By STEVE KRAH
Jason Garrett relishes being a father and a father figure.
He and wife Sharon have 11 offspring “running around on the earth. Two lived briefly in the womb.
Emily (24), Dominic (23), Louis (21) and Grace (19) all attended Fort Wayne (Ind.) Bishop Dwenger High School where Jason is pastoral minister and head coach for football and baseball.
Senior Michael (18), sophomore Cecilia (16) and freshman Simon (14) are current Dwenger students. Xavier (13), Lydia (10), Blaise (8) and Jude (4) are future Dwenger Saints.
A 1988 Dwenger graduate, Garrett saw a chance to impact many young lives and came back to his alma mater in 2012 after serving in several jobs and coaching his kids in youth sports.
“I’m constantly in a fatherly role,” says Garrett, who saw the Saints go 14-1 and win the 2018 IHSAA Class 4A state football championship in his first season in charge after six seasons as offensive coordinator and heads into his sixth season as head baseball coach this spring. “When I say these guys become like my sons it’s genuine.
“It’s something I love to do. I’ve been given some blessings and graces to be able to manage.”
How does he manage all his roles?
It’s a matter of balance.
“It comes back to my faith and believing what I do is something the Lord created me to do,” says Garrett. “I believe it’s my vocation. My work is an opportunity allows me to grow as a husband and father.
“My wife is a tremendous support for that.”
Garrett maintains a close relationship with his baseball coaches.
“We made an agreement to see this through,” says Garrett, who counts Steve Devine as assistant head coach and Todd Ellinger, Brad Brown, Mick Steele and Chad Kahlenbeck as assistants. Kahlenbeck is heading into his fourth season. The others are going into their sixth.
Devine is a former Indiana Tech head coach. He works with the varsity and JV squads with a concentration on pitching and base running. Fort Wayne Snider graduate Ellinger and Dwenger grad Brown both played baseball at Purdue University and are Dwenger football assistants.
In baseball, Ellinger works with both varsity and JV and serves as hitting coach. Brown spends most of his time with the varsity and works with catchers and the defense. Dwenger alum Steele is head JV coach and helps with fielding. Fort Wayne Concordia grad Kahlenbeck assists with the JV.
“In this role — as the head coach — I need to be the visionary and let guys coach,” says Garrett. “The time investment is not much different than I was used to. You’re managing and insuring the relationships and element of team are in place.”
The Saints play an aggressive brand of baseball. Dwenger stole 133 bases in his first season and have pilfered at least 100 bags each year since, using many of the principles of graduate Matt Talarico (who is assistant coach and player development director at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, and the founder of StealBases.com).
“We’re aggressive,” says Garrett. “Some would say more of a small ball team — Get ‘em on. Get ‘em over.
Get ‘em in.”
Garrett and his players are well aware that the team that scores the most runs wins, so they will use the bunt, squeeze bunt, push bunt and slash to fuel their offense.
“It goes back to my years as a (Dwenger) player under coach Lance Hershberger,” says Garrett of the man who now heads up the baseball program at Ivy Tech Northeast in Fort Wayne. “Everybody on the team was expected to know how to bunt.
“We are certainly willing and able.”
By stealing home, Dwenger clinched the 2017 Summit Athletic Conference title. The SAC also includes Fort Wayne Carroll, Fort Wayne Bishop Luers, Fort Wayne Concordia Lutheran, Fort Wayne North Side, Fort Wayne Northrop, Fort Wayne Snider, Fort Wayne South Side, Fort Wayne Wayne and Homestead. Conference foes meet twice, either in a home-and-home series with day in-between or in a doubleheader.
The Saints are part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Luers, Concordia, Garrett, Leo, New Haven and Columbia City. Dwenger has won 11 sectionals — the last in 2016.
Dwenger hitters take pride in taking pitches or getting plunked by them to get on base for scoring opportunities.
Garrett notes that the high school season goes by pretty quickly (batters are lucky if they get 100 at-bats) and there’s no time for a prolonged slump. Dwenger’s style usually helps it get around that offensive lull.
Garrett likes to have 30 to 32 players in the program, which allows players to get enough repetitions to continuing development.
