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Franklin Community, Hanover grad Miller now coaching at Tusculum

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Todd Miller’s baseball coaching path has taken him to the eastern part of the Volunteer State.

A graduate of Franklin (Ind.) Community High School in 2002 and Hanover (Ind.) College in 2006, Miller is in his first season as an assistant at Tusculum University, an NCAA Division II school in Greeneville, Tenn.

Recruiting coordinator and assistant coach is charge of hitting, base runners and infielders are duties for Miller, who was hired in the summer of 2018.

He joined Brandon Steele, a former Tusculum assistant who was promoted when Doug Jones resigned as head baseball coach to concentrate on his duties as Pioneers athletic director.

Associate head coach Todd Ireland and graduate assistants John Topoleski and Hayden Pewitt round out the coaching staff.

Tusculum (24-14 through April 4) is part of the South Atlantic Conference (with Anderson of South Carolina, Carson-Newman, Catawba, Coker, Lenoir-Rhyne, Lincoln Memorial, Mars Hill, Newberry, Queens of Charlotte and Wingate).

The Pioneers play home games at Pioneer Park, a stadium owned by the school and also used by the short-season Appalachian League’s Greeneville Reds (Cincinnati Reds affiliate).

“We have, arguably, the best facilities in Division II baseball,” says Miller. Tusculum has indoor covered batting cages. A clubhouse, weight room, video lab and coaches offices are all underneath the stadium. A nearby building is used for defensive work.

Prior to Tusculum, Miller served four seasons as an assistant to Chris Anderson at Belmont (N.C.) Abbey College and four campaigns as an assistant to Jim Gantt at Cattawba College (Salisbury, N.C.).

Anderson played for Gantt at Catawba and joined Miller in turning the Crusaders’ fortunes around.

“We had a lot of success there,” says Miller.

After going 25-25 in 2015 (Miller’s first season), Abbey was 40-14  with a No. 2 national ranking (best in program history) in 2018 (Miller’s last).

“(Gantt) is one of the best coaches I’ve ever been around — bar none,” says Miller. “He’s got a fantastic program. He does a great job of developing players. He’s truly winner.”

Miller was a part of winning teams for the Indians. During his time there, Catawba won three conference titles and qualified for regional play three times. The program’s first regional crown and D-II College World Series berth in Cary, N.C., came in 2012.

He was an assistant at his alma mater, Hanover, and helped head coach Shayne Stock in 2009 and 2010. Those were also the junior and senior seasons for brother Adam Miller (Hanover Class of 2010). Their sister, Jessica (Class of 2012), was also a student there at the time.

Two seasons at Bluffton (Ohio) University, where James Grandey was head coach, came right after Miller graduated from Hanover.

In March 2007, Miller was involved in a tragic highway accident in Atlanta. Bluffton was on its way to Florida on its southern trip when a crash took the lives of seven people, including five players.

“I was thrown from the bus,” says Miller. “I went through the front windshield.

“I had four broken bones in my back, a skull fracture and a broken jaw.”

Head coach Grandey was hurt even worse and stayed weeks in a hospital before going back to Ohio.

At 22, Miller became temporary head coach.

“I was talking to guys about losing their best friend and roommate,” says Miller. “We had a team meeting after all the funerals. We said we can play this year if you’d like or not. Nobody is going to judge you either way.

“The team decided it wanted to play and do its best. We played the rest of that season with heavy hearts.”

The first game after the fatal accident was a loss, but the Beavers scored five runs — one for each lost player.

“That was symbolic,” says Miller, who recalls that the outreach locally and nationally was tremendous.

After a month after the accident, Tiffin University (located about 45 minutes from Bluffton) held a Purple Day (in honors of Bluffton’s school colors) and raised $13,000.

He was still dealing with physical and mental issues when Miller met one of the Tiffin students that were a part of the effort. A year later, they went on a date and are now married with three children.

