Tag Archives: Plymouth High School

Plymouth’s Nixon credits Hall of Fame grandfather, teachers, coaches, parents for pushing him to IHSBCA all-star status

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Bill Nixon is a member of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

The diamond where Plymouth High School plays baseball is called Bill Nixon Field.

But the former Pilgrims head coach who won 714 games at PHS from 1970-99 did not talk much about the sport with Benji Nixon when his grandson was a young boy.

“He told me to take care of my classes and grades,” says Benji Nixon. “He knew I had passion to be the best I could in baseball. He wanted to make sure everything else in my life was important to me.”

The young Nixon was a consistent honor-roll student through his elementary school years.

When Benji reached high school, grandpa began dishing out more baseball advice.

“We’d talk about my swing or how to get rid of the ball better (as a middle infielder),” says Benji. “It was a bunch of tips that helped me grow to be a successful player.”

Benji started at shortstop in every one of his team’s games and was good enough on the diamond to be receive honorable mention on the IHSBCA Class 4A all-state team.

He was also chosen for the North squad in the 2018 IHSBCA All-State Series, which is this weekend at Four Winds Field in South Bend (practices and banquet Friday, July 20, noon doubleheader Saturday, July 21, and noon wood-bat game Sunday, July 22).

“It’s a great way to cap everything off at Plymouth and my high school career,” says Benji, who plans to study business at Indiana University and is undecided about trying to walk on for the Hoosiers. “When I talked with my grandfather about it on the phone, it one of my better moments in 18 years on earth.”

Bill Nixon is planning to travel up from Florida to take part in the festivities.

Taking that early academic advice into high school, Benji graduated with a grade-point average around 3.5 and took six Advanced Placement classes his last two years.

“I had relationships with all my teachers,” says Benji. A couple that he maintains contact with are Curtis Nordmann, John Johnson and Scott Michel.

A three-sport athlete, Benji is grateful for his three head coaches — John Barron in football, Ryan Bales in basketball and Ryan Wolfe in baseball — for different reasons.

“Coach Barron wants us to be more than just a football player,” says Benji, a receiver, running back and defensive back on the gridiron. “He wants us to be be active students and (attend other extracurricular events).

“What I’m going to miss most (about football) is my teammates. We’ve created bonds we’ll have the rest of our lives I would hope.”

The 5-foot-10 Nixon played guard for the Pilgrims and credits his coach with helping him control his emotions.

“I was a hot head my freshman year,” says Benji. “Coach Bales did a nice job my last two years of highs school making sure I could stay calm during tough situations.

“I learned how to keep my cool.”

Wolfe encouraged his baseball players to be good students and good citizens, getting involved with the community.

“He’s all about giving back,” says Benji of Wolfe. “Life is about more than just sports.

“It’s about being there for other people.”

The team did volunteer work multiple times this past year.

Rusty and Maggie Nixon have five sons — Jake Kelly, Elijah Nixon, Nate Nixon, Benji Nixon and Zephan Nixon. All played baseball at Plymouth. Zephan is heading into his junior year at PHS.

Rusty Nixon works for WTCA-AM 1050 radio and the Plymouth Pilots News newspaper.

Maggie Nixon  is the managing editor at The Post & Mail in Columbia City.

Benji describes his relationship with his parents.

“(My father) knew I was a lot like him,” says Benji. “He knew when I was frustrated. He let me handle my own problems, which helped me a lot as a person.

“My mom was my support system. She was always there for me. She encouraged me after bad games and kept me going.”

IHSBCA NORTH/SOUTH ALL-STAR SERIES

(At South Bend)

Friday, July 20

Junior Showcase (Four Winds Field), 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

North practice (Four Winds Field), 1:15 to 3 p.m.

South practice (Four Winds Field), 3 to 4:45 p.m.

Banquet (Great Room at Century Center), 7 p.m. Keynote speaker is Greg Kloosterman (former Elkhart Central High School and Bethel College standout who pitched in the Milwaukee Brewers organization and now runs the Game Changers travel organization in Canonsburg, Pa.). Tickets are $25 for adults and $15 for 10-and-under.

