By STEVE KRAH
Jaylen Cushenberry was hired as head baseball coach at Traders Point Christian School in Whitestown, Ind., in January 2021.
Since then the enthusiastic 23-year-old, his assistants and players have been establishing the culture for the Knights.
“We’re going to work hard. We’re going to honor God. We’re going to play as one,” says Cushenberry of qualities he learned while being coached as a youngster by his grandfather.
Robert Cushenberry, 78, is one of Jaylen’s Traders Point assistants.
“He likes to dance at practice,” says Jaylen of his grandfather. “He’s an energy source for us.”
Other Knights coaches in the Traders Point program are Nolan Nihiser, Conner Madding, James Gilbert and Ernie Mudis.
Cushenberry expects to have 17 or 18 players play a varsity-only schedule of more than 20 games. Participation and contest numbers are higher than usual at the school with an enrollment of about 130.
The 2021 opener is slated for March 30 against Indianapolis Cardinal Ritter. It’s the first time the Knights will meet the Raiders on the baseball field.
The Traders Point slate also features Providence Cristo Rey, Bethesda Christian, Tindley, Faith Christian, Lafayette Central Catholic, Heritage Christian, Purdue Polytechnic, Liberty Christian, Attica, Sheridan, North Vermillion, Irvington Preparatory Academy, Elwood, Wes-Del, Western Boone, Indianapolis Washington, Speedway, Horizon Christian, Indianapolis Shortridge and Muncie Burris.
“We want to play hard and fast,” says Cushenberrry. “It’s cool to see kids come out and want to be part of something special.”
The Knights are in an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with Bethesda Christian (the 2021 host site), Indiana School for the Deaf, Irvington Prep, Providence Cristo Rey and Tindley. Traders Point’s first year in the state tournament series was 2019.
Home baseball games this spring will be at Roundtripper Sports Academy or Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. Cushenberry says a new turf field on the TPCS campus is expected by the end of this year.
“It’s going to be a very special time,” says Cushenberry. “The good Lord has blessed us with the opportunity to be part of something special.”
Traders Point added a high school program in 2008 and had its first graduating class in 2012. A junior high building was opened in 2020.
As a feeder for high school baseball, Grades 5-8 play on “A” and “B” junior high teams.
Jayden Cushenberry played recreational baseball at Warren Township Little League then travel ball from 10 to 13 with the Oaklandon Bombers and 14 to 17 with the Tom Caster-coached Irvington Rattlers.
Cushenberry, a former left fielder on the baseball diamond and safety on the football field, began his high school career at Warren Central in Indianapolis and graduated from Avon (Ind.) High School in 2015 before earning a Physical Education degree at Marian University in Indianapolis in 2020. He was a student coach with MU’s perennial NAIA football powerhouse steered by head coach Mark Henninger.
Last fall was his first as defensive ends coach at Zionsville (Ind.) Community High School, where he currently works as a study hall supervisor. With Scott Turnquist as head coach, the Eagles finished as 2020 IHSAA Class 5A football state runners-up to Indianapolis Cathedral.
“I coach exactly how I played,” says Cushenberry. “We’re going to be tough. We’re going to be gritty.
“We’re going to go after you every single inning.”
It’s all about hard work and dedication and reaping what you sew.
Cushenberry knows he’s one of the younger coaches on the scene. But he sees that as an advantage.
“I’ve always been called wise beyond my years,” says Cushenberry. “We’re in a time now where the young coaches do a better job of relating to their players.
“Everybody wants to know why. I can let them know why and still coach them hard. I believe they respond better to hard-nosed coaching. We’re preparing them for life and creating a family atmosphere.”
Jaylen comes from a large extended family. His mother, Donnice Cushenberry, is a former cheer and dance coach who instilled competitiveness and the willingness to understand people in her oldest son.
“I truly want to thank my family for engraving some core values that I live by,” says Cushenberrry, who is a brother to Jordan Cushenberry and stepson to Michael Howe.
When he’s not working at Zionsville or coaching at Traders Point, Cushenberry gives lessons at Roundtripper. He is heading into his fourth summer as a coach for the Indiana Mustangs. He leads a 17U squad.
“I want to thank (Roundtripper and Mustangs founder) Chris Estep,” says Cushenberry. “He believed in me when other people wouldn’t.
“He’s treated me like a son.”
Reid Andrews is Director of Baseball Operations at Roundtripper and coaches with the Mustangs and University.
“I’ve learned so much from him,” says Cushenberry of Andrews. “He’s a good source of information.
“I’m thankful to be colleagues with Reid.”
Cushenberrry was an assistant to Estep for two seasons at University, helping the Trailblazers win an IHSAA Class 1A state crown in 2019.
Before that, Cushenberry assisted Shane Abrel at Plainfield (Ind.) High School for two seasons and Troy Drosche at Avon for one.
“Shane taught me a lot about staying on top of things, being very organized and always getting the most out of players,” says Cushenberry of Abrel.
Injury prevented Cushenberry from playing for Drosche, but he did play for David Seibel at Warren Central.
“I learned mostly about the fellowship of the game and to treat this game with respect,” says Cushenberry. “We always came to play and played very hard.
“I utilize that in my coaching today.”
Jaylen Cushenberry is head baseball coach at Traders Point Christian School in Whitestown, Ind.