baseball — unlike basketball or football — has what I consider to be an equalizer with pitching. It would be neat to see it played out. “I am a fan of the old school single-class system as well. I don’t know what it feels like winning a sectional in a single-class system and I do not want to undermine how special winning a sectional championship is. It is a great accomplishment and there is a great amount of pride felt from the program, school and community. “With that said, I would think winning one in a single-class system would feel different for small schools because of the enrollment differences with the teams you would have to beat.”
“Class baseball is a positive. It creates an opportunity for more competition across the board. “Smaller schools with fewer arms benefit the most from class baseball. Larger schools with more pitchers only are at a great advantage over the smaller schools whose best position players are typically also their best arms and usually have far fewer pitcher-only type players. “I would love to play three-game series in the postseason rather than the one-and-done model. I’m not sure it is even possible and have no idea how they could arrange it but I think it better fits baseball. You would get the better TEAMs winning sectionals as opposed to the team with the best arm or two winning them.”
“(Class baseball) is mostly positive. It gives hope for many of the smaller schools to earn a sectional, regional, semi-state ,and state championships. “The negative would be private schools seem to be earning most of these championships. “Private schools (benefit most from class baseball). In the lower classes, private schools have been piling up the state championships. “I would like to have three classes of public schools and one or two classes of private schools.”
“I am old-fashioned, I began coaching when it was a one-class system. I liked the rivalries and going to the local areas to play the sectional games (playing at home or in Terre Haute or Brazil against Northview, Terre Haute North Vigo, Terre Haute South Vigo or West Vigo). “The reason I bring it up, I felt that it was some Hoosier Hysteria in baseball. It was the local teams playing in a sectional and no one had to travel a great distance.
“It is a benefit for a smaller school to advance farther in the (class baseball) tournament. It takes away the big upsets, but more have a chance to reach the state.”
“Class sports has worked out to be a good thing for everyone involved. The competitive nature of each class is relative and that gives everyone the opportunity to see different teams in different years be successful. “The smaller schools most definitely benefit the most due to the shear numbers that are limited they have to choose from. This allows them to compete against like size schools and provide a great experience for the athlete.
“I think the way the IHSAA has it set up is good and there’s not really much to change.”
“Overall class baseball is a positive. It allows for a more-even level of competition. If we look at the schools with larger enrollment it is more common (especially now with pitch count rules) for them to compete with schools their size who have a similar pitching staffs.
“(Who benefits the most from class baseball is a two-pronged answer. On one hand you have smaller schools 1A, 2A, even 3A who have had more of a chance to compete and have success against schools their size. Again, looking at depth of pitching on those levels it creates a more even playing field. Second answer would be the private/parochial/preparatory schools. They have had more success than most public schools in the tournament, yes they fluctuate in classes because of success factor, but also they have the advantage of being able to set an enrollment where public schools do not.
“Maybe add one more class, I’d like to see just what that would look like. Northview is at the top of the 3A scale so that may move us to the bottom of 4A. I don’t know how that would effect everyone. Also maybe look at a multiplier for the private/parochial/preparatory schools in sports like other states have done. Other states have done it and I think it does create a more even system.
“Overall I think class baseball is great. I think however we could all look back to the days of the David vs. Goliath matchups which brought in huge crowds. I would also like to say that I’m not trying to bring anyone down in this because right now I would argue the state of Indiana has as much baseball talent as any state in the Midwest. The coaching in our state has been really great. I enjoy competing against these coaches from all the different classes and I think baseball in Indiana is as good as it has ever been and I think with the classes we’ve seen some great tournaments and will continue to do so in the future.”
“I think (class baseball) is a positive. I was fortunate to have some teams make deep runs in the tournament during my career that likely would not have happened under a one-class system. In fact, one of my best teams at Northfield was during the one-class era and we were beaten by what is now a 4A school. Had that been a class season, we may have had a chance to win state, minimally, made a deeper run. It provides a few more teams the chance to finish as champions thanks to a more level playing field. “More communities (benefit from class baseball). When we came back into town after our first championship years ago, there were thousands of people in the Kmart parking lot waiting for us. Then we took the fire engine ride through town and spent the next week getting treated like royalty … That was a great experience for the community of Wabash and the players and their families. All have a memory that will last a lifetime. In the one-class era, very few small communities got to experience the state level. “(Class baseball) is pretty good overall, but I would like to see a more consistent schedule set at the sectional level for all sites as much as possible. That is hard to do since some sectionals have lights, others don’t, and trying to work around graduations. But host schools have the slight advantage of setting a schedule that best suits their pitching staff. Of course, weather can play havoc to the best of schedules and no matter how the schedule is set, someone will still likely be unhappy. “There’s some talk about a slight revamp of the class system to help break down the large enrollment gap between the top and bottom 4A schools. Like most, those at the bottom of 4A just want to have a more balanced system. I appreciate the IHSBCA and IHSAA exploring possible options.”
