Tag Archives: Russ Degitz

‘Win 7’ battle cry of team-first Huntington North Vikings

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Toughness.
Resiliency.
Character.
Concentration.
Effort.
Attention to Detail.
Professionalism.
These are the seven winning values — the battle cry — of the baseball program at Huntington (Ind.) North High School.
“Win 7” is emblazoned on social media and apparel.
“We fully believe in the team and we try to remove the individuals and that’s coaches and players,” says Jarod Hammel, who in the second year of a second stint as Vikings head coach (he was an assistant beginning in 2010 and then head coach from 2017-19). “Everything that we do is about the team with the exception of the ‘Win 7’ (year-end award).
“It’s the player who embodied our seven values. It’s not the MVP. We make that clear to the guys and they vote on it.”
It’s those values that can be controlled every game regardless of how the scoreboard reads.
“We may not win all seven innings of every game, but we want to compete that way,” says Hammel. “If we get back on the bus and we feel we won those seven it’s going to be a good bus ride home.”
The “seven” theme does not end there.
“We have seven class periods in a day where we tell our kids you go in and you compete in the classroom as well and you win all seven of your periods,” says Hammel. “There are seven innings in each game. There are eight teams in (the Northeast Eight Conference) so we have to beat seven conference opponents. That’s our mindset. We may or may not, but we want to compete like we will.
“There’s seven games on a typical road to the (IHSAA) State Finals for us out of our bracket.”
Huntington North (enrollment around 1,500) counts Bellmont, Columbia City, DeKalb, East Noble, Leo, New Haven and Norwell as NE8 foes.
The Vikings are part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping in 2023 with Columbia City (host), Fort Wayne South Side, Fort Wayne Wayne, Homestead and New Haven. Huntington North has won 20 sectional titles — the last in 2017.
The program has also produced three regional crowns (1982, 1987 and 1993), one semistate championship (1993) and one state runner-up finish (1993).
A celebration of the ’93 team featuring Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association/Huntington North Athletics Hall of Famer Don Sherman during the 2023 season is now in the planning stages.
Hammel logged four baseball seasons (one coached by Chad Daughterty and three by Russ Degitz) and four at Huntington University (coached by Hall of Famer Mike Frame), picking up diplomas in 2006 and 2010.
“I was fortunate to have been a part of Viking baseball my whole life and be a small piece of it,” says Hammel. “I remember most the groups that I played on that served each other and was pulling for each other.
“So we’ve tried to create that and we’ve been fairly successful using the program to impact young men in the community.
To expose youth to Viking baseball and its players one method of outreach is a “home run derby” held on home football nights.
“We just let kids have fun,” says Hammel. “We don’t care if it’s the prettiest swing. We let them use wiffle ball bats and set up a snow fence.”
The recent IHSAA Limited Contact Period saw about 40 players participate with many others occupied with a fall sport.
“I think it’s going to be a competitive year to throw your name in the mix and be part of the program,” says Hammel. “I want to keep as many kids as I can and impact them through the program. We won’t turn any guys away who demonstrate commitment and desire to be involved and make good decisions. With that said, we’re probably going to land around 30 to 35 (players for varsity and junior varsity squads).
“We have a lot of multi-sport guys which I love. At minimum I’m wanting to catch a football practice a week so I can see our guys competing in a Viking jersey.”
Hammel says about 80 percent of those participating in the “Viking Velocity Builder Program” using a timed duration increased their arm strength and speed at the end of about six weeks training.
“We set realistic expectations of we can accomplish baseball-wise,” says Hammel. “Our primary focus was building relationships, especially with our new faces.”
Renovations took Huntington North from two baseball diamonds to one and three teams to two.
Viking Field, which is located on-campus, has new fencing, backstop netting and a brick kick wall as well as new batting cages and bullpens.
A hill in right field has been smoothed out and a tall wall has been installed. It’s 310 feet down the right field line, 345 in the right-center gap, 405 to center, 375 to left-center and 340 down the left field line.
“We’re so excited in some of the things the community has trusted us with,” says Hammel. “A significant amount of money has been donated to our baseball program.
“We have a new football field which is turf and we can work out on as well.
“It’s an exciting time for our guys to be involved. I think that they want to be good stewards of it.”
A former Mathematics teacher at Huntington North, Hammel is now an assistant principal. He has a masters degree from Ball State University and is married with four small children.

The 2022 Huntington (Ind.) North Vikings baseball team.
The 2022 Huntington (Ind.) North Vikings baseball team huddles.
The 2022 Huntington (Ind.) North Vikings baseball team bonds with bowling.
The 2022 Huntington (Ind.) North Vikings baseball team helps with the renovation of Viking Field.

