Winchester (Ind.) Community High School won its first IHSAA sectional baseball title in 37 years on Memorial Day at Lapel. After besting Frankton 3-0 May 25, the Golden Falcons topped Lapel 1-0 May 29 for the program’s second championship. The other came in 1986 with Bill Bush as head coach. He coached from 1971-2000 and had his No. 7 retired two weeks ago. “It is a really big deal,” says Ken Hendrickson, a 1984 Winchester graduate who played for Bush and is in his fifth season as head coach and eighth on the Golden Falcons coaching staff. “Winchester had not won a sectional game (on the field) since 2008. We had a forfeit in the first round against Burris last year. I don’t count that because we didn’t earn that one.” Winchester (14-11) is now preparing for a one-game Class 2A regional at 3 p.m. ET Saturday, June 3 against 23-7 Eastern (Greentown) on the turf at Logansport’s Jim Turner Field. It’s about a 2 1/2-hour bus ride from Winchester. Hendrickson has coached three of Bush’s grandsons — Glenallen Anderson (Winchester Class of 2019), Will Anderson (Class of 2021) and McCormac Anderson (Class of 2026). Glenallen Anderson, who pitched at Winchester, went on to play at Wilmington (Ohio) College. Former Golden Falcons center fielder Will Anderson played for the Muncie Post 19 Chiefs that won the 2022 Indiana American Legion state championship. Aaron Anderson — father of Glenallen, Will and McCormac — is Hendrickson’s pitching coach. His other varsity assistants are Brian Cline and Bart Porfidio. Bradley Clark, Bryant Clark and Chandler Woodward guide the junior varsity as well as the seventh and eighth graders in the junior high program. “That is imperative,” says Hendrickson of the feeder program that also gives varsity coaches a chance to meet future players and to instill their systems. “They get an idea of what they’re coming into and it really helps when they’re freshmen.” There is also a local youth league that develops baseball talent. Position players who have been in starting roles in 2023 include three seniors (first baseman Noah Heaton, right fielder Trey Pullins and second baseman-designated hitter Charlie Sauser), one junior (second baseman Brock Goforth), three sophomores (third baseman Justin Cox, catcher Cooper Hummel and left fielder Drayvin Whitehead) and two freshmen (shortstop Anderson and center fielder Aidan Weatherhead). The pitching staff is led by three sophomore right-handers — Jace Allen (who tossed complete-game shutouts in the sectional against Frankton and Lapel), Whitehead and Cox and freshman lefty Landen Porfidio. “Our pitching has been really good, but our strength has really been our defense,” says Hendrickson. “We’re peaking at the right time.” The Golden Falcons have moved at tournament time in recent years. They have been part of the north (Sectional 40) since 2021. They were in the south (Sectional 41) 2016-19 after being in Sectional 40 in 2012-15 and Sectional 41 2008-21. Winchester (enrollment around 400) is a member of the Tri-Eastern Conference (with Cambridge City Lincoln, Centerville, Hagerstown, Knightstown, Northeastern, Tri, Union City and Union County). Besides Frankton and Lapel, Winchester’s sectional group includes Monroe Central, Muncie Burris and Wapahani. “East central Indiana is big baseball country,” says Hendrickson. Falcon Field — located in on-campus above the football field — is Winchester’s home diamond. It was built by Bush in the early 1970’s. The facility received a major upgrade a few years ago at the time the school got a new on-campus softball field. “Our field is absolutely gorgeous,” says Hendrickson. Coaches tend to maintenance. “I enjoy working on our field,” says Hendrickson. “It’s very relaxing to me. “Baseball coaches in general really take pride in their fields.” Hendrickson has worked in the Randolph County Sheriff’s office for 36 years as is currently Chief Deputy after serving eight years as Sheriff. Ken and Lisa Hendrickson will celebrate 27 years of marriage in September. Their son is 22-year-old Torin Hendrickson (Winchester Class of 2019), who played for his father.
Has it really been a generation since Indiana widely adopted high school class sports? Of course there were classes in football going back to the 1970s, but check the records and you will find that 1996-97 (when Jasper outlasted Carmel 10-8 for the IHSAA baseball championship) was the last year that other sports were in the all-comers category at state tournament time. With the COVID-19 pandemic taking away the 2020 spring season, that makes 2023 the 25th year of class baseball in the Hoosier State. In the multi-class era, 56 different schools have won state baseball championships. Of that number, only Jasper, LaPorte and Penn earned titles prior to 1997-98. There are 22 schools with multiple state runner-up finishes. That accounts for 60 red ribbons — all but 12 coming from 1997-98 forward. Noting that some schools came about in recent years because of consolidation, unification or other reasons, those that won their first sectional championship during the multi-class era include 4A’s Elkhart (2021), Evansville Harrison (1999), Fishers (2017), Fort Wayne South Side (2012) and Michigan City (2002), 3A’s Angola (1999), Charlestown (1999) and Hamilton Heights (2006), 2A’s Austin (2002), Central Noble (2009), Clinton Central (2005), Covenant Christian of Indianapolis (2008), Delphi (2008), Fairfield (1998), Hanover Central (2011), Heritage Christian (2005), Illiana Christian (2022), Lewis Cass (2000), North Decatur (2011), Parke Heritage (2021), Sheridan (2004), South Knox (2004), Southwestern of Hanover (1999), Southwood (1999), Taylor (1998), Triton Central (2003), Whitko (2017) and Woodlan (2005) and 1A’s Argos (1998), Bethesda Christian (2008), Caston (2012), Christian Academy of Indiana (2004), Cowan (2004), Daleville (1999), Edinburgh (2009), Elkhart Christian (2013), Eminence (2005), Fort Wayne Blackhawk Christian (2001), Fort Wayne Canterbury (2009), Greenwood Christian (2014), Hauser (2004), Henryville (1999), Indianapolis Lutheran (2017), Kouts (1998), Marquette Catholic (2002), Milan (1999), Monroe Central (2001), Morgan Township (2004), Morristown (1998), New Washington (1998), Northeast Dubois (1998), North Miami (2019), Oldenburg Academy (2003), Park Tudor (1998), Pioneer (2016), Randolph Southern (2010), Rising Sun (2002), Seton Catholic (2011), South Central of Elizabeth (2005), Southwestern of Shelbyville (1999), Tecumseh (2000), Traders Point Christian (2021), Trinity Lutheran (2009), Triton (2000), Washington Township (1999), Union City (2012), University (2012), Waldron (2001), West Washington (2021), White River Valley (2017) and Whiting (2008). A quarter century in, there are still plenty of opinions in the Indiana high school baseball community about the system. These questions were posed to several coaches around Indiana:
Is class baseball a positive or a negative?
Who benefits the most from class baseball?
If you could change anything about class baseball what would that be?
“(Class baseball) is a positive. It has allowed schools of all sizes to be recognized and have some success at the state level while increasing fan interest in our sport. The players and the communities truly benefit the most from class baseball, in my opinion. “The IHSAA does a great job of administering the state tournament and ending each year at Victory Field allows our sport to be showcased on a big stage! However, the tournament format itself needs to be addressed, especially at the sectional level, and we can’t continue in a ‘one size fits all’ cookie-cutter format. Our sport is different than others and our tournament format needs to reflect that. Seeding, success factor, and travel also need to be looked at in light of the fact(s) that class sports are here to stay and there are geographical constraints/factors based on the location of the school(s). “Baseball in general is changing for the better in Indiana … the IHSBCA and the IHSAA need to continue to work together on formats/philosophies/participation guidelines that foster growth in our sport and develop a mutual relationship where everyone’s input is valued. We, the IHSBCA, have several ideas to share about the state tournament format/setup and how we can better grow our sport, in general. We are all stronger when we are working together and my goal as the Executive Director is to help facilitate positive changes that will grow our sport and unify our coaches at the same time.”
“(Class baseball) is a positive. “I assume that smaller schools are more likely to benefit so they play teams that are more competitive. “I would support adding a fifth ‘super class’ of the largest schools and then balance the rest of the four classes.”
