By STEVE KRAH
Consistent message and accountability of ballplayers.
Those are concepts Harrison “Harry” Nguyen had reinforced during his assistant baseball coaching days at Indianapolis Cathedral High School and it helps form his foundation as a coach and educator at Lawrence Central High School.
“Players — teenagers — they need that,” says Nguyen of the benchmarks. “They don’t necessarily see the value in it when they’re going through that. It can really be tough in the day-to-day. It can be uncomfortable. But it’s what students need. It’s what baseball players need.”
It’s what Nguyen gained from spending 15 seasons (2002-16) on the Cathedral staff led by Rich Andriole, who goes into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame Jan. 27 and is preparing for his first season as head coach at Guerin Catholic High School in 2018.
“Sometimes (athletes) need to be called out if they are not meeting certain standards,” says Nguyen, who speaks with Andriole on a weekly basis. “Rich is really good at that. We try to instill that in our kids here at Lawrence Central.
“We want to take care of our student-athletes. If we can teach them a little baseball along the way — great — but if we can teach them life, that’s better.”
Nguyen began his coaching career on the staff of Anthony Lowborn at his high school alma mater, Arsenal Tech. Lowhorn went on to coach at Triton Central and sent Luke Stephenson on to college baseball. The right-hander pitched in 2016 and 2017 at Indiana University.
As a youngster, Nguyen played at Lowell Little League in Warren Township and was coaching there when umpire Rick Wagner suggested he look into a coaching opportunity at Cathedral. He met Andriole in the summer of 2001 and began coaching Fighting Irish freshmen and later got to work with standout players like Tommy Hunter, Dillon Peters and Ashe Russell.
“It was a really fun ride,” says Nguyen of his Cathedral tenure. “I coached a lot of good kids and met a lot of good people.
“The X’s and 0s get us into baseball, but what keeps us in it is the people.”
Nguyen, an Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis graduate who got his start in education with schooling at Butler University taught at Indiana Connections Academy, Cathedral and Franklin Central High School before that, is in his second year teaching math in the LC freshman academy. J.R. Shelt is his administrator. Shelt was his junior varsity baseball coach at Arsenal Tech.
After leaving Cathedral, he was not sure where he would land then got contacted by then Lawerence Central athletic director Jeff Irwin, who shared the vision of the school district.
“It all came together really, really fast,” says Nguyen.
The 2017 season was Nguyen’s first as head baseball coach at Lawrence Central. The Bears went 12-16, beating Columbus North and Zionsville and suffering five one-run losses along the way. LC lost to eventual IHSAA Class 4A state champion Cathedral in the semifinals of the Warren Central Sectional.
“We lost some heartbreakers,” says Nguyen. “But we were pretty competitive.”
The junior varsity went 16-4 in 2017 and several players from that squad are looking to make noise at the varsity level in 2018.
“We bring back a lot of seniors,” says Nguyen. “We have had a lot of spirited workouts this off-season.”
The 2017 Bears participated in the I-65 Classic at Purdue University and McCutcheon (along with host McCutcheon, Lake Central and Zionsville). This year, a similar event is planned with Lawrence Central, Brebeuf Jesuit, Hobart and Perry Meridian, perhaps at Grand Park in Westfield.
LC is also waiting to see if it qualifies for the late-season Victory Field Classic, held at the site of the IHSAA State Finals and home of the Indianapolis Indians.
Lawrence Central is a member of the Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference (along with corporation partner Lawrence North plus Ben Davis, Carmel, Center Grove, Pike, North Central of Indianapolis and Warren Central).
The Bears were Marion County champions in 2015. LC last won a sectional title in 2004, the same year they took a state title.
Nguyen expects Bryan Peters and Greg White to return to his LC coaching staff in 2018. A year ago, the Bears had three teams — varsity, JV and freshmen. It’s not likely the numbers will be high enough for a freshmen team this spring.
“Though I have no scientific evidence, it seems that 13 is where the numbers are getting lost,” says Nguyen. “That’s when many kids go from 46/60 fields to full-size diamonds. In New Palestine, where my son (Ryan) plays in an 11-12 league, it’s 50/70.
“Travel teams start a lot younger these days. It’s harder to know where your home Little League is. There are so many boundaries and choices for parents. Travel ball has become an arms race.”
Besides travel organizations, talent is fed to the high school through Belzer Middle School, where Orion Ogg, is the coach, as well as Lawrence Township youth leagues — Skiles Test, Fall Creek, Oaklandon and Lawrence Lions.
Lawrence Central plays on-campus at Challis-Pauszek Field. In recent years, the facility has added bleachers stretching from dugout to dugout, put in a new press box and did work on the sod. Plans for the spring include new bullpens.
The LC high school program does quite a bit of fundraising to keep participation prices reasonable (it was $73 in 2017 and much of that is township-mandated transportation).
“We have not had kids who could not play baseball here because of cost,” says Nguyen.
Former Lawrence Central players currently in college baseball include J.J. Montgomery (University of Central Florida), Kenny Ogg (Ohio University) and Matt Burleton (Marian University).
LC graduate Jared Ruxer pitched at the University of Louisville and is now in the Kansas City Royals organization.
Current Bears senior Allan Augustus has committed to play baseball and football at Marian. Others who hope to play on a college diamond include senior catcher Drew Prather, 6-foot-7 pitcher Zach McGee and sophomore outfielder Anthony Steinhart.
Besides Ryan, Harry and wife Heather have three other children. Morgan (17) and Tanner (16) are at Franklin Central High School and Hannah (14) is as Franklin Township Middle School-East.
Lawrence Central head baseball coach Harry Nguyen (right) talks with Zach Rogers during the 2017 season — Nguyen’s first leading the Bears. (Black Rocket Photography, LLC Photo)