“Putting the ball in-play and running like the dickens.” In simplified terms, that’s the offensive philosophy Shawn Turner has as head baseball coach at Seeger Memorial Junior-Senior High School in West Lebanon, Ind. “We try to put the ball in-play and in the middle of the diamond as best we can,” says Turner. “We want to put the onus on the defense to have to make plays. “We’re not focused on launch angle. We’re not focused on things 15- to 19-year-old kids typically aren’t ready for. “Contact and hard contact is the most-important thing.” Turner led the Warren County-based Patriots to a 23-5 mark in 2022. Seeger hit .379 as a team with five home runs and 300 runs (10.7 per game). The pitching staff posted a 2.42 earned run average. The team committed 44 errors (1.5 per game). “Pitching and defense is what we focus on more than anything else,” says Turner. “We don’t have the capabilities — year in and year out — to go out there and rely on the three-run home run. We have to manufacture runs. We’re going to try to be smart on the base paths and move runners by putting the ball in play. “Once you get to tournament time and as you’re playing better teams, you face better pitching. Our kids recognize that they’re pretty good at hitting the ball when the pitcher’s not very solid. When he is that makes it a little more challenging so it’s easier for them to buy into what we’re trying to accomplish.” Turner calls the The groundout to the second baseman — which can move a runner from from second to third or score a runner from third — the most-overlooked play in baseball. Seeger (enrollment around 400) is a member of the Wabash River Conference (with Attica, Covington, Fountain Central, North Vermillion, Parke Heritage, Riverton Parke and South Vermillion). WRC teams meet twice during the same week — either two weekdays or Saturday doubleheader. The Patriots are part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping in 2023 with Benton Central, Carroll (Flora), Clinton Prairie, Delphi Community and Lewis Cass. Seeger has won five sectional titles — the last in 2015. Turner, who is also a math teacher at the high school, spent four seasons as head coach at Richmond (Ind.) High School, one as an assistant at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Ind., and 17 as head coach at Terre Haute (Ind.) North Vigo High School (1998-2014) after two as assistant. He was a McCutcheon assistant in 1994 and 1995, helped at West Vigo in 1993 and North Vigo 1990-92. At Seeger, Turner is part of a school where the multi-sport athlete is the norm. “We have very few individuals who are participating in (IHSAA Limited Contact Period activities),” says Turner. “We share athletes. I’ve got basketball players, wrestlers and swimmers.” Turner expects to have about 25 athletes for varsity and junior varsity baseball in the spring. Of that number, nearly 20 are involved in at least one other sport. “It makes it rough to have an aggressive off-season program,” says Turner, who also sees his baseballers go out for football, cross country and tennis in the fall. “It’s the nature of the beast. “Once high school is over, it’s over. We’re at a school where kids have the opportunity multiple sports. “We encourage that. It’s the day-to-day opportunities they’re going to remember not so much a win or a loss. It’s spending time with their teammates and practices along the way. We try to make sure they’re enjoying what they’re doing. It’s their team. It’s not my team.” Turner wants players to go on to become fine young men and positive members of society. If they also get to play at the next level, so be it. Two recent Seeger graduates and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series participants are now in college baseball — pitcher and 2021 graduate Khal Stephen (Purdue University) and catcher and 2022 graduate Nick Turner (Shawnee Community College in Ullin, Ill.). Nick is the youngest of Shawn and Tiffany Turner’s two sons. Austin Turner played at McCutcheon (Class of 2017) and Indiana Wesleyan University. Three-year starters Caleb Edwards and Jace Ware are among the returnees for 2023. Seeger assistant coaches are Mike Holland, Matt Pruitt and Robert Jones. The Patriots’ home field is on-campus. The baseball and softball diamonds are due for major renovations following the 2023 season. That includes getting lights. There is junior high baseball in the spring and summer for seventh and eighth graders. Future and current high school players are also involved in youth leagues in Williamsport and Lafayette and travel and American Legion teams in Indiana and Illinois.
