By STEVE KRAH
Washington Township won the IHSAA Class 1A state baseball title in 2021 without hitting a single home run during the season.
The Randy Roberts-coached Senators went 27-7 without leaving the yard one time.
Randy’s father, Norman Roberts, who died in April, used to pester his son about all the bunting.
“I just wished we didn’t have to,” says Randy Roberts. “But you’ve got to put the ball in play (with a bunt or a swing) and make (the defense) make the plays.
“More often than not those routine plays are what costs the game.”
Roberts, who has been head coach at Washington Township since the 1996 season, says hitting is hard and “bunting is just desire” and catching the ball with the bat.
“Striking out has to be a fate worse than death.”
Washington Township (enrollment around 260) is a member of the Porter County Conference (with Boone Grove, Hebron, Kouts, Morgan Township, South Central of Union Mills, Tri-Township and Westville).
The PCC crowns round robin and tournament champions. The Senators won the round robin in 1999 (tie), 2001, 2006 and 2014 (tie) and tournament in 1999, 2009, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2021.
The Senators are part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping in 2023 with Bowman Leadership Academy, DeMotte Christian, Hammond Science & Technology, Kouts and Morgan Township.
Washington Township has won 10 sectional titles — all since 1999 and the last in 2021. The Senators were 1A state champions in 2021 and state runners-up in 2019.
That’s all on Roberts’ watch.
Typically, Roberts has about 18 players to fill varsity and junior varsity rosters.
Over the years, the coach has had young men come out that were not very good players but they came back year after year.
“Those kids are the ones that go on and are successful adults,” says Roberts. “The fact is that they’ve committed to something and the easiest thing to do is quit.
“That’s what most kids do.”
The 2022-23 Senators did not participate in IHSAA Limited Contact Period activities in the fall and had some optional workouts this week.
Assistant coaches for 2023 are Christian Lembke (Washington Township Class of 2010) and Nick Sutton.
“He’s a good baseball man,” says Roberts of Sutton. “He loves the game.”
Lembke, who played for Roberts, is a fourth grade teacher at Washington Township Elementary School.
James Kirk (Class of 2023) was the Senators’ top hitter for a 5-16 squad in 2022 at .423 with four homers and 23 runs batted in. Nathan Winchip (Class of 2024) led the team in pitching wins with three and innings with 32 1/3.
A 1978 graduate of Warsaw (Ind.) Community High School, Roberts earned an Education degree from Grace College in Winona Lake, Ind.
The Lancers were then coached by Tom Roy.
“He’s a very spiritual man,” says Roberts. “He’s just the kind of guy you’d want to be.
“Coach Roy is the man to follow in his relationship with Christ.”
When Roberts was in school Grace went to Puerto Rico on one of its spring trips.
“I loved it down there,” says Roberts.
A year after he graduated a director from Puerto Rico’s Wesleyan Academy was visiting Roy and Roberts, who was substitute teaching and working for the Warsaw parks department, learned of an opening for an elementary reading teacher and baseball coach.
Roberts went to work for the school in Guaynabo for two years. The first year the baseball team lost in the first round of the playoffs. The next year brought the island’s private school championship.
Private schools were separated into two divisions — A and B. Citizens interested in an education or having wealth sent their children to private schools to learn English. Public schools taught in Spanish.
Division A schools offered scholarships and would often take the best ballplayers from Division B.
“It was not very common for a Division B school to beat a Division A school,” says Roberts.
After a regular season of about 20 games, it took three wins to earn the championship. The last two for Roberts’ team came against Division A schools, including Robinson School in San Juan featuring future big leaguer Eduardo Perez (son of Baseball Hall of Famer Tony Perez).
“Puerto Rico was the job of my life — never to be duplicated,” says Roberts.
After coming back to Indiana, Roberts worked and helped coach baseball at Wawasee. Then came the opportunity to teach young adults in the Middle East. He spent two years in Saudi Arabia and one in Dubai and made some money. There was no baseball, but he did play softball.