Todd and Leigh Miller have Madeline (6), Brooks (3) and Boone (almost 10 months).

“It shows you that even through that tragedy, there can be a silver lining,” says Miller.

Bluffton is where Miller received his masters degree in business administration and formed a bond with Grandey.

“He’s been a teacher, mentor and friend to me through the years,” says Miller.

He played four seasons at Hanover — the first three for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dick Naylor and the last for Shayne Stock.

“I enjoyed Coach Naylor very much,” says Miller. “He was very organized and demanded excellence everyday — not only in the game but it practice.

“He was a winner. He was always able to get the best out of you. He was hard on you. But you had to read through the message a little bit. It was what he said not how he said it.”

Miller also played football at Hanover. He was a three-sport athlete in high school, spending his winters with basketball.

At Franklin Community, Miller’s baseball coaches were Jeff Mercer Sr. and Mark Pieper.

Jeff Mercer Sr. is the father of Indiana University head coach Jeff Mercer Jr., a Franklin Community graduate and two years younger than Todd Miller. The Miller and Mercer families are long-time friends.

Miller is an American Baseball Coaches Association member and regular attendee of the ABCA Convention in January (the 2020 event is slated for Nashville).

“The ABCA is a must-attend for anybody serious about baseball,” says Miller. “I pick up something new every year.

“It’s relevant for all stages of coaching — youth, high school, college and professional.”

Miller also coached three summers with the Indiana Bulls travel baseball organization, leading a 14U squad for two years and a 15U team for one. Brother Adam assisted for all three seasons. He also got help from Ben Kleber, who is now head coach at Trinity Christian High School in Seymour, Ind.

One of the players on those Bulls team was Drew Ellis, who went on to play at Jeffersonville High School and the University of Louisville and is now in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization (he begins 2019 at Double-A Jackson, Tenn.).

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Todd Miller (left), a graduate Franklin (Ind.) Community High School and Hanover (Ind.) College, is in his first season as an assistant baseball coach at Tusculum University in Greeneville, Tenn. (Tusculum University Photo)

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Todd Miller is an assistant baseball coach at Tusculum University in Greeneville, Tenn. His duties include recruiting coordinator and he is in charge of hitters, base runners and infielders. (Tusculum University Photo)

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Skelton, Meyer span eras of Fort Wayne Snider Panthers baseball

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

They’ve got continuity happening on the northeast side of Fort Wayne, Ind.

Marc Skelton has been coaching baseball at R. Nelson Snider High School for three decades.

Skelton, a 1985 Snider graduate, enters his eighth season as Panthers head coach in 2019 after 22 as an assistant.

Bruce Meyer, who has also coached at Snider for 30 years, and Skelton can trace their lineage back to the origins of the Panthers program.

“We played for or coached with every (head) coach in Snider history,” says Skelton, who is Snider’s fifth head baseball coach. Jerry Miller (1971-83) was the first, followed by Jim Rousseau (1983-87), Dave Hey (1988-92) and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Andy Owen (1993-2011).

Miller and assistant Adrian Deusler held the first practice April 15, 1971 and had 95 boys trying out.

“He loved baseball and worked hard it it,” says Skelton of Miller. “He’s still our No. 1 fan. He comes out to games. It’s always good to see Coach.

“(Rousseau) stressed fundamentals and doing things the right way.”

Skelton leads the current Panthers squad while putting effort and excellence at the forefront.

“We believe in hard work,” says Skelton. “You want to give it your best effort every time you’re getting after something.

“Ten quality reps are better than 100 sloppy ones, just going through the motions.”

Besides Meyer, Snider assistants include Josh Clinkenbeard, Rob Hale, Peyton Bieker with the varsity and Tim McCrady, Eric Cirillo and Brandon Phelps with the junior varsity. All but Cirillo and Phelps are returnees to the staff.

Marc is the son of David and Karen Skelton. David Skelton has been scorekeeper for the Panthers for 30 years.

