Tag Archives: Northern Illinois University

West Vigo baseball’s DeGroote wants to be role model to his players

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

As the son of coach and middle of three athletic brothers, Culley DeGroote soaked in plenty of knowledge on his way to becoming head baseball coach at West Vigo High School. He has led the West Terre Haute-based Vikings since the 2014 season after eight seasons serving under father Steve DeGroote.

The elder DeGroote was an assistant at Indiana State University to American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Bob Warn 1980-85 joined the coaching staff at West Vigo and led the program from 1993-2013. His teams went 441-118 with 11 Western Indiana Conference titles, 10 sectional champions, five regionals, one semistate and one state runner-up finish (2009). In 2017, he was inducted into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame.

“Ninety-five percent of what I do I learned from (my father),” says Culley. “I learned how you treat players. Dad was a master motivator. He got them to buy into something bigger than themselves.”

While the rules were the same for all players, Steve DeGroote knew how to relate to each one as an individual, something he picked up from his athletic career and his days as an ISU recruiter.

“They say that coaching is not the X’s and O’s, it’s the Jimmys and Joes and dad got the most out of those Jimmys and Joes,” says Culley. “He was genius at reading talent. He was one of those who could see a kid come in as freshmen and see the finished product. He could see potential in a kid that very few people could see.”

Culley saw his dad attracted to the student and the athlete who was on a straight path.

“He had that ability to read people,” says Culley. “He could pick up on people’s habits and their priority in life. He navigated toward kids who had their priorities straight like him. Dad doesn’t drink, smoke or party. His faith is important to him. He was the (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) director at West Vigo. He lived a clean life and lived by example.

“I’ve tried to role model that with my players. I know you’re not going to be perfect, but you need to be striving for perfection.”

Steve DeGroote’s boys — Cory (West Vigo Class of 1991), Culley (1995) and Casey (1998) — were all three-sport athletes for the Vikings. Cory and Culley are both in the West Vigo Athletic Hall of Fame.

Cory DeGroote went to The Citadel to play basketball and baseball and then transferred to Indiana State, where he played baseball for three seasons. He coached multiple sports at North White High School and then served 12 seasons as head baseball coach at Mattawan (Mich.) High School. He is now president of Peak Performance, a travel sports organization based in Mattawan.

Casey DeGroote was drafted out of high school by the New York Yankees in the 11th round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft and pitched as a professional until 2004. He served as general manager of the Terre Haute Rex in the summer collegiate wood bat Prospect League and is now a train engineer.

Culley DeGroote earned the McMillan Award as the top male athlete in Vigo County and was an IHSBCA All-Star as a senior. He was a three-year starter in football, basketball and baseball and went on to be a three-year starter on both the hardwood and diamond at Franklin College.

His last baseball season was his junior year (he transferred to Indiana State to finish his degree). It was also the first as head coach for Lance Marshall, who still guides the Grizzlies.

“He cared about us as people,” says Culley. “He wanted to know your story and your background. I told myself that when I become a head coach, I hope my players in some way feel about me the way they felt about Coach Marshall.

“He was quiet and no-nonsense, but a super positive guy. You felt good about yourself after talking to Coach Marshall.”

Culley began his coaching career with a four-year stint on the staff of Scott Spada at Kalamazoo (Mich.) Central High School. Before Spada, Derek Jeter played baseball for the Maroon Giants and went on to be captain of the New York Yankees. Future Green Bay Packers wide receiver Greg Jennings did play for Spada.

Also the school’s head boys soccer coach, Culley heads in the 2018 baseball season with Zack Kent (varsity) and Kyle Stewart (junior varsity) as assistant coaches.

Steve DeGroote is still helping the Vikings baseball program as middle school director. The feeder program fielded two squads last spring — sixth and seventh graders combined and eighth graders. Playing 15 to 20 five-inning doubleheaders, the middle schoolers are heading into their third season in 2018.

“It’s an awesome thing,” says Culley. “It gives you a lot of flexibility and unity. It’s closed the gap between middle school and high school ball. We teach the same things. Getting coached in a lot of the little things that can win you a championship at a younger level.

“(Middle schoolers) get to play on the high school field and they love that.”

At a cost of more than $10,000, that field was upgraded in the fall of 2016 with more than 100 tons of infield dirt and artificial turf around the mound and home plate areas.

“That was the best idea I ever had,” says Culley. “We were getting in games (in 2017) we never got in before.”

Culley teaches physical education at the middle school and gets a chance to have a relationship with athletes as sixth graders.

West Terre Haute Little League, where Steve Shaffer is president, has three fields and four leagues (T-ball, minor and major).

“They are the lifeline of our program,” says Culley.