“Class baseball is definitely a positive thing. It levels the playing field for teams when it comes to player depth and facilities. “For example, a school with an enrollment of 2,200 has a lot more players to work with and pull from than a school with an enrollment of 300. Both teams can be good and have good players, but the bigger school is very likely going to have more depth. The smaller school is likely to have one really good pitcher where the bigger school is likely to have two, or even three really good pitchers. As a result, the bigger school would have a big advantage in the sectional and regional. “The other way it levels the playing field is when it comes to facilities. Bigger schools tend to have nicer facilities to train and practice in during the off-season where some schools, usually the smaller ones, don’t have anything close to the facilities of larger schools. Many schools either can’t get access to the facilities they have during the off-season because other in-season teams are using them for practice or games, or they just don’t have the facilities or space period. “It can put teams at a big competitive disadvantage when they can’t train or practice the way they want to and need to during the off-season, and I think class baseball helps in this regard because schools that have similar enrollments tend to have similar facilities. “Everyone benefits from class baseball. The smaller schools obviously because of what I mentioned in my previous answer to the first question, but also the larger schools. When you’re competing for anything, let alone a state championship, you want it to really mean something and be a challenge. It’s what competing is all about. It’s not going to mean as much when a school with an enrollment of 2,200 plus kids goes up against a school with an enrollment of 300 plus kids and beats them in a sectional or regional. They should be able to do that again referring back to what I mentioned in my previous answer to the first question. “Not only would they win but they wouldn’t have to throw their No. 1 pitcher to do so and would have them available for the next game, where the smaller school would likely need to throw their best pitcher in that situation. And if they did win, do they have a pitcher that could compete and win against another team with a large enrollment…not likely. “There are two things I would change about class baseball, and one of them is being talked about right now. First, I would seed the postseason. It’s frustrating when you have teams that have done really well during the regular season and they meet in the first or second round of the sectional, and there are teams that didn’t fair as well in the regular season getting a bye in the first round and/or playing another team that didn’t do as well in the early rounds. “It’s something I feel wouldn’t be too difficult to do or set up and it would make the postseason better and provide even more meaning to the regular season. I like that everyone makes the postseason because you can have something happen with injuries and get a player back, or a team hasn’t quite figured things out yet but later in the year they do and are still in it. “But, there needs to be something in place for teams that do better in the regular season. I think seeding the sectional would be really good for Indiana high school baseball. “The other thing I would change is going from four classes to five classes. Again, for all the reasons I’ve mentioned previously. Many times there’s such a large gap between the teams in 4A. I think going to five classes would help this and it’s something the IHSBCA and IHSAA are talking about and looking into. “The success factor has worked well and is set up well. How they have it set up is good and I think it’s accomplishing what they wanted it to.”
“There’s no doubt that class sports have provided more opportunities for athletes, coaches, schools, and communities by creating a level of fairness with classified state tournaments. I understand the traditional approach of one class and experienced it as a player as we advanced to the semistate finals as a small school (at Western) in ’93 and ’94. But as a coach, the class system allows for accomplished small school teams to aspire to be state champions instead of hoping to win a sectional in a one class system. “All stakeholders of a school’s baseball program (benefit most from class baseball). Having ranked teams and winning championships builds a greater sense of tradition within communities and raises interest amongst school children, faculty, and administration. Players and coaches benefit from the sense of accomplishment by developing a highly competitive team within a post-season setting. “I would make the tradition factor a four-year stay in an elevated class — not just two years. Those who are state champion caliber teams seem to continue to dominate the current landscape. Also, if a team moves up in class and wins a sectional, regional, etc., a system needs to be created to keep them in that class because they are showing the ability to compete. “We need to restructure our tournament. Six-team sectionals and format need to be uniformed. Only the sectional final should be played on Memorial Day. We’d have two-team regionals, four-team semistates and seed the tournament. “We are the only sport that, based on pitching restrictions (pitch counts and days rest) and may not have our best lineup on the field in a championship setting. Too many sectional championships are decided by Team 1’s ace dominating vs Team 2’s bullpen because of weather, graduation or the draw. Basketball will always have their point guard.”
“There have been a lot of positives (with class baseball). There have been some very good smaller schools that have gotten the chance to experience state tourney runs that might not have happened in areas where there were perennial large school programs had too much depth for the smaller schools. I think that has been a good thing for Indiana high school baseball. “Small schools with open enrollments and the ability to reach out from beyond what would be considered a normal attendance area have done extremely well (in class baseball). This, however, is not entirely the fault of class sports. Open enrollment and increased club and travel athletic teams have opened up a whole different experience for high school athletes today. “High school athletes are far more likely to travel further, meet and become friends with new teammates outside of their own school in the off-season and subsequently more likely to travel further away to attend a school of their choice. In a way I can’t blame them. Unfortunately, that choice often comes with a greater financial obligation and not all athletes and their families can afford to do so. Smaller schools have benefited in some areas directly. That’s not necessarily a criticism of the class sports, it’s the trend and we aren’t going to a one-class tourney.”
“Overall (class baseball) is a positive. At times, schools being up a class or down a class will dictate how successful they can be. “The smaller schools probably benefit most (from class baseball). Winning a sectional would be a huge feat for a small school (during the one-class era). I know it was for us (at Northwestern) when we played in the sectional with Kokomo). “There’s talk of the IHSAA going to a five-class system. I’d probably be in favor of that. If you’re going to do class might as well break it up a little more. “How are sectionals are being distributed and seeding of the tournament would take much more priority over how many classes there are. “Let’s set up a season where the regular season is more meaningful and the better teams are meeting at the end (with semistate- and state-caliber games at those stages rather than at the sectional level). “I like the way Ohio (has seeded). The way I understand it, teams have been ranked off their MaxPreps ranking. Head coaches have a meeting. If you’re ranked No. 1 you pick your sectional. If you’re No. 2 you pick your sectional and you’re probably not going to put themselves in the same sectional as the No. 1 team.”
“(On the positive side,) class baseball provides more kids, coaches, and communities an opportunity to be a state champion. (On the negative side,) prior to class baseball we were used to minimal travel. We’ve also lost the local rivalries because of class baseball. “Good smaller programs who were fundamentally sound yet they usually didn’t have the pitching to advance deep into the tournament (benefit most from class baseball). “I would place all private schools into Class 4A or 2A. The success factor has helped every two years, but you still have those schools who dominate every two years they move down. “I’ve coached at the 4A and 3A level and even though I am at a 3A school, I would still rather compete against local rivalry teams rather than class baseball. However, we will never return to a one class system and I understand why!”
“Class baseball is a positive and helps balance the playing field. Since I’ve been coaching, I believe all but just a few schools that have made the State Finals in 4A are in the top 32 in enrollment in the state. “Baseball is a game where you are not always putting your best 9 or best team on the field depending on pitching rotation and availability of arms. “The larger enrollment typically means there are more available players trying out, which creates a greater opportunity to development quality depth in your pitching staff. That is one advantage that bigger schools have. So, the idea of class baseball helps to control some of the variables on both sides of the field. It is not perfect, but it is a way to try and help control some of the unique variables that are different in baseball than other sports. “I believe the top half of each class benefits the most from class baseball, especially at the 3A and 4A levels because the range of enrollment is so much bigger from the smallest school to biggest school in those classes. The range in enrollment in 1A and 2A is much closer from top to bottom. “I don’t really want to go down this path, but the private schools also benefit from class baseball, especially in 1A, 2A, and often 3A. Private schools are not limited to school district lines and are able to draw from a wider range of students compared to the smaller enrollment schools in 1A and 2A. “Not really answering the question, but if I could change anything about the IHSAA tournament, I would make the regular season matter and seed the tournament (or at least seed the teams that feed into the regionals). “You might not be in the same sectional each year if you are seeded from the regional level. I would also create double-elimination rounds at the different levels (sectional, regional, etc.). Similar to the thought above that you are not always putting your best team on the field depending on pitcher availability, a double-elimination tournament would help to insure the best team advances and not just the team with the best pitcher and the best blind draw. “Classes need to be set by a specific enrollment range and not try to keep every class the same size. I would add a fifth or even a sixth class and set the range for the enrollment so that each school in the class is close to the same enrollment size. If that means that one class only has 32 teams, another class has 48, another class has 64, and another class has 96, then that is what should be done and would help make the tournament as fair as possible.”
