Tag Archives: LaPorte

Portland (Ind.) Rockets baseball a 60-year tradition

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

“Way to get off the bus, Gus. Scoring runs is fun!”

After the Portland (Ind.) Rockets plated three in the first inning at the National Baseball Federation major division (unlimited age) wood bat regional in Fort Wayne, manager Randy Miller shouted his approval from the third base coach’s box.

Miller has brought enthusiasm to the diamond for much of the organization’s long history.

The Rockets — started in 1959 by Dick Runkle and continued by Ray Miller (Randy’s father) — celebrated 60 years of diamond fun and memories in 2019. That makes it one of the longest-running continuous teams in amateur baseball.

“We go back to our 1960’s roots,” says Portland manager Randy Miller, who has seen the Rockets square off against squads from Albany, Geneva, Dunkirk, Elwood, New Castle, Upland, Yorktown and beyond. A rivalry with the Gas City-based Twin City Bankers is well-chronicled in Bill Lightle’s book “My Mother’s Dream.”

When the Rockets began, they were comprised of players from Portland and later fanned out from Jay County.

“We’re still townball,” says Miller”. We just come from a lot of towns.”

The ’19 Rockets (10-13) had four players who claim Portland as their hometown — Peyton Heniser, Chandler Jacks, Max Moser and captain Mitch Waters. They also came from Auburn, Bluffton, Carmel, Ellettsville, Frankton, Indianapolis, LaPorte, Marion, Pendleton, St. Joseph and Thorntown in Indiana and Coldwater, St. Mary’s and Vandalia in Ohio.

The oldest players were Waters (35), Chris Gaines (33), Zeth Tanner (29), Codey Harrison (28) and Craig Martin (28). The rest were under 25 with seven teenagers. Waters is the director of operations at the Jay County Community Center.

A graduate of Jay County High School and Manchester College, Waters played for the Kalamazoo (Mich.) Kings of the independent Frontier League.

“Our guys are some of the best athletes their high schools have ever had,” says Randy Miller. “They’re gamers.

“I’m just so proud of them.”

Miller, 65, began playing for the Rockets in 1972 and caught a doubleheader at 51. By the 1990’s, he was sharing manager duties with his father and has continued helped continue the tradition.

“I’ve got a motorcycle and a boat,” says Miller, a former teacher at Adams Central High School in Monroe, Ind. “I’m not on them very much in the summer.”

Runkle had the Rockets competing in the old Eastern Indiana Baseball League. Local talent included Steve Takats. His Ball State University teammate, Merv Rettenmund, played for Portland in 1966 and made his big league debut as a player with the Baltimore Orioles in 1968 and was an MLB hitting coach for many years.

The Rockets went 18-1 and won the EIBL in 1968.

With the team in financial trouble, Ray Miller took over in 1972. He doubled the schedule and included games with Fort Wayne teams.

With the support of wife Betty, Ray helped secure a playing facility in Portland that is now known as Runkle-Miller Field.

“Mom was always there with a sandwich and a cold beverage,” says Randy Miller of his mother, who served 16 years as city clerk.

In 1984, the Rockets merged with the Bank of Berne Lancers and went 34-20. The ’85 season was the best to date at 41-14 with Portland’s first-ever American Amateur Baseball Congress state title.

Miller became AABC state secretary in 1991 and the Rockets won AABC state crowns in 1991, 1994, 1996, 1997, 2001, 2004, and 2006 and in more than 30 years as manager Portland won more than 900 games.

Ray Miller died in 2017 and was inducted into the National Semi-Pro Baseball Hall of Fame in 2008. Randy Miller was enshrined in 2011.

With Randy Miller, siblings Brad Miller and Mickey Scott and many community members pitching in, the Rockets have survived. Mickey, who was city clerk for 12 years, used to run Runkle-Miller’s “Rocket Lunching Pad” concession stand and now Brad does it.

All three Miller offspring have taken turns watering the field. The baselines are seeded to help with all the excess rain.

For years, the Rockets were purely a family-funded operation.

Since the mid-1990s, the Rockets have swung wood bats. At first, Randy provided those. But that got too expensive and now the players provide their own clubs.

For $100, the team picks up the cost of caps, uniforms and handles insurance.

Randy Miller carries on a tradition by giving the “Rocket Report” on WPGW 100.9 FM on afternoons following games. Samantha Thomas, who once worked for the Fort Wayne TinCaps, is involved with keeping score and other team functions.

Randy Miller schedules games, recruits players, pays bills and generally keeps the Rockets going.

