Tag Archives: South Newton

Veteran baseball coach Smith assisting travel ball space with Diamond Allegiance

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

Tracy Smith became a head coach in NCAA Division I baseball at 30.
For the next quarter century, the Indiana native taught the game and developed relationships with players, families and others.
Smith grew up in Kentland — a small town of less than 2,000 folks in Newton County — learning fundamentals from Donald “Tater” Blankenship and then playing baseball and basketball for Denny Stitz at South Newton High School.
Other mentors include (college baseball coach) Jon Pavlisko, (minor league manager and coach) Brad Mills and Bill Harford, (Miami University Middleton basketball coach) Jim Sliger and (father-in-law and former MUM athletic director) Lynn Darbyshire.
Tracy and wife Jaime have three sons — Casey (as in Casey At The Bat), Ty (as in Ty Cobb) and Jack (as in Jackie Robinson) — and are grandparents.
Smith, who played at Miami University (Oxford, Ohio) and in the Chicago Cubs system, led programs at Miami Middletown, Miami and Indiana University — taking to the Hoosiers to the College World Series and receiving National Coach of the Year honors in 2013 — before becoming head coach at Arizona State University. Not including the COVID-19-shortened 2020 campaign, he took the Sun Devils to four NCAA regional appearances in six seasons. His ASU teams won 201 games.
In June 2021, Smith was let go at Arizona State. He saw it as an opportunity to focus his energy on a venture called Diamond Allegiance — an organization dedicated to reimagining travel baseball. He had been serving on its board for a couple of years.
“I looked at it as my way of giving back to help the game of baseball bigger and more impactful than maybe the 35 guys in the locker room that I’ve coached over my entire career,” says Smith of his reason for diving in full-time with Diamond Allegiance. “I’ve been working hard and pulling in some of my friends.
“You’ve got this army of former professional players and big league players that want to give back to the game as well.”
Smith, 56, is CEO for Diamond Allegiance and works with an Executive and Advisory Board committee that features current collegiate coaches Erik Bakich (University of Michigan) and Kevin O’Sullivan (University of Florida) and former Oregon State University coach Pat Casey. Matt Gerber is head of player business and development. Two-time softball gold medalist and ESPN analyst Michele Smith is also board member.
The OSU Beavers won three CWS titles on Casey’s watch (2006, 2007 and 2018) while O’Sullivan’s Gators reigned in 2017.
According to its website, Diamond Allegiance “helps members run better businesses, augments their player development capabilities, provides more career opportunities for coaches, reduces the cost for families/players, and increases participation of underrepresented communities. We generate this impact through a powerful mix of partnerships, services, technology, and philanthropy.”
Partners include Canes Baseball, the Indiana Bulls and many more.
Says Smith, who grew up playing Babe Ruth ball and for Remington (Ind.) American Legion Post 280: “As a coach you’re always on the receiving end of kids coming up through the travel ball system. I don’t want to say the system was broken because it’s not. People in the travel ball business do an unbelievable job. The industry itself has become more of a showcase/exposure industry and not as much development.