“Overall (class baseball) is a positive. It has given a lot of smaller schools a chance to be successful and show some of these coaches at smaller schools can really coach. “Smaller schools definitely benefit the most (from class baseball). Some of the teams that have won state championships would never make it out of their sectionals if we were one class. Nothing against them but when schools have 2,000 students to pick from they are going to have a lot more athletes and in the sports that require more players like baseball and football that makes a big difference. “(I favor putting) private schools in their own class. I think they have such a huge advantage. Not because they recruit or anything like that, but they tend to get the players that are more apt and able to do the extra things such as lessons, travel ball, etc. “Overall (class) been good for sports in Indiana. I know Silver Creek has won three state championships in boys and girls basketball in the past four years and made we have made some long runs in baseball. Not sure we would have been able to do that in one class. If you ask any of those kids that were on the state championship team and I am sure they could care less whether it was one class or four.”
“I have no issues with class baseball. I like competing against other schools my size because they have the same issues (positive and negative) that I have. “(Class baseball) definitely helps the smaller schools being able to compete against other schools their own size. “Baseball is a sport where a dominant pitcher can have a great bearing on the game. I remember playing Bremen in the semistate in ’94. (John Glenn head coach) John Naldony has had some very good teams that can compete against larger schools. “As far as changes, a double-elimination sectional would be interesting. I am not sure if a five-class baseball system could accommodate that.”
“Wapahani is in favor of class sports. I believe it makes sports a more even playing field. We won the state in 2014 in 2A, that would not have happened if there was one class. “Our girls volleyball just won state, which is a big deal for small communities, they lost to Yorktown twice and HSE (Class 4A finalists) all were sweeps and not really close. “Even though our team in 2014 and our girls last week were very good, competing against the bigger schools in the tournament would be very difficult. That being said, our State Championships are still a very big deal for our community, school, and students. “Therefore, class sports are a positive. As little league participation in small communities keep losing kids to travel ball and other activities small school numbers are seeing less kids playing baseball and softball unless they have a successful program which is a minority. “Small schools at least feel like they have a chance to win in the tournament and maybe even a state championship when they are playing schools close to their same size. Very few 1A or 2A teams can compete in the tournament with the bigger schools, once they realize that kids quit playing or go to another sport where they might have a chance to win. “The current format is fine for the tournament. Adding additional classes or a class would benefit big schools only in my opinion. Four classes has been a success. Can you tweak things? Maybe. But why change if it is not broken?”
“I like the one-class system but also know that class sports are not going anywhere so we can take the positives from it and live with it. “It is probably the small class schools and communities that benefit the most as they typically have a greater opportunity to advance when playing similar size schools. “Class sports are here to stay so one change I’d like to see for baseball would be the tournament run in some way that has a series feel to it as baseball is not a sport that is suited for a ‘one and done’ tournament.”
“I’m fine with class sports but concerned about the impact of some private and parochial schools that seem to put great emphasis on athletic success which can make it difficult for public schools to compete on an annual basis. “Class sports are here to stay but this situation and the number of transfers at public schools are the next challenges for the IHSAA.”
“(Class baseball) is a positive. It has created more excitement for more schools and their fans. “Probably the smaller schools feel as if they have a better chance to experience sectional and regional championships than when it was one class. “The only drawback (in class baseb all) I could see is you may have farther travel but in your sectional pairings than when it was one class. When I played in the single class, your sectional would be more local. It would have teams of various sizes, but we seemed have greater rivalries because many times you played against those teams in the regular season or against those players in your summer leagues. “As a coach today, I want to play the best schools we can (no matter the size). I want to prepare ourselves for our conference and sectional. When I was a player, we wanted to be able to compete with Logansport, Kokomo, Marion and LaPorte. Today, we want to compete with Andrean, Jasper, Brebeuf and Southridge.”
“(Class baseball) is a positive. I witnessed first-hand what the state tournament does in small communities. The student-athletes have a more balanced playing field. “The benefits go to the teams that advance the furthest in the tourney. Without class baseball a 1A could defeat a 3A or 4A school in the tournament on a given day. However, in most cases those smaller schools don’t have the depth, especially with pitchers. “We are at the point that we need to look at the number of classes. I would be in favor of adding a fifth class. The current disparity in school sizes is extremely large in the upper class. With the growth and addition of smaller, private schools, other mid-size schools are being bumped up. “The biggest problem facing our tournament currently is the number of schools in the sectionals. Host schools have roughly a week to host a sectional tournament. “Depending on your sectional, you could have anywhere from 5-8 teams in that sectional. Huge difference between five and eight. In a five-team sectional the winning team would have to win two or at most three games, and could possibly do that with two pitchers. In an eight-team sectional, the winning team would have to win three games and would possibly need three if not four pitchers in that 5-7 day window for the games.”
“(Class baseball) is a positive. It levels the playing field for all schools, especially the ones that are not in that top quarter or so. “The smaller schools and even the medium-sized schools benefit the most. “The thing that football did with the Top 32 (being in the largest or super class), I’d like to see that in the other sports. There are different things you could do with the other four (in a five-class system). You could divide it up evenly. There’s been discussion of capping 1A at 128. There’s a big discrepancy right now between the bottom of 4A and the top of 4A. “(The Indiana Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association) has talked about running data and see how people would fall. There would not be (an) equal (amount of) schools in every class. We’re still in the process of gathering information. The IHSAA was at our last two athletic directors conferences and present for those discussions.”
“Class baseball will have a positive effect on high school baseball. I think that it levels the playing field for the state tournament. Also, having class baseball will allow more schools the opportunity to earn a state title just like with football’s six classes. “I believe that the smaller schools will benefit.” “It would be fun to see all state title teams play in a small tournament to see who is the best of all of the classes.” “Even with the change to class baseball, there are very good teams at each class level. It will still not be an easy road to get the opportunity to play at Victory Field.”
“Had class sports been in place (when I was at Clinton Prairie) I may have never left. One of the things class sports does is that you can achieve everything positive you want to achieve from a goals standpoint. “Class sports kind of levels the playing field during the state tournament. I had some terrific teams back at Prairie. In five years, we won two sectionals. “A disadvantage for class sports is that when you get to a bigger school like Noblesville there’s no ceiling on the enrollment. “Believe it or not once we went to class sports Noblesville had the smallest enrollment in our sectional at 1,250 (Clinton Prairie was around 300). “If I were at Clinton Prairie I’d welcome it as a smaller school. I might have one really good pitcher that could help me compete against anybody, but in most years would have a drop-off in pitching depth. “At Noblesville — a larger school — I have the chance to have more depth. In baseball it always comes down to pitching. You can be good in a lot of areas of the game. If you have a question on the mound you’re going to struggle.”
There’s positives and negatives for everything, but it’s good for baseball to have class. “If we expand to another class it’s going to be even better. It makes everyone feel like they have a chance. If you’ve got the right group of guys you can win. “At the State Finals you see a difference between the 1A game and 4A game. The lineups are deeper at the bigger level. The 4A game is little more of a college game than a high school game. “The smaller schools probably benefit more (in class baseball) than the bigger schools). “In baseball, it’s how the pitching lines up. “I like how Iowa does it. They don’t start baseball until the end of April and their tournament’s in July. I don’t know if that will ever happen here.”
“Class baseball is a positive (but classification should be addressed) … The number of schools in each class doesn’t need to be the same. “Breakdown of each class needs to be more than an arbitrary enrollment number. There needs to be thought into why the lines of demarcation are made (spread, standard deviations, range). Athletic department size (percentage of the student body participating in each sport should be used for classes) could be used to determine classes. “Many large schools have very small baseball programs. Some small schools have very large baseball programs in terms of numbers. The class system should be used to place a school into its appropriate level of competition, not just for the number of students that attend a school. There are many other variables to consider.”
“I don’t know if (class baseball) is a positive or a negative per say. I played when there wasn’t any classes and I think the class system has taken away for the local rivalries. Now depending on your class and the location of your sectional, you may have to travel up to an hour to play in sectionals, although more teams have the opportunity to win a state championship, a win over a neighborhood rival might mean more, bragging rights. “There are eight teams every year who have the opportunity to play in a state championship game so that’s a benefit (to class baseball). More players, coaches, and schools who have a chance to experience a state championship game. “I’m not sure that I agree with the success factor movement (for all schools), aside from private schools you may be punishing kids who aren’t even in high school because current classes are winning. In small towns you may have a group of kids who all hit at once and then the next year they have nothing, those young men, in the current format are being punished for the success of prior classes. “For me it comes down to the local excitement, the rivalries, the competition between kids who know each other, who’ve grown up playing each other since little league. That’s what’s I believe is missing with the class system. Coming from a coach at a small school I know that if there wasn’t a class system the likelihood of us winning a sectional would go down dramatically, but just think if we would ever knock off one of the local big boys, it would be remembered forever.”
