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Team chemistry counts for plenty with Kokomo Post 6 baseball manager Andrews

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Don Andrews wants to fill his Kokomo American Legion Post 6 baseball team with talented players.

But playing ability is not the first priority for the man who enters his eighth season as senior team manager in 2018 after serving as an assistant and with Post 6’s junior squad.

“Team chemistry is more important than talent,” says Andrews. “It’s something we work really hard at.

“We’re finding out what the dynamics of the team are going to be. I go to a high school baseball game in the spring almost every night. I’m watching the players and also watching the parents.

“By the time (open) tryouts come around (in August) we almost know who we want (for the following year).”

Through his observations and conversations, Andrews will invite desired players to the tryout. He wants kids with a high baseball I.Q.

But — again — there’s more than that.

“A big basis of what we do is try to find high character kids,” says Andrews. “It’s a long, hot summer so we want to have good kids.”

Andrews normally goes through the regular season with about 15 or 16 players and adds a few worthy juniors at the end of the summer.

Post 6 plays around 35 games before the regional. This year, the regular season opens June 4 and closes July 10.

The Kokomo Summer Classic at Highland Park Stadium is slated for June 15-17.

Andrews estimates that 70 percent of Post 6’s games are at Highland Park.

“Everybody loves to play on that field,” says Andrews. “The parks department does a great job of keeping it up.”

Then there’s the dimesions.

“We have a big home field advantage,” says Andrews, eluding to the short distance down the right field line with a high fence. “We know we’ve just got to play. We don’t worry about hitting it over that fence.”

Meanwhile, left-handed batters on opposing teams are practically drooling when they see that short porch.

Kokomo has realized plenty of Legion diamond success in recent years.

The Sixers won regional titles in 2014, 2015 and 2016. Sectionals were eliminated in 2014, but Kokomo won a few of those on Andrews’ watch.

The Indiana American Legion State Finals rotates from north to south each year with teams bidding for the rights to host.

Kokomo hosted in 2016 at Kokomo Municipal Stadium and will do so again this year at Highland Park. The eight-team event (seven regional champions plus the host) is scheduled for July 27-31 (the Kokomo Regional is July 20-22).

The Great Lakes Regional Aug. 8-12 in Napoleon, Ohio, with the American Legion World Series Aug. 16-21 in Shelby, N.C.

Rockport Post 254 won the 2017 state championship in a tournament hosted by Terre Haute Post 346.

While the deadline for entries is still open, Andrews expects there to be up to 32 senior teams in Indiana this year and maybe a dozen or so junior (17U) squads.

Kokomo will also host junior regional and state finals at Highland Park and Northwestern High School July 13-15 and July 19-22, respectively.

Post 6 will take its senior players in 2018 from the following high schools: Kokomo, Northwestern, Western, Taylor, and Logansport.

Junior players come from those those schools plus Oak Hill, Sheridan and Tri-Central.

In some years, the Sixers had players from Eastern, Lewis Cass and Peru.

American Legion Baseball has been a tradition in Indiana since 1926. Legion ball thrives in many corners of the state.

While many Legion rules mimic those of Major League Baseball, the national organization voted not to adopt mound visit restrictions now used by MLB.

Andrews began his coaching career when son Reid was 5 and playing T-ball at Russiaville Little League. Andrews, with the help of Dan Weaver, followed his son up the line, including four years of travel baseball — three with the Bullpen Aces and one with the Central Indiana Kings — and summers with Kokomo Post 6.

Besides bench coach Weaver, Andrews is helped with his Sixers by third base coach Will Harris and first base coach Dave Takacs.

Reid Andrews, a graduate of Western High School and Purdue University, is now general at Roundtripper Sports Academy in Westfield and an assistant to head baseball coach Chris Estep at University High School in Carmel.

The Andrews family is full of coaches. Don’s wife Deb Andrews is a boys and girls swimming assistant coach at Western High.

Daughter Rae Andrews, an Indiana University graduate, is a swim coach and lifeguard at the YMCA of Greater Rochester (N.Y.).

Don Andrews, a 1977 Northwestern High School graduate, played a few years of prep baseball then discovered a talent for running and turned to track and field and cross country.

He was on the track team at Purdue when he was struck by a vehicle during a November training run. A few years later, he was on the cross country and track teams at Taylor University in Upland, Ind., and coached the sports during and after college.

Andrews now works at the Fiat Chrysler Automobiles transmission plant in Kokomo.