“We want to focus on the development piece.”
Diamond Allegiance, which was officially launched at the American Baseball Coaches Association Convention in Chicago in January, offers a 12-month development system with text designed by Bakich that is currently not on the market.
At Chicago came the first chance for feedback from the baseball industry. High school coaches without access to travel baseball in their areas approached asking if they can tap into Diamond Allegiance resources.
“They will have access to a version of what we’re doing,” says Smith.
A predictive mechanism powered by CURVE, which creates a score taking into account brain, ball and body data that tells how high a player might go is another Diamond Allegiance perk.
Partners receive the ability to reach college conferences and coaches, push content to their coaches and team while building brand and culture. There is also access to top baseball industry leaders and the best tech providers.
Sandy Ogg, a CEO developer for Fortune 500 companies who Smith met through former Indiana University senior associate athletic director and current Diamond Sports Foundation CEO Tim Fitzpatrick, is part of Diamond Allegiance.
Members get marketing and branding services and assistance with their businesses.
“Owners can run better businesses and be more efficient in those practices,” says Smith. “They can make money that they’ll reinvest into creating and providing opportunities for kids who can’t afford to play.
“I’m very passionate and have always been very passionate about creating opportunities for kids who can’t be a part of it. When you look at our rosters over time we’ve tried to have a diverse roster. We really made a conscious effort to beat the bushes to find kids to play.”
The idea is to provide value and assistance in making important decisions.
“I see the amount of money families spend on getting their kid a college scholarship,” says Smith. “On a $5,000 college scholarship they’re spending $20,000 a year.
“We want to provide direction. It’s OK to spend that money, but let’s spend it wisely.”
Diamond Sports Foundation allows families an opportunity to apply for help to offset or — in some cases — totally fund the travel ball experience.
Diamond Allegiance will share knowledge to help guide parents and players through this recruiting process
“There’s this myth out there that if you don’t play Power Five baseball (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC) that in some way, share or form you have failed. I’ve always hated that,” says Smith. “Anytime I would talk to groups, families and kids I would say every one of you can play beyond high school. There’s a place for you to do that. You just have to find the right fit.
“One of the things we’re going to be doing with Diamond Allegiance is giving families and kids true direction so that they can reach their aspiration.”
Knowing that others have attempted to do the same thing, Smith addresses question about the Diamond Allegiance difference.
“We’ve got a really, really good group of people that are passionate about making this game better,” says Smith, who has been talking with up to 10 travel programs a week. “You have people that are motivated to do right and do well by the game.
“It will not fail.”
To learn more, visit diamondallegiance.com. To apply for a partnership, email hello@diamondallegiance.com.