New head baseball coach Aaron Wood has long been a part of athletics at West Lafayette (Ind.) Junior/Senior High School. As a 2000 West Lafayette graduate, Wood earned eight varsity letters for the Red Devils — three in baseball, three in football and two in basketball. His head coaches were Dan Walbaum in baseball, Ernie Beck and Lane Custer in football and father David Wood in basketball. Wood has been an assistant coach for all three sports at West Lafayette. “It’s my way of giving back,” says Wood, who has gotten to work with Walbaum and Joel Strode in baseball, his father in basketball and Shane Fry in football. “I’ve been a member of this baseball program for a long time. The opportunity (to be head coach) presented itself and I took it.” In Wood’s 13 years on the baseball staff, West Lafayette won three sectionals, two regionals and seven Hoosier Conference titles. Next year will mark two decades for Wood with Red Devils football. He was the running backs coach under Fry this fall and the 2022 team was ranked No. 1 in IHSAA Class 3A and finished 13-1. “I have really enjoyed my time with that program,” says Wood. “I hope in some ways we can mimic the success (football) has had in the baseball program in terms of the postseason. “We want to have some fun and win a whole bunch of games in the process.” David Wood retired after the 2020-21 season — his 27th as Red Devils head boys basketball coach. He earned nine sectional titles, including in 1999 and 2000. Aaron Wood, who is in his fifth year as a Physical Education/Health teacher and strength and conditioning coach for West Lafayette, was hired last week to lead West Lafayette on the diamond. Strode is the Red Devils athletic director. West Lafayette (enrollment around 730) is a member of the Hoosier Conference (with Benton Central, Hamilton Heights, Lafayette Central Catholic, Lewis Cass, Northwestern, Rensselaer Central, Tipton, Twin Lakes and Western). Each conference baseball team plays each other twice in a home-and-home series during the same week. The Red Devils are part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping in 2023 with Frankfort, North Montgomery, Northwestern, Twin Lakes and Western. West Lafayette has won nine sectional titles — the last in 2011. The Red Devils play home games on Bob Friend Field, a facility which recently got new paint and work on the dugouts. West Lafayette went 13-8 overall and 8-1 in the conference last spring. Senior Evan Cooke (.353 with six home runs and 27 runs batted in and 4-2 on the mound with a 1.51 earned run average for 2022) and junior Jack Shaeffer (.400 with 18 RBIs and 2-3) are expected back for 2023. Cooke scored 34 goals this fall for West Lafayette’s 20-1-1 boys soccer team. While it is not affiliated with the school, West Lafayette Youth Baseball teaches the game at the younger levels. While he was busy with football, Wood noticed that some baseball players were getting in work at various places in the fall. He looks forward to the next IHSAA Limited Contact Period (Dec. 5-Feb. 4) where baseball activities will be permitted two times a week for two hours. Wood is in the process of assembling his coaching staff. “We need to get administrative things out of the way and start focusing on player development,” said Wood. A former multi-sport athlete himself, Wood is a believer in it. “We have to have it for our school to have success,” says Wood. “It does wonders for your support and it develops the sort of toughness that we need to win. “You’re remaining in competitive environments.” Wood went into the working world out of high school and earned an degree in Organizational Leadership and Supervision degree from Purdue University more than a decade later. The husband of West Lafayette Elementary School third grade teacher Jennifer Wood later decided to go into education. “I have a passion for students and coaching,” says Wood. “I got a graduate certificate from Indiana Wesleyan and here I am. “It’s the best decision I’ve ever made professionally.” With Aaron and Jennifer both being teachers they are on the same schedule and able to spend time together and with daughter Carson (6) and son Carter (3). “They enjoy being at the various fields and making it a family affair,” says Wood.
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.”