“I got on a really good team that was like the Yankees of the Middle East,” says Roberts. “It was during the first Gulf War and there were a lot of military teams in the league.
“It was pretty competitive.”
Roberts came back to Indiana and worked at a pickle factory and substitute taught at John Glenn, Bremen and Plymouth.
Then came the opportunity to teach and be an assistant track coach at Washington Township in the spring of 1995. At that time, grades K-12 met in the same building.
In 1995-96, Roberts started a long run as a sixth grade teacher and transitioned to fifth grade.
In 26 baseball seasons, he’s posted a mark of 472-261.
What has made Roberts’ time leading the Senators worthwhile is the relationships.
“The parents here in the community have just been phenomenal,” says Roberts. “They stood behind me.
“If mower needs fixed, I call a parent. When we built the batting cages in the gym it was always with parental help.”
When Roberts and an administrator did not see eye-to-eye it was the parents who were there to back the coach and educator.
“They had a Facebook page and all these people are writing posts in support of me,” says Roberts. “It was kind of like my living funeral.”
Roberts had offers to go to a bigger school over the years, but decided to stay put.
“It’s been a good place,” says Roberts. “I’ve had principals that I’ve just been blessed and grateful to have worked under them the whole way.
“They say everything happens for a reason.”
Then there’s Roberts’ pride and joy — the Washington Township baseball field aka Senator Park.
Located on the campus that sits along S.R. 2 on the east edge of Valparaiso, the diamond with a rustic feel features wood purchased from a smaller Menard’s store that was closing to make way for a bigger one.
The first few quoted prices for the wood — $20,000 and $10,000 — were too high for the school’s budget.
“Eventually they called me and said we’ll give it to you for $4,000 and we’ll not take a cent less,” says Roberts, who placed a $1,000 down payment on the wood and players, coaches and parents loaded three semi trailers. The next spring it spent five weekends and many hours after practice putting up fences and dugouts that have now been there more than two decades.
“That’s our field,” says Roberts. “It’s just a great place for a ballgame. Down the right field line it’s elevated and you’ve got the trees. There aren’t too many infields where the grass is any nicer.
“Is it a perfect ball field? No. The outfield slopes down terribly low. On the infield, the first base side is a little bit higher.”
With Lake Michigan less than 20 miles to the north, a howling wind seems to be a constant at the high school and the adjacent Washington Township Little League.
One of the program’s biggest benefactors was rental company owner and baseball parent who died in an automobile accident on July 10.
“Whatever I need for 15 years — a sod-cutter, Bobcat, you name it, he was delivering it at 5 o’clock,” says Roberts. “Everybody ought to have a friend like Jimmie Lawson.”
Eric Lawson — oldest son of Jimmie and wife Karen — was an eighth graders when came in the summer donning striped soccer socks.
“I liked the looks of them so we went to stirrups the very next year,” says Roberts, who also coached Eric’s brothers Stephen and Alex.
Eric graduated from Washington Township and went on the earn a Purple Heart while serving in the U.S. Army.
“Those stirrups mean something,” says Roberts. “We wear those now in tribute to the entire family.”
Middle school baseball is played in the ball at Washington Township where they don’t have football.
“It’s like a seven-week baseball camp (beginning in early August),” says Roberts. “They’re taught everything. We don’t teach anything different than we do the high school kids.”
Roberts has three children — Max, Sophia and William.
Max Roberts is a 2016 Valparaiso High School graduate who was selected in the seventh round of the 2017 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft out of Wabash Valley College (Mount Carmel, Ill.) by the Seattle Mariners. The 6-foot-6 left-handed pitcher was selected in the minor league phase of the 2022 Rule 5 Draft by the Houston Astros and could start the 2023 season at Triple-A Sugar Land.
William Roberts, a 6-foot-5 right-hander graduated from Washington Township in 2019 and pitched at Lake Michigan College in Benton Harbor, Mich., in 2021 and 2022 and is now at Purdue Northwest.