Sal Aguilar has been a part of baseball success as a player and an assistant coach. He was the starting third baseman for the Hammond (Ind.) Chiefs that went to the Babe Ruth Baseball World Series. The 1998 graduate of Griffith (Ind.) High School was on the coaching staff at Andrean High School in Merrillville, Ind., as the 59ers won IHSAA Class 3A state championships in 2018 and 2019 — two of eight state titles on Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dave Pishkur’s watch. Aguilar’s first year as an assistant at Hanover Central High School in Cedar Lake, Ind., was 2021 and the Wildcats finished as Class 3A state runners-up. Ryan Bridges let his team know that the 2022 season would be his last as Hanover Central head coach since he was taking a job at the school as assistant athletic director to Kelly Bermes. In June, Aguilar was hired to head the Wildcats baseball program. “We have great kids and great community support,” says Aguilar. “We’re excited to embark on this new chapter of Hanover Central baseball. We have a very bright future “We’re not going to shy away from the ultimate goal which is to win a state championship.” Hanover Central (enrollment around 775) is a member of the Greater South Shore Conference (with Hammond Bishop Noll, Boone Grove, Calumet New Tech, Griffith, Illiana Christian, Lake Station Edison, River Forest, South Central of Union Mills, Wheeler and Whiting). The Wildcats were part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping in 2022 with Culver Military Academy, John Glenn, Kankakee Valley, Knox and River Forest. Hanover Central has won two sectional crowns — 2011 (2A) and 2021 (3A). Players from the Class of 2021 included outfielder Jared Comia (now at the University of Illinois), 6-foot-9 right-handed pitcher Peyton Olejnik (who went to Triton College in River Grove, Ill., and is heading to the University of Oklahoma in 2022-23), left-hander/infielder Bret Matthys (Purdue Northwest) and infielder Blaze Cano (who is transferring from PNW to Calumet of St. Joseph in Whiting). Three athletes in the Class of 2023 expected to play at the next level include shortstop/pitcher Zach Zykowski, pitcher Luka Zakman and two-sport standout Gannan Howes (who is getting attention in baseball and football). Aguilar came to Hanover Central as a teacher in 2020-2 and is entering his 16th year in the classroom. He taught seven years in Texas, three in Illinois and this will be his sixth in Indiana. He instructs HCHS freshmen in Integrated Chemistry and Physics (ICP). Born in Munster, Ind., Aguilar spent his first nine years in East Chicago, Ind. After fourth grade, he moved to Griffith and attended St. Mary School then went to Griffith High School for four years. He earned three baseball letters for the Todd Iwema-coached Panthers. Aguilar played for the Hammond Seminoles in 1997 then for Dave Sutkowski’s Hammond Chiefs in 1998 and 1999. “The kids call him Bush,” says Aguilar of Sutkowski. “I learned a lot from Dave as a young kid about building relationships with players.” One way to do that at Hanover Central is through junior high baseball program. Thirty players in grades 6-8 play and practice in the fall. “That’s a huge asset for our program,” says Aguilar. “It’s all hands on deck here so varsity coaches are going to run that team. We’re going to be able install and implement our brands of offense and defense. “We get to cultivate those lifelong relationships with those kids at a very young age.” Aguilar’s coaching staff includes four Hanover Central graduates — Nic Sampognaro (Class of 2011) with the varsity, twins Sam Momcilovic (Class of 2019) and Evan Momcilovic (2019) with the junior varsity and Mike Biegel (Class of 2018) as freshman head coach. Former Hammond Bishop Noll and Merrillville head coach Paul Wirtz lends his experience to the varsity staff. Jesse Forrester (Lowell Class of 2019) is a freshman assistant. Aguilar finished his college degree at the University of Houston-Clear Lake in 2006. His teaching and coaching career began shortly after that. He came back to Indiana and married Griffith alum Brittany Clark in 2016. Sal and Brittany Aguilar have two children — Luis (5) and Gianna (2). “(Brittany) knows it’s not easy being a coach’s wife,” says Sal. “We’re lucky to have family around to help us out.”