Skelton says he tends to have between 30 and 40 players in the program each season.

During the current IHSAA limited contact period, Snider players are working to get their arms in shape while position players and hitters are also getting in their training.

“We’re getting pitchers arms built up so we avoid injuries down the road,” says Skelton, who can take his team to a couple of tunnels in the gym to get things done.

Snider (enrollment around 1,900) is a member of the Summit Athletic Conference (with Fort Wayne Concordia, Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger, Fort Wayne Bishop Luers, Fort Wayne North Side, Fort Wayne Northrop, Fort Wayne South Side and Fort Wayne Wayne as baseball affiliates).

SAC teams play each other in a home-and-home series, usually within the same week, to determine the conference champion.

“Theoretically, you need more than one pitcher to do it,” says Skelton.

Non-conference opponents include Blackhawk Christian, DeKalb, East Noble, Fort Wayne Canterbury, Fort Wayne Carroll, Homestead, Huntington North, New Haven and Norwell. The Panthers play in the Warsaw Invitational on May 18. DeKalb and Penn have been a part of that even in the past.

The Panthers are part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with DeKalb, East Noble, Fort Wayne Carroll, Fort Wayne Northrop. DeKalb and Carroll have rotated as the host site in recent years. Snider has won 11 sectional crowns — the last in 2017. State championships were earned in 2006 and 2009.

Snider plays its home games at Hawley Field, which is about 2 1/2 miles off-campus on Long Road. The facility is owned by Fort Wayne Community Schools and is maintained mostly by the baseball team.

The 2019 season marks the third of the IHSAA’s pitch count rules (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days). This year, the standards will be the same for varsity and below varsity.

“It’s for the health of the arm so it’s a good thing,” says Skelton. “We want you to throw strikes because you are on a limit. Pitch to contact, so to speak.

“Strikeouts are boring. Work quick so the the defense doesn’t have time to wonder and can say sold behind you.”

Snider senior Mason McMurtry recently made a college baseball commitment to Ivy Tech Northeast Community College in Fort Wayne. Recent graduates Michael Brewer (Eastern Kentucky University) and Matt Eastman (Ivy Tech Northeast) have gone on to the next level.

The Panthers get players from many sources, including Georgetown Little League and several travel organizations.

“The last 10 years it’s been going strong,” says Skelton of travel ball. “As long as they don’t over-do it, it’s a good thing they’re playing baseball. It gets them in competitive situations.”

Even though Snider is a large school, there are a number of multi-sport athletes in the school.

“We leave them alone during other seasons,” says Skelton. “When they come to us (in baseball), they participate with us.”

Skelton graduated from Indiana University in December 1989 and came back to Fort Wayne to be an educator and coach.

Blackhawk Middle School is where Skelton, Meyer and Terah Brogan (Skelton’s sister) are teachers.

Snider graduates have gone on to professional baseball.

Andy Replogle pitched at Kansas State University and two seasons in the majors with Milwaukee Brewers.

Right-hander Kevin Cahill pitched at Purdue University and in the Washington Nationals system.

Catcher-outfielder Kyle Day took the field for Michigan State University and in the Cincinnati Reds system.

Left-hander Adam Sheefel hurled at Ball State University and in the minors with the Reds.

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Marc Skelton, a 1985 Fort Wayne (Ind.) Snider High School graduate, enters his eighth season as Panthers head baseball coach in 2019 after 22 as an assistant.

Bellak looking for more than just ballplayers as Hanover College head coach

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Grant Bellak jumped into his job as head baseball coach at Hanover (Ind.) College with both feet.

Hired to his first head-coaching position on June 1, a few days later the former Franklin (Ind.) College assistant was already recruiting at an event in Cincinnati and spent the next few weeks looking for student-athletes.

Bellak says he expects to have 32 players in the fall and have recruiting classes of 10 to 12 players the next few seasons.

“I felt comfortable with the recruiting area,” says Bellak, who was the recruiting coordinator at Franklin. “Recruiting is the lifeblood of any college program.