DONANDREWS

Don Andrews is manager of the Kokomo (Ind.) American Legion Post 6 baseball team. The Sixers is scheduled to open the 2018 season June 4. Post 6 will also host regionals and state finals for both junior and senior divisions.

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Ward, Northwestern Tigers baseball enjoying ‘firsts’

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Kokomo, Ind., touts itself as the “City of Firsts” with claims to America’s first commercially-produced automobile and more.

Northwestern High School is enjoying some its own “firsts.”

For the first time, the Tigers have artificial turf on three of their athletic fields — baseball, football and softball.

As Phase 1 of a improvement campaign, a committee of administrators, teachers, parents and community members used grant money to make the upgrades. While not yet determined, a second phase could bring lighted fields and academic improvements.

Fourth-year head baseball coach Ryan Ward got a chance to send his baseball players on the carpet for the first time during fall workouts.

“If it’s warm enough, we can take some kids out there in January and February,” says Ward. “We have the best practice field in the state, especially a school our size (enrollment around 550).”

As the Tigers play their first season on the new-look field in 2018, Ward will continue to assert some other firsts — something he has done since taking over as head coach in 2015 after serving on Kyle Beachy’s staff for the IHSAA Class 3A Twin Lakes Sectional-winning 2014 season.

“We want to play an aggressive style of baseball,” says Ward. “For pitchers, we emphasize first-pitch strikes. As hitters, we look for to drive early in the counts. As baserunners, we will be aggressive. If we make mistakes, they are aggressive mistakes. That’s the brand of ball we’re trying to play.

Ward knows it’s not always easy teenagers to make the right catch, throw and tag in the heat of the moment, so he is going to have his players force the issue.

“We’ve got to keep empowering the kids on our team,” says Ward. “The more we can force our opponents to do, the better chance they are going to make mistakes and give ourselves a better chance to win.”

Ward graduated from Hickory High School in Hermitage, Pa. (about 75 miles northwest of Pittsburgh), in 2009.

Gary Hinkson was Ward’s high school coach. He saw the potential for Ward to go into the profession.

“He gave me that encouragement and motivation,” says Ward of Hinkson, who would win 301 games at Hickory from 1994-2015. “He treated us (players) like we were major leaguers. We carried on the expectations that he set for us.”

In Ward’s sophomore season (2007), the Hickory Hornets won their first Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association District 10 title in 10 years, repeated the feat the next spring and lost in the district championship game in 2009.

At Northwestern, Ward prepares his Tigers for competition in the Hoosier Conference and athletic director and former Northwestern baseball coach Dan Armstrong schedules many other teams in the Kokomo and Lafayette areas.

The HC is split into two divisions — Northwestern, Cass, Hamilton Heights, Tipton and Western in the East and Benton Central, Lafayette Central Catholic, Rensselaer Central, Twin Lakes and West Lafayette in the West.

Teams play all the schools in their division in home-and-home series on Wednesdays and Thursdays with crossover games at the end. The top teams in each division square off the title with East Division No. 2 facing West Division No. 2 and so on.

Ward, who counts Jeff Trueblood and Dan Butcher as assistant coaches for 2018, gears his pitching staff toward conference games.

“We have our Wednesday starter and Thursday starter,” says Ward. “It helps pitchers get into a routine and guys are working to be a conference starters.”

In 2017, the IHSAA implemented pitch count rules (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days).

“I love the intent of the rules,” says Ward. “It’s putting the focus on the health of the athlete. I’d like to see better communication on how we execute the rule between coaches, umpires and the IHSAA.

“Wow do we keep improving it?”

Northwestern doesn’t have to look far to see the future of its program since the Northwestern Youth Baseball League (T-ball through major baseball) is housed on school grounds and seventh and eighth grade teams play 15 to 20 games in the spring on the varsity field. Truebood, a Northwestern graduate who played college baseball, is NYBL president. Joel Downey and Bruce Smith are middle school coaches.

“From the time they’re 6, they think about wearing purple one day,” says Ward. “They are coming back as alumni. We’re putting the focus on the Northwestern school district and those relationships.”

Many high school-age Tigers play in the summer for travel teams or Kokomo American Legion Post 6.

Ward went to Butler University with the idea of playing baseball, but was cut in his freshman year. He still respects then-Bulldogs head coach Steve Farley as a mentor.

“He was honest with me,” says Ward, who earned a degree from Butler in 2013 and began teaching fifth grade at Northwestern Elementary that fall. Ryan and wife Katelyn, a 2008 Kokomo High School graduate and third grade teacher in Kokomo schools at Lafayette Park International Elementary, were wed in September 2016 and live in the Northwestern district.