Jordon VanWienen has spent his life in the DeMotte/Wheatland, Ind., community and now he’s head baseball coach at his alma mater — Kankakee Valley High School. The 2006 KVHS graduate was officially moved up from Kougars assistant coach in July. He had served four years as junior varsity head coach — one on the staff of Doug Greenlee and three under Ryan Armstrong then three years as a varsity assistant to Doug Nelson. “Seeing the KV program excel is true to my heart,” says VanWienen, who was a catcher for Greenlee as a Kougar player. “He’s got a lot of heart and passion — not only for the game but for his players,” says VanWienen of Greenlee. “He’s about more than just winning baseball games. “He had our backs.” An IHSAA Limited Contact Period concluded Oct. 16 and VanWienen had about 20 to 25 athletes not in fall sports participating in the twice-weekly sessions. “We got outside every week that we went with good solid practices,” says VanWienen. “We would work on defense one day and offense another day. “We had a good turnout. The numbers were high, which is a good sign for the program. There are a lot of good work ethics. We’re headed in the right direction.” Kankakee Valley (enrollment around 1,100) is a member of the Northwest Crossroads Conference (with Andrean, Highland, Hobart, Lowell and Munster). In 2021, the Kougars were part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Culver Academies, Glenn, Hanover Central, Knox and River Forest. Kankakee Valley has won four sectional titles — the last in 1999. Outfielder Nolan McKim (Class of 2020) is on the reserve baseball roster at Indiana Tech. VanWienen says a pair of current Kougars – left-handed pitcher Max Schultz and infielder-outfielder Luke Andree — have college potential and there are others that could play at the next level. VanWienen’s assistants are Jim Pint, Scott Holmes and Jeremy Rohzon. Hitting coach Pint has been a volunteer at KV for 22 years. Pitching coach Holmes and JV head coach/varsity assistant Rohzon are both Kankakee Valley graduates. KV has two baseball fields on its Wheatfield campus. A JV/freshmen diamond was used for the first time in 2021. A strong feeder system is a priority for VanWienen. “My goal is to have a large involvement with local Little Leagues,” says VanWienen, who sits in the DeMotte Little League board. A travel ball program of DeMotte/Wheatfield players — the NWI Warriors — was established in August. There are currently 9U and 12U baseball teams. “The program is designed to get boys playing in April in tournaments and they can play in Little League as well,” says VanWienen. “I intend to start middle school season after high school season.” VanWienen wants to narrow the gap between Little League and high school where some players lose interest or get involved with other things. After KV, VanWienen to Franklin (Ind.) College for a few years. He was with the Lance Marshall-coached Grizzlies in fall ball and was involved in athletic training. He now works in the grains department at Iroquois Bio-Energy Company, LLC in Rensselaer, Ind. Besides coaching Little League and at KV, VanWienen led Outcast Thunder 15U, 16U and 17U travel teams from 2017-19. Jordon and wife Julie (a 2008 Kankakee Valley graduate) have been married for 12 years. They have two children — son Ayden (10) and daughter Hayley (9). Ayden VanWienen is active in soccer, basketball, baseball and 4-H. Hayley VanWienen participates in soccer, gymnastics and 4-H. The VanWienens have a San Pierre, Ind., address.
They are honesty, selflessness, relentlessness, competitiveness and positivity.
“On the baseball side, we stress offense and being aggressive,” says Hardy. “We’ve got to score runs to win games.”
A 2012 graduate of Logansport (Ind.) High School where he won two letters each in football, wrestling and baseball, Hardy credits two former Berries head baseball coaches — Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Jim Turner Sr. plus Jim Turner Jr. — as well as current Logansport bench boss Dan Frye, Craig Crozier and Jon Vernon for adding to his diamond knowledge.
“I’ve learned that the main thing is to be patient with players and even other coaches,” says Hardy. “And to study the game.”
Hardy has received plenty of pointers from Turner Sr., on how to run a practice.
Prior to taking over the Pioneer program, Hardy coached in the Logansport Lookouts travel organization.
In Hardy’s first season, Pioneer has 32 players for varsity and junior varsity squads.
Assistant coaches include Jacob Hardy (Josh’s younger brother), Cory Harmon, Darrell Couch and Miles VonTobel.