“I want athletes who are big and strong. Power bats and power arms play. Power bats can change the game with one swing. Power arms give you more room for error. You don’t have to be perfect.”

Bella, 32, prides himself in finding value where others miss it.

“I plan on bringing that to Hanover and developing that over four years,” says Bellak. “We want mid-major Division I’s calling asking us to play.”

With the Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Louisville and Evansville areas as a base, Bellak already has contacts he developed at Franklin that he can use at Hanover. Both are members of the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference — an NCAA Division III circuit.

As a D-III school, Hanover (enrollment 1,100) does not give athletic scholarships. The liberal arts institution places a premium on academics.

“The thing I’ve been preaching on the recruiting trail is that fit matters,” says Bellak. “This is not for you if you are not 100 percent Panthers. You have to fit the academic profile, campus profile and athletic profile.”

Almost all of the seniors in his last three recruiting classes at Franklin had job offers prior to graduation.

Bellak is looking for young men coming to Hanover who want to be more than ballplayers. They have aspirations of pursuing careers as CEOs, lawyers, politicians etc.

“Here at Hanover, our focus is wanting guys who want more,” says Bellak. “What is your ‘why’?’

“We want difference makers.”

The Shayne Stock-coached Hanover Panthers went 8-25 overall and 5-12 in the HCAC.

“You can win a lot here,” says Bellak. “The rest of athletic department, that’s what they’re doing.

“It’s one of those opportunities I felt I couldn’t pass up.”

Hanover got Bellak’s attention the first time he arrived on the southern Indiana campus as a Franklin assistant.

“It’s got that ‘wow factor,’” says Bellak. “It’s the way it is back in the woods overlooking the Ohio River and the architecture. There’s lots of green space.

“It’s absolutely gorgeous.”

Dick Naylor Field at K.T. Young Ballpark, with its natural grass surface and old trees surrounding the outfield, is also picturesque.

At Franklin, Bellak served on a staff with veteran head coach Lance Marshall.

He saw the behind-the-scenes things that it takes to be a head coach — being an administrator and mentor.

“It’s a different mindset,” says Bellak. “Hours are not just devoted to player development, but developing a program as a whole.

“It’s more than just hitting fungoes and throwing BP. You’re engaging the alumni base and fundraising. It’s all the extras, things the outside world doesn’t see.”

Before Franklin, Bellak was a volunteer assistant at Concordia University Chicago in River Forest, Ill., in 2010 and 2011.

A 2004 graduate of Aurora (Ill.) Christian High School, the Big Rock, Ill., native played two seasons at Waubonsee Community College in Sugar Grove, Ill., and two at Webster University in St. Louis, Mo.

Bellak was sixth in the National Junior College Athletic Association in stolen bases in 2006 at Waubonsee.

Webster, coached by Bill Kurich, came within six outs of going to the 2008 NCAA D-III World Series.

In 2009, Bellak worked as a student assistant to Kurich.

“Bill knows what it takes to win,” says Bellak of Kurich. “He has the unique ability to get the most out of you.”

Bellak coached three summers with the Prospect League’s Dubois County Bombers in Huntingburg, Ind., in 2009-11 — the last as field manager. One of his players was future major league pitcher Sean Manaea.

In 2009, Bellak graduated from Webster with a bachelor’s degree in secondary education. He earned a masters degree in leadership and management from Liberty University’s online program in 2013. The latter is a precursor to a Masters of Business Administration.

“(The leadership and management masters) helped me take a different perspective to coaching,” says Bellak. “The business world isn’t that different than a team.

“The way a CEO motivates someone in the office is not much different than how a coach motivates someone on the field.”

Grant and wife Natasha Bellak have a daughter — Bexley (2).

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Grant Bellak is now the head baseball coach at Hanover (Ind.) College after seven seasons as an assistant at Franklin (Ind.) College. (Hanover College Photo)