The recent advent of pitcher-only players has opened up the roster a little bit.
“It creates opportunities for some guys,” says Garrett. “That’s been a really good thing for us. We’ve had guys have the chance to pitch in college.
“If you want to play baseball at the next level, you certainly will have that opportunity through our program.”
Since 2014, Dwenger has sent Dan Connolly (2015) to Hanover College, Noah Freimuth (2016) to the University of Saint Francis, Jack Harris (2016) to Saint Francis, Louis Garrett (2016) to Ave Maria University, Parker Noll (2016) to Wabash College, Dalton O’Boyle (2016) to St. Petersburg Junior College, Andrew Rolfsen (2016) to Anderson University, Eric Doyle (2018) to Ivy Tech Northeast, Eddie Morris (2018) to Ivy Tech, Michael Sundahl (2018) to Mount St. Joseph University and Jake Vanek (2018) to Heidelberg University. Grant Richardson played at Dwenger from 2015-16 and played his senior year at Fishers High School before going on to Indiana University. There are no current college commits for the Saints.
Dwenger graduates to be selected in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft as pitchers include left-handers Andy Helmer (New York Yankees in 1996 and Cleveland Indians out of Purdue in 2000) and Terry Kieffer (Montreal Expos out of Indian Hills Community College in Centerville, Iowa, in 1973 and St. Louis Cardinals out of Louisiana State University in 1974) and righty Ben Norton (Arizona Diamondbacks out of the University of Evansville in 2007). Norton is now the pitching coach at Butler University.
While it varies from year to year, Garrett estimates that 25 to 30 percent play both football and baseball at Dwenger on average. Of 92 football players last fall, 35 are in a winter sport and many will be three-sport athletes.
The multi-sport athlete is common at this institution.
“The culture, coaching and school, we encourage that very strongly,” says Garrett. “Why do we play sports? What’s the purpose of it? We see sports as a vehicle to grow in virtue. It’s a way they learn tremendous lessons in life. We want them to find as many competitive opportunities as possible.
Not only do they get the chance to stay healthy through engaging in physical activity, they get the chance to embrace and battle through adversity.
Dwenger football has a tradition of excellence and that translates to the baseball diamond.
Is there pressure?
“I believe there’s accountability to herald the great traditions in this school,” says Garrett. “It’s how we play, who we are and how we respect the opponent. The wins and losses take care of themselves.
“We have a deep spiritual component, a style of football that’s tough and gritty and are strong academically.
“Our motto is: Trust. Unity. Toughness. We genuinely care for each other.”
Dwenger shares Shoaff Park with Ivy Tech Northeast. Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation owns the facilities and the teams manage it. The relationship was initiated by former Dwenger head baseball coach Larry Windmiller.
Garrett played football for head coach Andy Johns at Dwenger then played four seasons of football for head coach Bill Reagan and two of baseball at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind. Heading the Pumas in baseball were Dennis Stitz in 1990 and Mike Moyzis in 1991.
After graduating SJC in 1992, Garrett went to Northern State University in Aberdeen, S.D., to get a masters in guidance and counseling and served a graduate assistantship in the school’s counseling department.
Garrett helped form Conquest Clubs and Programs, a leadership program for fathers and sons. He was executive director of Redeemer Radio in Fort Wayne and worked as a pastoral associate at Saint Mary’s in Decatur, Ind., before returning to Dwenger. He ran the St. Charles middle school program before joining the high school staff.
The main feeder schools for Dwenger (which has an enrollment of about 1,020 in Grades 9-12) includes St. Charles Borromeo, St. Jude, St. Vincent de Paul, Our Lady of Good Hope and Queen of Angels in Fort Wayne as well as St. Mary of the Assumption of Avila, Ind., and St. Joseph of Garrett, Ind.
The Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger Saints baseball team celebrate another run crossing the plate.
Father Jason and son Louis Garrett share a moment on the baseball field with the Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger High School Saints. Jason Garrett is also pastoral minister and head football coach at the school.
The Garrett family includes father Jason, mother Sharon and children Emily, Dominic, Louis, Grace, Michael, Cecilia, Simon, Xavier, Lydia, Blaise and Jude.