“That’s my legacy,” says Miller. “I carry the torch.”

The Rockets coaching tree spreads far and wide, especially along the U.S. 27 corridor.

“They want to give back to the game,” says Miller. “We are a baseball town. I really believe that.”

Among former Rockets are Jay County High School head coach Lea Selvey, Adams Central head coach Dave Neuenschwander and Bethel University head coach Seth Zartman.

Portland won 35 or more games a season throughout the 2000’s and went to the NABF World Series in Buffalo, N.Y., in 2012. A few years ago, the Rockets posted a 35-12 mark.

In 2018, an $28,000 scoreboard was installed at Runkle-Miller Field.

A 60-foot “Wall of Dreams” mural on the side of Portland’s Ritz Theatre was painted by Pamela Bliss and dedicated July 28 and many alums and Rocket backers came to celebrate.

Wearing the gold and black, fans were in Fort Wayne to see the Rockets’ latest season come to a close.

But the fun is not over yet for 2019. The annual Rocket Rally golf outing is scheduled for Sept. 22 at Portland Golf Club. For more information, email Randy Miller at ramiller15@embarqmail.com.

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Randy Miller and Mitch Waters share in the spoils of victory for the Portland (Ind.) Rockets baseball team. (Portland Rockets Photo)

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Dalton Tinsley hits for the Portland (Ind.) Rockets baseball team. (Portland Rockets Photo)

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Former players and fans gathered July 28, 2019 for the dedication of a 60-foot “Wall of Dreams” mural and celebration of 60 years of Portland (Ind.) Rockets baseball. (Portland Rockets Photo)

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Artist Pamela Bliss created the 60-foot “Wall of Dreams” mural on the side of the Ritz Theatre in Portland, Ind. On Aug. 28, 2019, there was a

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Siblings Brad Miller (left), Randy Miller and Mickey Scott stand in front of a “Wall of Dreams” mural in Portland, Ind., celebrating 60 years of Portland (Ind.) Rockets baseball. The mural behind them depicts Randy and their father, Ray Miller, who were co-managers for years.

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The story of the Portland (Ind.) Rockets baseball team and the “Wall of Dreams.” (Portland Rockets Photo)

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Runkle-Miller Field received a $28,000 scoreboard in 2018. The field is home to the Portland (Ind.) Rockets baseball team, which has been around since 1959. (Portland Rockets Photo)

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Jurjevic takes over Indiana Chargers, now based in Fort Wayne

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

With even more of an emphasis on strength and conditioning, the Indiana Chargers travel baseball organization is moving into its next phase.

Evan Jurjevic, a former Chargers player who has been on the staff since 2015, has taken over as owner and director of operations and will still be an instructor and strength coach.

The Chargers will be based solely in Fort Wayne. To begin with, there will only be 14U, 15U, 16U and 17U travel teams.

“I want to make sure we have a quality product so we will decrease the amount of teams initially,” says Jurjevic. “We want to continue to develop players both on and off the field.”

Joel Mishler, George Hofsommer and Ben Bailey founded the Chargers in 2008 and teams were based in Goshen and Fort Wayne. He will serve as a mentor during the transition.

“What he’s done with developing baseball players at all ages is something I wanted to keep going,” says Jurjevic of Mishler. “I want to prepare them for life.

“Baseball has taught me a lot more about life lessons than the game itself — things like commitment, teamwork and communication.”

Mishler, who has coached baseball for more than three decades, calls Jurjevic “a superstar person, physical therapist and baseball guy.”

Tryouts for the 2019-20 season were held for Aug. 1 and another session is scheduled Aug. 12 at World Baseball Academy, 1701 Freeman St., Fort Wayne.

Starting in November, there will be more than 120 hours of off-season training time at The Summit, 1025 Rudisill Blvd., Fort Wayne.

There will be a weight room, pull-down batting cage, PlyoCare ball and J-Band walls and plenty of space for skill, strength and agility development.

Like before, training with the Chargers is not limited to the organization’s own athletes.

“We want players to come train with us, even if they don’t play with our team, to give them the best opportunity to excel at the game,” says Jurjevic. “We want them to get bigger, stronger and faster.”

Jurjevic, a LaPorte (Ind.) High School graduate, holds an undergraduate degree in exercise physiology and master’s degree in education from Carson-Newman University in Jefferson City, Tenn., where he played baseball. He just completed course work and now needs to complete three clinical for toward his doctorate of physical therapy at Trine University-Fort Wayne.

