Tag Archives: Rhodius Park

Haney growing baseball with Arsenal Tech, RBI Indy

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Bob Haney grew up during a time when baseball thrived on the near east side of Indianapolis.

Through his efforts with the Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) program and as head coach at Arsenal Technical High School, he is working to raise the talent level and expectations around Indy and beyond.

With mentors and coaches like his father, Robert Haney (a Baptist minister), and John Gannon, Bob began playing and learning the game at Christian Park. He went on to be the only sophomore on an all-senior squad when Tech had 5,000 students.

Haney’s high school coaches were Dave George (father of former NFL quarterback Jeff George) and Ivan Moorman.

Flash forward more than three decades, and 1981 Tech graduate Haney saw that his alma mater — a school with an enrollment around 3,000 — did not have enough players to field a baseball team.

That was three years ago.

“The program completely fell part,” says Haney, who became Titans head coach for the 2018 season. “We’re on a mission to turn the program back around.”

It took until February 2018 with Haney teaching basic fundamentals for Tech to go forward with their schedule.

Haney says the numbers of players in the inner-city began to go down when District 7 Little League parks closed and the youngsters in those district were not exposed to organized baseball.

RBI, which counts Haney as baseball director is overseen by the Play Ball Indiana board.

The organization had 60 players — five teams of 12 each — playing on Sundays in 2011.

In 2018, there were more than 1,700 players (baseball and softball) participating with teams under the RBI umbrella, including those in high school baseball and in the RBI Sunday Showcase.

Started more than 20 years ago by men in New Palestine, Ind., the Sunday Showcase provides an extra chance to play and gives all-star teams the opportunity to prepare for tournaments.

The founders handed it off to some coaches in Zionsville, Ind., who then turned the reins over to Haney.

“They bring the communities to us,” says Haney. “Knightstown, Zionsville and Franklin are three that come to us every year.

“They bring us equipment and our parents don’t have to pay travel expenses. Our teams are getting better.”

There are four main RBI parks in Indianapolis — Christian, Forest Manor, Garfield and Rhodius. Efforts are being made to bring Riverside into the mix.

Haney says Forest Manor Park sat empty for seven years before RBI got involved and now serves more than 300 ball-playing kids.

“It’s packed now,” says Haney. “There’s an awful lot of activity.

“Kids would not be playing if it were not for the RBI program.”

Looking at the players coming up through RBI that are about to reach high school age, Haney sees a bright future at Tech as well as other places.

“The program is paying off,” says Haney, who has been instructing younger kids on Sundays.

Baseball and the community are also getting a shot in the arm with the launch of The BASE Indy, which will be headquartered in the Martindale-Brightwood neighborhood near Forest Manor Park.

The BASE Indy plans to stage its Urban Classic in early July. An RBI Super Regional is slated for late July at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind.

There are four Indianapolis Public Schools high schools running now and three have a baseball teams in 2019 — Arsenal Tech, Crispus Attucks and Shortridge. Washington does did not field a team this spring.

None of those schools have a baseball diamond on their campuses. Tech shares Forest Manor Park with Attucks, Purdue Poly (a team with just freshmen and sophomores in 2019) and Tindley. Shortridge is at Arlington Park.

Of the other inner-city schools in Indianapolis, Manual has its own field while Irvington Prep Academy plays at Irvington Park while Providence Cristo Rey and Herron are at Rhodius Park. Howe did not have a baseball team this spring.

Haney is a production associate at the Honda plant in Greensburg, Ind. He is out the door most weekdays a little after 5 a.m. and begins work at 6:30. He is able to burn off his days off in two-hour increments and will leave two hours early at 1 p.m. during the baseball season.

He coaches the Arsenal Tech team then checks on the doings at the RBI parks.

“I love what I’m doing,” says Haney. “I feel like we’ve got things going in the right direction.

“There’s lot of work to do in the inner-city, but we’re looking to move RBI program statewide. Everybody wants to be a part of what we’re doing.”

Haney says Scottsburg and Muncie are two communities that have shown an interest in RBI.

At Arsenal Tech, Haney is assisted by Danny Turner, Stacy Fields, James Garmany and volunteers Warren Belton and Roger Rebeneck. Turner is a Howe graduate who runs the Indiana Styx travel organization. Fields and Garmany are Tech teachers. Fields is also an assistant varsity basketball coach at the school. Belton does many things in the RBI system, including umpiring. Rebeneck assists the most during the summer and fall months.

