Tag Archives: Newton County

Young Hammel now in charge at Benton Central

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jarrett Hammel has quickly transitioned from student-athlete to educator-coach.

Ten months after pitching his last game for Valparaiso (Ind.) University he was announced as the head baseball coach at Benton Central Junior/Senior High School in Oxford, Ind. 

“I’m super-excited to get after it,” says Hammel, who was originally hired as pitching coach but became a head coach candidate when Jon Vernon opted to spend more time with family and focus on his duties as Benton Central’s head volleyball coach. “We want to do everything with a purpose. 

“Baseball is not like other sports.”

The son of Donovan (Ill.) Elementary fourth grade teacher Todd Hammel and Morocco Elementary first grade teacher Pam Hammel, Jarrett received an Elementary Education degree from VU and began the 2020-21 school year as a fourth grade teacher at Prairie Crossing Elementary in Oxford.

At South Newton — a K-12 school in Kentland, Ind. — Jarrett got a chance to help with younger kids as a high school junior and senior.

“I knew I wanted to be a positive role model — someone to look up to,” says Hammel. “I look up to my parents a lot. They made a lot of sacrifices for me to be where I am today.

“They’ve always had my back.”

Coming from a close-knit family where both sets of grandparents live within 15 minutes, Jarrett counts younger brother Jay as his best friend. They grew up pushing each other in academics and athletics. 

With 1,195 points, 6-foot-4 Jarrett Hammel was the No. 1 all-time scorer in South Newton boys hoops history until he was surpassed by younger brother Jay Hammel with 1,363. The 6-6 Jay is now a 21-year-old junior right-hander on the Quincy (Ill.) University baseball team and a Multimedia Journalism major.

A 2016 South Newton graduate, Jarrett Hammel played baseball for Glenn Donahue and basketball for Mike Hall. 

Hammel was born in Lafayette, Ind., and grew up in Brook, Ind., where he still resides. He knew Donahue as a youth baseball coach who moved up to the high school ranks. 

Jarrett played four high school summers of travel ball with the Indiana Nitro.

His first college baseball season was spent with head coach Rick O’Dette at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind. When the school closed, he transferred to Valpo U., and played for head coach Brian Schmack.

Hammel was a high school sophomore when he appeared on O’Dette’s radar. He became a mentor to the pitcher.

“I learned a lot in the year I was (at St. Joe),” says Hammel. “My outlook on life has changed because of him.”

O’Dette stressed being a good example and always staying in contact with people who are close to you.

“Don’t let conversations get stale,” says Hammel. “You never know when they made need you or you may need them.”

Once it was announced that St. Joseph’s was closing, Hammel recalls that O’Dette was worried more about getting us placed than his own career. O’Dette landed at Saint Leo (Fla.) University.

Hammel played summer college ball for the Lafayette Aviators in 2017 and 2018. Brent McNeil (now pitching coach at Purdue Fort Wayne) managed the team to a Prospect League title in 2017. Will Arnold (now with Prep Baseball Report Arizona) was in charge in 2018.

While Hammel was at South Newton, Valpo also had interest in him and Schmack welcomed the southpaw when he became available.

What did Hammel learn from Schmack?

“Just being a man and owning up to your mistakes,” says Hammel. “Never put the blame on someone else.”

It’s about responding to adversity — something that is plentiful in baseball.

From his personal life, Hammel has learned to greater than his ups and downs.

“When things are not going your way in life you can’t put your head down and go through the motions,” says Hammel. “You have to ride the wave. Life is full of highs and lows.”

He also learned important concepts about teamwork and time management while playing NCAA Division I baseball.

As left-handed pitcher, left-hander Hammel hurled for Valpo at Alabama State March 11, 2020 and was announced as the head of the Bison program Jan. 12, 2021. 

The 23-year-old Hammel conducted his first winter practice session where he engaged with 15 athletes (many BC baseball players are involved in winter sports) and dished out baseball and life lessons. 

Hammel expects his players to be role models.

“I told them that someone is always watching your every move,” says Hammel. “You’re high schoolers now. Be good people and go hard with everything you do.”

Benton Central (enrollment around 550) belongs to the Hoosier Athletic Conference (with Benton Central, Lafayette Central Catholic, Twin Lakes and Rensselaer Central in the West Division and Hamilton Heights, Lewis Cass, Northwestern, Tipton and Western in the East Division). 

The Bison are in an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Maconaquah, Northwestern, Peru, Twin Lakes, West Lafayette and Western. Benton Central has won 25 sectionals — the last in 2009.

While the COVID-19 pandemic took away the 2020 season, Benton Central fielded two teams in 2019 and Hammel says he expects to have about 30 players for two squads in 2021.

Hammel is in the process of finding assistant coaches. He would like to have a Benton Central alum on his staff. Bringing in coaches from Newton County is not practical since Brook is in Central Time and Oxford is in Eastern Time.

In looking to his feeder system, Hammel likes the youth program already established and plans to place players in competitive summer leagues and with top travel organizations.

“We want to get them out of their comfort zone and change their outlook on life,” says Hammel, who also plans to start a fall baseball program at BC.

“We went to keep kids at it and try to perfect their craft year-round,” says Hammel. “We’re trying to maximize everyone’s potential.”

Recent Benton Central graduates in college baseball include Matt Taylor and Taylor Varnado with Marian University in Indianapolis. Knights head coach Todd Bacon went to BC.