Contact Jurjevic or the Chargers by email at inchargers@gmail.com or Twitter at @Strength_IC.

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Evan Jurjevic has added owner and operator to his titles of instructor and strength trainer for the Indiana Chargers travel baseball organization. The Chargers are now solely-headquartered in Fort Wayne.

 

IHSBCA Futures Showcase at Madison

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As a way of getting college exposure for uncommitted underclassmen, the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association conducts a showcase in conjunction with its annual North/South All-Star Series for selected seniors (dinner and all-star practices Friday, two games Saturday and one game Sunday, June 21-23).

This year, the IHSBCA has heeded the request of college colleges and added games to the mix.

The Futures Showcase plus games is scheduled for Wednesday, June 19 at Madison (Ind.) Consolidated High School’s Gary O’Neal Field (moved from Hanover College because of wet grounds), beginning with registration at 7:45 to 8:30 a.m.

IHSBCA FUTURES SHOWCASE

(Uncommitted Underclassmen)

Gary O’Neal Field, Madison Consolidated H.S.

Wednesday, June 19

7:45-8:30 a.m: Players Registration

8:30-8:45: Futures Games Introduction and Format

8:45-9:00: Stretch for the 60-yard run.

9:00-9:30: 60 yard run for time.

9:30-9:45: Catchers throw to 2B; OF warm up in right field.

9:45-10:05: OF throw to bases and home; IF warm up in left field.

10:05-10:30: IF showcase.

10:30-10:40: Set up for Batting Practice (Red team hitting in cage).

10:40-11:30: Red hit on field; White in the cage; Blue / Grey shag.

White hit on field; Blue in cage; Grey/Red shag.

Blue hit on field; Grey in cage; Red/White shag.

Grey hit on field; Red / White/Blue shag.

11:45 a.m.-1:30 p.m.: Game 1 – Red vs. White; Blue/Grey teams will eat lunch and tour the Hanover College campus.

1:45-3:30: Game 2 – Blue vs. Grey; Red/ White teams will eat lunch and tour the Hanover College campus.

Invitees

No. Name School Pos.