Arsenal Tech (enrollment around 3,000) is a member of the North Central Conference (with Anderson, Harrison of West Lafayette, Kokomo, Lafayette Jeff, Logansport, Marion, McCutcheon, Muncie Central and Richmond).

“We’re in an extremely tough conference,” says Haney. “The kids are getting to play in a lot of really neat places.”

The Titans are part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with Indianapolis Cathedral, Lawrence Central, Lawrence North, New Palestine and Warren Central. Tech’s lone sectional title came in 1970.

Most of the 2019 Tech squad is expected back for 2020.

Haney and wife Karri have four grown children — Jennifer, Robert Edward, Jeremiah and Jay. Karri Haney has battled breast cancer. Jay Haney played baseball at Warren Central and Perry Meridian high schools and for Vincennes University’s first Junior College World Series qualifier.

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Bob Haney and Scott Kehl reunite on the same field at Christian Park in Indianapolis where they played as boys decades before. Haney is active in baseball at head coach at Arsenal Technical High School and baseball director for Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI).

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The 2018 Arsenal Tech Titans baseball team.

 

Combs brings intensity, love for the game to Decatur Central baseball

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jason Combs brought passion to the Decatur Central High School Hawks as a player and he’s still bringing it as he goes into his seventh season as head baseball coach in 2018.

Combs earned eight letters at DC in football, basketball and baseball. His head baseball coach was Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Phil Webster.

“I loved him from the get-go,” says Combs of the fiery leader. “Webby is the best one I’ve been around as far as taking a player and developing him. I matched him beat for beat in intensity.

“He had this attention to detail and got me understanding the game.”

Combs was part of a 2000 squad that won Conference Indiana, sectional and Marion County championships.

Webster, who would see his Hawks win an IHSAA Class 4A state championship in 2008, put Combs in center field and used the right-hander as a No. 3 pitcher behind 2001 IHSBCA All-Star John Tolson and Matt Elder.

“In all the years I played and have coached, Tolson’s still the nastiest curve ball I’ve ever seen,” says Combs.

A decade after playing for him, Combs joined Webster as his varsity assistant and followed him as DC head coach in 2012. The two still talk regularly and Combs leads his program at Phil Webster Baseball Complex — aka “The Web.”

Combs graduated from Decatur Central in 2001 and played four seasons for head coach Steve Farley at Butler University, receiving a secondary education degree in 2005.

Farley used Combs in the outfield with a few games on the mound and taught many off-field lessons.

“There’s more to being a baseball player than playing baseball,” says Combs. “There being a good human being and a good student.”

Farley pointed his players toward community service opportunities and got them to work youth camps.

Combs also learned to curb his on-field temper.

“I learned to control my emotions, which was always a problem with me,” says Combs. “If I slam down my helmet, I’ll find someone else standing at my position.

“I saw that it’s not all about me. It’s about the team.”

Not that he figured out all his coach was telling him right away.

“When I was playing for him, I was not smart enough to realize how good of a coach he was,” says Combs. “A couple years later, when I became a coach, I figured out Coach Farley was right.”

Combs and Farley stay in touch and he had his former Butler boss address his DC team last season.

Doing his student teaching at Westfield High School, Combs was invited by Shamrocks head baseball coach Ryan Bunnell to join his staff and he wound up serving three seasons as junior varsity head coach and two as varsity assistant. He was there when Westfield, featuring current MLB catcher Kevin Plawecki, finished as 2009 IHSAA state runners-up.

“(Bunnell) taught me the ins and outs and logistics of being a head coach,” says Combs.

If it were possible, Combs would like to see every player get a chance to be a coach. By explaining the game to others, it will help their own understanding of baseball.

Jason’s baseball passion was first stoked by his father, Steve Combs. The retired fireman was a fixture at Carnine Little League in Rhodius Park on the near west side of Indianapolis and did everything from coaching to cutting grass.

It’s in that atmosphere that Combs developed into a fierce competitor.

“We had people who taught us how to compete,” says Combs. “It was grown-men baseball at 10 and 11 years old. You had to fight and not give up no matter what.

“I still embrace that today.”

Donna Combs was also supportive of Jason’s athletic exploits.

“She was a loving, caring, awesome woman,” says Jason of the mother who passed away in February 2017.