“Overall you can’t make a real argument that (class baseball) is a negative. You’re putting more kids and more schools in successful situations. I get that part. “We were fortunate enough to win eight sectionals (at Northeast Dubois) which wouldn’t have happened in single-class. “That being said, I’m not sure its been a positive for small-school athletes as far as recognition goes (for all-star consideration or scholarships). “The smaller schools were the target when this all started 25 years ago.” “There are private schools that have it better than other private schools (some have thrived and others have had a hard time fielding a team).”
“Class baseball is a positive for the most part. The obvious plus is that there are more ‘winners.’ The big negative in my opinion is that schools lose local rivalries. Pre-class era, we had great rivalries with all the local schools because you were going to potentially play one of them at the sectional or regional level. Those teams and games are now just another game on the schedule unfortunately, especially in my neck of the woods. “Terre Haute South and Terre Haute North are on a ‘big school island.’ We have to travel at least 50 miles to play another 4A baseball team. It was much easier to have a rivalry with say a West Vigo, South Vermillion, Sullivan, etc. before class baseball because we would most likely see them in the state tournament. It is difficult to have a rivalry with a school that is located in or around the Indianapolis area. “The IHSAA can expand to five classes for baseball — that’s fine. But, in my opinion, the private schools need to have their own class/classes.”
“I think class baseball has been positive even though I was a little skeptical when it first started. “Class baseball probably benefits the smaller schools the most because it gives them a realistic chance in the tournament. “The biggest thing that I think that could help class baseball would be looking at creating a separate parochial school class.”
“Having been a high school football coach for 40 years and a head high school baseball coach for 45 years, I have seen the ‘evolution’ of class sports here. My connection to friends and relatives in neighboring Ohio and Michigan has also allowed me to ‘watch’ the evolution of class sports there. In my early years (1981), I was part of Leland Etzler’s Woodlan football staff that went to the Class A state championship game vs. Hamilton Southeastern. There were three classes of football at that time compared with the six we have now. The game was played outdoors in a blizzard on November 20, 1981 (the night before my wife and I were married). It was an awesome experience for everyone connected to the small town communities of Woodburn and Harlan, Indiana. That puts my vote on the positive side of class sports in general and class baseball in particular. “In 2007, I was fortunate enough to be part of the Class 2A baseball championship game at Victory Field with my Heritage Patriots. We came up short to a powerhouse from South Spencer, but once again it was a tremendous experience for the communities of Monroeville and Hoagland. Players, parents and fans were the biggest beneficiaries in both cases. “I have seen point systems both here and in Ohio. I have seen other limited entry systems where not everyone gets to participate. I have seen ‘seeded’ systems (currently in Ohio) where top seeds are given regional choice and early round home games. Later rounds are played at ‘neutral’ sites. There are good and bad characteristics to all of these hybrid systems — depending on where you fall in the ‘rankings.’ I feel that things continue to evolve and therefore should only get better in the future — as long as we keep all kids in mind.”
“I believe it to be positive for the student-athletes throughout the state as class baseball has provided opportunities for schools of all sizes to compete with more of a level playing field. Being at a smaller school for five years (Delphi) and now at a bigger school for the last 11 (Harrison), I have been lucky enough to see several outstanding programs and coaches at all levels. “While at Delphi, we were fortunate enough to advance to the 2010 2A state championship game. While I would like to say we’d compete well in a one-class system, the truth of the matter is, we would have struggled to compete against bigger schools in a two- or three-game sectional (or regional) due to the differences in depth of our roster in comparison to bigger schools. “At Harrison, we have been lucky enough to have several arms that we could run out in an elimination game. At Delphi, that number is quite smaller, which would have really hurt us if we were to play vs. bigger schools in a two- or three-game sectional (or regional). That is a huge competitive advantage for the larger schools and something that is beyond the control of smaller schools. When class baseball started, it provided schools of all sizes the ability to compete on a level playing field in each of the four classes.
“I really see (class baseball) as a positive for the lower classes. Class A and AA have the opportunity to get a State Championship and not have to butt heads with the larger schools. In Class AAA and AAAA, there’s not as big a difference in talent.”
“Class baseball is both positive and negative in my mind. You lose some of the regional rivalries although you could still play local/smaller and larger teams on your regular season schedule. We certainly have more sectional champions and more kids are able to enjoy success playing baseball so that is a huge plus. It leaves more kids with positive experiences while in high school and playing our great game. “I would have to think that the smaller schools benefit the most from class baseball with all respect to them. Our state has tremendous coaches and programs at all levels. Again the opportunity for kids at those schools to be able to compete in the state tournament and enjoy success is a great benefit. “I’m not sure there is much to change for the better — possibly a Champions Tournament but on the flip side it may be rough to win a title and then turn around and possibly get beat. Basketball got away from it, obviously. Some schools have to travel quite a bit for sectional play, but again not sure if there is a way around that. “Baseball at the 3A level on a whole rivals the baseball being played at 4A. Jasper and Andrean’s success when they bumped up is a testament.”
“As in other sports, classification was created to level the playing field keeping schools with similar enrollment sizes within the same bracket and to also create more winners per sport. Classification has added hope to teams who may otherwise not have it if they are put into a sectional with bigger schools. To be perfectly honest most of the time the bigger schools just have access to more choices, such as players, facilities and money. “The smaller schools benefit the most from classification. It has allowed talent to grow and flourish, as having an opportunity to win a sectional breeds hope, which makes it easier to get kids out to play. “I would create a separate class for private schools, the advantage that they have can not be matched by the public school. I will say open enrollment has helped, but the private schools have distanced themselves a lot especially in baseball. “I like where we are at with baseball in the state of Indiana. The training facilities and opportunities that our kids have after high school has grown since I have been in the game the last 20 years.”
“I am somewhat of a traditionalist, so a single class had a little soft spot in my heart. That said, there are some benefits to a class system. The class system allows for: 1. More state winners, 2. A chance for smaller schools to compete at a high level, 3. It helps promote the game of baseball in the state. “I would say the smaller schools and the schools that fall just under the class limits (benefit the most from class baseball). What I mean by that is if the top 101 enrollments go to 4A, school number 102 has an advantage because they are playing in 3A. The private schools also benefit from the class system. “If we are to stay in the class system (which we will), I would say that for baseball there needs to be five classes instead of four. “Another change I would enact would be to not separate by an equal number. If there are 400 schools, it doesn’t need to be 100 in each class of four. “A final change would be the success factor rule. The requirements need to be adjusted, mainly the length at which they must stay up a class should be longer. “One thing that class baseball hurt (along with class basketball) was the community sectionals. I graduated in ’93 when it was still one class and I remember that all the sectionals in every sport were heavily-attended. The attendance has gone down in terms of sectionals.”
“Class baseball is a positive thing, especially for schools with lower enrollment. It helps create a somewhat even playing field for tournament play. Class sports have allowed for multiple smaller enrollment schools to have teams thrive and have success that may not happen if class sports didn’t exist. “Class baseball has allowed our kids to compete against schools of like enrollment. It has allowed our school to enjoy tournament success. It has allowed our school and community to host sectional and regional tournaments, whereas without class sports, we may have not had these opportunities. “I understand the log jam in class sports that occurs at the 4A level, especially in larger city schools. Oftentimes top teams match up early in a tournament, which I am sure is frustrating for those programs. “Overall, class baseball has been a positive thing, especially from the Caston baseball programs perspective. We feel as though it provides parity for our kids, and it gives them a chance to be successful in tournament play. Like in any system, there are pros and cons, but our feel is this has more pros than cons for our student athletes.”