Red Roster

(1) Kyle Dykins (Plainfield) C

(2) Kallen Kelsheimer (Wabash) C

(3) Carson Barrett (Lafayette Central Catholic) 1B/P

(4) Jackson Wood (South Putnam) 1B/P

(5) Webster Walls (Clarksville) MIF/P

(6) A.J. Bordenet (Lafayette Central Catholic) MIF

(7) Doug Loden (Lake Central) MIF/P

(8) Brendon Demoret (South Putnam) 3B/P

(9) Gabe Farnsley (Danville) 3B

(10) Grant Collins (LaPorte) OF

(11) Jaylen Nolan (Ben Davis) OF

(12) Jared Comia (Hanover Central) OF

(13) Jose Guzman (Ben Davis) P

(17) Joey Humphrey (Lewis Cass) OF

White Roster

(24) Brayden Wilson (Seymour) C

(25) Parker Grykesvich (Brownsburg) C

(26) Isaac Evaniew (Indianapolis North Central) 1B/P

(27) Nick Smith (Boonville) 1B/P

(28) Keenan Taylor (Guerin Catholic) MIF

(29) Carter Bailey (Indianapolis North Central) MIF

(30) Conner Vanlannon (South Vermillion) MIF/P

(31) Keagan Trout (Evansville North) 3B

(32) Whitt Callahan (Bedford North Lawrence) 3B

(33) Ty Rumsey (Evansville North) OF

(34) Garrett Causey (Evansville Central) OF

(35) Eli Burkhardt (Evansville Bosse) OF

(36) Anthony Steinhardt (Lawrence Central) OF/P

(37) Jacob Zimmerman (Terre Haute South Vigo) P

(38) Harrison Walker (Oak Hill) P

Blue Roster

(48) Kaid Muth (Fishers) C

(49) Ben Richards (Pendleton Heights) C

(50) Trey Johnson (Hauser) 1B/P

(51) Kyle Cortner (Indianapolis Cathedral) 1B/P

(52) Nick Lukac (Fishers) MIF

(53) Evan Fauqher (Yorktown) MIF

(54) Matt Benton (Hobart) MIF/P

(55) Evan Fritz (Delphi) 3B/P

(56) Mason LaGrange (Borden) 3B

(57) Bronson Quinzer (Mt. Vernon-Posey) OF

(58) Gabe Wright (Brebeuf Jesuit) OF

(59) Tommy Dolen (Plymouth) OF/P

(60) Kamden Earley (Pendleton Heights) OF

(62) Ethan Bates (Frankton) P

Grey Roster

(73) Harrison Pittsford (Edgewood) C

(74) Jack Taulman (Lawrence North) C

(75) Zach Forner (Madison Consolidated) 1B

(76) Drew Fifer (Charlestown) 1B/P

(77) Evan Goforth (Floyd Central) MIF/P

(78) Easton Good (Lewis Cass) MIF

(79) Mason Welsh (Madison Consolidated) MIF/P

(80) Alex Stirn (North Decatur) 3B

(81) Andrew Snider (Charlestown) 3B/P

(82) Jayden Brown (Seymour) OF/P

(83) Carson Scott (Crawfordsville) OF

(84) Isaac Casbella (Lanesville) OF

(87) Daly Skees (Floyd Central) P

(92) Brennan Morehead (Alexandria) P

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Hardy coaches Irvington Prep Ravens in baseball, life

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A relationship that began with the diamond has gone much deeper.

Davon Hardy is the third-year head baseball coach at Irvington Preparatory Academy on the near east side of Indianapolis.

Hardy teaches his youngsters how to play the game. But the teaching and the mentoring to does not end with a game or practice.

“I’m very involved with the boys,” says Hardy. “I’m not just a coach between the lines. I’m their coach all the time.

“I’ll help in any way.”

Hardy has his own remodeling business and he has some of his players help with cleaning up job sites, painting, drywalling and other handy skills.

“It keeps them out of trouble,” says Hardy. “We’re constantly stressing the importance of being a good person.

“It’s God, family, baseball and the classroom. It’s the total package.”

For players wishing to go to college, he will do what he can to make that happen.

“I’ll help in getting them tutoring,” says Hardy. “We stress the student-athlete.”

Former major league pitcher Justin Masterson, who lives in Fishers, Ind., came by practice last week to talk about faith, family and baseball with the IPA crew.

Hardy has watched his players come so far in the time he has been at Irvington Prep.

“Now that my (original class of) freshmen are juniors, I’m seeing a pay-off,” says Hardy. “That’s my satisfaction.

“That’s a W in my book.”

The inner-city high schools in Indy include Indianapolis Public Schools Arsenal Tech, Crispus Attucks, Shortridge and Washington. Besides Irvington Prep, others include Herron, Howe, Manual, Providence Cristo Rey, Purdue Poly and Tindley. This spring, Howe and Washington did not field a baseball team.

What is now known as Irvington Prep Academy opened in 2006 as Irvington Community High School. The original location was on East Pleasant Parkway and is now home to Irvington Community Middle School on East Pleasant Run Parkway. IPA is housed in the former Children’s Guardian Home on University Avenue.

Baseball and softball teams play about three miles away in Irvington Park on Raymond Street.

Hardy was an 18U regional all-star coach for the Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) program last summer. The squad went unbeaten in Pittsburgh and lost to Cleveland in Detroit.

Before landing at Irvington Prep, Hardy was an assistant to Jerry Giust at Broad Ripple.

The IPA Ravens went against the Broad Ripple Rockets a couple times before the latter IPS high school was closed.

Giust was the one who suggested that Hardy look into becoming a head coach.

“He knew I had been around the game for a long time and saw the enthusiasm I approach the game with and my knowledge,” says Hardy of Giust. “I loved him for it.”

Hardy graduated from Broad Ripple in 1997 after moving from South Bend, where he grew up. He went to South Bend Washington High School for three years and was drawn to swimming to fight his asthma. He was also drawn to baseball. He competed in summer ball before leaving for Indianapolis. Washington’s varsity and junior varsity both won summer titles.

“I loved the way the game was broken down,” says Hardy, who played as a sophomore and junior in a program then led by Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Ric Tomaszewski, who learned much from South Bend coaching legends like Jim Reinebold and Len Buczkowski and LaPorte’s Ken Schreiber.

“The knowledge T gave us was phenomenal,” says Hardy. “He told us everybody has a job to do.”

Players at each position were supposed to know the duties of the other players on the diamond.

When his schedule allows, Hardy plans to return to his hometown to help Mark Haley at the 1st Source Bank Performance Center and with South Bend Cubs Foundation youth baseball activities.

Irvington Prep (enrollment around 310) charted a 2019 schedule with Anderson Prep Academy, Arsenal Tech, Eminence, Greenwood Christian Academy, Indianapolis Lutheran, Indianapolis Manual, Indianapolis Shortridge, Indianapolis Scecina Memorial, Knightstown, Liberty Christian, Morristown, Providence Cristo Rey, Tindley, Traders Point Christian, Triton Central and Waldron.