Rob Jordan was to lead his first Tipton (Ind.) High School baseball season during the spring of 2020. But the COVID-19 pandemic kept the Blue Devils from playing a game. Jordan’s first on-field campaign as head coach was 2021. Most of the players from that team graduated, leaving very little varsity experience in 2022. “Last season was pretty tough on us,” says Jordan of year where Tipton went 2-18 with 27 players in the program. “We had a whole new pitching staff.” Jordan does expect most of his pitching to return in 2023, meaning they will have more experience. There is a big freshman class and the Blue Devils should have eight seniors (Zane Goodrich, Chase Higgins, Houston Nasser, Jack Nasser, Clark Rodibaugh, Joe Shelly, Eli Shook and Austin Smith). “We’ve got good young kids,” says Jordan. “With our veteran leadership, we hope it’s a breakout year.” Ten to 15 players — those not in a fall sport — have been going over fundamentals with Jordan at twice-a-week IHSAA Limited Contact Period fall practices. Tipton (enrollment around 450) is a member of the Hoosier Athletic Conference (with IHSAA Class 2A Tipton, 3A Hamilton Heights, 2A Lewis Cass, 3A Northwestern and 3A Western in the East Division and 3A Benton Central, 1A Lafayette Central Catholic, 2A Rensselaer Central, 3A Twin Lakes and 3A West Lafayette in the West Division). The Blue Devis were part of an 2A sectional grouping in 2022 with Blackford, Eastbrook, Eastern (Greentown), Madison-Grant and Taylor. Tipton has won seven sectional titles — the last in 2009. Tipton plays its games on-campus. A new 30-by-30 college-style scoreboard was installed in the summer and new dugouts are nearing completion. Feeding the high school program are travel baseball teams plus Tipton Youth Baseball League (Little Sluggers ages 3-5, Pee Wee 5-8, Cal Ripken 9-12 and Babe Ruth 13-15). Right-handed pitcher Trayjan Phifer (Class of 2021) moved on to Cleary University in Howell, Mich.). Jordan says pitcher/first baseman Vince Hoover (Class of 2024) has been getting looks for colleges. Jordan’s coaching staff for 2023 includes varsity assistant Steve Cherry, junior varsity head coach Andy Hussong and JV assistant Brian Middleton and possibly two more. A 1988 graduate of Tri-Central Middle/High School in Sharpsville, Ind., Jordan played for Trojans head coach Dave Driggs. “We got a fair opportunity,” says Jordan of his prep days. “Politics wasn’t a factor for playing time.” At the time, there was a big rival between Tri-Central and Tipton and the Trojans are still on the Blue Devils schedule. At Missouri Valley College (Marshall, Mo.), first baseman/utility player Jordan played three seasons and learned about conditioning and hard-nosed play from Vikings head coach Ron Givens before an arm injury ended his career. Jordan coached youth league baseball before taking the reins at Tipton. Rob is foundation seed manager for Beck’s Hybrids. He and wife Laura had a daughter (Jessica) and son (Dylan). Dylan Jordan passed away in 2019 at 16. He was in the Tri-Central Class of 2022.
Shane Smith has coached baseball for 24 years and at every level from T-ball and 18U travel with the past two years as an assistant at Wabash (Ind.) High School. Smith can now add high school head coach to his list of diamond experiences. Last week he was board-approved to lead the baseball program at Manchester Junior/Senior High School in North Manchester, Ind., which is about 20 miles north of Southwood Junior/Senior High School. Oldest son Blake Smith (19) graduated from Wabash in 2022 and is now a freshman baseball player and Sport Management major at Manchester University in North Manchester. Shane and Tiffany Smith’s younger sons Ashton (18 and a senior) and Jackson (15 and a sophomore) are still in involved in baseball at Southwood, which is also in Wabash County and conference rival to Manchester. Ashton Smith played at Wabash the past two years. Daughter Ella Smith is a seventh grade softball player and dancer. “Baseball has been our family thing,” says Shane Smith, who celebrates 20 years of marriage to Tiffany in October. “This is an opportunity I’ve always wanted: to run a varsity baseball program. “I prayed about it. I talked to my family. They’ve been supportive. I don’t take it lightly and I appreciate it.” Smith was involved with the Wabash Pride travel program for eight years, serving as president for six. He also coached for the USA Prime. At Wabash High, he assisted Apaches head coach Jack Holley. They had met when Smith was 13 and playing for the Prep League Blue Jays coached by Holley. “He’s an Old School baseball traditionalist and he’s got a great heart,” says Smith of Holley, who played on Wabash’s 1986 state champions