“Class baseball is a positive thing. Teams get a chance to play vs comparable sized teams, better chance for success in state tourney. “The lower classes (benefit most from class baseball) as they all have a legitimate chance for tourney success. “My thoughts about change, which I presented to LaPorte AD, Ed Gilliland, over five years ago is this: All classes play their sectionals. Winners would then meet up in a demographic regional competing with those winners meeting in a four-team semi and finally in a final four State Championship tournament. I actually broke it down statewide with who goes where potentially each stage. This give each class a chance for a sectional title and a tourney overall state champion. I also put this idea for basketball as well. “IHSBCA has done a tremendous job in supporting high school baseball. Baseball and basketball are sports where small schools can compete vs. larger schools. My format would appease all schools with a chance for a sectional trophy, but let’s see one overall state champion.”
“(Class baseball) is a positive. “Smaller public schools definitely benefit the most from class ball. “I don’t feel there is anything wrong with our classification system. There will always be some argument that private schools should perhaps have their own division.”
“I am from the group that favors the one-class system when it comes to the tournament. I think in baseball you can still be competitive with bigger schools if you are a smaller school. “If you have four or five classes then you really don’t have a ‘state champion.’ You have four or five ‘state champions.’ “If you want a true state champion then, let the class winners compete against each other a week later and really come up with a ‘state champion.’ Until then, you just have ‘class champions.’” “If you are going to have class state champions, why are big schools and little schools playing during the regular season?”
“Class baseball is a positive thing. I would say I grew up as a traditionalist and loved the single-class basketball era; however, I’ve grown to appreciate the advantages/disadvantages that come with the size of schools. “Classifying baseball is something that benefits all programs, schools and communities. At the end of the season, eight communities get to compete for the state title at an amazing stadium. Maybe that will soon expand to 10! “I am excited to see the potential of a fifth class built into the state tournament. This would help create more balance among the classes once it is all said and done. It would be interesting to see how things would shake up if multipliers were given to various things like private/public schools, free/reduced percentages, etc. I’ve heard arguments for the success factor to be implemented differently as well. I am not sure it’s entirely fair that the success of graduated juniors and seniors determines the fate of the rising freshman and sophomores who were not directly a part of that success. “I would love to see consistent sectional/regional alignments across as many team sports as possible. I feel this would enhance the rivalry aspect of the state tournament from a sectional/regional standpoint.”
“For us, class baseball has certainly been a positive. Realistically we don’t have the manpower to compete in a tournament with the larger schools. It gives us something to shoot for, and a legitimate chance to win tournament championships. “All small schools benefit from class baseball. Even at the state tournament there is a very noticeable difference in the talent level between the class A game, and the Class AA game. Larger schools have 4-5 times more kids try out for their team. Valpo has over a hundred, we typically get 20 boys out per season.”
“(Class baseball) has been a real positive for high school baseball. Although every once in awhile you have a team you feel can compete in any class, the class system gives teams a level playing field on a more consistent basis. “The kids and community benefit most (from class baseball). At the end of the day when you are a state champion, none of those kids or community identify as a class state champ, they identify as a state champion and the memories from that success. “Baseball should be a double-elimination tournament in order to get a true team champion. A team can eliminate a really good team in a single-elimination tournament with a dominant pitcher. “In 2008 we had Tyler Watts and Kevin Kiermaier get seen by the Parkland College coach because we had the opportunity to advance in the state tournament in Class 2A. They both went to Parkland and Kevin is having a pretty good major league career.”
“In our area, the vast majority of schools are 3A and 4A. I’m not sure it makes a ton of difference one way of the other. I’m sure for many small schools, (class baseball) provides some positive benefits. “(Class baseball) is beneficial for some of the smaller schools that may not have a chance for success against bigger schools. “There should be other factors involved in the equation when classifying schools. You’re not always comparing apples to apples when you look at enrollment numbers. You can compare similar-sized schools and athletes in one district that do not necessarily have the same opportunities and resources that athletes in another district do.”
“(Class baseball is a) very positive thing. Enrollment is definitely not the only factor, but it does make a big difference. It’s not realistic to think that small schools can compete consistently with the higher enrollment schools. The depth that the larger schools have because of numbers and the in-team competition that brings gives them a major advantage. Larger schools often have more resources — including indoor facilities and more coaches that is also advantageous for them. “The benefits from class baseball can be seen throughout all classes. The idea is that schools are competing against similar schools is good for all. “I would actually like to see five classes. The descepancy between the biggest schools in 4A and the smaller schools in 4A is very large. We have schools with over 3,500 students competing against schools that have less than 1,500 students. That is a major difference that brings some big advantages for the larger schools.”
“At Rossville, we benefit from class baseball. I cannot speak for any other coaches or programs but my guess is most would say that smaller schools and/or private schools benefit from the most. With that said, sectionals are generally aligned by geographical location so my guess is a 4A Sectional in the Indianapolis area might not see significant change if we had one class. I could be wrong though. “I would love to see baseball do something like basketball did for a short time with the Tournament of Champions. Baseball — unlike basketball or football — has what I consider to be an equalizer with pitching. It would be neat to see it played out. “I am a fan of the old school single-class system as well. I don’t know what it feels like winning a sectional in a single-class system and I do not want to undermine how special winning a sectional championship is. It is a great accomplishment and there is a great amount of pride felt from the program, school and community. “With that said, I would think winning one in a single-class system would feel different for small schools because of the enrollment differences with the teams you would have to beat.”
“Class baseball is a positive. It creates an opportunity for more competition across the board. “Smaller schools with fewer arms benefit the most from class baseball. Larger schools with more pitchers only are at a great advantage over the smaller schools whose best position players are typically also their best arms and usually have far fewer pitcher-only type players. “I would love to play three-game series in the postseason rather than the one-and-done model. I’m not sure it is even possible and have no idea how they could arrange it but I think it better fits baseball. You would get the better TEAMs winning sectionals as opposed to the team with the best arm or two winning them.”
“(Class baseball) is mostly positive. It gives hope for many of the smaller schools to earn a sectional, regional, semi-state ,and state championships. “The negative would be private schools seem to be earning most of these championships. “Private schools (benefit most from class baseball). In the lower classes, private schools have been piling up the state championships. “I would like to have three classes of public schools and one or two classes of private schools.”
“I am old-fashioned, I began coaching when it was a one-class system. I liked the rivalries and going to the local areas to play the sectional games (playing at home or in Terre Haute or Brazil against Northview, Terre Haute North Vigo, Terre Haute South Vigo or West Vigo). “The reason I bring it up, I felt that it was some Hoosier Hysteria in baseball. It was the local teams playing in a sectional and no one had to travel a great distance.
“It is a benefit for a smaller school to advance farther in the (class baseball) tournament. It takes away the big upsets, but more have a chance to reach the state.”
“Class sports has worked out to be a good thing for everyone involved. The competitive nature of each class is relative and that gives everyone the opportunity to see different teams in different years be successful. “The smaller schools most definitely benefit the most due to the shear numbers that are limited they have to choose from. This allows them to compete against like size schools and provide a great experience for the athlete.
“I think the way the IHSAA has it set up is good and there’s not really much to change.”
“Overall class baseball is a positive. It allows for a more-even level of competition. If we look at the schools with larger enrollment it is more common (especially now with pitch count rules) for them to compete with schools their size who have a similar pitching staffs.
“(Who benefits the most from class baseball is a two-pronged answer. On one hand you have smaller schools 1A, 2A, even 3A who have had more of a chance to compete and have success against schools their size. Again, looking at depth of pitching on those levels it creates a more even playing field. Second answer would be the private/parochial/preparatory schools. They have had more success than most public schools in the tournament, yes they fluctuate in classes because of success factor, but also they have the advantage of being able to set an enrollment where public schools do not.
“Maybe add one more class, I’d like to see just what that would look like. Northview is at the top of the 3A scale so that may move us to the bottom of 4A. I don’t know how that would effect everyone. Also maybe look at a multiplier for the private/parochial/preparatory schools in sports like other states have done. Other states have done it and I think it does create a more even system.
“Overall I think class baseball is great. I think however we could all look back to the days of the David vs. Goliath matchups which brought in huge crowds. I would also like to say that I’m not trying to bring anyone down in this because right now I would argue the state of Indiana has as much baseball talent as any state in the Midwest. The coaching in our state has been really great. I enjoy competing against these coaches from all the different classes and I think baseball in Indiana is as good as it has ever been and I think with the classes we’ve seen some great tournaments and will continue to do so in the future.”