All of it has gone to help numbers at the high school. There were 15 freshmen baseball players at West Vigo in 2017 and 19 the year before that.

The varsity Vikings went 17-9 and lost to Edgewood in the semifinals of the IHSAA Class 3A Northview Sectional.

West Vigo is in the West Division of the Western Indiana Conference with Greencastle, North Putnam, Northview, South Putnam and Sullivan. Brown County, Cascade, Cloverdale, Edgewood, Indian Creek and Owen Valley comprise the WIC East Division.

With about 1,023 students, Northview is the biggest school in the 2A/3A league with Cloverdale (370) as the smallest. West Vigo (581) is in-between.

Conference games are played five straight Tuesdays with a crossover game on the sixth Tuesday.

Since 1998, the Vikings have sent eight players on to NCAA Division I baseball and had three players drafted out of high school (Casey DeGroote by the Yankees in 1998, infielder Lenny Leclercq by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 11th round in 2005 and Jeremy Lucas by the Cleveland Indians in the 12th round in 2009).

Right-hander Morgan Coombs, a 2006 graduate, played at Lincoln Trail College and Ball State University and went un-drafted before three seasons with the independent Gary SouthShore RailCats. He was the Australian Baseball League’s Pitcher of the Year in 2015 with the Adelaide Bite.

Middle infielder Tyler Wampler, a 2010 graduate, was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers out of Indiana State in the 17th round in 2014. He was head coach for the Terre Haute Rex in 2016-17.

Three of Culley’s players are currently at the D-I level — pitcher Davie Inman (West Vigo Class of 2015) at Coastal Carolina University, middle infielder Jordan Schafer (2016) at Indiana State and first baseman/pitcher Ty Lautenschlager (2017) at Northern Illinois University.

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Culley DeGroote, a 1995 West Vigo High School graduate, is entering his fifth season as Vikings head baseball coach in 2018. Before that, he was an assistant to father Steve DeGroote, an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer.

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Creating opportunities, building character among goals of Michiana Scrappers

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

With its focus on competition, instruction and development, the Michiana Scrappers travel organization is in its 14th season in 2017.

Began in 2004 with one 15/16 squad — the School of Hard Knocks Scrappers — the Michiana Scrappers now have 17 baseball teams in age groups 9U through 17U (the organization is also involved in softball, basketball and hockey).

There are 260 baseball players and 38 softball players currently playing in tournaments around the Midwest — put on by Baseball Player’s Association, Pastime, United States Speciality Sports Association, Bullpen and others — and training out of The Scrap Yard in Elkhart.

Teams practice twice a week January to April and one to two times a week during the season, which concludes in late July or early August. Tryouts for 2018 are slated for July 29-30 and Aug. 5-6.

Players 9U to 14U are often invited back for the next season. All players 15U and above are asked to try out.

Scrappers founder Brian Blondell reports a low turnover rate of 8 percent.

“Most kids in our organization are not leaving,” says Blondell. “We’re usually filling 1-2 spot max per team.”

Once players try out, coaching staffs will have a chance to offer their sales pitch to the families of players they want. Trying to find the best fit is a priority.

About the time the Scrappers came along, summer high school programs were decreasing and travel ball was growing so then-South Bend St. Joseph assistant Blondell found a place for Indians head coach John Gumpf to send his players in the summer.

“We learned a lot,” says Blondell, who is also director of player operation and a 14U head coach in 2017. In 2005, the organization had swelled seven teams and with interest the growth continued.

Softball was added to the mix in 2014.

While Blondell and his coaches, including Greg Fozo and Buddy Tupper with the current 14U squad, are just as competitive as anyone and the Scrappers have won their share of tournaments, win-at-all-costs is not the driving force.

“Nobody is gaining anything by winning a trophy,” says Blondell. “We’re trying to be as competitive as we possibly can be. The era we’re in — with a lot of parents — everything is driven by awards, placement and trophies.

“We focus on development. If we develop correctly, we’re going to win a lot of championships.”

With a few exceptions, Scrappers players come from the counties surrounding South Bend and Elkhart.

While players are working to make themselves better and — for the older players — get college exposure for themselves, the Scrappers emphasize that baseball is a team game.

“It’s not an individual sport,” says Blondell, the pitching coach at Elkhart Memorial High School (Crimson Chargers head coach Scott Rost and assistant Bruce Baer are Scrappers head coaches) and former head coach at Indiana University South Bend, Holy Cross College and South Bend Riley High School. “We’re about growing and developing a team environment.”

The implied daily question to players: How are you helping our team get better?

After all, high school and college coaches want good teammates and not selfish players.