Rain in the first half of the season means IPA will be trying to make up many games leading up to the postseason.

The Ravens are part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Eastern Hancock, Heritage Christian, Indianapolis Howe, Indianapolis Scecina Memorial, Knightstown and Triton Central. Irvington Prep has been competing in the tournament since 2013 and has not won a sectional title.

Hardy and fiancee Sandi have been together for seven years. They have one child together — Isaiah. He has three other children (Josiah, Iyanah and Ariyana) and she has two (Sylvanna and Gianna). Josiah plans to play baseball next year at Herron.

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Davon Hardy (foreground) is the head baseball coach at Irvington Preparatory Academy in Indianapolis.

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Former major league pitcher Justin Masterson delivers the baseball during an Irvington Prep Academy practice.

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Former major leaguer Justin Masterson visited coach Davon Hardy and his Irvington Prep Academy baseball team to talk about faith, family and the game.

 

Twin Lakes’ Burton has been coaching with discipline for four decades

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

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.”

With 849 career wins coming into this week, Burton is second among active high school baseball coaches in Indiana (behind Andrean’s Dave Pishkur). He was inducted into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 1998 and became just the fourth Indiana prep baseball coach to do into the National High School Athletic Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2016.

Twin Lakes (enrollment around 820) is a member of the Hoosier Athletic Conference (with Twin Lakes, Benton Central, Lafayette Central Catholic, Rensselaer Central and West Lafayette in the West Division and Hamilton Heights, Lewis Cass, Northwestern, Tipton and Western in the East Division).

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.

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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.

 

Eye disease can’t stop Plymouth, Murray State grad Elliott

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Brandon Elliott may not view the world the way he once did.

But the former standout ballplayer is not letting a rare eye disease keep him from living life to its fullest.

A three-sport athlete in the Plymouth (Ind.) High School Class of 2009 (he captained the football and baseball teams as a senior and also played basketball) who went on to play NCAA Division I baseball at Murray (Ky.) State University.

Brandon, the son of Todd Elliott and Julie and Dave Shook, was born in Munster, Ind., and played youth baseball in nearby Schererville before moving to Plymouth in 2003. His brother is Tyler Shook. His sisters are Shannon Elliott, Andria Shook and Allie Shook.

He was a college graduate and working at his dream job when Brandon began to notice something wasn’t right with the vision in his left eye.

Trying to get some answers, he went to optometrists and opthomalogists in Kentucky.

It was the opinion of Dr. Landen Meeks in Paducah that Brandon likely had Leber’s Hereditary Optic Neuropathy (LHON) — a sudden, painless loss of central vision. The condition typically starts in one eye and progresses to the other eye within eight months.

Meeks had never diagnosed LHON before. Brandon underwent a spinal tap done to rule out other things.

“He was a straight shooter and Brandon liked that,” says Julie Shook. “He told him there is no cure (for LHON).”

Meanwhile, central vision in the right eye was also going cloudy. Though blurry, Brandon could see shadows and movement in his peripheral vision. He described looking straight ahead like looking into the hole of a donut.

Julie Shook found Dr. Sophia Chung, a neuro-opthalmologist with SSM Health Saint Louis University Hospital, and took her son to St. Louis. Only genetic blood tests would determine the cause of Brandon’s vision loss so he went through eight hours of testing.

Several weeks went by. On May 10, 2016, the call came. A 25-year-old Brandon Elliott was diagnosed with LHON.

The condition is an inherited form of vision loss. This inheritance applies to genes contained in mitochondrial DNA. Mitochondria produce most of the energy that cells need to function and these inherited mutations disrupt the mitochondria and cause cells in the retina to stop working or die.

LHON is a maternal hereditary disease, which means it is passed from the mother. Shannon Elliott was tested and she is a carrier. It is more prominent coming out in males in their mid- to late-20’s. It is not as common to come out in females.

“It is rare,” says Julie Shook. “Everyday they’re learning more. It’s hard as a mother when you find out something they have is something you gave them. But I had no idea.”

After learning of his condition, Brandon let it be known that his life was in Murray, Ky., and he had no intention of returning to Plymouth.

“That was hard,” says Julie Shook, who is dean’s administrative assistant at the University of Notre Dame Law School. “I also know you need to let people make their own decisions on their own time.

“I needed to be strong for him and listen to what he wanted.”

After the tests in St. Louis, the ride back to Kentucky was quiet at first. Then Brandon asked his mother a question.