Saturday, July 21

(Four Winds Field)

Pregame with South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg and posthumous tributes to IHSBCA founders and Hall of Famers Jim Reinebold and Ken Schreiber, 11:35 a.m.

First pitch for doubleheader, noon. Admission is $5. Commemorative T-shirts will sell for $10 and $15 apiece depending on size.

Sunday, July 22

First pitch for single wood-bat game, noon. Admission is $5. Commemorative T-shirts will sell for $10 and $15 apiece depending on size.

Note: This year marks the fourth time the series has come to South Bend. It was staged at Clay Park in 1976, Coveleski Stadium (now known at Four Winds Field) in 1989 and Notre Dame in 2008 … The North leads the all-time series 65-61, dating back to 1975.

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Benji Nixon takes time during the Plymouth (Ind.) High School prom to stop by Bill Nixon Field for some baseball fun. Nixon was chosen to participate in the 2018 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series July 20-22 in South Bend. BENJINIXON1

Benji Nixon, a 2018 Plymouth (Ind.) High School graduate, was chosen to participate in the 2018 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series July 20-22 in South Bend. Grandfather Bill Nixon is an IHSBCA Hall of Famer.

 

Plymouth’s Wolfe looks for players who are competitive, confident, comfortable

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Ryan Wolfe was fiery as a player. He got hot at the beginning of his coaching career.

The flame still flickers to the surface on occasion.

But the Plymouth High School head baseball coach has learned to control the flames a bit with time and experience.

Wolfe graduated from Hamilton High School in northeast Indiana in 2001. He was a four-year varsity player for the Marines, which won the IHSAA Class 1A Bethany Christian Sectional in 2000. He was an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association all-star as senior.

Jim Sanxter was the coach.

A pitcher, Wolfe went on to Manchester College (now Manchester University) and played three seasons for Rick Espeset. The Spartans placed seventh in the 2004 NCAA Division III World Series.

“They had two totally different styles of coaching and both were effective,” says Wolfe of Sanxter and Espeset. “(Sanxter) had a huge influence on me. He was tough. He definitely didn’t go for excuses. He would challenge you and push you and he was very sincere. The more I coach, the more I understand some of the things he did.”

Wolfe came to see in Sanxter a passion and purpose for coaching. Not a teacher, the it was a selflessness that drove the man who coached 30 years, including 18 with Hamilton baseball and passed away in 2014.

“It was how he said things, when he said things and how he reacted to things,” says Wolfe. “I’m humbled to realize I learned from somebody like that.”

A calm demeanor is what Wolfe saw when he observed Espeset, who has led the Manchester program since the 1997 season.

“He had a way of staying even-keeled,” says Wolfe. “I never saw Coach Espeset really get upset.

“You knew he meant business, but he didn’t say it in a brash way. It’s not always what you say, but how you say it.”

Espeset helped his players understand the intricacies of the game and also gave them freedom.

“He let us learn from failure,” says Wolfe. “That’s what I try to do here. We’re not going to win every ball game.”

Wolfe’s post-game remarks after a Pilgrims loss is very minimal. He doesn’t want to harp on the negative.

“We want to get the kids to understand that baseball is much bigger than wins and losses,” says Wolfe, whose first season at Plymouth was 2013 (he was an assistant to Brian Hooker at Rochester High School in 2012 and head coach at West Central High School 2006-11). “We want competitors.”

Even Pilgrims practices — which generally include all 35 to 40 players in the program — have a competitive component. Players must earn a chance to take batting practice on Bill Nixon Field.

“It’s been phenomenal,” says Wolfe, who began combining squads for practice in 2015. “It brings a sense of unity. Our whole purpose is the same — to develop great young men through the game of baseball.”

Practices are broken into stations and one is devoted to work on routines. That’s how important it is to the Pilgrims.

Taking the teaches of mental conditioning and sports psychology expert Brian Cain, Wolfe and his assistant coaches (Brent Corbett, Kevin Garrity, Brian Schuler and Mitch Bowers) tell the players to “get back to green.”

There are green dots on the bats — a visual device that helps them relax and focus.

