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Hall of Famer Webster now teaching baseball as Southport Cardinals head coach

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Phil Webster is proud to call himself a professional educator. A former law education teacher at Decatur Central High School on the southwest side of Indianapolis, he left the high school classroom in 2016 after more than five decades.

His baseball coaching career continues.

Following a few seasons as an assistant, he is the man in charge once again.

Webster, who was inducted into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2015, is now head coach at Southport High School.

Last spring, Phil served as an assistant/pitching coach with son Todd Webster at Pike High School on Indy’s northwest side.

Before that, he was an assistant at Perry Meridian High School (which is in the same Marion County township — Perry — as Southport and parochial powerhouse Roncalli) after serving on the staff at Mooresville High School in Morgan County.

Webster was head coach at North Putnam High School in Roachdale in 2013. The 2012 season was spent as pitching coach at Franklin (Ind.) College.

Why take the Southport Cardinals job now?

“I enjoy being a head coach,” says Webster. “It allows me to be able to keep teaching the game. It was great coaching with my son. Todd gave me a great opportunity.

“Now, I get to be the guy in-charge.”

Webster ran the show at Decatur Central for 27 seasons, finishing his run in 2011. His Hawks went 558-254 with seven Marion County, 11 conference, 11 sectional, two regional and one semistate title to go with the 2008 IHSAA Class 4A state championship. Decatur bested Homestead 7-3 in that game.

Two of Webster’s former players — Jeff Scott (Brebeuf Jesuit) and Jason Combs (Decatur Central) — are now high school baseball coaches in Indiana.

Prep coaching stops have also come at Plainfield and North Salem. He’s also helped son Todd coach the Pony Express in travel ball.

Webster, who resides in Decatur Township, has been conducting fall workouts at Southport.

“We out here to get ourselves a little better,” says Webster. “I like this team. They’re learners. It’s fun when you’re a coach and educator when you’ve got players that want to learn.

“I look forward to every practice and workout.”

A new IHSAA rule allows coaches to work with an unlimited number of players for two hours two days a week. The access window will close Oct. 12 and open up again the first week of December.

“I don’t like it,” says Webster of a rule he sees as limiting. “If the coach is willing to take the time and if you want to play the game, you’re restricting their ability to grow.

“We we never tell kids to stop studying chemistry or math. But we tell them to stop studying (or practicing) baseball.

Webster points out that players who have the resources can go to the professional instructor, but are not allowed get free instruction from their high school coach during the blackout period.

“The rule is what it is and I’ll respect it,” says Webster. “But we’re holding them back.

“From Oct. 12 to Dec. 3, you can’t do anything (with players as an Indiana high school coach). Why?. What’s the rationale?. I guess the reason must be we don’t want to burn (players) out. (Rule makers) need to trust us a little more. We’re not out there to hurt kids. We’re out there to make them a little better.”

Southport plays its home games at Holder Field — a facility on the Mary Bryant Elementary campus it shares with Perry Township Schools mate Perry Meridian.

The Cardinals belong to Conference Indiana (along with Bloomington North, Bloomington South, Columbus North, Terre Haute North Vigo and Terre Haute South Vigo).

Each conference team plays each other once to determine a champion.

Like he was at many of his other coaching gigs, Webster will be a part of the Marion County Tournament.

“One-eighth of the teams in the county are coached by a Webster,” says Phil, noting that Todd’s Pike Red Devils are also in the field.

The elder Webster inherits a 10-9 team from Mike Klopfenstein, who is stepping away from coaching for now to be with his wife and 1-year-old twins.

One of the returning Southport players is Avery Short. The left-handed pitcher is the lone Indiana representative on the USA Baseball 18U Trials roster.

The University of Louisville commit earned an invitation to a USA Baseball event this summer in Cary, N.C., and was placed in the Trials roster.

During tryouts in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in mid-November, a roster of 26 will be cut to 20 on Nov. 20 and go through a series of workouts and exhibition games before playing in the COPABE U-18 Pan-American Championships Nov. 23-Dec. 2 in Panama City, Panama.

