By STEVE KRAH
Everyone knows that the white “P” on those black caps stands for Penn.
But it could just as season stand for another “P” word.
“Bottom line: It’s not a person, it’s the program,” says Penn High School head baseball coach Greg Dikos. “Everybody contributes. You can plug anybody in.”
That’s the way Dikos has operated for three decades on Bittersweet Road in Mishawaka.
The program-first method works.
As the Kingsmen get ready for an IHSAA Class 4A Kokomo Semistate game against Zionsville Saturday, June 10 (following the 1 p.m. 2A game), they are led by a man who has led the program to 702 wins, including 18 sectionals, 10 regionals, three semistates and four state championships (1994, 1998, 2001, 2015) plus 18 Northern Indiana Conference titles in his 30 seasons as head coach (he’s been in the program for 37).
Chasing championships is what they do at Penn.
“Those are definitely our expectations,” says Dikos, who was inducted into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2011. “We try to make the kids realize that when they sign up as freshmen.”
Dikos, 60, ticks off the trademarks of the Penn program: “Hard work. Teamwork. Discipline. Commitment.”
While the Kingsmen have numerous NCAA Division I commits in the 2017 lineup, including Niko Kavadas (Notre Dame), Nolan Metcalf (Kansas) and Trevor Waite (Dayton) plus NAIA two-sporter Matt Kominkiewicz (Saint Francis, Ind. for baseball and football), this is not a typical year.
“We have hard-working kids that come in and give it their all, play together,” says Dikos. “Comparatively speaking, with other athletes around the area, we just hold our own because we play as a team.”
Discipline means showing up on time consistently and following Penn’s athletic code of conduct year-round.
Dikos demands discipline in the school building and class room. His players are not allowed to cut class, get tardies or give the teacher a hard time.
“They know the first person the teacher goes to is me,” says Dikos. “If it gets to me, I know that teacher is frustrated. We’ll take care of it right away.”
Penn High School coaches expect their athletes “to be champions on and off the field” and that’s certainly the case in baseball.
Baseball-playing Kingsmen put in a commitment of quality time. Dikos and long-time assistant Jim Kominkiewicz no longer lead five-hour workouts. They’ve learned to get the job done in about 1 1/2. But players are expected to work. Athletes put in countless hours on their own in the fall and winter, working on skills and lifting weights.
The 2016-17 school year was the first for full-time strength and conditioning coach Matt Cates, who puts Penn athletes through sport-specific exercises either during the school day, before or after.
“Our kids have developed immensely,” says Dikos, a health and physical education teacher at PHS. “It’s going to benefit the freshman class this year the most because they’re going to have four years of Cates.”
Players are willing to put in the quality time because of their baseball adoration.
“It’s a difficult sport if you love it. It’s an impossible sport if you don’t love it,” says Dikos. “The kids that make it to their senior year really love it. They have fun doing baseball stuff.
“You just try to built that chemistry and that will lead to the fun.”
While early-season workouts are more regimented, as Penn gets deeper into the postseason, practices at Jordan Automotive Group Field tend to be more relaxed and players are encouraged to enjoy the experience.
Typical of tournament time, Dikos gave his tournament roster the day off Monday so he could work with his younger players. In many years, the Kingsmen have been practicing for the state tournament, the summer travel season and running a youth camp all in the same week.
In addressing players and parents at the beginning of each season Dikos makes one promise: The season will not be perfect.
“We go through the same things that other teams do,” says Dikos. “We have our same problems that other team do. We just try to deal with them as effectively as we can. We try to nip it in the bud.”
Working through those problems present a life lesson.
“You’re not going to get along with your soulmate every single day.,” says Dikos. “You’re going to have problems with you marriage, with your job. These are things you have to work out. These are values I hope are learned going through our program that kids can take with them in college and the rest of their lives.”
Dikos likes the way Paul Holaway puts it.
“We don’t expect perfection; we expect to be exceptionally good,” says Dikos in quoting his senior manager. “You never perfect baseball. It’s always a learning process and change. It’s a series of adjustments every level that you go up
“We (coaches) have that expectation that we’re going to win. Once you build that, the kids go in there expecting that same thing.”
Many Penn baseball alumni were in the crowd to see the ’17 Kingsmen beat Goshen and Elkhart Central (win No. 700 for Dikos) to win the Elkhart Sectional and Lake Central and Andrean to take the LaPorte Regional.
“It really pumped our kids up a lot seeing their ex-teammates,” says Dikos. “I imagine there’s pressure in not letting those guys down, not letting the program down.
“But it’s certainly not emphasized by the coaching staff.”
Besides Kominkiewicz, who played for IHSBCA Hall of Famer Len Buczkowski at South Bend Adams (graduating in 1973) with his quarter century in the program, the staff features Tom Stanton (Penn Class of 2000), John Westra (Sturgis 2003), Elliott Lares (Penn 2014), Brian Lares (Penn 2008) and Collin McNamara (Penn 2014).
Positional coaches are Dikos (catchers), Stanton (pitchers) Kominkiewicz (infielders) and Westra (outfielders). The other help at the junior varsity or freshmen levels.
Trust is big for Dikos, who has come to rely on the opinions of “Komo.”
“He’s one guy you can depend on,” says Dikos of Kominkiewicz. “I know he’s going to be here everyday. He’s going to give it his all.
“One thing he and I have in common is we just want to win. We just try to put our best nine on the field regardless of who it is.”
The current Penn lineup is not the one that took the field at the beginning of the spring.
“It’s something a veteran staff is able to figure out,” says Dikos. “The parents expect their kids to be given a chance. The kids expect to be given a chance — unless it happens to another kid.
“They don’t understand why you stick with a kid for a few games. In reality, you’re giving them the kind of chances you give everybody. You play yourself out of a position. Some parents and players think it should happen faster or they should be given a little more time. “
All the coaching experience really helps.
“We might lose a game along the way trying to figure things out,” says Dikos. “That’s something parents will have a hard time getting a grip on.
“We’re thinking about making a state tournament run.”
Even in a school the size of Penn, there are multi-sport athletes. Dikos just doesn’t see as many as a he once did.
“It beginning to become quite the rarity but not because of (the coaching staff),” says Dikos. “We encourage multi-sport athletes.”
There are five of those on the 2017 baseball tournament roster
“In the past, it was a lot more,” says Dikos. But kids are beginning to specialize.”
Looking to children of Greg and Sally Dikos, sons Greg Jr. and Garrick were three-sport athletes through junior year at Penn and two-sport athletes as seniors. Daughter Sarah played multiple sports in junior high and found her talents led her to just volleyball in high school.
Dikos keeps the lines of communication open with Penn’s other head coaches.
“The only thing we ask is that the athletes tell us what’s going on and are respectful of everybody,” says Dikos. “We don’t want anybody short-changed. If the kids really want it, it’s workable.”
Dikos is a 1975 Swartz Creek (Mich.) High School and 1979 Ball State University graduate who played briefly in the Atlanta Braves organization and has been giving back to the game ever since.
Greg Dikos (center) and long-time assistants Jim Kominkiewicz (left) and Tom Stanton (right) have helped Penn High School into the 2017 Class 4A Kokomo Semistate. Dikos is in his 30th season as head baseball coach and has 702 win and four state titles on his resume. (Steve Krah Photo)