“We talk about breathing a lot and keeping our heart rate down,” says Wolfe. “We’re constantly talking about confidence.

“We want them to know their routine because a routine breeds confidence because it makes you comfortable.”

While his assistants hone in on hitting, pitching and fielding skills, Wolfe sees his role to develop his players’ mental sides.

“It’s an aspect of the game that’s left out,” says Wolfe. “We take time out of our day and do that.”

“It’s taken awhile for our kids to understand it’s a part of baseball. They’re high school kids. They don’t know how to handle failure. Are we perfect at it? No way.”

Wolfe and his staff are not trying to cram every player into the same mold.

“We are not cookie cutter,” says Wolfe. “We don’t have every kid hit the same or pitch the same. It’s about learning who you are as a player and what works for you.

“We’re trying to get the kids to take ownership.”

Like many coaches, Wolfe has taken concepts he has learned at clinics and American Baseball Coaches Association conventions and adopted them to the needs of his program.

Justin Dehmer has won multiple state titles in Iowa and has shared his knowledge through his line of 1 Pitch Warrior materials. Plymouth tracks B.A.S.E.2 (Big Inning, Answer Back, Score First, Extend the Lead, Score with 2 Outs, Quality At-Bat System). Wolfe knows that doing three of the five things on the chart often leads to victory.

The Pilgrims are looking for a K.O. — knocking the starting pitcher out by the fourth inning.

Other incentives are the Hit Stick (one each for varsity and junior varsity) and MVP jersey, which players can earn from game to game following a victory. Get the jersey the most times during the season — as voted on by the team — and that player is the season MVP.

“We’ve got to win to get anything,” says Wofle. “There’s nothing if we lose.”

Wolfe and his staff have crunched the numbers and witness enough success to be believers in their methods.

“This stuff does work,” says Wolfe.

Plymouth plays a double round robin in the Northern Lakes Conference (which also includes Concord, Elkhart Memorial, Goshen, Northridge, NorthWood, Warsaw and Wawasee) with games played Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

NorthWood went 14-0 in 2017, taking a pair of 1-0 wins against the Pilgrims. The game at Plymouth pitted NWHS senior Drake Gongwer against PHS sophomore Cam Dennie and was a classic.

“That’s one of the best high school baseball games I’ve ever seen,” says Wofle. “(The NLC) is very competitive. I like the format. In my five years, I have not seem the same pitcher start both games very often.”

Dennie is already verbally committed to Arizona State University, something he did before the 2017 season after showing well in Prep Baseball Report underclassmen games.

Wolfe sees it as his responsibility to engage in the recruiting process.

“I try to make as many connections as I can with college coaches around the area,” says Wolfe. “But I’m going to be honest with (players, parents and college coaches).

“I teach kids there’s a lot of levels of college baseball. You’ve got to show initiative and work hard in the class room also.”

Indiana alone has 38 programs — nine in NCAA Division I, three in NCAA Division II, nine in NCAA Division III, 14 in NAIA and three in junior college.

Wolfe, who also teaches social studies at PHS, lets his players and coaches know what is being sought by college coaches. He wants them to closely assess their situation and pay attention to the intangibles. On-base percentage and pitching velocity are easy to gauge.

But can they handle the grind of college baseball?

What kind if student are they?

What kind of teammate are they?

“These are the kinds of things we want here,” says Wolfe. “I have some of the longest parent meetings of all-time. But I try to be upfront.

“I don’t want to discourage kids from having those aspirations. I want them to reach their own potential and not compare themselves to other kids. You are who you are. It goes back to taking ownership of what you can do to reach that potential.”

Money has been raised to upgrade the playing surface at Bill Nixon Field, a facility named for the IHSBCA Hall of Fame coach. Wolfe says that project is to go forward after the 2018 season.

Tyler Wolfe — Ryan’s brother — really excelled at D-III Manchester and holds school pitching records for career wins, strikeouts, innings pitched and complete games.

Ryan and wife Tara Wolfe have two boys — fifth grader Preston and fourth grader Parker.

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Ryan Wolfe, a graduate of Hamilton High School and Manchester University, is entering his sixth season as head baseball coach at Plymouth High School.