Short, an alumnus of Southport Little League, has been clocked at 92 mph with his four-seam fastball and also possesses a two-seam fastball, curveball, slider and “circle” change-up.

He is excited to have Webster leading the SHS program.

“I’m looking forward to working with him for my pitching ability and learning the game since he’s been around it so long,” says Short.

At 76, Webster has assembled a seasoned coaching staff. Mike Chapman was with him for 20 years and Steve Krizmanich (his statistician) 27 at Decatur Central.

“We’re the grey-haired guys,” says Webster. “We may be the oldest staff in the state.”

Dave Chamberlain rounds out the varsity crew. Ken Slaughter and Wendell Slaughter will run the junior varsity. Freshmen coaches have yet to be hired.

In an effort to bring the Southport baseball community together, Webster will keep communication open with coaches, players and parents at the Southport, Edgewood and Indiana Central youth leagues as well as Southport Middle School.

Knowing how important it is to have parent involvement, he is meeting with those who have players in high school and middle school.

“I’d say 90 to 95 percent of parents are very cooperative,” says Webster. “They’re helpful and supportive. The ones who are hostile are very rare.”

Webster has seen a direct correlation over the years to championship teams that have strong parent groups with happy coaches and players.

Noting that high school baseball is played during the “dog days” at the end of the school year, teams must contend with many obstacles.

“At the beginning of the year, you have no demerits and everyone is fresh. Then here comes baseball and the cold weather. It’s a battle. There’s no question about that.”

That’s why Webster appreciates backing from the administration. At Southport that includes Pete Hubert.

“I’ve never had a more cooperative and supportive athletic director,” says Webster of Hubert.

Born six days before the attack on Pearl Harbor — Dec 1, 1941 — Webster grew up in the in the borough of Forest Hills just outside Pittsburgh, Pa.

To this day, he is a diehard rooter for Steel City teams — the Pirates, Steelers and Penguins.

His favorite baseball player is Roberto Clemente. Among his favorite memories are Bill Mazeroski’s walk-off home run in the 1960 World Series and the 1979 “We Are Fam-il-y!” Pirates.

“I bleed black and gold,” says Webster, who stayed with that color scheme when he picked up his masters degree at Purdue University.

Webster graduated from the now-defunct Wilkinsburg High School and pitched at Milligan College in Tennessee. He wound up in Indiana in the mid-1960s and has been here ever since.

PHILWEBSTERSOUTHPORT

Phil Webster, an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer who led Decatur Central to an IHSAA Class 4A state championship in 2008, is now head baseball coach at Southport High School in Indianapolis.

 

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Benjamin finds his baseball fit at Indiana Wesleyan

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Rich Benjamin is not the same person who took up residence in Marion, Ind., as head baseball coach at Indiana Wesleyan University prior to the 2016 season.

“I didn’t realize — in a positive way — how much it would change me in two years,” says Benjamin. “I enjoy being around like-minded coaches who care more about the other coach in the room than their own sport.

“It’s been a great place to be a mentor, to be mentored and grow and develop in the profession.”

Benjamin came to IWU following eighth seasons at Judson University in Elgin, Ill., where his teams amassed 304 wins with three Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference regular-season titles, four CCAC tournament championships. The Eagles also earned five NAIA regional appearances and two National Christian College Athletic Association World Series berths. Near the end of his stay, Benjamin added athletic director to his Judson responsibilities.

He began his coaching career as a student assistant at Martin Methodist College in Pulaski, Tenn. (He played his last two college seasons there following two at Milligan College in eastern Tennessee).

From Martin Methodist, Benjamin became an assistant Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Ill., before landing at Judson. He has extensive experience in coaching summer teams and working at camps and clinics.

Faced with multiple opportunities, Benjamin weighed his options and asked himself some questions before leaving Judson.