and then at Valparaiso University. “He’s got a great deal of knowledge, but he puts things in perspective. “It’s bigger than baseball. We’re dealing with people’s sons.” During his high school years, Smith also played for Wabash American Legion Post 15 coached by Steve Furnas and Oren Wagner. Smith is a 1999 graduate of Wabash. One of his high school coaches in his younger years was Todd Adams, a former Anderson (Ind.) University player who was in charge of strength and conditioning for the Apaches. “He was a physical specimen,” says Smith of Adams, who is now his insurance agent. “He poured everything he had into us. We were than more than just our stats. “He got the most out of us simply by showing he cared. He expected maximum effort and that’s who I am as a coach.” Rick Espeset, head coach at Manchester University, coached with Smith for four years in the summer and made an impression. “You can achieve success and all these goals but you have to stay grounded,” says Smith. “Everything we did was fun and maximum effort He was a relationship-first guy, too.” Ethan Espeset, Rick’s son, is a 2022 Manchester Junior/Senior High graduate. Manchester (enrollment around 475) is a member of the Three Rivers Conference (with Maconaquah, Northfield, North Miami, Peru, Rochester, Southwood, Tippecanoe Valley and Whitko). The Squires were part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping in 2022 with Carroll (Flora), Lewis Cass, Rochester, Wabash and Whitko. Manchester has won nine sectional titles — the last in 2016. The 2002 Squires were 2A state champions. Jack Rupley was Manchester’s head coach from 1998 until retiring at the end of the 2022 season. “Jack was very consistent as far as leading a program and its expectations,” says Smith. “I want to add to the already-strong history.” Smith plans to bring his unique strengths and passions to the Squires baseball program. “I like to play fast and put pressure on the defense,” says Smith. He notes that Wabash stole 140 bases in 2022 and that’s a realistic goal at Manchester. “I like the kids to play loose and fail with confidence. I’m not looking for them to be a robot. I’m going to empower my players to steal that base.” Smith passionate about serving others and he’s going to bring that to the Squires. Wabash conducted a “dad’s practice” with a fathers and male role models joining the players and Smith plans to do the same at Manchester. “We’re going to have a good time,” says Smith. He wants to have walk-up songs and “cool gamed experience” for his players. “I’m an Old School guy with a New School side to me,” says Smith. “I want to mix it up a little.” In just a few days, the Manchester Squires Baseball Facebook page already had over 100 followers. “Excitement is growing,” says Smith. “We want to do something special.” Smith expects eight players with varsity experience to return in 2023. That includes the top four in batting average (junior Garrett Sites .389, sophomore Ethan Hendrix .365, junior Evan Martynowicz .338, junior Gavin Martin .303) and leading base stealers (Sites 11, Hendrix 10, Martynowicz 8 and Martin 7). As a pitcher, Martynowicz went 2-2 with a 2.31 earned run average, 38 strikeouts and 13 walks over 42 1/3 innings. Smith has already attended Manchester sporting events to meet players and parents and reached out to Manchester Recreational Association and wants to offer coach and player clinics. “My main goal is to generate excitement in the community,” says Smith. “People don’t care what you know until they know that you care. I plan to support these kids and families and have a good foundation of a relationship way before the first day of practice.” The coach plans to have a call-out meeting in the near future. Manchester does not currently have junior high baseball. Smith says he would like to start that, perhaps through MRA. “We want to make sure (younger players) have a sound foundation,” says Smith. “We want to make sure in T-ball they fall in love with the game. So many times we overwhelm the kids and it becomes a job. “They have to have a great experience, continue to love it and have the confidence. Youth baseball is all about fundamentals and gaining confidence. “If we are going to have a true feeder system, the focus has to be development and long-term success over short-term success.” Smith works as a social worker and school safety specialist for Wabash City Schools. He is currently in the L.H. Carpenter Early Learning Center. He is also on the Wabash County’s Child Protection Team, which is an accountability piece for the Department of Child Services. Smith earned a Criminal Justice degree with a minor in Human Resources Management from Saint Leo (Fla.) University.