Jacob Hardy, who played baseball at Ancilla College in Donaldson, Ind., works with pitchers and catcher. He is a Logansport alum as are Harmon and Couch. VonTobel is a 2020 Pioneer graduate.
This winter was his 53rd season of keeping the book for boys basketball (he has not missed a game in that span and tracked the digits for the IHSAA Class 1A state runners-up in 2020-21) and the 43rd for girls basketball. He compiles stats for basketball, baseball, softball and track and field.
Much of what Earl Mishler has on his high school baseball website — ETPearl.com — came from Nuest.
His interest in the sport and numbers once had Nuest scoring Chicago Bulls and Indiana University games on the radio.
The 2020 season would have marked his 50th as statistician for Kouts baseball. But he doesn’t count that one since the COVID-19 pandemic took the season, making 2021 the half-century mark for that job.
But it’s not really a job. Nuest has never taken any pay for scoring or coaching baseball and minimal for basketball over the years.
It’s about helping the community and being close to things he enjoys.
“I’ve always had a love of numbers,” says Nuest, a 1961 Kouts graduate who went on to work 39 years in the financial department at Midwest Steel in Portage, retiring at 60. “Math always came easy to me.”
About five years ago, Nuest completed a 40-year run of coaching Kouts in high school summer ball. He ran the area league — which at various times included teams from Culver, Kankakee Valley, Knox, Renselaer Central, Wheeler, Valparaiso and beyond — for about 25 years, scheduling all the games.
“I always tried to make it fun for the kids,” says Nuest. “Just being around the kids was enjoyable for me. I watched them grow and improve as individuals.”
In the spring, he has worked under 11 head coaches. Don Spoerner was the first. Jim Tucker is now in charge of the Kouts baseball program.
“I really love the game of baseball,” says Nuest. “I love the strategy that goes into it. Anything can happen on any given pitch.
“People think bas ball is boring and slow. But you never know what’s around the corner.”
As a scorekeeper, Nuest came up with a way of doing it and stayed with it.
What makes it unique?
“I don’t know that there’s any specific thing, but you should be able to read it like a book,” says Nuest. “You should be able to tell batting average and earned run averages of your team and your opponents.
“It all flows together. It you leave something out it’s like you left out a page.”
This spring, Kouts named its baseball diamond in honor of their longtime contributor.
“It’s a wonderful community,” says Nuest. “I was never a teacher at the school and never an official coach.
“It was kind of an overwhelming honor at the time. I’ve donated hours and hours of work. But I certainly never expected anything like this.”
Nuest was born in Valparaiso and except for a few years in Lake Village when he was in school and two years in Valparaiso when he married second wife Lana, he has resided in Kouts.
In the spring of 2019, the Kougars baseball team had eventual IHSAA Class 3A state champion Andrean down 7-3 in the seventh inning of the Kankakee Valley Sectional championship game before bowing 8-7.
“That’s how close we are to beating a good team,” says Nelson. “But you’ve got to get 21 outs.
“A lot of kids from that team that are back (two years later).”
The COVID-19 pandemic took away the 2020 season.
“Boys are champing at the bit and ready to get back on the field,” says Nelson. “We have a mix of seniors doing a good job of being leaders with juniors following their lead and sophomores continuing that.
“I like our depth.”
In the fall, the Kougars held IHSAA Limited Contacted Period practices outside as often as possible with plenty of fungos to fielders and swings by hitters.
“Being out on the field again was awesome,” says Nelson. “We had 20-plus (participants) every time.”
Nelson expects 40 to 45 players in the spring to fill out varsity, junior varsity and freshmen teams.
Winter workouts have consisted of plenty of weight room and batting cage work. When the weather has allowed, KV players have gone outside and used the baseball field on turf football playing or practice fields.
“We have a pretty nice field,” says Nelson of the lighted facility that has served many times as a sectional host site. Beyond the right field fence is a corn field. In left there is woods.
Assistant coaches for 2021 are Jim Pint (varsity), Jordon VanWienen (varsity), Jeremy Rozhon (JV) and Steve Schmidt (freshmen).
During his stint at Portage, Nelson assisted Bob Dixon.
“He was just great for the kids — a players’ coach,” says Nelson. “He would give the shirt off his back for the boys. He had them playing hard for each other.
“Portage takes a blue-collar/us-against-the-world mentality. We stuck together and fought.”
Randy Roberts is the head coach at Washington Township. His 2019 Senators were Class 1A state runners-up.