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Ryan Ward and wife, Katelyn, are both elementary school teachers — Ryan in the Northwestern district, Katelyn in Kokomo. Ward is entering his fourth season as Northwestern High School head baseball coach in 2018.

 

Lafayette Central Catholic baseball has sustained excellence with Bordenet in charge

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Lafayette Central Catholic High School has piled up plenty of Indiana baseball hardware.

The Knights have achieved seven IHSAA state championships (2004, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013), two state runner-up finishes (2015, 2016) and two other State Finals appearances (2002, 2003).

There’s also been nine semistate (2004, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016), 13 regional (2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016) and 15 sectional  (1991, 1998, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016) titles.

All but one sectional title came with Tim Bordenet as head coach. Fittingly, he dons jersey No. 1 on gamedays.

The 1987 LCC graduate has led the program for 19 seasons (1991-93, 2001-16) and the Knights head into 2017 ranked No. 2 to Providence in Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Class 2A preseason poll.

LCC is not flashy, but very effective because Bordenet and his assistants (the current staff includes Dave Sterrett and Ryan Johnson on the varsity with Fred Rogers and Ryan DeBoy running the junior varsity) are constantly developing players and keeping expectations high.

The Knights work on the bunt game — offensively, defensively or both — at every practice.

“In today’s game, it’s overlooked quite a bit,” says Bordenet. “But come tournament time, most games are won or lost by the short game (It was a sacrifice bunt in the bottom of the seventh inning that allowed Providence to edge LCC 7-6 in the 2016 2A state championship game). Our philosophy offensively is always to put pressure on the defense. We find a way to get on base, find a way to get them over and find way to get them in.

“You do the ordinary things extraordinarily well, you have a pretty good chance of winning.”

Since the majority of players come through the Lafayette Catholic School System from preschool on up, they know from an early age the terminology, togetherness and tenacity employed at the high school level.

“Kids come into our program and they know the expectations,” says Bordenet, who looks at his 2017 roster and sees all but three players who have been in LCSS the entirety of their academic and athletic careers (the move-ins are one who arrived in fifth grade and two who came in seventh grade). “They know how we’re going to practice, the time commitment it’s going to take.

“The hardest part is not to build a program, but to sustain it. To sustain success you have to have kids who are willing to sacrifice and put in the time.”

It’s a culture that extends behind the diamond. The Knights have won or competed for championships in many other sports. The LCC boys basketball team in the 2017 1A championship game Saturday, March 25, sports 11 of 12 players who have been in the school system since Day 1.

“Success breeds success and that’s definitely the case here,” says Bordenet, the LCC athletic director since 2006.

Lafayette’s Catholic grade schools are St. Lawrence (preschool-Grade 6), St. Mary Cathedral (preschool-Grade 3) and St. Boniface (Grades 4-6). Elementary baseball begins at age 9.

LCC houses grades 7-12. A junior high baseball program was installed in 2004.

“That’s one of the most important things we ever did,” says Bordenet. “The learning curve is shorter when they enter high school.”

The level of commitment from families who are invested in the education of their children — that includes academics and athletics — has made a difference at LCC.

“We have an advantage at the elementary age because of that parental involvement,” says Bordenet.

In his 26 total seasons of coaching, Bordenet has learned to teach traditional baseball concepts to the new generation.

“Old school fundamentals are still the staple of our program,” says Bordenet. “But we do a lot more video than when I first started.”

All LCC students have laptop computers and those are employed by the baseball program to share YouTube or MLB.com videos and other information that strikes a chord with athletes in the visual age.

“If there’s a technique we’re trying to emphasize, we’ll give them a link to watch online on their own time and talk about it the next day,” says Bordenet. “We do that frequently.”

Bordenet was inducted into the IHSBCA Hall of Fame in 2012 (42 at the time, he was the youngest inductee ever) and earned his milestone 500th victory in 2016.

He played for three coaches at LCC — Art Laker as a freshman, Terry Thompson as a junior and senior and John O’Malley as a senior. After one season at the University of Evansville and two at Purdue University, Bordenet skipped his senior collegiate season to take the LCC head coaching job.

Having attending LCCS schools all the way through high school and only stepping away while attending college or briefly coaching at other schools, Bordenet describes himself as a “lifer” for the Blue and White.

Bordenet was head coach at Muncie Central in 1994 and 1995, an assistant at South Dearborn in 1996, 1997 and 1998 and an assistant at Benton Central in 1999 and 2000.