“What is the best fit for how I’m wired? What is the best fit for my family?,” says Benjamin, who is married to Casey and has a 5-year-old son in Ty. “Professionally, you do not want your job to cost your family more than what they’re benefitting from it.

“That’s always a delicate balance in the coaching profession.”

He recalls his initial meeting with Indiana Wesleyan athletic director and former Wildcats head baseball coach Mark DeMichael.

“I was blown away with the uniqueness of the environment,” says Benjamin of the NAIA member school. “It is a faith-based institution. It is not Christian in name only. The athletic department is founded on the Philippians 2 vision which — in short — means to be selfless. That was really attractive.”

Benjamin calls DeMichael one of the most-impressive leaders he’s ever been around.

“He really understands people, excellence and humility,” says Benjamin. “All the (IWU) coaches end up in his office at some point to use him as a sounding board for some of the cultural challenges that we are going through with our teams.

“He never tells you what to do. He lets you talk out loud. He asks really healthy open-ended questions and helps you find the answer you feel is the best solution for your program.”

During the interview process, Benjamin also learned from DeMichael about an institution with high academic and competitive standards. Every sport on campus had a combined grade-point average above 3.0 and the department winning percentage was in the top 15 in the nation.

“Here is an athletic department winning championships and killing it academically and they’re focused on people-first,” says Benjamin. “This is paradigm-shifting in college athletics. I was really attracted and wanted to be a part of it.

“Indiana Wesleyan is not one of those places where you can sell out in a couple areas to win games. You have to consider the social, academic and athletic sides of the person.

“We say, ‘if you build the person, the player will follow.’ You bring in a person and put them in a high-motored environment and you see them over their first 24 months. It’s a fun process to watch unfold because you have to do that part well.”

It’s all a matter of the right fit.

“Wherever you’re at, you have to recruit to your culture and the identity of your school, your resources,” says Benjamin. “We’re not fully-funded program (at IWU). Having to stretch dollars is the most-challenging aspect of the job.

“It’s also why we go after high financial-need students because they’ll get some government assistance or we go after high-academic students because they’re going to get a lot of academic aid.”

While attending the 2018 American Baseball Coaches Association Convention Jan. 4-7 in Indianapolis, Benjamin took the time to write in his journal about how he had performed with the knowledge he had gained since his first ABCA convention in 2004.

“It was humbling,” says Benjamin, noting some years were very good and some were not.

With the help of assistant coaches Kris Holtzieter (pitching coach and recruiting coordinator) and Drew Brantley (former Anderson University head coach, base-running/infield coach and assistant recruiting coordinator), Benjamin is looking for his players to grow from the start of the school year until the finish.

NAIA rules allow teams to be full-go for 24 weeks with a dead period between fall workouts (IWU was outdoors for about two months) and preseason training that allows coaches to be present for conditioning, strength training and team development without being able to coach baseball activities.

“That’s really healthy,” says Benjamin of the dead period. “There has to be a moment in which the player has space to go and figure out for himself the concepts you’ve been unpacking

“I’ve never had a great player that didn’t have a high motor to go take a lot of swings on their own and to find answers to the questions that have been exposed.”

To Benjamin, a coach is defined by someone who can help someone learn about themselves and the coach-player relationship works best when the athlete owns the process.

Mental training is also a part of what the Wildcats do.

“We realize your person can get in the way of your player and part of your person is your mental game and it’s your character,” says Benjamin. “We’ve all been around people who play above their skill because of their character and we’ve been around people who play who their skill because of their character.”

There are team values and goals and each player is asked to list three to five character areas they want to focus on.

“We’re able to use their list to interact with them about how they’re handling the performance level,” says Benjamin. “One of areas might be competitiveness or being fearless.

“If they get in the (batter’s) box and they have an unhealthy amount of fear or they’re not competitive or passive, they’re already beat,” says Benjamin. “If we can put guys in these scenarios each day and then talk about their person — those character values they want to grow in — you’re doing mental training right there.”