New head coach Blocker seeks ‘efficient’ Southwood Knights

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Cory Blocker moves up from varsity assistant to head baseball coach at Southwood Junior/Senior High School in Wabash, Ind., in 2022-23.
Borrowing a motto from another coach, Blocker wants the Knights to be “efficient.”
“In practice drills, we’re not standing around but getting plenty of swings and taking game-like reps,” says Blocker, who wants to see efficiency in the field, on the mound and in the batter’s box.
Southwood left 6.6 runners on base per game and committed 88 fielding errors in going 5-17-1 in 2022.
“We want to make the plays behind our pitchers,” says Blocker. “We want to have an (offensive) approach and understand our job each time we go to the plate. We’ll try to put ourselves in the best position to achieve that job.”
If the Knights have a runner on first base, the job will entail moving them at least to second base.
“We want to make (opposing) pitchers work and make every out count,” says Blocker, who wants to see his hitters make contact and increase their batting average on balls in play.
Pitching efficiency includes mechanics, throwing strikes and liming walks.
Among Southwood returnees for 2023 is senior catcher Mo Lloyd, who hit .452 with 12 home runs and 40 runs batted in for 2002 and hitting .480 with 13 homers and 51 RBIs for a 22-7 team in 2021.
Besides Blocker, the coaching staff features returnees Danny Lloyd and Christian Deeter and newcomers in pitching coach Kyle Zerfas and junior varsity coach Tanner Chamberlain.
There were about 25 players in the program — varsity and JV — in 2022.
Blocker is in his eighth year as a Southwood teacher. He instructs sixth grade math and is at the junior/high school building for the first time in 2022-23.
He has been a baseball and football assistant for seven years. This fall, he was the special teams coordinator and running backs coach. The 2022 Southwood football team went 7-3.
Because of when Blocker was named head coach and his football duties, there were no IHSAA Limited Contact Period activities in the fall.
The Knights play home games on-campus on a facility sometimes called “The Launching Pad” for its cozy dimensions. Blocker says its about 280 feet down the foul lines.
Wabash Little League serves Wabash County and feeds players to Southwood, Manchester, Northfield and Wabash high schools.
Southwood (enrollment around 250) is a member of the Three Rivers Conference (with Maconaquah, Manchester, Northfield, North Miami, Peru, Rochester, Tippecanoe Valley, Wabash and Whitko).
In recent seasons, TRC teams met each other once during the season. There is no conference tournament.
The Knights part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping in 2023 with Caston, North Miami, North White, Northfield and West Central. Southwood has won five sectional titles — the last in 2021.
A 2009 graduate of Huntington (Ind.) North High School, Blocker played four years of football, three of baseball and two of basketball. His head coaches were Rief Gilg (the Vikings went 8-3 in 2008, Blocker’s senior year on the gridiron), Russ Degitz and Eric Foister.
“A lot of our time in baseball was spent with the little details,” says Blocker of Degitz. “He was a big fundamental guy.
“They were all coaches that were hard on you but cared about you at the same time and made sure that was relayed in everything they did.”
Blocker spent two years at Purdue University and four at Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne, graduating in 2015.
Cory and Brittany Blocker have been married five years. The couple resides in Wabash and has three children — daughter Wrenley (3), son Wesley (1 1/2) and daughter Willow (almost eight months).

Cory Blocker. (Frederick’s Photography)
Cory and Brittany Blocker with children (from left): Wrenley, Wesley and Willow.