“Randy Roberts is the best coach of any sport in northwest Indiana,” says Nelson. “He is very humble. The (Porter County Conference) is a very good small-school baseball conference.”
Nelson was introduced to Roberts by brother Dustin. Max Roberts, Randy’s son and a Valparaiso High graduate, has pitched in the Seattle Mariners organization.
At Hanover Central, Nelson took the Wildcats to the 2011 Class 2A championship game where they were topped 8-1 by South Spencer. HC ace Andy Wellwerts stuck out 128 batters in 73 innings that season. He went on to play in the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Stars Series.
Jesse Wilkening, a 2015 Hanover Central graduate, set the state career record for hits (206) and went on to play at the University of Nebraska and in the Philadelphia Phillies system.
Nelson holds an elementary education degree with a physical education endorsement from Valparaiso University, where he played one season of baseball for Paul Twenge. Merel Nelson, Doug’s father, was VU’s athletic equipment manager.
A masters degree in administration was later earned by Nelson.
Doug is married to Ann Marie and has two sons — Nathan Ramian (28) and Kale Nelson (21). Nathan has coached freshman baseball and girls basketball at Portage and works in the IT department for Portage Township Schools). Kale is a junior at Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis.
Jake Burton has not changed the way he coaches much in more than four decades of leading high school baseball programs in Indiana.
Modeling his style after men like LaPorte’s Ken Schreiber and Lafayette Jeff’s Paul “Spider” Fields, Burton decided discipline would be the cornerstone of his teams.
“We’re demanding,” says Burton, who is in his 41st season of doing things his way — third at Twin Lakes High School in Monticello in 2019 after 37 at McCutcheon (1979-2015) in Lafayette and one at North Newton (2016) in Morocco. “The kid has to make sacrifices. We don’t allow long hair. It has to be an inch above the collar and off the ear.
“If they miss a practice unexcused, it’s a 20-mile run. You don’t play again until you get done.”
Burton hasn’t wavered from that approach since his first game in 1979.
“People say that’s crazy, but we’ve eliminated problems because kids don’t take a chance,” says Burton. “They don’t test you on those things. They know we mean business. We’ve not changed that.
“Not that these things make the program, but they establish a culture for the program.”
A two-game home-and-home series on consecutive nights is played within the division. Crossover games are then played with corresponding seeds in each division — 1 vs. 1, 2 vs. 2 and son on.
The Indians opened the 2019 season with a trip to Tennessee, where they met Halls, West Carroll and Tipton-Rosemark Academy (2018 Tennessee state runner-up among private schools).
“It was a good experience for us,” says Burton.
A year ago, a team rule was made that players could be away at the beginning of spring break through Tuesday and had to be back on Wednesday in order to travel to Tennessee and be ready to open the conference season against Lafayette Central Catholic.
Other non-conference opponents include Crawfordsville, Delphi, Eastern (Greentown), Frontier, Kankakee Valley, Lafayette Jeff, Maconaquah, McCutcheon, North Newton, North White and Tri-County.
The Indians are part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Andrean, Hanover Central, Kankakee Valley, Knox and Wheeler. Twin Lakes has won 12 sectional titles — the last in 1993.
Twin Lakes was off to an 11-5 start in 2019, including 5-1 in the HAC.
“I think we’ve turned the corner a little bit,” says Burton. “We are winning games that we should win and competing well in all our games except for a couple.
“The kids seem to be confident that they can win. When I first got here that didn’t exist.”
Burton started out with 32 players in the program his first year and had 18 in the second season after some weeding out.
“They weren’t here for the real reason you play baseball,” says Burton. “You play sports to get better at it and enjoy the camaraderie, but also enjoy the competition.
“They were doing it as if it was just something to do rather than something they wanted to do.”
Retired as a school administrator, when he’s not serving as a substitute at Twin Lakes, Burton likes to play golf or pickleball before coming to the school.
Pickleball is a paddle-and-ball game similar to tennis played to 11. When he and his partner got down 10-1, the partner started talking about asking their opponent for a rematch. Burton wasn’t willing to concede defeat. He knew the game wasn’t over until one team got to 11.
Burton recalls a day in1984 at McCutcheon when his team was down 10-2 in the first game of a doubleheader.
The coach began pulling out his starters and telling them to get something to eat and be back for the second game.
Meanwhile, the subs started hitting doubles and singles and — all of a sudden — in was 10-10. The Mavericks went on to win.
“Baseball is a unique game,” says Burton. “There is no clock and that’s the neatest thing about it.”