There’s also Alex Thurston at Valparaiso U., and Payton Hall at Oakland City (Ind.) University.

Benton Central senior Dalton Rennaker is a Marian commit.

Jarrett Hammel, a 2016 graduate of South Newton High School in Kentland, Ind., and 2020 graduate of Valparaiso (Ind.) University, has been hired as head baseball coach at Benton Central High School in Oxford, Ind.

Kiifner wants South Newton Rebels to be strong up the middle

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A border town will play more baseball in 2019 on the side of the state line where it plays its home games.

South Newton High School, located in rural Newton County, Ind., between the incorporated towns of Kentland, Brook and Goodland, went 17-10 in 2018 and played 15 games against Illinois high schools.

After three seasons in the Illinois-based Sangamon Valley Conference (current members are Cissna Park, Clifton Central, Dwight, Iroquois West, Momence, Paxton-Buckey-Loda and Watseka), South Newton (enrollment around 190) is a member of the Midwest Conference (with Indiana schools Frontier, North Newton, North White, Tri-County and West Central).

Jim Kiifner, a 1984 graduate of Sheldon (Ill.) High School (now consulted into Milford Township), is entering his 10th season on the South Newton coaching staff — his third as head coach.

The 2019 Rebels — led by Kiifner and assistants Jason Krug (third season), Ricky Montemayer (fourth season) and Conner Ulmer (first season) — are scheduled to play 23 varsity and 13 junior varsity contests. Ulmer, a 2013 South Newton graduate, is a teacher while the others are lay coaches. Kiifner works in a warehouse for DuPont Corporation.

“My boss allows me to be a little flexible,” says Kiifner. “It also helps that I work in the Eastern Time Zone and coach in the Central Time Zone.

“I gain an hour.”

South Newon’s non-conference varsity opponents include Attica, Benton Central, Fountain Central, Frontier, Kankakee Valley and Seeger in Indiana and Cissna Park, Milford Township, Momence and Watseka in Illinois.

The Rebels are part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with Caston, North Miami, North White, Northfield, Southwood and West Central. South Newton has won eight sectional titles — the last in 2017. That year, the Rebels advanced to the semistate for the first time, losing to eventual state runner-up Rossville at Plymouth.

“We’ve been pretty successful the last four years,” says Kiifner, 52. “We get a lot of fan support.”

Athletic budgets at the small school are supplemented through community fundraisers.

Kiifner was coaching in the Travelers Babe Ruth League when then-South Newton head coach Ron Benakovich invited him to join his staff. Benakovich led the Rebels from 2009-12 and Glenn Donahue from 2013-16 before Kiifner took over the as leader of the program in 2017.

“I want the kids to have the most fun as possible,” says Kiifner. “Discipline is a big thing. But I don’t like to be a brow beater.”

Program numbers are up to 23 with 11 newcomers.

“We’re working to get them up to speed on what we expect and do,” says Kiifner, who had a veteran team the past two seasons. The 2018 squad had six seniors and three juniors in the starting lineup.

Kiifner says he wants his teams to be strong up the middle on defense.

“Defend the middle first and work your way out,” says Kiifner. “(Pitchers are asked to) throw strikes and let the defense do the work behind them.”

With that in mind, South Newton has junior Austin Miller and sophomore Brandon Gilliam in the mix at catcher, senior Levi Sample and freshman Kayden Cruz at shortstop and Cruz and junior Terron Welsh in center field.

Senior left-hander Riley Patterson is the top returning pitcher who also plays first base. Senior Tyler Martell is at second base and freshman Kellen Krug at third base. Senior Ben Bryant is a candidate to play a corner outfield spot.

Offensive approach depends on personnel. Kiifner says the Rebels are transitioning from a power team to more of a small-ball squad.

The Hammel brothers have taken their pitching talents from South Newton to the college level.

Junior left-hander Jarrett Hammel started at Saint Joseph’s College and is now at Valparaiso University.

Freshman Jay Hammel was an all-state third baseman as junior, all-state first baseman as a senior and became the school’s second Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series player (Trent Smith was the first in 1990) and is now a freshman right-hander at Quincy (Ill.) University.

Trent Smith is the brother of Tracy Smith, a South Newton graduate who played at Miami University in Ohio and in the Chicago Cubs system before head coaching assignments at Miami University-Hamilton, Indiana University and Arizona State University. Smith’s 2019 Sun Devils were off to a 22-1 start.

Rebel Field, located on the South Newton campus, is a small non-lighted diamond with the distance down the foul lines at 272 feet to right field and 300 to left. Kiifner says there is talk about moving the fences back in the future.

With the school and field sitting in the midst of farm land, it is a breezy place.

“The are winds always blowing,” says Kiifner. “And it’s either too hot or too cold.”

Sheldon was a school of less than 100 students and baseball was a fall sport where there was no football team. Kiifner’s baseball coach was John Spezia, who has gone on to win more than 500 games as a basketball coach.

“He broke down fundamentals really well and brought it to your level,” says Kiifner of Spezia. “He tried not to overwhelm (his players).”

Jim and Madonna Kiifner have been married for 26 years. They have two sons who both played baseball at South Newton — William (24) and Luke (22).

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This is the 2019 South Newton High School Rebels baseball team.

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South Newton won a sectional and regional baseball title in 2017.

JIMKIIFNER

Jim Kiifner is the head baseball coach at South Newton High School in rural Newton County, Ind., between the incorporated towns of Kentland, Brook and Goodland.