A youth circuit with ties to various northern Indiana school communities has began its 2021 diamond season.
Boys of Summer Baseball League fields teams for 10U and 12U all-star recreation and junior high school squads. Teams play by modified IHSAA rules.
The BSBL also sanctions a 54/80 junior high state tournament. Younger squads also participate in the Town & Country Baseball state tournament in July.
The following school districts are represented in 2021: Bethany Christian (junior high), Bremen (10U, 12U, junior high), Concord (12U, junior high), Fairfield (10U, 12U, 2 junior high teams), Goshen (junior high), Jimtown (J-Shock junior high), Northridge (10U), NorthWood (12U, junior high), Plymouth (2 10U teams, 2 12U teams), Rochester (12U), Tippecanoe Valley (10U, 12U) and Westview (12U). The latter team is coached by former big league pitcher Eric Stults.
Going into the Week of May 24, Fairfield (6-1) leads the 10U division, Plymouth Red (10-1) the 12U group and Fairfield White (5-1) the junior high league.
The BSBL was started by Tracy Farmwald then ran by Zach Benko. Kent Kauffman took over just before the 2020 season.
As commissioner, Kauffman has organized the loop and set up a website for the non-profit organization.
“It makes it easier for parents to see what’s going on,” says Kauffman. “(BSBL) is more of a developmental league. They get used to playing together and used to a system.”
Cost to enter the league is $225 per team. Host teams are responsible for baseballs and paying for umpires.
“We’re providing an economical option for good baseball,” says Kauffman. “We get some kids that have never played and they fall in love with baseball.”
Since the league has teams as part apart as LaGrange County and Rochester, Kauffman tries to accommodate distance when making out the schedule.
In the past, Wawasee and Whitko have fielded BSBL teams.
“My goal is that we are able to expand,” says Kauffman. “We will go to divisions if necessary.”
The BSBL was able to complete a 2020 schedule during the COVID-19 pandemic, starting after July 4.
“We worked together to make sure it was safe for players and fans,” says Kauffman.
Hughes values the relationships he forms with his players.
A former head coach at Frankton (Ind.) Junior/Senior High School (2009-2013) and assistant at Fairfield (2018) in Benton, Ind., and Concord (2019) in Dunlap, Ind., Hughes encourages his assistants — Perry Haimes, Cody Hilligoss, Tony Driver and Billy Pendlen — to spend five minutes each practice talking with a different kid and not about baseball.
“Get to know them on a personal level,” says Hughes, who was hired to lead the Minutemen program in January 2020. “It really matters to kids when you care about them beyond the field.”
During his time coaching at Frankton, where he graduated in 1990, Hughes had a player who was experiencing trouble with his father.
The coach and the young man had long discussions that had nothing to do with baseball. They read scripture and spent hours on Hughes’ front porch talking about life. That player ended up going into the military.
“Kids need that role model,” says Hughes. “Some just need someone to listen to them.
“We have four years to make an impact on young men’s lives — positive or negative. You can teach life lessons through baseball. For those who want to go, you can help them go to college.”
Hughes stays in contact with the Concord athletic office to help players stay on top of their grades.
“You’re a student first then an athlete,” says Hughes.
Senior Dalton Swinehart has committed to continue his academic and baseball careers at Indiana Tech in Fort Wayne.
With the idea of building a feeder system and having an impact even earlier, Hughes has established a Boys of Summer team for grades 6-8 that will play games. These players learn how things are done at the high school level.
“That’s one of the ways we want to turn the program around,” says Hughes. “Eighth graders can come to our (high school) workouts.
“We want to keep them involved and keep them interested.”
There were 42 players working out last fall. Of that number, 17 not already on a travel team for 2021 were picked for the Boys of Summer. Another 15 with travel teams will be a part of separate workouts.
During the fall IHSAA Limited Contact Period, Concord players took batting practice and learned about situational defense while developing a sense of pride in the facility.
Hughes volunteered at Fairfield during head coach Darin Kauffman’s first season then served a junior varsity coach on Pat Doherty’s Concord staff.
He was hired in January 2020 as Concord head coach. The COVID-19 pandemic wiped out the 2020 season.
Much of the time without games was spent sprucing up the Concord field. Last summer, Hughes and Haimes put in more than 100 hours apiece. There was plenty to do like edging, filling low spots, power washing batting cages, fixing the portable hitting tunnel and overhauling the home plate area and bullpens.
“People are buying in because they saw were were serious about it,” says Hughes, who expects to have a new press box with concession stand and restrooms installed after Memorial Day.
At Frankton, Hughes had three head coaches — Dave Hicks (freshmen year), Steve Sharpee (sophomore and junior years) and Kyle Campbell (senior year).
Hughes played at Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion, Ind., where he was named Mid-Central Conference (now the Crossroads League) Player of the Year in 1994. By that time, Hicks was an assistant at MCC rival Bethel College.
In the summer, Hughes played baseball for Athletes in Action in South Africa against Olympic and National Teams. He also played three seasons with the semi-pro CFD Kokomo Saints.
IWU was led by Jim Hazen in Hughes’ first two seasons and Bill Barr in his last two. While he finished up a Criminal Justice degree, Hughes took his first coaching position as an assistant to Barr.
Years later, he coached his own children in youth leagues then the job opened up at Frankton. He led the Eagles for five seasons and later moved to Millersburg, Ind., and eventually took a job with the Goshen Street Department.
Greg and wife Phoebe Hughes enjoy fishing together. She was the one who nudged him to get back into coaching. Hughes’ stepsons are Fairfield freshman Trenton and Benton Elementary third grader Carter. Trenton plays basketball and shows pigs in 4-H. Carter plays baseball, basketball and flag football.
Hughes, who also offers baseball lessons, will help with Carter and the 10U Fairfield Dukes.
“I just enjoy coaching kids,” says Hughes.
Kyle, Zac, Aubree and Ryan are Greg’s four children from a previous marriage. Kyle is a senior at Ball State University and is engaged to be married in May. Zac graduated from Ball State last May. Aubree is a BSU sophomore. Zac is an eighth grade at Pendleton Heights.