There are 22 players for varsity and junior varsity in 2019 and the number is expected to rise.
“We’re building it back up,” says Burton, who had five seniors in 2017, three in 2018 and has four in 2019 (Zion Cosgray, Brock Deno, Graham Howe and Ethan Luzadder). The Indians have nine freshmen.
Burton is assisted by Brian Driver, Mike Hirt, Sam McVady, Jeremy Stinson and Trent Wright.
Pitching coach Driver played for Burton at McCutcheon in the early 1990’s and has coached with Burton at McCutcheon, North Newton and Twin Lakes. Wright serves as the first base coach. Hirt, McVady and Stinson are JV coaches. McVady played for Burton at Twin Lakes.
Since arriving, Burton has watched the Indians’ home field get a new drainage system. A new outfield was installed and leveled.
“We really take care of the field,” says Burton. “We make sure it’s immaculate and things are put away each night.
“We just take a little pride. You can play on a good field and get nice, new uniforms and kids start to feel a little bit better about themselves. It’s something that’s contagious and it spreads and we play a little bit better.”
Monticello Youth Baseball League — a part of the Town & Country system — develops players that will eventually get a chance to wear Twin Lakes uniforms.
Burton says the change from a single class to class sports is the biggest change he’s witnessed in his time coaching baseball in Indiana.
“I never was in favor of class baseball,” says Burton. “I liked it when you had one true champion.”
When McCutcheon was a state runner-up during the one-class system in 1994 it meant as much to Burton as when the Mavericks won 4A state titles in 1999 and 2003.
The 1994 state championship game was won 4-3 by Penn, coached by IHSBCA Hall of Famer Greg Dikos.
“That game hinged on one play in the top of the seventh,” says Burton. “We got our 2-hole and or 3-hole hitter on and our clean-up guy, Preny Rodgriguez had just hit one off the wall the last time up.
“We were down 4-2. Do we bunt here? I let him swing away and he hits into a double play. The next batter get a base hit to make it one run but we don’t get two.
“That’s just a decision a coach makes. It happens all the time.”
Burton was a Purdue University student at a time when Indiana coaching legends were still on the scene.
“Things have changed. Ken Schreiber, Jim Reinebold, Bill Jones, Paul “Spider” Fields — they set the tone on how baseball should be coached and played. I was lucky enough to be young enough to be going through college and seeing that.
“You don’t see that anymore. You don’t see people putting in the time like that.”
Burton’s teams have held the No. 1 statewide ranking four times and knocked off No. 1 on 10 occasions. His squads have been state ranked in 33 of his first 40 seasons.
He has coached 23 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series selections and a pair of Indiana Mr. Baseballs — Clayton Richard (2003) and Logan Sowers (2014).
Six former players were selected in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, including big leaguers Richard in 2005 and Nick Wittgren in 2009.
Burton has had 84 players play college baseball (10 are still active) with 10 first-team all-staters and 150 all-conference selections.
He’s sent former assistants/players have gone on to become high school coaches in Indiana.
Burton was chosen Indiana Coach of the Year in 1999 and 2003 and was runner-up in the balloting in 1994. He has been a conference coach of the year 13 times and a regional coach of the year eight times.
He has amassed 15 conference championships, 11 sectional title, five regional crowns and twice claimed semistate hardware.
In Burton’s one season at North Newton, the Spartans went 20-9 and won the program’s first conference championship in 26 years.
Jake and Brenda Burton have been married 47 years and have three children — Mike, R.J. and Beth — and seven grandchildren. Teacher Mike (Class of 1993) and project engineer R.J. (1995) played baseball at McCutcheon for their father. Teacher Beth in a 1999 McCutcheon graduate. Jake is currently a Tippecanoe School Corporation board member.
Jake Burton is in his third season as a high school baseball head coach in Indiana in 2019. It’s his third season at Twin Lakes High School in Monticello.
“We did a very good job last year of taking the extra base,” says Bridges, who played four seasons at Griffith (Ind.) High School and five at Purdue University. “We’d see the ball in the dirt and were gone. It’s something I expect out of each one of my kids — to be a good, aggressive base runners.
“We always try to put pressure on the defense and make them make a play. High school kids are prone to make mistakes — even the best of them. A little bit of pressure can go a long way.
“You’re not always going to have those boppers. You can teach these kids to run bases and keep going. I can keep playing that style.”