A video on the Diamond Allegiance organization.
Tracy Smith, former head baseball coach at Miami University Hamilton, Miami University (Oxford, Ohio), Indiana University and Arizona State University, is now CEO for Diamond Alliance, a group which assists in the travel ball world. (Arizona State University Photo)

Spencer wants Sheridan Blackhawks to be ‘all-conference’ teammates

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

Adam Spencer has learned that if you want to make a leader you let someone take the lead.
If you went them to be a valuable part of the group you show them how.
Spencer, the head baseball coach at Sheridan (Ind.) High School since 2017, defines his role.
“I’m a developer of men,” says Spencer, who is also a sixth grade math teacher and activities director at Sheridan Middle School (he earned an Elementary Education degree from Ball State University in 1998 and about a decade later at Masters in Education from Indiana Wesleyan University). “Everybody wants to win. I want to help make good fathers, good husbands, good friends.
“We talk about being an all-conference teammate. These are things we don’t have stats on.”
Through the years of coaching youth sports, Spencer has gotten to the point where players are asked to take charge in certain areas.
“Early on I never gave anybody leadership roles,” says Spencer. “Our guys run our drills (supervised by coaches). We put our upperclassmen in leadership roles.”
The baseball team is also involved in community service.
“We try to help others if we can,” says Spencer, whose players have raked leaves, pulled weeds and even helped the Sheridan Historical Society move across Main Street (S.R. 38).
Spencer is a 1993 Sheridan graduate. He did not play baseball or basketball in high school though he as a big fan of the sport. His father passed away when Adam was in elementary school and he worked during the winter and spring.
He did play football at Sheridan for Hall of Famer Larry “Bud” Wright and was on an IHSAA state championship team in 1992.
His love of baseball led Spencer to the Indianapolis Umpire Association and he officiated games for 17 years.
As his children got older (Adam and wife of 21 years, Lindsay, have four sons), he got involved in coaching at the middle school level.
At Lebanon (Ind.) High School, Spencer was on the football staffs of Lance Scheib and Kent Wright.
Years later, Matt Britt gave him the chance to coach middle school baseball at Sheridan. Some of those players were on the 2019 Blackhawks team that went 14-6 and lost to eventual Carroll (Flora) Regional champion Rossville in the Class 1A Sheridan Sectional championship.
Spencer was pitching coach for Larry Lipker for a season before taking over as head coach.
Sheridan (enrollment around 330) is a member of the Hoosier Heartland Conference (with Carroll of Flora, Clinton Central, Clinton Prairie, Delphi, Eastern of Greentown, Rossville, Taylor and Tri-Central).
In 2022, HHC teams will play one another on Tuesdays and Thursdays with some Saturday doubleheaders. In 2013, there will be 11 conference games included a seeded end-of-season tournament.
In 2021, the Blackhawks were part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with Clinton Central, Frontier (the 2021 host), Rossville, South Newton and Tri-County. Sheridan has won its lone sectional title in 2004.
Sheridan plays its home games on Kent Harris Field (named after a former Blackhawks baseball coach).
In the fall, Blake Marschand-owned Marschand’s Athletic Field Service laser-graded the diamond and there was no Limited Contact Period activity. Spencer says there might have been five athletes involved that don’t play football or another fall sport at Sheridan. Spencer also coaches middle school football.
Through a partnership formed between Spencer and Michael Tucker, Sheridan hosts some Bullpen Tournaments games and has access to the turf diamonds at Grand Park in nearby Westfield, Ind.
Spencer’s assistant baseball coaches are Sheridan alum Adam Durr and Ryan Conley, whom he met from IUA.
Sam Crail (Class of 2017) played at Indiana University and then went to Saint Leo (Fla.) University.
Zach Mannies (Class of 2018) played at Ancilla College and then West Liberty (W.Va.) University.
Cameron Hovey (Class of 2021) is on the baseball and football teams at Manchester University.
Spencer sees college baseball potential in current seniors Gavin Reners and Silas DeVaney if they should pursue that path.
“(Reners and DeVaney) will be the leaders of our team (in 2022),” says Spencer.
Caine Spencer played for his father at the end of his middle school and high school baseball days and is now a 21-year-old junior at Ball State.
Adam and Lindsay’s other three boys — sophomore Camden (16), eighth grader Chance (14) and fifth grader Crew (11) – are also baseball players.
Feeders for Sheridan High School baseball are a Sheridan Babe Ruth League team of seventh and eighth graders that play in the late spring and into the summer plus young players in Sheridan Community Recreation Inc. (SCRI).
A middle school baseball camp introduces players to the ways and the language used at Sheridan High School.
“I’m invested in the program at every level,” says Spencer.

Adam Durr (left) and Adam Spencer.
Adam Spencer, Cole Macintosh and Camden Spencer.
Adam Spencer and Sheridan, Ind., youth baseball players.
Adam Spencer.
Shirley Delph (stripes) with the Spencers (clockwise) — Lindsay, Caine, Adam, Chance, Chase and Crew,
The Spencers (from left): Chance, Adam, Caine, Camden, Crew and Lindsay.
Adam Spencer surrounded by sons Caine and Chance, Camden and Crew.