“I think (class baseball) is a positive. I was fortunate to have some teams make deep runs in the tournament during my career that likely would not have happened under a one-class system. In fact, one of my best teams at Northfield was during the one-class era and we were beaten by what is now a 4A school. Had that been a class season, we may have had a chance to win state, minimally, made a deeper run. It provides a few more teams the chance to finish as champions thanks to a more level playing field. “More communities (benefit from class baseball). When we came back into town after our first championship years ago, there were thousands of people in the Kmart parking lot waiting for us. Then we took the fire engine ride through town and spent the next week getting treated like royalty … That was a great experience for the community of Wabash and the players and their families. All have a memory that will last a lifetime. In the one-class era, very few small communities got to experience the state level. “(Class baseball) is pretty good overall, but I would like to see a more consistent schedule set at the sectional level for all sites as much as possible. That is hard to do since some sectionals have lights, others don’t, and trying to work around graduations. But host schools have the slight advantage of setting a schedule that best suits their pitching staff. Of course, weather can play havoc to the best of schedules and no matter how the schedule is set, someone will still likely be unhappy. “There’s some talk about a slight revamp of the class system to help break down the large enrollment gap between the top and bottom 4A schools. Like most, those at the bottom of 4A just want to have a more balanced system. I appreciate the IHSBCA and IHSAA exploring possible options.”
It’s an assertive brand of baseball that will be promoted by Tyler Danner, the new head coach at Monroe Central Junior/Senior High School in Parker City, Ind. “I am very much an aggressive coach,” says Danner, who took over the Golden Bears program in mid-September and looks forward to a few IHSAA Limited Contact Period practices this month. “Our goal in 2023 is 100 stolen bases (at a success rate of 85 percent or higher). Anything that’s a 50-50 ball in the outfield, we’re going for it. Outfielders are expected to play aggressively and lay out for the baseball.” Danner was the pitching coach at Indianapolis Lutheran the past three years and has coached travel ball for a decade — five years with the Delaware County-based Indiana Magic and the past five with Baseball Academics Midwest (BAM). He was with 12U through 16U teams with the Indiana Magic and 14U through 17U squads with BAM, including 15U this past summer. The 2022 Lutheran Saints swiped 183 bases, won 22 games and advanced to a regional championship game. As it was at his previous stop, “Attack the zone” will be Danner’s mantra with his MC pitchers. He insisted that his Lutheran hurlers were aggressive in the strike zone and this helped lower the team ERA and walk rate. “Guys went deeper (into games) because the pitch count was not driven up by full counts,” says Danner. “You get to trust the gloves behind you.” As for hitting approach, Danner will have each batter focus on their strengths and weaknesses. If they hit the inside pitch best, they may lay off the outside one before two strikes. Danner wants his team to collect more free bases (errors, walks, overthrows etc.) than its gives up. The goal is to hold the opponent under 10 and to gather more than 12. “You have a 75 percent win percentage when you do that,” says Danner. Monroe Central (enrollment around 300) is a member of the Mid-Eastern Conference (with Blue River Valley, Cowan, Daleville, Eastern Hancock, Randolph Southern, Shenandoah, Union of Modoc, Wapahani and Wes-Del). The Golden Bears were part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping in 2022 with Alexandria Monroe, Elwood,Frankton, Lapel, Muncie Burris, Wapahani and Winchester. Monroe Central has won seven sectional titles — the last in 2014. After meeting players during a call-out and at home football games, Danner came away impressed. “They were respectful,” says Danner. “They were all eye contact, all engaged and asking questions. “These are guys who have played at a high level and expect to play well.” It was as a toddler that Tyler first learned to think and talk the game with his father. Chuck Danner devoured baseball knowledge from books and the Internet and coached youth teams and as a hitting coach for Ed Jones at Muncie Burris. Chuck Danner died in 2015 at 69. At Yorktown (Ind.) High School, where he graduated in 2009, Tyler Danner was a pitcher, catcher and outfielder for Tigers head coach Mike Larrabee. “He showed us the way to stay even-keeled,” says Danner of Larrabee. “It’s very easy in the heat of the moment to get too high or too low. That was not Coach. “You need a guy that steers into the storm and never seems to panic.” Yorktown won sectional titles in 2007 and 2008 and a regional crown in 2008. The approach at BAM is for players to work through the approaches to the game and breaking it down on the field and in the classroom. “They understand why they’re doing it at such a high level,” says Danner. His Monroe Central assistants include Daleville graduates Ethan Pittsford (Class of 2019) and Drew Watson (Class of 2021). Daleville won state titles in 2016 and 2018. Watson was a volunteer assistant at Daleville in 2022. There were 16 players in the Monroe Central program last spring. A similar number would mean a varsity-only schedule in 2023. Danner’s goal in the future is to have enough numbers for varsity and junior varsity. The Golden Bears play on-campus. “We have beautiful dugouts and a nice press box,” says Danner. “The field is in good condition. It was maintained by the previous coaching staff very, very well. “Monroe Central truly believes in its sports program and makes sure everything is taken care of really, really nice.” Monroe Central Athletic League has baseball teams from T-ball through 12U. Junior high baseball is conducted in June on the high school diamond. Danner plans to be active with both feeder systems, volunteering with the MCAL (and asking his high school players to do that same) and overseeing the junior high. Aidyn Coffey (Monroe Central Class of 2022) committed to Coastal Carolina University after the Golden Bears’ 20-win season. Among players expected back are Blake Bogue (Class of 2023), Cole Luedike (Class of 2024) and Lane Wilson (Class of 2025). Outside of coaching Danner, who attended Purdue University for three years, is single and works as a major account representative for a lending company.
Grant Sailors grew up playing baseball a certain way and he is looking to bring those things into his job as head coach at Elwood (Ind.) Community Junior/Senior High School. Hired less than a month ago to lead the Panthers program, the former three-sport athlete at Wabash (Ind.) High School wants the Panthers to “get back to basics.” “It’s the little stuff,” says Sailors, who played football and basketball and was a first-team all-stater in baseball (Matt Stone was head coach) for the Apaches and graduated in 2014 with a brief baseball stint at the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne. “To me a big thing is how you appear to your coaches, the other team, your fans. “Your jersey is tucked in. Your belt is on. You’re wearing your hat right. It’s little baseball traditions people may not take seriously. “We want to respect the game of baseball. The program I grew up in taught me very well. We want to teach that to the kids in Elwood. “It is a rebuilding process. It is going to take a little time and a whole lot of effort.” Elwood (enrollment around 430) is a member of the Central Indiana Athletic Conference (with Alexandra-Monroe, Blackford, Eastbrook, Frankton, Madison-Grant, Mississinewa and Oak Hill). The Panthers were part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping in 2022 with Alexandria-Monroe, Frankton, Lapel, Monroe Central, Muncie Burris, Wapahani and Winchester Community. Elwood has won eight sectional titles — the last in 2014. Sailors, who helped with Wabash boys basketball a few years ago and Elwood softball in the spring of 2022, has been running twice-a-week open fields for Panthers baseball. He also emphasizes being on-time and the hustle factor. “Go out there and give it your all,” says Sailors, who has played with the USA Softball national fastpitch team. “It doesn’t take talent to hustle. These are things that I grew up doing.” Sailors played from age 4 to 12 at Wabash Little League then spent the next few years in the town’s Babe Ruth program. “There was a certain standard for baseball in the town of Wabash,” says Sailors. “Everybody wanted to be a part of the baseball team. “One goal for me and our new athletic director (Ryan Vanskyock) is it to get (Elwood’s Harry Bridges) Little League built back up so kids want to come and play.” That includes coaches clinics so they can see how Sailors teaches the game. Elwood has a junior high baseball for seventh and eighth graders. Sailors has named four of his assistant coaches — Jamie Jetty, Jack Bennett, Devan Frank and Chris Noone. Bennett, who played baseball at Goshen (Ind.) College), and long-time coach Noone are from Elwood. Former prep volleyball, basketball and softball athlete Taylor Noone (Elwood Class of 2016) is Sailors’ girlfriend. The Panthers play and practice on-campus. Money is being raised for renovations. Sailors says it is hoped that Elwood will someday have lights for baseball and softball. When not coaching, Sailors works in kitchen modeling and does woodworking on the side. He is the son of Jason (Kerri) Sailors and Betina Hill. He has three siblings — older younger Zach Sailors (Wabash Class of 2010), younger sister Jillian Sailors (Wabash Class of 2025) and younger brother Jake Sailors. Zach played baseball at Wabash and for four years at Indiana Tech. Jillian has been a travel volleyball player. Jake has been involved in football, basketball and baseball.