Jack Holley Jr. played baseball at Wabash (Ind.) High School and was on the state championship team coached by Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Chris Rood. Holley was a sophomore when the Apaches won the title in 1986. Tom Dempsey struck out 12 as Wabash beat Marion 2-1. Jeff Wagner and Brent Johnson (game-winning double) drove in one run each in the top of the seventh inning. The first run was scored by future big leaguer Keith Shepherd and the decisive tally by pinch-runner Holley. Years later, Holley talks about the life lessons he learned from Rood and about leading the program today. “(Coach Rood) taught you so much baseball and more things outside the game than most people realize,” says Holley, who joined the baseball staff at his alma mater in the early 2000’s and has been head coach since the 2015 season. “It’s the discipline he instilled in me and his expectations of your as a player, student and a man. These are the things I try to utilize. “When you’re 16, 17, 18 years old you don’t realize the lessons you’re learning from any high school sport. Winning games is nice. I want effect men in a positive way and that’s probably more important.” Wabash (enrollment around 470) is a member of the Three Rivers Conference (with Maconaquah, Manchester, Northfield, North Miami, Peru, Rochester, Southwood, Tippecanoe Valley and Whitko). TRC play each other once and games on Tuesdays and Thursdays. In 2021, the Apaches was host of IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Carroll (Flora), Lewis Cass, Manchester, Rochester and Whitko. Wabash has won 10 sectional titles — the last in 2019 when the team went 18-7. Holley says the Apaches would have had 11 seniors for the 2020 season lost to the COVID-19 pandemic. Two members of that class — outfielder/right-handed pitcher Jared Holley (Manchester University after transferring from Kankakee Community College) and catcher/outfielder Kallen Kelsheimer (Huntington University) — are on college baseball teams. Holley says three current Wabash players — seniors middle infielder/outfielder Jared Brooks and first baseman/right-hander Chayden Beeks and junior right-hander/catcher Andrew Dillon — have been drawing collegiate interest. Brooks is all the school’s all-time leader in wrestling victories. Holley sees Dillon as his probable No. 1 mound starter in 2022. Other seniors include Colten Learned and Blake Smith. The Apaches went 15-14 in 2021, making Holley’s career mark 87-76-1. The 2022 coaching staff includes Kyle Kelsheimer (Kallen’s brother) as varsity assistant, Luke Helton as pitching coach, Nick Hentgen as junior varsity head coach and Andy Castro, Jordan Holley, Chandler Jones, Kent Montgomery and Shane Smith. Kelsheimer and Helton are teacher at Wabash. Helton is a Tippecanoe Valley graduate who played at Manchester U. All the rest are played for the Apaches. Justin Holley coaches the Wabash Middle School team. Started when Matt Stone was varsity head coach, the feeder team helps with the gap between Wabash Little League (T-ball through age 12) and high school. “It’s an awesome addition to our baseball program,” says Holley. “(Junior high players) get accustomed to what we teach. It’s a way to retain those kids and keep them interested in (baseball). “We were losing some of those kids. They’d go out for track and we’d never get them back.” There are typically 20 to 25 players — Grades 6-8 — who play 12 to 16 games in the spring. Middle school practices and games are at Chris Rood Field. “They usually practice before or after (the high school),” says Holley. “Someone from the varsity or JV staff can help them. They get to know us.” There is a junior/senior league serving all of Wabash County. Middle schoolers used to practice and play on that field. “There was a disconnect with middle school teams to our program,” says Holley. Jack Holley Jr. is in his 21st year as a Welding Technology teacher at Heartland Career Center in Wabash. He and wife of 29 years on Feb. 20, Misti, have four sons — Jack III (29), Justin (27), Jordan (24) and Jared (20). All four boys played baseball at Wabash. Jack and Jordan are U.S. Army veterans. Jack III has two boys with a girl on the way. Chris Rood Field is located on the Wabash campus and sits in a natural bowl. Spectators sit on a side of a hill looking down at the diamond. Trees were removed to place the field. A few years ago — needing a community service project — Holley’s students created the landscaped seating area around the press box. An outfielder and pitcher as a player, Holley graduated from Wabash in 1988 and went on to play for Paul Twenge at Valparaiso (Ind.) University. An ACL injury suffered on the football field as a freshman kept Holley off the diamond in 1989. He played for Twenge’s Crusaders 1990-93 — the first two years in right field and the last two in center. He was also a closer on the mound. In 1992, Holley hit .285 (41-of-144) with two home runs, eight doubles and 16 runs batted in and five stolen bases. Holley began coaching football at Wabash right out of college and was the Apaches head coach 2003-07.
Parkhurst is in he third year since coming back to lead the program he helmed 2013-15 (Kerry Yoder was head coach in 2012). He was Carroll’s athletic director 2011-19 then became business manager for Carroll Consolidated School Corporation.
A 2002 graduate of Clinton Central Junior-Senior High School in Michigantown, Ind., where he played two years for Dan Swafford and two for Rick Helbie, Parkhurst began coaching while attending Indiana State University, where he graduated as Physical Education/Health major in 2007.