To get his team ready for the postseason, Bridges has beefed up the non-conference schedule. It includes contests against IHSAA members Crown Point, Hammond Morton, Highland, Hobart, Kankakee Valley, Lowell, Munster, Portage and Valparaiso and Illiana Christian, an Illinois High School Association school in Dyer, Ind.
A game in the annual High School Baseball Challenge hosted by the Gary SouthShore RailCats at U.S. Steel Yard in Gary is scheduled against Lowell on Friday, April 12.
Hanover Central (enrollment around 715) is part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Andrean, Kankakee Valley, Knox, Twin Lakes and Wheeler. The Wildcats have won one sectional crown — 2011. That team went on to be 2A state runners-up.
Bridges played for head coach Brian Jennings at Griffith and graduated in 2007.
A corner infielder and designated hitter for Purdue, Bridges appeared in 126 games (85 as a starter) and hit .288 with six home runs and 61 runs batted in. A back injury in his freshmen season led to a medical redshirt.
“I enjoyed every second of all five years of it,” says Bridges of his Purdue days.
He credits Schreiber for his attention to detail whether it was a bunt play, study tables or the amount of commitment it took to achieve excellence.
“He likes things done a certain way,” says Bridges. “If kids understand the level of commitment needed at the next level, it will help them for the four years of high school.”
Purdue was Big Ten Conference champions in Bridges’ final season (2012). Two of his Boliermaker teammates — catcher Kevin Plawecki and pitcher Nick Wittgren — are now with the Cleveland Indians.
Bridges graduated from Purdue and has a special education endorsement and masters degree from Indiana Wesleyan University. He taught in the Griffith system and was an assistant on Jennings’ baseball staff for four seasons before going to Hanover Central, where he teaches physical education at the middle school in addition to going baseball.
While he may not have been that way when he was playing for him, Bridges says he saw Jennings come to the see the value of giving his players a physical and mental break when it’s needed.
“We get the whole week off before tryouts,” says Bridges of his Wildcats program. “Once it starts, there’s no break.
“That’s pretty important.”
During this IHSAA limited contact period where coaches can lead their teams in baseball activities for two hours two times a week, Bridges has players coming in at 5:30 a.m.
“We have quite a few basketball kids,” says Bridges. “Coach (Bryon) Clouse is nice enough to let my pitchers throw.”
“I the way they have it set up now,” says Bridges. “Coaches are aren’t running these kids four days a week in January and February.
“But I wish they would let pitchers throw a little more. Arm care is important and some of these kids have nowhere to throw — not only pitchers, but position players.”
Hanover Central pitchers began bullpens this week. Bridges will slowly progress their pitch counts moving up to the first official day of practice (March 11) and beyond.
“I’ll use more arms earlier in the (season) before I can get arms in shape,” says Bridges, who does not recall any of his hurlers reaching the limit of the pitch count rule adopted in 2017 (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days). I’m very precautionary when it comes to that. Some of these kids have futures (as college pitchers).”
Bridges’ coaching staff features Nic Sampognaro, Cole Mathys, Anthony Gomez and Mike Halls. Sampognaro is a 2011 Hanover Central graduate who played at Saint Joseph’s College. Volunteer Mathys is also an HC graduate. Gomez played at Munster and moved on to Vincennes University and Ball State University. Halls is in charge of the Wildcats’ junior varsity.
Noting that the community is growing and that there are a number of baseball players in the eighth grade, Bridges says there is the possibility of having a C-team in the future.
Hanover Central is located in Cedar Lake, Ind. Cedar Lake also sends some students to Crown Point. Some St. John students wind up at Hanover Central.
Hanover Central Middle School fields a team for Grades 6-8 in the fall.
Catcher Jesse Wilkening, a 2015 Hanover Central graduate, made his professional debut in the Phillies system in 2018.
Hanover Central plays it home games on-campus. Since Bridges has been with the Wildcats, they have added a batting cage behind the home dugout and got a portable “Big Bubba” portable batting cage and pitching machine.
“We always looking to improve the field,” says Bridges. “But I want to help the kids first with their skills.”
Ryan and Nicole Bridges have a daughter. Harper turns 2 in March.
The Hanover Central Wildcats (Hanover Central Graphic)
Head coach Ryan Bridges and his Hanover Central Wildcats baseball team.
The baseball team from Hanover Central High School in Cedar Lake, Ind., gathers at U.S. Steel Yard in Gary. The Wildcats, coached by Ryan Bridges, are to play at the home of the Gary SouthShore RailCats again April 12, 2019.
