By STEVE KRAH
Valparaiso Post 94 is doing its part to keep American Legion Baseball in Indiana thriving.
In 2021, Post 94 counts Wayne Coil as Senior team field manager and Dan Sherman in the role of general manager/director of operations. Brian Niksch is head coach of the Valpo Juniors.
“We’re hanging in there,” says Sherman, who has been involved with the Valpo program for almost 10 years. Son Jake Sherman, a 2017 Andrean High School graduate, played for Charles Pratt Post 94. “Last year with the (COVID-19) pandemic and Indiana American Legion shutting down (its tournament series) hurt.
“We’re probably down 10 teams in Indiana (which fields 19U senior and 17U junior squads). The strongest programs are in Rockport (Post 254), Terre Haute (Post 346) and Kokomo (Post 6).”
As Post 94 GM/Director of Ops, Sherman helps raise funds, orders equipment and sets schedules. He’s even filled in as an umpire.
Artificial turf is going in at Valparaiso High School. That means that the VHS Vikings were “Road Warriors” (Senior Night was held at Valparaiso University) in the spring and the Post 94 is playing an all-away schedule.
Featuring many recent Valparaiso High graduates from the 2021 IHSAA Class 4A Chesterton Sectional champions, the Senior team plays American Legion and a few travel teams. Most games are within a 60-mile radius of Valpo.
In Indiana, there’s Crawfordsville Post 72, East Chicago Post 100/369, Highland Post 180, Hobart Post 502, Kokomo Post 6, South Bend Post 151, South Haven Post 502 (the Blaze is based in Hobart and draws high school players from Hobart, Portage, Boone Grove, Wheeler and River Forest) and, possibly, Bristol Post 143.
Michigan Legion opponents include Stevensville Post 568 and Three Oaks Post 204. There’s even Napoleon (Ohio) Post 300.
Valpo, which has a Senior (19U) and Junior (17U) squad, has or will see the Midwest Rockets, Morris Chiefs, Northwest Indiana Shockers and two Indiana Playmakers squads.
There will be regionals at sites to be determined for Senior and Junior teams. Junior regionals are July 8-11 with the State Finals July 15-18 at Terre Haute. Senior regionals are July 15-18 with the State Finals July 23-27 at Highland Park in Kokomo. The 94th American Legion Baseball World Series is slated for Aug. 12-17 in Shelby, N.C.
Valpo placed third in the 2019 senior tournament staged in Rockport, Ind.
“They play on bluegrass,” says Sherman of Joe Hargis Field, which Post 254 shares with South Spencer High School. “An army of guys to do maintenance and there’s covered stands.
“It’s top quality.”
Sherman, a former teacher and coach and a longtime attorney, played baseball at South Haven (Mich.) High School and Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Mich., then until age 29 in an adult league.
He has an affinity for promoting amateur baseball and particularly likes the American Legion brand.
“Baseball has almost become an elitist sport for some that have the money,” says Sherman. “ $250 donation (per player) pays for everything.
“A big part of promoting baseball is having good facilities that are fan-friendly.”
When the Post 94 Seniors traveled to River Valley High School in Three Oaks, Mich., Thursday, June 16 to play the Post 204 Oakers he knew that J.C. German and son Jason German would have the field prepped and fans would be there to cheer.
Coil, a music teacher at Ben Franklin Middle School in Valparaiso who joined the Post 94 coaching staff in 2018, also coaches the junior varsity at Valpo High under varsity head coach Todd Evans, who encourages all his Vikings to play Legion ball in the summer.
One of Wayne’s sons, Alex Coil (VHS Class of 2018), played for Post 94 as well as the Northwest Indiana Rippers in the Babe Ruth World Series.
A broadcast intern this summer with the independent professional Frontier League’s Florence (Ky.) Y’alls, Alex is heading into his senior year in Sports Journalism at Arizona State University.
Nolan Coil, another of Wayne’s sons and a 2021 Valpo graduate heading to Calvin University in Grand Rapids to study and play baseball, is on the current Post 94 Senior squad. Four other Post 94 players — Nick Koprcina (Calvin), Kyle Lawrence (Ohio Northern University in Ada, Ohio), Jake Nightingale (Lawrence Technological University in Southfield, Mich.) and Lucas Siewin (Kankakee, Ill., Community College) — are headed to college baseball programs in the fall.
The Post 94 Senior roster also includes Josh Brinson, Nate Guzek, Adler Hazlett, Erik Kallen, Matt Levenda, Matt Nightingale, Chris Rahn and Griffey Zborowski.
Three 2021 Valpo grads who have made college commitments not playing Legion ball this summer are Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association District Player of the Year and North/South All-Star Series selection Grant Comstock (Northwestern University), Ty Gill (Purdue University), Carter Kosiara (North Central College in Naperville, Ill.) and Elan Reid (Manchester University).
“I like the competition (of American Legion Baseball),” says Wayne Coil. “Many players have just finished their first year of college (at the senior level). The pitching is usually excellence.
“The distance to travel and expense is less than when my boys were in travel ball. We get to know the (other Legion) coaches a lot better. They are all volunteering their time. It’s a bunch of great guys.”
Coil sees Legion ball making a comeback.
“The enthusiasm is greater for it,” says Coil. “If only more high school coaches would become aware of what American Legion is all about.”
Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Gene Bottorff was infielder/pitcher Coil’s coach at Muncie (Ind.) Central High School.
“He was a great mentor,’’ says 1984 MCHS graduate Coil of Bottorff. “My older brother (Class of ’82’s Neal Coil) and I learned quite a bit from him.”
Wayne Coil graduated from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, and played in a summer baseball league after college.
Niksch, a 1997 Valpo High graduate, is the freshmen baseball coach and a business teacher at VHS as well as an IHSAA-licensed umpire. Son Jake Niksch (Class of 2023) has played for the Post 94 Juniors and Seniors this summer.
While most Post 94 Juniors players go to Valpo High, New Prairie, Portage and South Central (Union Mills) are also represented on a 14-player roster.