“I had a real good relationship with (Swafford and Helbie),” says Parkhurst. “I was a catcher. I learned a lot from both of them. You pick up a lot of things you don’t realize.
“I still call Coach Helbie for advice about handling players and parents. I have a lot of respect for both of them.”
Student teaching for Parkhurst was done at Western High School in Russiaville with Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Ty Calloway.
At 23, Parkhurst was physical education teacher and the head coach for an IHSAA Class 1A state runner-up team.
“I’m still close with kids from Cowan,” says Parkhurst. “I get invited to their weddings.
“They say you can have an impact on the lives of kids, but you don’t realize the impact they have on yours.”
Parkhurst has particularly enjoyed working with the past couple Carroll teams.
“It’s been a great experience,” says Parkhurst, who is assisted in 2021 by former Carroll and Saint Joseph’s College player Seth Eldridge, Chris Seward (on his Cougar staff in both stints), Dan Butcher, Paul Redmon and Dave Mann.
The 2021 Carroll Cougars have 21 players to fill a varsity and junior varsity schedule. Parkhurst says some players will float between the two teams.
While no current players have made college baseball commits, junior Will Eldridge is among those being recruited.
Carroll plays its home games on-campus on a lighted diamond that recently got new dugouts and backstop and, a few years ago, an overhauled infield and irrigation system. The school has been 1A regional host for the last several years.
It wasn’t the first case of multiple-mashing for the Logansport, Ind., native.
The righty-swinging fifth-year senior right fielder lofted two dingers May 10, 2018 against Manchester, two April 17, 2018 against Rose-Hulman, three April 16, 2019 at Rose-Hulman and two March 1, 2020 against Heidelberg.
On April 3, 2021 in Game 1 of a doubleheader at Franklin’s John P. McDowell Field against Hanover, Bixler’s eight-inning clout made the school’s all-time homer king.
The Grizzlies are 13-5 overall and in the HCAC heading into twin bills Saturday, April 17 vs. Rose-Hulman and Sunday, April 18 at Anderson.
The HCAC tournament (site to be determined) in May will include all 10 teams this year with the top five seeds serving as the home team in best-of-three series. A five-team finals will feature a double bye for the top seed.
Bixler’s head-turning batting numbers so far for 2021 include a .449 (31-of-69) average with five homers, one triple, nine doubles, 25 runs batting, 31 runs scored and 5-of-6 in stolen bases. He owns a .576 on-base percentage and .826 slugging average.
“I look to do damage,” says Bixler of his offensive approach. “I just try to get the ball in the air or in the gap.”
While he has homered to center and right, he estimates that more than half of his long balls have gone out to left field.
During his Franklin days (Bixler played at Indiana Wesleyan in 2017 then transferred), he is hitting .354 (159-of-449) with 33 homers, nine triples, 34 doubles, 145 RBIs, 156 runs and is 32-of-38 in stolen bases. He sports a ..475 on-base percentage and .690 slugging average.
Bixler hit .321 with three homers, nine RBIs and 10 runs in eight games in 2020..
In 2019, he was first-team all-HCAC and third-team all-region by D3Baseball.
“Maybe to start the game,” says Bixler. “As lead-off see as many pitches as you can for your teammates.”
Franklin coach Lance Marshall recruited Bixler while the player was in high school and welcomed him when he decided to transfer.
“Everyone respects him,” says Bixler of Marshall, FC head coach since the fall of 1997. “He knows how to win games.
“It’s a fun culture to be around for sure. This was the best fit for me.”
Bixler grew up playing baseball in Logansport and transferred to Lewis Cass after his eighth grade year. With the Kings, he played for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Greg Marschand.
“He’s huge role model,” says Bixler of Marchand. “He took me under his wing and taught me almost everything I know today about baseball.
“He truly cares for each player. He is one of the most selfless people I’ve ever met.”
Bixler was supposed to graduate in 2020. When granted another year of eligibility because of the COVID-19 pandemic, he decided to play another season and took a class while also working as a salesman for Warweg & Co., Irrigation in Franklin. He is slated to graduate this spring with a Public Relations degree and a minor in Business.
At 23, Ryan is the youngest of Brad and Kathy Bixler’s four sons. Josh is the oldest, followed by Justin and Brandon.