“He said , ‘How do you go from seeing a 90 mph fastball to not being able to see it?,’” says Julie Shook. “‘It is what it is. God gave it to me for a reason. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because I’m strong and maybe I can help someone somehow.

“‘I just have to go on with life. This is what I’ve been given. I have to go on and enjoy life.’”

That life includes marriage and children, a fulfilling occupation and plenty of support from family and friends.

About six months after graduating with a business administration degree from Murray State in 2013, Elliott went to work for Sportable Scoreboards in Murray.

The family-owned company started in 1986 by Mike Cowen serves clients all over the place and has one of their boards at Johnny Reagan Field — home of Murray State baseball and the place where Elliott earned Freshman All-America honors in 2010 and finished his four-year career with a .323 average, six home runs, 35 doubles, 85 runs batted in and 135 runs scored in 180 games (171 as a starter).

Brandon was employed in the customer service department and one day a new employee came along — digital designer Meagan Cowen. He soon learned that she was Mike and Joyce Cowen’s granddaughter.

While Brandon and Meagan knew each other before the diagnosis, they began dating after it. They did not tell their grandparents until they had become serious. The young couple was married April 14, 2018 in Paris, Tenn.

“It was an emotional day,” says Julie Shook. “He told me in the morning of that day, ‘Mom, you don’t need to worry about me anymore. This is the happiest I’ve ever been in my life.’

“What a statement for a 27-year-old to make who lost their vision at 25.”

When she walked down the aisle to become Meagan Elliott, Brandon took out a pair of binoculars to see her when she first appeared.

“That brought everybody to tears,” says Brandon Eggenschwiler, whose Murray State career parallels Elliott’s. “It’s truly amazing. He hasn’t missed a step in his daily life. He still goes on golf outings.

“He’s been a real champ about this whole situation.”

Shannon Elliott expresses her gratitude for Meagan coming into her brother’s life.

“Brandon thought he would never get another girlfriend again,” says Shannon, a 2011 Plymouth High School graduate who played tennis at Saint Mary’s College, graduating in 2015, and earned a mortuary science degree from Vincennes University in 2017. “Mom and I prayed he’d find someone who would accept him for who he is.

“It’s a touching thing.”

While the 25-year-old works for a funeral home in Austin, Texas, sister and brother remain very close.

“He’s my best friend,” says Shannon of Brandon. “I talk to him and his family in Kentucky probably three times a week.

“Meagan been there for him. It’s been unbelievable. I can’t imagine being in her shoes. She has to drive everywhere. I couldn’t be more thankful for what she does for him.”

Brandon and Meagan expect to welcome a baby girl on Thanksgiving Day.

Shannon has been raising money and awareness of her brother and LHON through a website — howhesees.org. She sells bracelets with the inscription “VI510N” — which tells the date his brother was diagnosed.

Brandon and Meagan wrote their own wedding vows. Brandon also wrote vows to Meagan’s young son, Bentley (who would turned 5 in September).

The wedding party was quite large and included Tyler Shook, Brandon Eggenschwiler, Ty Stetson and Reed Thompson.

Three of them had been the top three batters in the Murray State Racers’ lineup at the end of 2013 — left fielder Stetson (Carmel, Ind.) leading off, followed by third baseman Elliott and designated hitter Eggenschwiler (Lexington, Ky). First baseman Michael Kozolowski (Crown Point, (Ind.) was the clean-up hitter. Those four were also roommates in 2012-13.

“Brandon has so many wonderful friends,” says Shook. “That’s just a tribute to Brandon. He’s just such a sweet kid. He has a big heart. People are just drawn to him.

“He’s an inspiration.”

Tyler Shook, a 2010 Plymouth graduate, played baseball and football with stepbrother Brandon in high school and was also an American Legion teammate.

“He was one of the best athletes I’ve ever played with or against,” says Tyler. “He was just good at everything and a quick learner.”

There was competition for competitive bragging rights around the Shook/Elliott household. But never any animosity.

“We all got along really well,” says Tyler. “we still do. Brandon was pretty humble for the skill he had. He wasn’t going out and telling everybody about it. It was always about the team.”

One the football field, defensive end/linebacker Brandon and safety Tyler were called the “Bash Brothers” for their ability to hit on defense even though they wore casts on their hands much of the 2008 season as the John Barron-coached Rockies went 10-1.

“My dad (Dave) raised us with the mindset of ‘tough it out,’” says Tyler. “For lack of better words, ‘If your legs aren’t broken you walk yourself off the field, play through it for the team’ kind of mindset.