Distinguished Scrapper alums include Evan Miller (LaPorte H.S.; IPFW; San Diego Padres system), Chad Whitmer (Penn H.S.; Southern Illinois U.; New York Yankees system), Nathan Thomas (Mishawaka Marian H.S.; Northern Illinois U.), Brock Logan (Northrdge H.S.; IPFW), Blake Cleveland (NorthWood H.S.; Central Michigan U.), Shannon Baker (Northridge H.S.; IPFW), Brett Carlson (South Bend Riley H.S.; Austin Peay U.; Purdue U.) and Pat Borlik (South Bend Washington H.S.; Western Michigan U.).

Just like Sam Riggleman — his coach at Bethel College — said to Blondell, Scrappers are expected to “check their ego at the door.”

“We do everything as a team,” says Blondell, whose son Bryce Blondell plays on his squad. “I also want it to feel like family. We allow them to be kids and really enjoy it.”

Mike Logan, head coach of a 16U team in 2017, is in his 11th season with the Scrappers.

The former Northridge High School head coach sees his job as getting college exposure, building up their baseball skills and teaching them life lessons.

Logan tells players and their parents about college opportunities and stresses the academic side of the equation.

“A lot of times schools might not have much athletic money to give,” says Logan. But there is bound to be funds for good students.

Logan points players toward showcases and sends out weekly emails to college coaches giving them the Scrappers schedules, roster, contact numbers and more.

With players coming from so many different backgrounds, Logan and his assistants — Brian Bishop and Chad Sherwood — stay with the fundamentals and build on their foundation of skills.

Most importantly to Logan is developing “young men of character.”

“This game can teach you about failure,” says Logan. “You get to learn to handle adversity at a young aage. When they become adults, it’s for real.”

Logan, which coached older son Brock with the Scrappers and now is with younger son Nick, sees a group of players that it is talented enough to be successful on the diamond and is also tight off the field.

One group text message and the boys are off the movies together.

It’s this kind of philosophy which drew the former Indiana Dirt Devils from the Fremont area to join the organization in 2017 as the 13U Black Scrappers.

“The kids in that organization are amazing,” says 13U pitching coach Geoff Gilbert. “They support each other. (Younger players) know who the better older kids in our organization are they talk about them all the time. They look up to them.

“I brag on my team all the time and they are pretty good, but our kids are even better young men than they are baseball players.”

The Dirt Devils won two BPA World Series titles, finished second in another and high in yet another before hooking up with Blondell and company.

“The Scrappers have a great reputation,” says Gilbert, who counts son and left-hander Carter Gilbert among his pitchers. “They have big-name recognition. We were a little tiny team in a little tiny pond and couldn’t get kids to try out with us. We’ll be drawing from a much bigger talent pool.”

As a single-team organization, the Dirt Devils dictated everything. With the Scrappers, where Blondell handles all the administrative matters, Gilbert, head coach Brian Jordan and assistant Michael Hogan retain control over their roster and some say in their schedule while also benefitting from the bulk buying power of a larger organization which is sponsored by DeMarini and Wilson.

“With everything they had to offer in the winter, it was a great opportunity,” says Gilbert, who works a few nights a week at the Scrap Yard and has daughter Ava Gilbert playing for the 10U Lady Scrappers team. “We decided to make the switch.”

With players spread out, 13U Black practices one day a week in Ashley (near Fremont and Kendallville) and once at either Pierre Moran or Riverview parks in Elkhart or Newton Park in Lakeville. The older teams practice at Elkhart Memorial, Elkhart Central or South Bend Washington high schools. Scrappers softball practices are conducted at Penn High School.

While players 15U and above tend to play after the high school season is over, the younger teams like 13U Black play 10 to 12 tournaments in the spring and summer.

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The Michiana Scrappers 13U Black players and families celebrate the Fourth of July. in 2017 (Michiana Scrappers Photo)

 

Schmack giving back to baseball at Valpo U.

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Brian Schmack enjoyed a long career as a baseball player.

He excelled at Rolling Meadows (Ill.) High School and Northern Illinois University. A right-hander pitcher, he persevered for years in the minors and made 11 appearances for the 2003 Detroit Tigers (1-0, 3.46 earned run average).

When his playing days were over, he wanted to give back to the game. He is doing that in his 11th season of coaching at NCAA Division I Valparaiso University (the first seven as pitching coach and the past four as head coach).

Of all the baseball experiences Schmack has enjoyed in his 43 years, he cherishes most his college days and he feels most comfortable in that setting.

“I love this age group,” says Schmack. “For the most point, guys want to be here. Sometimes in high school, they play because they’re the best athlete or because their parents make them or because it’s a small school.

“They’re impressionable and many are away from home for the first time. We get to teach life lessons … (College baseball is) a huge commitment and it’s not for everybody.”