Indiana Nitro grows from one team into successful travel ball organization

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

Indiana Nitro — a travel baseball organization launched in the central part of the state — has had 164 college commits and five Major League Baseball draft selections since 2014.
Among Nitro alums who went on to pro baseball are Zach Britton (Toronto Blue Jays system), Matt Gorski (Pittsburgh Pirates), Niko Kavadas (Boston Red Sox), Devin Mann (Los Angeles Dodgers), Tommy Sommer (Chicago White Sox) and Zack Thompson (St. Louis Cardinals).
The Nitro fielded more than 20 teams — spring, summer and fall — at the 8U to 17U levels in recent seasons. The group has earned many victories and championships and competed in multiple states.
It all began with a single 11U team that took to the diamond in 2010.
Tim Burns, whose sons Brendan and Brock were playing travel ball, was exploring diamond opportunities for his boys when he was approached by some fathers about coaching a team.
With the idea of being able to control development and practice schedules, the elder Burns agreed and led that first Nitro squad, featuring Brock.
Most of the players were from Hamilton County — one of the exceptions being Batesville’s Britton. Brock Burns is now on the football team at Ball State University as an outside linebacker while Brendan Burns was a right-handed pitcher for BSU baseball; Tim Burns is a graduate of Ball State where his major was Telecommunications.
Both Burns brothers are Hamilton Southeastern High School graduates — Brendan in 2014 and Brock in 2017.
Most games in 2010 were played in central Indiana and the team went 50-5 with five tournament titles. Eleven of the 12 players on that first team went on to play at the collegiate level.
Tammy Burns, Tim’s wife, told him that he did not have the time to head a travel organization. Yet momentum kept on building.
“Kids wanted to play,” says Burns.
Parents and players gathered and voted on a team name — Burns presented around 300 choices found on Google — and team colors. The Nitro wound up donning Athletic Gold and Cardinal Red and uses explosive terms like Bombs and Gas on social media.
In 2011, the Nitro had four teams. The number went to seven in 2012 then 11 in 2013. It jumped to 20 in 2014 (the first year the organization had a high school age team).
“The snowball got big,” says Burns. “It took on a life of its own.”
The mantra of the Nitro is “Advancing players to the next level.” That came to mean grooming them to play high school baseball and then — for those who wished to do so — college baseball.
“It’s a very complex recruiting process that we came up with over the years,” says Burns, a 1982 graduate of South Newton High School in Kentland, Ind., who grew up on the diamonds of Goodland, Ind., and counted Tracy Smith (who went on to coach at Miami University-Middletown, Miami University, Indiana University and Arizona State University) as a teammate. “You dive deep into it and build relationships with college coaches and recruiters.
“Learning how to help these kids get recruited was important to our board (of directors) and and organization.”
Nitro staffers work the phones on behalf of their players and are constantly seeking talent and getting ready for the next thing.
“It’s a year-round job,” says Burns, who is employed in sales for Bally Sports Indiana (the Indiana Pacers TV Network). “There’s so much behind the scenes in the off-season. It keeps the board and volunteers busy.”
Randy Poiry has been on the board since the beginning. Two sons — catcher Rutger Poiry (Lincoln Trail College and Eastern Kentucky University) and right-handed pitcher Carter Poiry (Murray State University and Quinnipiac University) — played for the Nitro.
Directors are Chris Poland (daily operations and high school age teams) and Dan Rodgers (ages 8-14). Jared Poland, son of Chris, is at the University of Louisville. Nathan Rodgers (Carmel High School Class of 2024) played for his father on the Nitro 14U Gold team in 2021.
Burns, who coached the Nitro 16U Gold team to a 26-9-1 mark in 2021 and will move up to coach the 17U Gold squad in 2022, gets players from near and far.
“We don’t care where they come from,” says Burns. “We want good kids from good families who want to put in the work.”
Nitro players train at Pro X Athlete Development on the Grand Park campus in Westfield, Ind. A membership is included with fees.
Burns counts four nephews — South Newton graduates Jarrett Hammel and Jay Hammel and Benton Central High school alums Payton Hall and Conner Hall — among former Nitro players. Former Saint Joseph’s College and Valparaiso right-hander Jarrett Hammel is now head baseball coach at Benton Central. Jay Hammel is a righty pitcher at Quincy (Ill.) University. Payton Hall is an outfielder at Oakland City (Ind.) University after transferring from the University of Southern Indiana. Former middle infielder Connor Hall is an Aviation Management student at Indiana State University.

Winning becomes contagious for Alabaugh, Parke Heritage Wolves

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Parke Heritage High School in Rockville, Ind., fielded its second baseball team in 2021.

The Wolves debuted in 2019, missed the 2020 season because of the COVID-19 pandemic and came back this spring. 

On Memorial Day, Parke Heritage won its first sectional championship, reigning at Sectional 44 hosted by Southmont. Tournament wins came against South Putnam Wednesday May 26 as well as Southmont and North Putnam both on Monday, May 31.

Down 3-2 against Southmont with six outs to go, the Wolves scored six runs in the sixth inning for an 8-3 triumph prior to an 11-1 title game win against North Putnam.

Parke Heritage heads to the IHSAA Class 2A Cascade Regional Saturday, June 5 with a 15-10 record after a 5-9 start.