Indiana Wesleyan University will be at center stage when the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series is held Friday through Sunday, June 24-26. Practice is slated for Friday, June 24. The North works out from 1:30-3 p.m. and the South 3-4:30. The All-Star banquet is slated for 7 p.m. Friday, June 24 at Roseburg Event Center with former big league pitcher and 2008 Indiana Wesleyan alum Brandon Beachy as keynote speaker. A doubleheader is scheduled for Saturday, June 25. The three-game series concludes with a wood bat contest Sunday, June 26. The North leads 68-66 in the all-time series. Indiana all-stars are seniors nominated by IHSBCA members and selected by a committee. In addition, the IHSBCA Futures Game (non-seniors) is to be staged at IWU Wednesday, June 22. A doubleheader featuring four teams is scheduled to begin at noon.
Randy Hisner has viewed baseball from four angles — player, coach, umpire and reporter. A 1976 graduate of Heritage Junior/High School in Monroeville, Ind., Hisner played for the Patriots and was a freshman when current Heritage head coach Dean Lehrman was a senior. They were later men’s league baseball teammates. Hisner, 64, spent the first four years of his career as an English teacher at Monroe Central Junior/High School in Parker City, Ind., then taught at Bellmont High School and Bellmont Middle School 1984-2018. He has been the Braves head boys cross country coach for 37 years and led the Bellmont baseball program for two seasons — winning 19 games in both 2009 and 2010. While at Monroe Central, he was a baseball assistant for three years and head coach for one. Hisner started umpiring in the summer around 2008. After his prep coaching stint, he got his high school license. He has called games from youth league to college and 30-and-over leagues. Many of his college games are in the NAIA-affiliated River States Conference, which has baseball-playing members in Indiana (Indiana University Kokomo, Indiana University Southeast and Oakland City University), Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Semi-retired, Hisner plans to coach middle school track in the spring — cutting back his umpiring schedule during that season — and will continue to take sports assignments for the Decatur Daily Democrat. Randy and wife Cheryl, who is part-time Title I elementary teacher, have four sons who all graduated from Bellmont — Erik (Class of 2001), Ryan (2002), Shane (2007) and Gavin (2009). All umpired as a summer job in high school. Erik Hisner is athletic director and head baseball coach at Eastern High School in Greentown, Ind. He coached at Whitko for a decade and was the North head coach Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series in 2017. Ryan Hisner and Gavin Hisner are both teachers in Adams Central Community Schools in Monroe, Ind. — Ryan Title I at the middle school and Gavin English at the high school. Gavin also does some umpiring. Shane Hisner used to teach English overseas and now does so online. Harley Parnell Hisner, Randy’s father and a graduate of Hoagland (Ind.) High School, pitched in the Boston Red Sox system. In his only big league appearance, he started the final game of 1951 season against the New York Yankees. Two of the three strikeouts for Hisner came in that Sept. 30 contest came against rookie Mickey Mantle. He also yielded Joe DiMaggio’s last major league hit. When Randy Hisner stepped away from coaching baseball, he saw umpiring as a way to stay connected to the game. “As umpires, we get paid to know the rules,” says Hisner. “A lot of coaches think they do. “I re-read the high school and college rule books every year. You really have to be on top of that.” Umpires must also be ready when they see a situation that rarely comes up. For instance, the time Randy was working a college game together a few years ago. As the base umpire, he was positioned in front of the shortstop with a runner at second base. The next thing Hisner knew the runner, third baseman and batted ball all converged near the third base bag. The runner was attempting to steal and made his slide into the third baseman at the same time the ball arrived. The ball dribbled away. “In all the years I’d played and coached I’d never seen anything like that,” says Hisner. “I called interference on the runner. The runner did not give the fielder a chance to field the ball. “If the fielder had fielded the ball and then the guy had hit him and knocked it loose that would’ve been different.” In a travel tournament a few summers back, Randy and Gavin were working the game and the hitter sent a long drive to left-center field. The center fielder made a great back-hand running catch, took four or five steps and ran into the fence and dropped the ball over the barrier. “We called a home run,” says Hisner. “We had a long discussion with the defensive coach. “The rule is that the momentum of the play has to stop and has release has to be voluntary and intentional.” Hisner says there’s sure to be an argument when it comes down to hit-by-pitch and calling it differs between high school and college. “In high school games, as an umpire you almost have to be a mind reader,” says Hisner. “The way the rule book reads the hitter can’t permit the ball to let the ball hit him. In high school, it’s a really tough call. “They made a change to the college rule a couple of years ago. If the ball is in the batter’s box, he can freeze (and be struck by the pitch and take his base). He can’t move into it and try to get hit. You don’t have to read anybody’s mind.” Since three-man is usually not employed during regular-season games he works, Hisner is accustomed to two-man mechanics. “I’ve done well over 1,000 games of two-man so I just react,” says Hisner. “I went to a college three-man camp one time. But until you’re used to it, it’s really uncomfortable.” Preferring to watch Erik’s teams, Randy does not apply for the IHSAA tournament series. One two-man mechanic that many non-umpires may not consider is the plate arbiter covering second base. With no runners on base and the base umpire positioned near first base and the right field line, a hitter hits the ball to right field. It might be over the fielder’s head, call for a diving catch and come down near the foul line. If the batter/runner continues to second base, the base umpire won’t be in-position to make the call. That’s the plate umpire’s duty. With all his protective equipment and steel-toed shoes, he must get to second base before then batter/runner. His path takes him to the right side of the mound to avoid tripping on the rubber. “That had never ever crossed my radar until I had started umpiring,” says Hisner of the plate ump going to second base. “As soon as its hit, I’m taking my mask off and heading out that way anyway. “Ideally, you get within 30 feet to make the call. You also have to be ready if (the batter/runner) heads back to first base. That’s a play I hope I have in the first inning if I have the plate. “I want the coaches and players to see that I’m working hard. This guy is not just collecting a check. He’s hustling like we are. He might not be getting every call right but it’s not for lack of effort.”
Keith Nunley returns to a high school head coaching post with his hiring last summer at Guerin Catholic in Noblesville, Ind. “I got a call from (Eagles director of athletics Ryan Davis),” says Nunley. “We went to breakfast. Right from the beginning I could tell he was a baseball guy. “We want to build a championship culture and do it the right way.” Guerin Catholic (enrollment around 720) is a member of the Circle City Conference (with Brebeuf Jesuit, Covenant Christian, Heritage Christian, Indianapolis Bishop Chatard and Roncalli). “We’re a really good conference,” says Nunley. “Every team has a superstar on their mound or in their lineup. “I’m looking forward to getting in the mix of it.” In 2022, CCC teams will play Tuesday-Wednesday home-and-home series. In 2021, the Eagles were part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Delta, Hamilton Heights, Jay County, New Castle and Yorktown. Guerin Catholic is seeking its first sectional title. Nunley, who previously was head coach from 2016-20 at Monroe Central Junior-Senior High School in Parker City, Ind., was an assistant to Bulldogs head coach Matt Campbell this past season at Lapel (Ind.) Junior-Senior High School. He coached in the Indiana Bulls travel organization the past two summers and in fall ball. While in Randolph County, Nunley and best friend and former Ball State University teammate Matt Deckman (who is now Monroe Central head coach) ran the traveling Indiana Bears. Bryce Deckman, Matt’s son, is a freshman on the Huntington (Ind.) University baseball team. An IHSAA Limited Contact Period went from Aug. 30-Oct. 16 and Nunley had 12 to 20 athletes participating two times a week while many other players were unavailable because of fall sports. “It’s always good to have multi-sport athletes,” says Nunley. “They’re competing in other avenues working with other coaches. It’s a team of coaches – not just one guy. “(Multi-sporters) are in the weight room or another sport and doing something with their bodies and not just sitting,” said Nunley. The next limited contact period begins Dec. 6 and the ramping up of pitching arms will begin in earnest. Matt Hession is dedicated to the job of tending the Eagles’ home diamond. “Matt has done a fantastic job taking care of the field,” says Nunley. The on-campus facility was recently laser-graded through the efforts of Hession and Blake Marschand of Marschand’s Athletic Field Services. Nunley’s Guerin Catholic 2021-22 coaching staff includes John Becker, Cade Luker, John Magers, Lewis Diltz and volunteers Kolbe Smith and Justin Bloxom. Becker played and coached at Anderson (Ind.) University and also coached for the Indiana Bulls. Luker (who will lead the junior varsity team) and Magers (who will help with pitchers and float between varsity and JV squads) are Lapel graduates who played at Manchester University. Diltz was on the staff in 2021 and will help with the JV as weill Guerin Catholic alum Smith. Bloxom played at Kansas State University and played and scouted in the Washington Nationals organization.