LCC was in the Hoosier Heartland Conference 1993-2011. The Knights joined the Hoosier Athletic Conference in 2015. Other members of that loop are Benton Central, Cass, Hamilton Heights, Northwestern, Rensselaer Central, Tipton, Twin Lakes, West Lafayette and Western.

TIMBORDENET

Lafayatte Central Catholic has won seven state baseball championships with Tim Bordenet as head coach.

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IHSBCA adds five to Hall of Fame in 2017

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

For what they have meant to the game, five more men have been added to the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame and will have plaques hanging in Jasper.

The Class of 2017 included (in order of induction on Jan. 20): Chip Sweet, Greg Marschand, Paul Ehrman, Steve DeGroote and Bart Kaufman. Don Jennings, a Hall of Fame inductee in 1988, was also spotlighted during festivities Friday, Jan. 20 in Indianapolis. The Hall of Fame is located on the Vincennes University-Jasper campus, where expansion is planned in 2017.

Chip Sweet (180th HOF inductee): The 1975 Shakamak High School graduate and retired Lakers coach led his alma mater for 21 years — in two stints. His final season of 2014 culminated with an IHSAA Class 1A state championship. His youngest son, Luke, was on the team.

“It was really a pretty special experience,” Sweet said of going out on top.

Older son Josh had been on Shakamak state runner-up teams in 2004 and 2006. The 2012 Sweet-coached Lakers were also state runners-up.

An outfielder as a player, Sweet left the Hoosier State for the Sunshine State for his college baseball experience. After never having been away from home, Sweet spent five years about 1,000 miles away with two years of junior college ball at Central State Community College and three at the University of Florida.

In 1979-80, Sweet coached at Oak Hill Private School in Gainesville, Fla., where the three sons of famed slugger Roger Maris played.

Sweet said Maris did not impose himself on the program.

“He let the coaches do their coaching,” Sweet said. “He was a nice guy.”

Maris did arrange for Yankees owner George Steinbrenner to donate sod for the field.

“We put down every roll,” Sweet said. “It was a lot of hard work.”

Sweet took the time at his induction to thank the Jasonville, Ind., community which supports Shakamak.

“We’re a very small school,” Sweet said. “Everybody knows everybody.”

In closing, Sweet also shared a story renowned in baseball coaching circles — Stay at 17 Inches about John Scolinos at the American Baseball Coaches Association clinic in Nashville in 1996 and it’s message of faith.

Greg Marschand (181st HOF inductee): The 1972 Lewis Cass High School graduate and current Kings coach and athletic director played his college baseball at Columbus (Ga.) State University, where he won a school-record 32 games and learned much from the leader of the program.

“Coach (Charles) Ragsale was a fantastic coach,” Marschand said. “He molded guys from all over nation into a team. But, most of all, he taught us to be men and, on top of that, he taught us to be Christian men.”

A sign on the Cass dressing room points to Proverbs 27:17: “Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend.”

Marschand came back from Georgia to Walton, Ind., and through 36 seasons, he had amassed 556 wins with a Class 2A state runner-up finish in 2009.

One of the fitness challenges during Cass practices is called the “Victory Field Challenge.”

“Your ultimate goal is to get back there again (at the State Finals),” Marschand said.

One of his most memorable moments came during the Kings’ annual alumni doubleheader when one of his former players landed his Black Hawk helicopter in right field just to drop in to say hello to his former coach. The player — who Marschand chose not to identify — has since served his country overseas and thrown out the first pitch at a Kings game.

“In coaching, when those kind of things happen, they are more important than any wins, championships or anything else,” Marschand said. “That was a pretty emotional time for me.”

Thanking many family and school members, Marschand also saluted 28-year assistant Steve Ford. They’ve shared many a bus ride together.

Marschand said that when he was down with major back surgery, causing him to miss half the 2016 season, the records were dug out to establish his Hall of Fame credentials.

“What an honor to be voted on by your peers,” Marschand said. “I appreciate each and every one of them for taking the time to cast the ballot to make this happen.”

Paul Ehrman (182nd HOF inductee): The veteran umpire from Batesville and 1963 Carol (Flora) High School graduate began his 49-year career of making the calls in 1964 on the high school and college level after being cut by Ball State Teachers College coach Ray Louthen for being “absolutely too slow.” He had umpired youth games back in 1958.