“It’s been an up-and-down ride,” says first-year Wolves head coach Ron Alabaugh. “We lost last year with the pandemic and our basketball team went to the (2020-21) State Finals.

“Basketball players are key parts of the baseball program.”

These hoopsters, which finished as 2A state runners-up to Fort Wayne Blackhawk Christian, played catch-up while knocking the baseball rust off and getting their arms in shape at the beginning of the season.

“It took a little while to get things going,” says Alabaugh. “But they stuck with it and worked hard. It’s paying off for us late in the season.

“Winning is just as contagious as losing. At a certain part of a season we expected to lose. We had to work on that frame of mind and turn it around. It was rough on the boys, but we were able to do it.”

By the close of the regular slate, the Wolves were down to 15 players in the program. Two seniors — Joey Bouffard and Connor Davis — have been drawing interest from college baseball programs.

In recent years, Rockville/Parke Heritage sent Kaleb Huxford (Maryville University in St. Louis), Dalton Laney (Indiana State) and Hunter Michalic (Manchester University in North Manchester, Ind.) to college diamonds. Logan White is on the football team at Franklin (Ind.) College).

Parke Heritage (a consolidation of Rockville and Turkey Run with an enrollment around 350) is a member of the Wabash River Conference (with Attica, Covington, Fountain Central, North Vermillion, Riverton Parke, 2021 champion Seeger and South Vermillion).

WRC teams played each other twice — sometimes in home-and-away weekday series and sometimes in Saturday doubleheaders. 

Regular-season wins came against Covington (twice), Attica (twice), North Putnam, North Vermillion (twice), Fountain Central (twice), Sullivan, Greencastle and South Newton.

Parke Heritage plays at a facility named for former Rockville athletic director Stan Gideon, who died in 2006.

The Wolves count local youth leagues, travel teams and a junior high team as part of its feeder program. The high school took over the old Rockville High building. Parke Heritage Middle School is in the structure that once housed Turkey Run in Marshall, Ind.

Rockville won 12 sectional titles, five regionals, two semistates and was 1A state runners-up in 2014 and 1A state champions in 2015. Turkey Run won four sectionals.

Alabaugh was an assistant at Rockville to Bob Kyle for the 2008-13 and 2016-19 seasons.

This spring, Alabaugh’s staff includes Mark Harper and Jarred Russell.

His father — Ron Alabaugh — attends every game. He played many years of semipro baseball for the old Blanford Cardinals as a teammate of Kyle. Young Ron was the batboy and later played on the same field as a member of the Clinton American Legion Post 140 team.

“My mother (Beverly) walked away with the (sectional) game ball last night,” says Alabaugh. “She put up with 50-some years of my baseball. That’s the least I could do for her.”

A 1987 graduate of South Vermillion High School in Clinton, Ind., Alabaugh played for Tim Terry near the beginning of Terry’s Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame career.

Terry’s longevity in establishing a successful program is a marvel to Alabaugh, who counts winning a sectional title in his sophomore year among his favorite baseball memories.

The Wildcats beat Montezuma and Rosedale to win the 1985 South Vermillion Sectional and lost to Terre Haute South Vigo featuring Kyle Kraemer in the semifinals of the Terre North Regional semifinals.

Alabaugh has two degrees from Indiana State University. After nearly two decades in the car business — he had his own Chevrolet dealership — he decided to go back to college and at 43 he was ready to be an educator. He started at North Montgomery, where he was also an assistant girls basketball coach on the staff of Ryan Nuppnau.

The 2020-21 year is his sixth at Rockville/Parke Heritage. He is a Social Studies teacher, instructing classes in history, psychology and economics.

Ron and wife Annie Alabaugh have a married son named Jordan (his bride is Nikki). Jordan Alabaugh was a golfer at South Vermillion.

Parke Heritage baseball coaches (from left): assistants Mark Harper, Jarrett Russell and head coach Ron Alabaugh.
Parke Heritage won the 2021 IHSAA Class 2A Souhmont Sectional baseball title.