“(Brandon) had the grit and was not afraid to stick his nose in there. They called him ’Squirrel’  because he was one of the smallest guys on the field — maybe 5-10, 170. He was not a big guy, but definitely played like one.

“He’s always been incredibly competitive whether it be team sports, golf, video games, you name it. He just has the biggest and strongest heart and drive of anyone I know. I think that mentality is what has helped him through the ups and down of the last few years.”

Thompson, an outfielder from Cheyenne, Wyoming, did not play with Brandon. But he lived near him and was around when his vision began to change and has witnessed how he has adjusted since the LHON diagnosis.

“He can still move around just fine,” says Thompson. “He just has a hard time seeing fine details. His work has been awesome for him. They’ve gotten him a 40-inch flat screen as computer monitor.

“He loves that job. That’s why he stayed in Murray.”

Tony Plothow was both head baseball coach at Plymouth High School and manager for Plymouth American Legion Post 27 when Brandon was a player. Plothow also coached Brandon in basketball at PHS.

Brandon played for Post 27 each summer after his four years of high school and first year of college.

“(Brandon) started for us as a freshman,” says Plothow. “He came in with a lot of confidence and he fit in pretty well. He became a mentor to younger kids.

“He was one of those kids you didn’t have to motive. As he got older, he was a great leader in the locker room.”

Brandon hit .438 with three homers, 22 RBIs and 42 runs scored as a Plymouth senior  and was named MVP of the 2009 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series. In Legion ball, he shined against tough competition and got the the attention of Murray State, where he played for head coach Rob McDonald.

Mike Hite was an assistant coach for PHS and Post 27 when Brandon was a player.

“As an athlete, he was a competitor,” says Hite of Brandon. “He was a winner. He was a perfectionist. He always wanted to be the one that came through in the clutch. That was pretty special.”

As Plymouth parks superintendent, Hite employed Brandon for several summers. Allie Shook, Brandon’s stepsister, works for Hite now.

“(Brandon) wanted to excel in whatever he was doing — cutting grass, pulling weeds or going deep in the hole to turn a double play (at shortstop).

“He’s used to succeeding in everything he does and he still is.”

Former Plymouth head basketball coach John Scott recalls Brandon’s contributions in 2007-08, a season that saw the Pilgrims go 22-4 and make it to the Class 3A Warsaw Semistate.

“Brandon was so very athletic,” says Scott. “He was a very streaky shooter. We played NorthWood just before Christmas. He hit some huge 3-pointers for us that night on the road. He, along with a great game from Nick Neidlinger, got us off to a good start in the (Northern Lakes Conference).”

Scott is also assistant athletic director and longtime public address announcer for Pilgrims/Rockies sports.

Evan Jurjevic got to know Brandon as a fellow middle infielder for Plymouth Post 27. Shortstop Elliott was the lone Plymouth High product surrounded by three LaPorte Slicers — second baseman Jurjevic, first baseman Shawn Rogers and third baseman Jake McMahan.

“(Brandon) was an incredible baseball player,” says Jurjevic. “He was extremely hard-working and talented. He played with a lot of energy and heart.

“He was an overall great guy, a good team player. He was always pushing others to get better.”

Jurjevic, a part-time strength coordinator and instructor for the Indiana Chargers travel organization who is pursuing a physical therapy doctorate at Trine University-Fort Wayne, sees his old friend meeting his condition head-on.

“Baseball is easy compared to something like this,” says Jurjevic. “It’s puts things into perspective.

“It’s definitely a challenge and an obstacle he had to overcome.”

While he must sit very close to view television and uses a large monitor at work, Brandon tries to lead as normal a life as possible. He bowls, plays golf and has fun in the backyard with Bentley.

“He doesn’t want people to know,” says Julie. “He was very hesitant about seeing someone about visual needs.”

Dave Shook spent a week with his stepson and they met with Kentucky Visual Aid. Brandon told them he could not take the aids because they were too expensive.

Then he was asked: “Do you pay taxes?”

His answer: “Yes.”

The reply: “You’ve paid for it.”

For more information on Leber’s Hereditary Optic Neuropathy, visit lhonsociety.org.

