By STEVE KRAH
Teaching baseball and other skills in a college preparatory school is what Kurt Christiansen does in his roles as head baseball coach and humanities senior instructor at Culver (Ind.) Military Academy.
Christiansen has been at the school since the fall of 2008 and has led the Eagles baseball program since 2009 in all but one season, when he was finishing graduate school.
A 1997 graduate of Center Grove High School in Greenwood, Ind., Christiansen played for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dave Gandolph and was a top-notch football receiver.
His diamond teammates included two players selected in the 1996 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft — A.J. Zapp (in the first round to the Atlanta Braves) and Nick Jamison (in the 31st round to the Detroit Tigers).
After earning his undergraduate degree at Indiana University, where he did not play sports, Christiansen did some student teaching in Australia. He then was a teacher and coached baseball and football for two years at Carmel (Ind.) High School.
Pamela Christiansen, Kurt’s wife went to law school at Valparaiso University, and got a job in South Bend, bringing the family to northern Indiana. Kurt was a teacher and coached baseball and football at NorthWood High School for four years before pursuing the opportunity to teach at CMA.
Christiansen describes the humanities as a combination of Language Arts and Social Studies in a traditional school.
“It’s pretty wonderful,” says Christiansen. “The kids are learning to read and write and think in a pretty interdisciplinary setting.”
Culver Military Academy offers what its website calls “a leadership approach that develops young men into leaders of character who are poised for global success in any career path.”
There is also a Culver Girls Academy. Together with CMA for boys, they form what is known as the Culver Academies.
Students come from far and wide.
While seven players had hometowns in Indiana, Culver’s 2018 roster featured athletes from Alaska, California, Illinois, Kansas, Nebraska, Nevada, South Carolina, Texas and Washington as well as Korea.
Hayden Schott, an outfielder from Newport Beach, Calif., participated in the 2018 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series in South Bend.
Schott plans to attend Cypress (Calif.) College. The junior college has a tradition of sending players on to NCAA Division I and professional baseball. Among those are former closer extraordinaire Trevor Hoffman (who will be enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown this weekend) and former big league third baseman Brandon Laird.
In recent years, CMA graduates Connor Bartelman (University of Chicago), Kyle Bartelman (Columbia University in New York), Shane Comiskey (Grinnell College in Iowa), Zach Moffett (Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Ind.) and Perley Provost (Denison University in Granville, Ohio) have gone on to play college baseball.
Culver Academies has a college advising office, which helps students make connections at the university level.
“Ideally, a Culver kid is using baseball to help them find the best academic fit for them,” says Christiansen. “Baseball is part of what got them to the school. The end benefit is a world-class education.”
Christiansen knows that college coaches have often seen players through video, scouting or camps and they are calling him to fish out the story.
“One of the big benefits about being at Culver is that I know my players,” says Christiansen. “I see them on and off the field quite a bit. I have a pretty good sense of who they are.”
Christiansen says Culver Academies students are attractive to colleges not only because they are strong academically, but they’ve also learned to develop independence.
“They’re at a boarding school far from home and they’re figuring out how to take care of themselves,” says Christiansen. “All of that’s done before these colleges get them and that’s a real big bonus.”
It’s not a cookie-cutter approach taken by Christiansen and his fellow instructors.
“Like any school, kids are kids,” says Christiansen. “Each kid is a little bit different. So you’ve got to find ways to connect with them and teach them. But it helps that we’ve got kids who are committed to the mission of the school.
“How do I leverage baseball to deliver on that mission? That’s a question that the staff constantly asks of ourselves — not just to put kids in a position to compete and win baseball games and develop as athletes but develop dispositions and mindsets that will serve them in life.”
With no feeder program, Christiansen often does not know who he will have on his baseball team until school starts in the fall, though he does sometimes find out who has a baseball background during the admissions process.
“In almost 100 percent of the cases I’ve never seen them throw or hit,” says Christiansen. “I have to work pretty hard to recruit our own campus because there’s so many interesting and wonderful opportunities. Kids grow up playing Little League and they get to Culver and decide they want to try crew or lacrosse.
“I have to identify the baseball players and make sure they still want to come out and be part of the program.”
The school’s mission includes a wellness component and students not in a sport must do something to get exercise.
“Not all of our kids are premier athletes,” says Christiansen. “Hockey and lacrosse programs are elite. They’re really, really good — some of the best in the country.”
Baseball, which plays on Wilkins Field, is restricted by school policy from playing more than a couple of games during the school week with other contests on Saturdays. This means CMA schedules around 20 to 23 games or less than the 28 regular-season contests allowed by the IHSAA.
“We want to make sure our kids have plenty of time to study and they’re not out until 9 or 10 o’clock at night four or five nights in a row,” says Christiansen.
Being an independent, CMA often gets bumped when other schools must make up conference games.
Christiansen’s coaching staff includes three other senior humanities instructors — J.D. Uebler with the varsity and John Rogers and Andy Strati leading the junior varsity.
Kurt and Pamela Christiansen have three children — Jack (11), Sarah (10) and Joey (5).
Culver (Ind.) Military Academy head baseball coach Kurt Christiansen with Hayden Schott at the 2018 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series in South Bend.
Kurt Christiansen is the head baseball coach and a humanities senior instructor at Culver (Ind.) Military Academy. He played high school baseball for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dave Gandolph at Center Grove. (Steve Krah Photo)