Bickel leads IUPUC Crimson Pride into first baseball season

BY STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Athletic history is being made in Columbus, Ind.
Indiana University-Purdue University Columbus has been approved for NAIA status in 2022-23.
The Crimson Pride are up and running with three programs — baseball, softball and cross country — and more sports are planned.
The first official baseball practice was held Tuesday, Sept. 6 on the youth diamonds at CERA Sports Park & Campground in Columbus.
“The City of Columbus as a whole never had collegiate sports,” says Scott Bickel, IUPUC’s first head baseball coach. “We need Columbus and their business partners to support us for us to continue to grow.”
IUPUC is a sister school to Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and offers Indiana and Purdue degrees at in-state tuition rates.
An independent pilot program that will not be eligible for NAIA postseason play in the first year, the IUPUC Crimson Pride hopes to get into an athletic conference — preferably the River States Conference (which includes national power Indiana University Southeast plus Indiana University-Kokomo and Oakland City University).
The baseball roster currently numbers 44 and the goal is 55 in order to have full varsity and junior varsity schedules.
“We want to give them an opportunity to compete for a position,” says Bickel. “We’re going to need to play at a highly-respected level to compete for conference championships.
“The main thing we have to do now is install everything. Everything is new to everybody.”
Former pitcher/outfielder Bickel was Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North-South All-Star Series participant for Huntington North in 2006 and earned IHSBCA all-state honorable mention in both 2005 and 2006.
Among Bickel’s classmates and teammates were Chris Kramer, Andrew Drummond and Jarod Hammel. Kramer went on to play basketball at Purdue University and in the pro ranks. Drummond set offensive records at Huntington (Ind.) University. Hammel also played at HU and is in his second stint as Huntington North head baseball coach.
Bickel played two years each at Huntington North for Chad Daugherty and Russ Degitz (Chad’s younger brother Kyle Daugherty was an assistant) and Greg Roberts at the University of Saint Francis, an NAIA school in Fort Wayne.
Bickel is a first-time head coach with coaching experience as Roberts’ hitting coach for one season at Saint Francis (2016-17) and four campaigns at Ivy Tech Community College Northeast in Fort Wayne (2019-22) doing a number of things for head coaches Lance Hershberger and Connor Wilkins.
Others Ivy Tech coaches include Javier DeJesus (who gave pitching lessons to high schooler Bickel), Mark Flueckiger, Drew Buffenbarger, Benny Clark, Tony Gorgai, Jeff Griffith, Densil Brumfield and Seth Sorenson.
“I have Lance Hershberger to thank for taking a chance with me and offering me an opportunity to network with a great baseball town,” says Bickel. “I really grew my knowledge base from our relationships, and I wouldn’t be here without them.”
In some way or other, Bickel says he has also been impacted by Brent Alwine (Indiana Tech and Indiana Summer Collegiate League)
Matt Brumbaugh (Fort Wayne Northrop), Patrick Collins-Bride (Indiana Tech), Mark Delagarza (Summit City Sluggers), Steve Devine (Indiana Tech), Rich Dunno (Ground Force Sports), Jason Garrett (Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger), Zach Huttie (Indiana Tech/World Baseball Academy), Rick Davis (Strike Zone Training Center), Manny Lopez (The Diamond/Fort Wayne Diamondbacks), Kip McWilliams (Indiana Tech) and Mike Nutter (Fort Wayne TinCaps).
The 2017-18 Ivy Tech team — aka “The Dirty Dozen” for the 12 players left at season’s end — went 25-18 in that inaugural season. Bickel came along in 2018-19 and saw those players move on to four-year schools.
In 2017-18, Bickel was an assistant at Fort Wayne Snider High School. Marc Skelton and Bruce Meyer led the Panthers varsity and assistants included Tim McCrady and Josh Clinkenbeard (who is now Snider head coach).
The last two years, Bickel was a player-coach for the Richard Brown-owned Jackers, which qualified for the National Amateur Baseball Federation World Series in both seasons.
While living in Colorado. Bickel met future wife Allie (the couple celebrates six years of marriage Oct. 15), started a business and played baseball.
Bickel holds degrees in Secondary Education for Mathematics and Mild Intervention from Saint Francis (2011) and a Masters of Athletic Administration and Coaching from Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va. (2021).
The IUPUC staff also includes pitching coach Zach McClellan (who is also the school’s Director of Athletics and a former big league pitcher), Mac Kido and Tyler Dunbar and is likely to expand.
Kido, a 2016 graduate of Edgewood High School in Ellettsville, Ind., briefly attended Manchester University in North Manchester, Ind., and has coached at Edgewood and travel ball at the Tier Ten Sports Campus in Spencer, Ind. He will coach Crimson Pride hitters.
Dunbar, a 2019 graduate of North Daviess High School in Elnora, Ind., played briefly at Hanover (Ind.) College and transferred to IUPUC to finish his degree in Elementary Education. He has coached travel ball for Demand Command. He will serve infield coach/assistant baserunning coach for the Crimson Pride.
“I’ll be mentoring and shepherding Coach Kido and Coach Dunbar the best I can,” says Bickel. “That’s a big goal for me.
“I want to give them the autonomy they need to be successful.”
Bickel will work with catchers and outfielders.
An exhibition game with Ivy Tech Northeast is scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 8 at Fort Wayne’s Shoaff Park.
IUPUC is to open its 2023 season and play its first-ever games Feb. 10-11 against Huntington University in Tuscaloosa, Ala. New Foresters head coach Thad Frame is a 2004 Huntington North graduate, which means he was a Vikings senior when Bickel was a sophomore.

Scott Bickel. (Indiana University-Purdue University Columbus Image)
(Indiana University-Purdue University Columbus Image)
(Indiana University-Purdue University Columbus Image)