By STEVE KRAH
A man who’s been coaching since the late 1980’s has returned to a head high school baseball post after six seasons away.
Swinson, who is both a football defensive coordinator and head wrestling coach at Northwestern High School near Kokomo as well as a supervisor for the Howard County Highway Department, served as head baseball coach at Eastern High School in Greentown from 2006-11, leaving after he wife Stacey’s son Saxon’s senior season to help coach daughter Shayden’s youth softball teams.
Saxon is now 25 and Shayden is an Eastern freshman.
Prior to his stint at Eastern, Swinson was a baseball assistant at Northwestern from 1998-2005. With Ryan Berryman (now head coach at Western High School in Russiaville) as head coach, the Tigers were IHSAA Class 2A state runners-up in ’05.
Swinson is a 1987 graduate of Kokomo High School, where he played baseball for coach Mike Smith.
“He was very competitive,” Swinson says of Smith. “He was a black-and-white coach. It was yes or no. There was no gray area. That’s how I try to coach myself. It’s either right or wrong. It’s what works for me and my system.”
After high school graduation, Swinson coached for South Side Youth Baseball based in Kokomo’s Highland Park. His 1995 team was runner-up in the 12U Bambino Baseball World Series in Abbeville, La.
Swinson is proud of his long career of leading athletes.
“Every year I coach, I feel blessed in being around the kids and building relationships with coaches,” says Swinson.
The Eastbrook Panthers have enjoyed plenty of success in football, going 37-4 the past three falls with 2A state runner-up finish in the fall of 2016 and a regional title in 2017.
“I see no reason they can’t be successful in the spring,” says Swinson, who takes over a baseball program that sent all-state catcher Andrew Lawvere to the 2017 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series and then on to NCAA Division I baseball at Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne and also graduated pitcher Ross DeBonis.
Returnees for the Panthers include senior third baseman/right-handed pitcher Matt Hollars, senior middle infielder Wyatt Jackson and senior left-hander/outfielder Ryan Mansbarger (who recently surpassed 1975 graduate Rick Harness to become Eastbrook’s all-time leading basketball scorer), junior first baseman/right-hander Joshua Pluimer, junior outfielder Mason Hale (a football quarterback), junior catcher Joe Hayes and sophomore shortstop/right-hander Dylan Bragg.
“We have a strong junior class,” says Swinson, who counts former Madison-Grant High School and Indiana Wesleyan University pitcher Ryne Brown and former Madison-Grant Mike Brown as well as Steven Shelby and Hoyt Young as assistant coaches. “They are really good athletes. They like baseball. They just don’t have the fundamentals yet. We are going to work fundamentals hard.”
Swinson also plans to have all his players — including the seventh and eighth graders at Eastbrook Junior High School — working a rake or an edger on the school’s diamond.
“It’s a big thing at all levels for kids to take ownership of the baseball field and make it look nice,” says Swinson. “It’s not my field, it’s their field.
“It’s about accountability and what it takes to be part of a good program.”
There has been excitement on the campus with the talk of building new baseball and softball fields along with concession stand, restrooms and fieldhouse that is located closer to the football field.
“I’m excited about the future,” says Swinson.
Besides the junior high team which offers a local alternative to travel ball, EHS baseball is fed by Van Buren and Upland youth leagues. Swinson says they may merge into single league for baseball and softball.
The Panthers last won a sectional championship in 2004 and are currently in a 2A sectional grouping with Alexandria-Monroe, Eastern (Greentown), Elwood, Madison-Grant, Taylor and Tipton.
The CIC has each team play the other once with conference games often being played on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Swinson says playing them like this means one team will likely dodge another’s No. 1 pitcher.
Speaking of pitching, 2017 marked the introduction of new IHSAA 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).
“I like it,” says Swinson of the idea of limits. “I’ve seen too many kids over the years have to stop playing because they’ve been taught the wrong fundamentals.”
There’s also all the wear and tear that happens with all the throws that happen during or before the game that don’t get recorded as part of the pitch count.
“It’s for the safety of kids,” says Swinson. “As a football coach, we have the helmet-to-helmet rule. We have a set of shoulder pads. We say ‘let’s tackle the right way.’”
Steve Swinson, a football defensive coordinator and head wrestling coach at Northwestern High School, is now also head baseball coach at Eastbrook High School.
Steve and Stacey Swinson have two children — Saxon and Shayden. He has added head baseball coach at Eastbrook High School to a list of jobs which also includes football defensive coordinator and head wrestling coach at Northwestern High School. He has been a baseball head coach at Eastern (Greentown) High School and a baseball assistant at Northwestern.