Relationships driving force for Carroll Cougars’ Parkhurst

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

For Camden Parkhurst, it’s not just about the baseball. It’s about the people.

“It’s the relationships with kids,” says Parkhurst, the head coach at Carroll Junior-Senior High School in Flora, Ind. “That’s why I do this.”

Parkhurst is in he third year since coming back to lead the program he helmed 2013-15 (Kerry Yoder was head coach in 2012). He was Carroll’s athletic director 2011-19 then became business manager for Carroll Consolidated School Corporation.

A 2002 graduate of Clinton Central Junior-Senior High School in Michigantown, Ind., where he played two years for Dan Swafford and two for Rick Helbie, Parkhurst began coaching while attending Indiana State University, where he graduated as Physical Education/Health major in 2007. 

“I had a real good relationship with (Swafford and Helbie),” says Parkhurst. “I was a catcher. I learned a lot from both of them. You pick up a lot of things you don’t realize.

“I still call Coach Helbie for advice about handling players and parents. I have a lot of respect for both of them.”

Student teaching for Parkhurst was done at Western High School in Russiaville with Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Ty Calloway.

Parkhurst was on Helbie’s Clinton Central staff then an assistant at Cowan (Ind.) Junior-Senior High School before serving as Blackhawks head coach for four seasons (2008-11).

At 23, Parkhurst was physical education teacher and the head coach for an IHSAA Class 1A state runner-up team.

“I’m still close with kids from Cowan,” says Parkhurst. “I get invited to their weddings.

“They say you can have an impact on the lives of kids, but you don’t realize the impact they have on yours.”

Parkhurst has particularly enjoyed working with the past couple Carroll teams.

“It’s been a great experience,” says Parkhurst, who is assisted in 2021 by former Carroll and Saint Joseph’s College player Seth Eldridge, Chris Seward (on his Cougar staff in both stints), Dan Butcher, Paul Redmon and Dave Mann.

The 2021 Carroll Cougars have 21 players to fill a varsity and junior varsity schedule. Parkhurst says some players will float between the two teams.

While no current players have made college baseball commits, junior Will Eldridge is among those being recruited. 

Feeding the high school program is Flora Youth Baseball (T-ball through junior high).

Carroll plays its home games on-campus on a lighted diamond that recently got new dugouts and backstop and, a few years ago, an overhauled infield and irrigation system. The school has been 1A regional host for the last several years.

Serving mainly students from Flora and Burlington, Carroll (enrollment around 330) is a member of the Hoosier Heartland Conference (with Clinton Central, Clinton Prairie, Eastern of Greentown, Rossville, Sheridan, Taylor and Tri-Central).

The Cougars are part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Lewis Cass, Manchester, Rochester, Wabash (the 2021 host) and Whitko. Carroll has won six sectional titles — the last in 2015.

Besides conference and sectional foes, Carroll’s regular-season schedule includes games with Delphi, Faith Christian, Frontier, Maconaquah, North Miami, North White, South Newton, Tri-County, West Central, West Lafayette and Winamac.

Camden and Robin Parkhurst have been married since October 2007. The couple have two children — Kylie (8) and Cooper (4). 

Cooper joined dad at a recent Carroll practice.

“He enjoyed every minute of it,” says Parkhurst.

Camden Parkhurst

Atwood back as baseball coach for North Newton Spartans

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Mike Atwood knows about athletic toughness.

The 1981 graduate of Frankton (Ind.) Junior-Senior High School competed in football for Bob Sharnowski, wrestling for Otis Cress and baseball for Tom Urban — Atwood followed Dave Hicks as the Eagles starting catcher — before playing football for Pete Compise and baseball for Hall of Famer Dick Naylor at Hanover (Ind.) College and baseball for another multi-time Hall of Famer in Don Brandon at Anderson (Ind.) College (now Anderson University). Brent Brandon, Don’s son, was a Ravens teammate.