Benjamin’s 2016 Wildcats went 37-25-1 overall and 14-14 in the Crossroads League and followed that up with 27-30 and 12-15 in 2017.

Senior center fielder Brandon Shaffer (Albuquerque, N.M.) hit .348 with home runs and 39 runs batted in and 17 stolen bases made the 2017 all-Crossroads team. Freshman catcher/first baseman Brady West (Rockford, Ill.) hit .350 with 10 homers and was named CL Newcomer of the Year.

Honorable mention selections on the all-league squad were sophomore catcher Andrew Breytenbach (Palatine, Ill.) who hit .326 with 10 homers and 61 RBIs, sophomore right-handed reliever Kyle Hall (Chatham, Ill.), who went 3-1 with a 3.86 earned run average, and freshman right-handed starting pitcher Jon Young (Batavia, Ill.), who went 7-3 with a 3.74 ERA.

In addition, sophomore Caleb Eder (Jennings County High School graduate) hit .346 with eight homers and 40 runs driven in.

Indiana Wesleyan set four school records in 2017. The pitching staff racked up 379 strikeouts. On the offensive side, the Wildcats belted 68 home runs with 317 RBIs and a .478 slugging percentage.

The 2018 squad opens the season Feb. 9 against Stillman College in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Benjamin considers Indiana and the adjoining states of Ohio and Michigan plus the Chicagoland area of Illinois to be fertile recruiting territory.

In comparing the two NAIA conferences where he has been a head coach — the Chicagoland Collegiate and Crossroads — Benjamin sees many similarities.

“Both conferences have a lot of coaches that coach for the right reason,” says Benjamin. “They are very professional in the way they interact with other teams, umpires, players and so forth. In a profession where you’re trying to build the person, it’s nice to be around other people who share the same vision.”

Besides Indiana Wesleyan, the Crossroads League features Bethel, Goshen, Grace, Huntington, Marian, Mt. Vernon Nazarene, Saint Francis, Spring Arbor and Taylor. All 10 schools are private.

Baseball-playing schools in the CCAC are Calumet of St. Joseph, Indiana University South Bend, Judson, Olivet Nazarene, Robert Morris, Roosevelt, St. Ambrose, St. Francis, Saint Xavier, Trinity Christian and Trinity International.

With IWU adding football (the first game is slated for Sept. 1, 2018 against Taylor), the whole athletic department has benefitted, including baseball. A $1.2 weight room has been added.

With the establishment of the football complex came a re-establishing of the dimensions and a brand new wall for the baseball field. A five-year plan includes other upgrades such as playing surface, backstop and fencing.

“Indiana Wesleyan has a vision for everything,” says Benjamin. “They are proactive. They think ahead.”

Looking back, Rich (who has a twin brother Bobby) grew up in Rhode Island and moved to Tennessee as he and his brother were turning 9.

Rich started playing baseball year-round.

“It was my escape. It was fun,” says Benjamin. “I had more passion for it than anybody else in my family.”

When he was 12 and 13, he attended the Doyle Baseball School in Orlando, Fla., and recalls his parents taking extra jobs to pay for his week-long immersion in the game.

“The Doyles (Denny, Brian and Blake) are very professional faith-based people,” says Benjamin. “They were the first people to share Christ with me. It became a very defining moment in my life. I didn’t realize it at the time. But looking back on it, it was certainly a game-changer.”

Bobby Benjamin is restaurant owner in Louisville, Ky. The twins have a stepsister named Kayla. Mother Janet is married to Gary Piper. Father Ben is married to Vicki.

With Casey’s parents, Ty can be spoiled by three sets of grandparents.

“As a 5-year-old boy in Indiana, he wants to be a farmer,” says Rich of Ty. “He’s a John Deere guy right now. That’s where his focus is. But he’ll pick up a bat. He’ll pick up a football. He enjoys jumping on this indoor trampoline.

“He certainly enjoys being around our team.”

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Rich Benjamin enters his third season as head baseball coach at Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion, Ind., in 2018. (IWU Photo)