Ehrman worked the first IHSAA state tournament in 1967. One of his most memorable State Finals came in 1978 and 1979. Future Yankees first baseman and IHSBCA Hall of Famer Don Mattingly was on Evansville Memorial teams in those years, winning the first one and seeing a 59-game win streak end in the latter.

A baseball and basketball coach and then an AD in the early part of his career, Ehrman became an insurance salesman while continuing umpiring at many levels. He worked in 10 different states and 57 different IHSBCA Hall of Fame coaches. He logged 45 sectionals, 26 regionals, 15 semistate and eight State Finals.

“There’s some really good things and some really bad things about being an umpire,” Ehrman said. “When you’re an umpire, nobody likes you.”

But enough coaches and athletic directors liked him enough to hire him and soon he was scheduling the umpires around southeastern Indiana.

“I enjoyed every minute that I worked,” Ehrman said. There were stretches where he was gone from home more than 40 straight nights while umpiring and appreciates the support from his family.

Married to Karen on June 5, 1965, he worked through many wedding anniversaries.

“She never once complained,” Ehrman said.

Steve DeGroote (183rd HOF inductee): The retired West Vigo High School coach came to Indiana after playing high school and college baseball in Iowa.

DeGroote was on IHSBCA Hall of Fame coach Bob Warn’s staff at Indiana State University before becoming a West Vigo assistant and then head coach from 1993-2013 before another stint on the ISU staff.

DeGroote went all over the U.S. and Canada to recruit players for the Sycamores. Over the years, he noticed more and more baseball talent has turned up on Hoosier soil that has gone on to the college and pro ranks.

One of the highlights of DeGroote’s coaching career came in 2009 with a Class 3A state runner-up finish. The Vikings went into the State Finals at 28-1.

“We had so many people there in green,” DeGroote said. “(The State Finals) was important to our people.”

West Vigo won 525 baseball games on DeGroote’s watch.

DeGroote played football, basketball and baseball in high school and college and his three sons — Cory, Culley and Casey — were also three-sport athletes.

“It makes you a better warrior,” DeGroote said of the multi-sport or non-specializing athlete. “You can work out, but you can never go through warriorship like you do in competition. We don’t have that problem (at West Vigo). We really back each other (as coaches) and try to share (athletes) the best we can and it works out for us.”

DeGroote is also thankful for the lack of outside interference when coaching his athletes.

“I had no problems,” DeGroote said. “They weren’t pampered. I kept telling them, ‘if you guys keep working this hard, you’re going to get my name in the paper.’

“I knew it was more about them than it was about me … All we want is respect.”

Bart Kaufman (184th HOF inductee): The benefactor from Shelbyville was introduced by long-time friend Del Harris, an Indiana Basketball Hall of Famer.

“My first love was baseball,” Harris said. “We all love baseball, but nobody loves baseball any more than Bart Kaufman … How many of you played until 72 (at a Dodgers fantasy camp)?

“He’s one of the most generous and caring people I’ve known in my long life.”

Kaufman, who was nominated by the IHSBCA Hall of Fame Veterans Committee and graduated from Shelbyville High School in 1958 and Indiana University in 1962, spoke about his appreciation for the game and what it has done for him.

“Baseball has been an incredibly important part of my life. It’s permitted me to make lifelong friends like Del Harris and Bill Garrett (the first African-American to play basketball in the Big Ten Conference) … (IHSBCA Hall of Famer and IU coach) Ernie Andres had confidence in me, especially against left-handers. I wasn’t so sure … I enjoyed coaching many boys and men and teaching them the game I loved. I used the discipline that I learned from many coaches … Carl Erskine was the first to suggest I go to Dodgertown in Vero Beach (Fla.) and learn baseball the Dodger Way. Carl has been a friend ever since … Like one of my children told me, if you can’t get inducted into Cooperstown, this is about as good as you’re going to get.”

Kaufman, an outfielder, led the Hoosiers with a .452 batting average in 1961.

One of his most memorable moments came during his junior year when he helped Indiana sweep Ohio State and then got pinned to Judy and they have now been married 54 years with four children.

He went on to play and coach in Indianapolis amateur leagues. He was appointed to a committee that tried to bring Major League Baseball in Indy by Mayor William Hudnut.

Through Kaufman’s philanthropy, baseball fields at IU and Marian University and a softball stadium at the Jewish Community Center in Indianapolis all bear his name. Bart Kaufman Field at IU will be the site of the Big Ten tournament May 24-28.

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(From left): Don Jennings, Steve DeGroote, Greg Marschand, Paul Ehrman, Bart Kauffman and Chip Sweet.