Schmack has made effort, conviction and unity the foundation of the Crusaders program.

“For us, it starts with hard work,” says Schmack, who regularly has VU players doing early-morning running. “Hard work. That’s how you succeed at life in general. We also have confidence, which leads to success.

“We want to outsmart, outwork and outplay (opponents).”

NCAA rules limit the hours players can practice or compete, depending on the time of the school year. But Schmack wants maximum effort when they are doing baseball activities.

There are 32 players on the 2017 roster and Schmack wants them all working together.

“We do a lot of team things here,” says Schmack. “Being good teammates is one of the first things we stress.”

Among other things, being a good teammate means checking the negativity at the locker room door.

As a reminder, there’s a sign in the clubhouse next to Emory G. Bauer Field: No Energy Vampires Allowed.

“Ultimately, we want guys to be positive,” says Schmack. “We want to be positive toward them. With sports, there’s failure involved.

“It’s not as easy as it sounds. A kid has three balls roll through his legs and it’s hard to be positive about that. We try to say ‘keep your head up.’ We’re all fragile and we all make mistakes.”

Schmack knows negativity can spread quickly throughout a team.

“I’ve been on many, many teams in my life,” says Schmack. “You have to eradicate it. You have to get rid of it, even if it’s a good player. You have to have guys who are positive.”

With such a large roster, not every player is going to be a regular. Bench players must remain upbeat and ready.

“They have to be good teammates because they can take a team down,” says Schmack. “We’ve had situations where we have a walk-on pitching or batting in the biggest game of the year. The guys that prepare themselves for a possible situation are the ones that are going to do well.”

Schmack notes that readiness got Mike Montgomery his first career save while helping the Chicago Cubs win Game 7 of the 2016 World Series.

“He probably never thought that would happen,” says Schmack.  “But he stayed ready and the opportunity came because of the situation. That’s  a great example that you always have to be ready.”

When recruiting athletes to the private school in northwest Indiana, the staff looks wherever there’s talent and there are many Californians on the current roster.

Recent successes (Valpo won Horizon League titles in 2012 and 2013 and won a school-record 25 games in 2014) have attracted more local players.

But no matter where they come from, Schmack said the recruiting process is about the VU staff and high school and summer coaches shooting straight with one another.

“We’ll ask is he a competitor? Is he a hard worker?,” says Schmack. “You get, ‘He’s the first one there and the last one to leave.’

“I don’t really know you. Are you just trying to help that kid out or is he really one of those kids? Every coach wants their players to go on to play college baseball. But sometimes maybe they aren’t as honest as they should be.

“Maybe he’s the last one there and the first one to leave. Is he going to say that about the kid? He doesn’t want to bury him.”

Schmack, whose assistants include Ben Wolgamot, Nic Mishler, Kory Winter and Ryan Fritze, wants to get players that are a good fit and it’s hard for someone who has never seen Valpo play and does not know the makeup of the roster to know that.

The same dynamic is in place when pro scouts come to Schmack to ask about his players.

“If I tell them he’s throwing 95 mph and he’s a great kid and they come out to watch him and he’s throwing 87 and has bad body language, they’re not going to come around anymore because we’re overselling them,” says Schmack. “It’s just about being honest with people and forming relationships and knowing who you can trust.”

What about body language?

“It shows a lot about a kid if he doesn’t get rattled very easily,” says Schmack. “He understands baseball is a game of failure. How does he handle it? Does he throw his palms up?

“I’m a big ‘palms up’ guy. It shows blame to me. I always talk about being on an even keel. Baseball is a very humbling sport. You play a lot of games. You can hit three home runs one game and strike out four times the next game. If you’re always the guy who’s happy when you’re doing well and you’re throwing things when you’re bad, guys don’t like to hang around you.

“I want to walk up to a game and not know if the kid is throwing a shutout or he’s given up 10 runs. I won’t be able to tell by his body language.”

Schmack learned not to make a situation bigger while playing for Joe “Spanky” McFarland at NIU, mechanics, reading swing and what to throw in certain situations from first pro pitching coach, Sean Snedeker, and countless little nuggets from all the other coaches and managers to cross his path.

He’s also learned that players must learn to coach themselves.

“We go one-on-one with a player and see what makes him tick,” says Schmack. “Each guy has his own tweak. One guy might lunge. Another might stay back too much. Whatever it is, I have to be able to identify (the issue) and pass it on. Hopefully, he’ll eventually be able to identify it on his own.

“At some point you have to be your own coach and make the adjustment. It’s a game of adjustments. If you can’t make them, you’re out of it. If you can, you have a chance.”

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Brian Schmack is in his fourth season as head baseball coach at Valparaiso University after seven seasons as the Crusaders pitching coach.