“I’m super-excited to get after it,” says Hammel, who was originally hired as pitching coach but became a head coach candidate when Jon Vernon opted to spend more time with family and focus on his duties as Benton Central’s head volleyball coach. “We want to do everything with a purpose.
At South Newton — a K-12 school in Kentland, Ind. — Jarrett got a chance to help with younger kids as a high school junior and senior.
“I knew I wanted to be a positive role model — someone to look up to,” says Hammel. “I look up to my parents a lot. They made a lot of sacrifices for me to be where I am today.
“They’ve always had my back.”
Coming from a close-knit family where both sets of grandparents live within 15 minutes, Jarrett counts younger brother Jay as his best friend. They grew up pushing each other in academics and athletics.
With 1,195 points, 6-foot-4 Jarrett Hammel was the No. 1 all-time scorer in South Newton boys hoops history until he was surpassed by younger brother Jay Hammel with 1,363. The 6-6 Jay is now a 21-year-old junior right-hander on the Quincy (Ill.) University baseball team and a Multimedia Journalism major.
A 2016 South Newton graduate, Jarrett Hammel played baseball for Glenn Donahue and basketball for Mike Hall.
Hammel was born in Lafayette, Ind., and grew up in Brook, Ind., where he still resides. He knew Donahue as a youth baseball coach who moved up to the high school ranks.
Jarrett played four high school summers of travel ball with the Indiana Nitro.
The Bison are in an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Maconaquah, Northwestern, Peru, Twin Lakes, West Lafayette and Western. Benton Central has won 25 sectionals — the last in 2009.
While the COVID-19 pandemic took away the 2020 season, Benton Central fielded two teams in 2019 and Hammel says he expects to have about 30 players for two squads in 2021.
Hammel is in the process of finding assistant coaches. He would like to have a Benton Central alum on his staff. Bringing in coaches from Newton County is not practical since Brook is in Central Time and Oxford is in Eastern Time.
In looking to his feeder system, Hammel likes the youth program already established and plans to place players in competitive summer leagues and with top travel organizations.
“We want to get them out of their comfort zone and change their outlook on life,” says Hammel, who also plans to start a fall baseball program at BC.
“We went to keep kids at it and try to perfect their craft year-round,” says Hammel. “We’re trying to maximize everyone’s potential.”
A former all-Big Ten Conference and professional infielder was hired in the fall of 2019 as head coach of the baseball program at Hamilton Heights High School in Arcadia, Ind., and was getting the Huskies ready when the 2020 season was placed on hold and — eventually — canceled because of the pandemic.
Recent Hamilton Heights graduates playing college baseball include Sam Fulton (Chattanooga, Tenn., State Community College), Alex Hewitt (Butler University in Indianapolis), Ike Peterson (Grace College in Winona Lake, Ind.) and Reese Wills (Marian University in Indianapolis. VanOeveren says some current players are weighting their options.
“Recruiting is challenging for everybody because of COVID,” says VanOeveren. “I was recruited to numerous schools all over the Midwest. My advice: Don’t select the school just based upon baseball.
“Baseball comes to an end at some point for all of us.”
A 1991 graduated of Grandville (Mich.) High School near Grand Rapids, VanOeveren was initially recruited by Michigan assistant Ted Mahan (who went on to be head coach at Michigan State University) and Wolverines head coach Bill Freehan got involved near the end of the process. VanOeveren committed in May of his senior year.
“(Indiana Primetime) is good to the kids at Hamilton Heights, giving them the opportunity to play really competitive baseball,” says VanOeveren. “I love Finch Creek. We’re spoiled getting access to that place.
“We’re very fortunate to live in this area and have those opportunities.”
Besides VanOeveren, the 2021 Husky coaching staff features varsity assistants Brian Clancy and Brad Pitts, junior varsity head coach Adam Hughes and JV assistant Cole Meyer. Clancy, who played at Lewis University in Romeoville, Ill., was on the 2000 staff. Pitts, who had coached at Harrison High School in West Lafayette, is a newcomer to Hamilton Heights.
Husky Ballpark has received laser-leveling and upgrades to the irrigation system from Marschand’s Athletic Field Service and a new backstop is going up. VanOeveren says new dugouts and other improvements could come this summer.
Brad Pitts is an assistant bseball coach at Hamilton Heights High School in Arcadia, Ind.