The Bridges family (from left): Ryan, Nicole and Harper. Ryan Bridges is head baseball coach at Hanover Central High School in Cedar Lake, Ind. He teaches physical education at Hanover Central Middle School.
Catcher Mason Diaz, a Northern Kentucky University commit who hit .388 last spring, is back for his senior year. Rex Stills, who hit .302 in 60 plate appearances as a freshman, is back for his sophomore season.
There will be opportunities for others to make their mark on varsity baseball for the first time.
How will the Bearcats go about doing that?
“We’re looking to do all the small things right and, hopefully, everything else falls in line with it,” says Kyle Becich, who is entering his ninth year with the program and fifth as head coach. “We’re rebuilding a foundation.”
Becich, who spent four seasons as a Wheeler assistant on the staff of Josh Long, counts Tommy O’Shea, Phil Sanchez, Christian Rosta and Payton Ball as assistant coaches.
The Bearcats generally have 24 players in the program for varsity and junior varsity squads. Some players swing back and forth based on the needs that day.
Past non-conference foes have included Crown Point, Hammond Clark, Hammond Gavit, Hebron, Hobart, Lowell, Merrillville and North Newton. The Bearcats have met Hebron in the annual High School Baseball Challenge hosted by the Gary SouthShore RailCats at U.S. Steel Yard in Gary.
Wheeler is in an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Andrean, Hanover Central, Kankakee Valley, Knox and Twin Lakes. The Bearcats last won a sectional title in 2008.
“It’s a tough sectional,” says Becich of a field which is full of traditionally-strong teams and produced the 2018 3A state champion (Andrean).
Wheeler plays its home games on its campus at Richard Wendt Field. Wendt, a former Wheeler coach, died in 2012.
Recent upgrades to the facility include re-building the pitcher’s mound,installing a new home plate and pitcher’s rubber, leveling the playing surface, realigning the bases, adding new wind screens in the outfield and reworking the speaker system.
Every October, the Bearcats have a field day where players, coaches and parents put the field to rest for the winter.
During the current off-season period, the Bearcats are getting stronger in the weight room.
“I support that, especially for kids that have nowhere to throw right now,” says Becich, noting that some of his players can work out with their travel teams at indoor facilities but not all have that kind of access. “You only have one arm your entire life and so many bullets to throw. It’s best to protect it when you can.”
Wheeler baseball has also been building a relationship with Union Township Little League. Last season, players who hope to one day don the Green, White and Orange were invited to work out on the field and were treated to pizza.
Becich, 32, is a 2005 Munster High School graduate. He played baseball and football for the Mustangs then one football season at North Central College in Naperville, Ill. He finished his education degree at Indiana University in Bloomington. His first job out of college was as a social studies teacher and coach at Wheeler.
Becich credits former assistant principal Jack Schimanski for playing a major role in his development.
“He was a huge mentor for me,” says Becich of Schimanski. “I was picking his brain all the time, learning some of the minor details.”
Schimanski had been a head coach at Joliet (Ill.) Catholic High School and learned much from Gordie Gillespie, who won 1,893 games in his 58-year college coaching career.
Kyle and Kelsey Becich have two children — son Liam (4) and daughter Reese (3).
Mason Diaz, a Northern Kentucky University commit, catchesfor Wheeler High School during the 2018 baseball season. Wheeler is in Union Township near Valparaiso.
Rex Stills crosses the plate for Wheeler High School during the 2018 baseball season. He is back for 2019. Wheeler is in Union Township near Valparaiso.
Mason Diaz, Sam Beier, Jake Armentrout, Nate Gosbin, Adam Wagoner and Hunter Catherman line up for the Wheeler Bearcats at U.S. Steel Yard in Gary, Ind. Diaz returns for Wheeler in 2019. Wheeler is in Union Township near Valparaiso.
The Wheeler baseball team gathers during the annual High School Challenge at U.S. Steel Yard in Gary, Ind. Wheeler is in Union Township near Valparaiso.
Kyle Becich coaches third base for the Wheeler High School baseball team. The 2019 season will be his ninth in the program and fifth as head coach of the Bearcats.
Head coach Kyle Becich (left) and assistant Tommy O’Shea watch their Wheeler High School Bearcats baseball team.
Kyle Becich, head baseball coach and social studies teacher at Wheeler High School near Valparaiso, Ind., and wife Kelsey have two children — son Liam and daughter Reese.