Jason’s older brother Josh graduated from Washington High School in Indianapolis in 1995. When Jason was in the eighth grade, the family moved into the Decatur Central district.

Along the way, the youngest Combs gained an affinity for the history of the game.

“You respect what happened before you,” says Combs, who teaches social studies at DCHS. “You know it, learn it and love it.”

He received baseball books as gifts while growing up.

He came home from school and watched Chicago Cubs games on TV and heard famed announcer Harry Caray telling stories about the game’s past.

Combs has watched Ken Burn’s Baseball documentary series numerous times.

His favorite player was a tall shortstop named Cal Ripken Jr.

Decatur Central is part of the Mid-State Conference (along with Franklin Community, Greenwood, Martinsville, Mooresville, Plainfield and Whiteland). Next year, Perry Meridian is to join the circuit.

“It’s a really good baseball conference,” says Combs. “It’s always been pretty even. It’s competitive and it will be again this year.”

MSC games are played in a Tuesday and Wednesday home-and-home series.

“You’ve got to prove it,” says Combs. “You can’t have one guy who can (pitch every conference game). You’ve got to have a team.”

There has been discussion in going to Friday night doubleheaders like the Hoosier Heritage Conference.

“I like the way we do it,” says Combs.

There are 35 players in the program this spring for varsity and junior varsity games. The coaching staff features Alan Curry (pitching coach), Ben Ferrell and Jeff McKeon with the varsity and Brandon Curry (Alan’s son) and Brayton Lake with the JV. Curry joined Combs in his second season as DC head coach and Ferrell in his third. McKeon was head coach at Plainfield High School and head coach of the South squad at the IHSBCA North/South All-Stars in Muncie last summer.

Recent Decatur Central graduate Jack Wohlert is a pitcher for Indiana University Southeast. Current seniors Bradley Brehmer (Wright State University) and Alex Mitchell (Indiana Tech) have made commitments and Austin Mitchell (twin brother of Alex) and Devin Gross are among those Combs expects to play college baseball.

The Hawks are scheduled to open the season with three games at historic Bosse Field in Evansville against Evansville Reitz, Evansville North and Indian Creek. Other 2018 non-conference opponents include Beech Grove, Ben Davis, Franklin Central, Homestead, Perry Meridian, Roncalli, Southport, Speedway and Warren Central.

Decatur Central plays in a Class 4A sectional group with Ben Davis, Perry Meridian, Pike, Roncalli and Southport. The host rotation lands on Ben Davis this year.

Phil Webster is helping son and Pike head coach Todd Webster  this spring.

The Hawks last won the sectional in 2015 and the games were played at Decatur Central.

“I like to play a tough schedule,” says Combs. “You’ve got to get ready (for the IHSAA tournament) somehow. You’ve got to see what you’ve got.”

Located less than 10 miles apart, Decatur Central and Mooresville are backyard rivals.

Thanks to Webster and current Pioneers head coach Eric McGaha, the two baseball programs play each spring for the “Battle of 67” trophy.

The school that holds the trophy — currently Decatur Central — must be beaten on their own field to have it taken away. That means the “trophy” game in 2018 will come when Mooresville visits DC.

Mooresville is heading into its second season with artificial turf, causing many in the Decatur Central community to ask, “Are we next?”

Combs knows of no immediate plans for that kind of investment.

The coach is thankful for the assistance of Hawks athletic director and close friend Justin Dixson. They went to Decatur Central and Butler together and were in each other’s weddings.

“Within reason, he does just about anything I want,” says Combs.

Helping to feed the high school program are seventh grade and eighth grade teams at Decatur Middle School.

“I’m going to do that as long as we can,” says Combs. “There’s something to playing middle school baseball. We try to teach them our system. Plus they have to act right in school and stay eligible.”

Add Decatur Central Little League at Southeastway Park and travel baseball and some seventh graders are playing games with 60 feet between bases then 70 then 90 — sometimes in the same week.

“But the more you play, the more chances you have to get better,” says Combs. “We let the kids play where they feel comfortable.”

Jason and Jamie Combs reside in Decatur Township with daughters Amelia (5) and Josie (2).

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Decatur Central High School head baseball coach Jason Combs (left) embraces with oldest daughter Amelia following a game against Whiteland in 2017. DC graduate Combs heads into his seventh season as Hawks head coach in 2018.