Nunley, a Winchester Community High School graduate, is a territory owner and sales representative for Adrenaline Fundraising, a company which also employs Deckman and Brebeuf Jesuit head coach Jeff Scott. Keith and wife Kate, an Exceptional Learners teacher at Fishers (Ind.) High School, have two baseball-playing sons – Guerin Catholic freshman A.J. and middle schooler Koby.
Shenandoah High School’s 2021 baseball season did not begin with the Raiders flying out of the gate. But once they found their stride, there was plenty of success in what was alum Ryan Painter’s first on-field campaign. The IHSAA Class 2A program in Middletown, Ind., started out 2-8 then won 16 of 20 with a 10-game win streak, a Henry County championship and a runner-up finish in the Centerville Sectional. While seven seniors — including six starters — from that team graduated, Painter sees bright possibilities in 2022. “We’re very optimistic,” says Painter, a 2004 Shenandoah graduate who played four years on the varsity for head coach Jack Lewis — two at second base and then two at catcher — and later was an assistant for six years on the staff of Bruce Stanley (who was a Raiders assistant when Painter was a player) before taking over the program prior to the 2020 season canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. There were 24 players in the program in 2021 and the Raiders played a full junior varsity schedule. One of the newcomers for 2022 is freshman middle infielder/pitcher Collin Osenbaugh, who has already made a verbal commitment to the University of Louisville. Shenandoah (enrollment around 420) is a member of the Mid-Eastern Conference (with Blue River Valley, Cowan, Daleville, Eastern Hancock, Monroe Central, Randolph Southern, Union of Modoc, Wapahani and Wes-Del). Wes-Del head coach Daniel Hanson was a teammate of Painter’s at Shenandoah. MEC games are played on Tuesdays and Thursdays with each team facing the others one time. In 2021, the Raiders were in a sectional with Centerville, Hagerstown, Northeastern and Union County. As a smallish school, Shenandoah has many multi-sport athletes. This fall has been more about field maintenance and some strength training that baseball activities during the IHSAA Limited Contact Period (two days a week, two hours at a time). “We went very heavy in the summer,” says Painter, who regularly saw 16 to 22 players at workouts. “Once football hit our numbers went down. “I look forward to winter contact period (Dec. 6-Feb. 5 for all sports and until the start of official practice for spring sports). We’ll be flexible with morning and evening sessions. It’s important for us to build durability and make sure kids are agile and getting their arm care. We want complete full athletes. If we can find 9 to 11 true athletes we’re usually in pretty good shape.” The Raiders’ on-campus diamond was recently aerated and seeded. “The other coaches and I take pride in our facility,” says Painter. “We mow year-round. In the past 10 years we’ve had some nice renovations (including a brick backstop with netting and expanded dugouts). In the spring, we plan modifications to the mound and plate areas.” Assistant coaches include Jamey White, Rusty Conner and Kris Harter. Anderson (Ind.) Highland High School White helps with hitters and infielders, Shenandoah alum Conner is the junior varsity coach and helps with outfielders, Painter’s former SHS classmate Harter serves as a mentor and fosters relationships with players. Painter handles pitchers and catchers, but keeps his finger on the pulse of everything else. “I don’t want to be a control freak, but I want to know where everybody stands,” says Painter. Feeding the high school program are a junior high team (seventh and eighth graders playing in the East Central Indiana league), Shenandoah Boys Baseball (ages 4-12) in Middletown and several travel ball organizations catering to boys in grades 4-8. Recent Shenandoah graduates on college baseball rosters include Maxwell McKee (Ball State University) and Cy Stanley (Taylor University). Three 2021 graduates moved on for other sports — Blake Surface (Indiana State University) and Tanner Goff (Trine University) for football and Kaden McCollough (Hanover College) and Michael Howard (Hanover College) for basketball. Painter is employed as a senior systems analyst at Fiserv in Fishers, Ind. Ryan and wife Stephanie have a blended family with five children — Kesley Baker (20), Hunter Baker (18), Rylan Tubbs (16), Jayden Painter (12) and Nolan Painter (10). Kelsey is a junior at Indiana University in Bloomington. Senior Hunter, sophomore Rylan, seventh grader Jayden and fifth grader Nolan are all in Shenandoah schools.
Wes-Del went 20-8-1 and reached the semifinals of the IHSAA Class 1A Liberty Christian Sectional in Daniel Hanson’s first season as head baseball coach in 2021. That squad had no seniors. “We bring everybody back,” says Hanson. Among the returnees is right-handed pitcher and Indiana Wesleyan University commit Zack Todd (Class of 2022), son of former Wes-Del head coach and current assistant Bob Todd. Besides Todd, Hanson’s Wes-Del’s staff includes Mason Whitted, Ben Krider and Ed Dennis. With 22 players in the program last year, there was a limited junior varsity schedule. As the Warriors prep for ’22 during the current Limited Contact Period window Hanson has two points of emphasis in twice-weekly sessions: Growing arm strength for all players and hitting. “We had good defense and pitching, says Hanson of ’21. “Our lineup needed to be better. “We’re breaking down swings and working in weight room (this fall). We want to hit with more power next spring.” Hanson saw his Wes-Del players buy into his philosophy. “We were able to win ugly at times with small ball and baserunning,” says Hanson. I believe you have to coach to what you have and figure out ways to win with what we have. That (2021) group maximized and played to its strengths really well. “We were very focused on the details in all the phases. But baseball’s about putting balls in the gap. Being good offensively really helps.” Wes-Del (enrollment around 290) is a member of the Mid-Eastern Conference (with Blue River Valley, Cowan, Daleville, Eastern Hancock, Monroe Central, Randolph Southern, Shenandoah, Union of Modoc and Waphani). In 2021, the Warriors were part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with Anderson Preparatory Academy, Cowan, Daleville, Liberty Christian, Southern Wells and Tri-Central. Wes-Del has won five sectional titles — the last in 2011. The Warriors play on-campus on a field that received new batting cages and an inning-by-inning scoreboard last year. The bullpen mounds were also upgraded. On the radar are new dugouts and press box. Wes-Del’s feeder system includes a middle school team of seventh and eighth graders in the East Central Indiana league plus recreation leagues in Gaston and Muncie and area travel teams. Hanson is both at coach and an administrator at Wes-Del Middle/High School near the Delaware County town of Gaston, Ind., also holding the title of assistant principal. “I enjoy it,” says Hanson of the two roles. “They bring different relationships with students. (As assistant principal) you’re involved with he whole school. (As coach) I love taking care of the field. “It does present its challenges with time management. And then I’m a father and a husband as well.” Daniel and wife of seven years, Alicia, reside in Anderson, Ind., with their two daughters – first grader Paisley (6) and pre-schooler Avery (3). Alicia Hanson runs Sweet Pea’s Child Care out of their home. Before coming to Wes-Del, Daniel Hanson was at Daleville (Ind.) Junior/Senior High School. He was head baseball coach prior to Terry Turner and also served as athletic director and head boys basketball coach during his time with the Broncos. Hanson is a 2005 graduate of Shenandoah High School near Middletown, Ind., where he played football, basketball and baseball — the latter for Raiders head coach Jack Lewis. “I learned a lot from Jack,” says Hanson of Lewis. “I played for him then coached with him (at Liberty Christian with each man taking turns as head coach). He had passion, which is something I try to instill in my players. He wanted to compete at a high level and had an attention to detail.” Hanson started coaching when he was still a student at Ball State University, where he earned an Elementary Education degree and began teaching middle school math at Daleville. He later got a Masters in Administration at Indiana Wesleyan.