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Brandon Elliott, a Plymouth (Ind.) High School graduate, hits the baseball for Murray (Ky.) State University, where he graduated in 2013 after four seasons. (Murray State University Photo)

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Brandon Elliott finished his four-year baseball career at Murray (Ky.) State University with a .323 average, six home runs, 35 doubles, 85 runs batted in and 135 runs scored in 180 games (171 as a starter). He earned Freshman All-America honors in 2010. (Murray State University Photo)

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Brandon Elliott, a 2009 Plymouth (Ind.) High School graduate, is on the school’s athletic Wall of Fame for being named MVP of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series. He also excelled at football and basketball at Plymouth.

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Meagan and Brandon Elliott on their wedding day — April 14, 2018.

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Brandon, Meagan and Shannon Elliott share a moment during Brandon and Meagan’s wedding on April 14, 2018.

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Brandon Elliott, who was diagnosed in 2016 with Leber’s Hereditary Optic Neuropathy (LHON) — a sudden, painless loss of central vision — uses binoculars to see his bride, Meagan, during their wedding April 14, 2018. The couple met at Sportable Scoreboards in Murray, Ky. Her grandfather, Mike Cowen, founded the company.

 

IHSBCA Hall of Fame to welcome Williams, McClain, O’Neil, Schellinger, Rolen

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A very small town in the northwest quadrant of Indiana has produced to big league baseball players.

Within months of one another in 1887, Fred “Cy” Williams and Otis “Doc” Crandall were born in Wadena, Ind.

According to Cappy Gagnon’s Society for American Baseball Research BioProject profile of Williams, Wadena had but 75 people in 1890. Wikipedia says the 2009 population was 20.

Wadena in Benton County can now claim Williams as a member of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame. He is part of the induction class of 2019. The veterans committee selected Williams and Ronald J. McClain with Pat O’Neil going in as a coach, Bob Schellinger as contributor and Scott Rolen as a player.

Williams played the first half of his career during the Deadball Era and still put up power numbers.

Donning the uniforms of the Chicago Cubs and Philadelphia Phillies from 1912-30, the lefty slugger hit .292 with 251 home runs, 1,005 runs batted in, 1,024 runs scored, 115 stolen bases. He led the National League in home runs four times, on-base percentage twice (not that they talked about that back then) and slugging percentage one time.

Williams died in 1974.

O’Neil, a graduate of LaPorte (Ind.) High School in 1975 and Kentucky Wesleyan College in 1980, is now head coach at Danville (Ind.) Community High School.

His career coaching mark of 364-124 includes a state championship (2005) and two state runners-up finishes (2003 and 2004) at Brownsburg (Ind.) High School. His Bulldogs also won five Hoosier Crossroads Conference titles, three sectionals, three regionals and three semistates.

O’Neil has coached 12 first-team all-staters, nine all-stars, two Mr. Baseballs (Lance Lynn and Tucker Barnhart) and sent more than 50 players to college baseball.

Pat’s brother, Chip O’Neil, is already in the IHSBCA Hall of Fame. Both played for legendary coach Ken Schreiber.

Schellinger, a graduate of South Bend St. Joseph’s High School and Illinois Benedictine College, coached with Schreiber at LaPorte. He served stints as head coach and assistant at South Central (Union Mills) High School.

He has been a licensed IHSAA umpire for 46 years with 17 sectional assignments, 11 regionals, five semistates, four State Finals and three IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series.

A four-time IHSBCA Umpire of the Year, Schlleinger was honored at IHSAA Official of the Year in baseball at the 2017 State Finals.

Rolen, who is now the director of player development at Indiana University, is a 1993 Jasper (Ind.) High School graduate. There, he was Mr. Baseball and a runner-up for Mr. Basketball.

A two-time first-team all-stater and IHSBCA All-Star, Rolen went on to play in the majors with the Philadelphia Phillies, St. Louis Cardinals, Toronto Blue Jays and Cincinnati Reds. He was the National League Rookie of the Year in 1997 and wound up hitting .281 with 316 homers, 1,287 RBIs and 1,211 runs scored in 17 seasons. He also won eight Gold Gloves as a third baseman.

Hall of Famers will be honored during the IHSBCA awards banquet during the annual state clinic Jan. 17-19 at Sheraton at Keystone at the Crossing in Indianapolis.

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Scott Rolen, a Jasper (Ind.) High School graduate, is part of the 2019 class of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

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Bob Schellinger, a South Bend (Ind.) St. Joseph’s High School graduate, coach for 26 years and umpire for 46, is part of the 2019 class of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

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Pat O’Neil, a LaPorte (Ind.) High School graduate who guided Brownsburg to a state title and two runner-up finishes, is part of the 2019 class of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

 

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Cy Williams, born in tiny Wadena, Ind., is part of the 2019 class of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.