“(Sharnowski) taught us to just be tough,” says Atwood, who is now in his second stint as head baseball coach at North Newton Junior-Senior High School in Morocco, Ind., where he was an assistant then a head coach in the mid-1980’s to the late-1990’s and is now also athletic director and dean of students. “You have to be mentally tough in baseball. You’ve got to be ready at all times.”

Atwood calls Urban “a heckuva a baseball guy.”

“Basics were key to everything,” says Atwood, who experienced an intense coach in Naylor.

“He was a pretty hard-nosed little character,” says Atwood. “(Brandon) was all of the kids.”

Between coaching assignments at North Newton, Atwood was an assistant baseball coach on the staff of Mike Moyzis at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind. Current Hebron (Ind.) High School head coach and athletic director John Steinhilber was also on the Pumas staff.

Rick O’Dette, who would be Saint Joseph’s head coach for 17 seasons until the school closed at the end of the 2017 season, was an SJC player at the time.

Atwood’s 1997 North Newton baseball club won a Kankakee Valley Sectional title in the last year of the IHSAA single-class era before bowing to Chesterton in the semifinals of the LaPorte Regional.

He then went to Delphi (Ind.) Community High School and was the Oracles head coach for baseball and wrestling.

The 2020-21 school year is Atwood’s second back at North Newton, where he is now athletic director. The COVID-19 pandemic kept him from coaching the Spartans in the spring 2020. If the weather cooperates, North Newton could open the season Thursday, April 1 against Hebron. The team is slated to visit Harrison in West Lafayette Saturday, April 3.

With 24 players in the program, the Spartans will field varsity and junior varsity teams, playing home games on the campus located at the school.

Serving students in the towns of Lake Village, Mount Ayr, Roselawn, Sumava Resorts, Thayer and Morocco, North Newton (enrollment around 350) is a member of the Midwest Athletic Conference (with Frontier, North White, South Newton, Tri-County and West Central).

MAC teams meet twice, typically on Tuesdays and Thursdays in home-and-home series.

The Spartans are part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Boone Grove, Hebron (the 2021 host), North Judson-San Pierre, Rensselaer Central and Winamac. North Newton has won 12 sectional titles — the last in 2019.

Other teams on the Spartans’ schedule include Andrean, Calumet New Tech, Hammond Academy of Science and Technology, Kankakee Valley, Lake Station Edison, Lowell, Morgan Township, Twin Lakes and Washington Township.

The high school program is fed by youth baseball in Morocco and Roselawn

Atwood’s 2021 assistants are Doug Belt (varsity) and Eric Jones (JV). 

Kyler Rainford, a 2020 North Newton graduate, is on the baseball team at Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill.

Morocco has ties to Cooperstown. Native son Sam Rice played in the majors 1915-33 and collected 2,987 hits as a .322 lifetime hitter. He was enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1963. A roadside historical marker was placed in town in 2019.

Mike Atwood has three adult children — Michael (32), Brittney (30) and Braden (29).

Michael is in the U.S. Army serving in Kuwait. Britney works as a technician at a Lafayette, Ind., hospital. 

Braden Atwood was a three-time placer at the IHSAA State Finals (fourth as a sophomore, fifth as a junior and second as a senior) at Delphi and went on to a be a four-time placer and NCAA Championship qualifier as well as a three-time team champion at Purdue University. He took part in the U.S. Team Trials and was later a volunteer assistant coach at West Point (Army). He is married and living in Connecticut and has a daughter.

Mike Atwood and his son’s dog Bella.

Young Hammel now in charge at Benton Central

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jarrett Hammel has quickly transitioned from student-athlete to educator-coach.

Ten months after pitching his last game for Valparaiso (Ind.) University he was announced as the head baseball coach at Benton Central Junior/Senior High School in Oxford, Ind. 

“I’m super-excited to get after it,” says Hammel, who was originally hired as pitching coach but became a head coach candidate when Jon Vernon opted to spend more time with family and focus on his duties as Benton Central’s head volleyball coach. “We want to do everything with a purpose. 

“Baseball is not like other sports.”

The son of Donovan (Ill.) Elementary fourth grade teacher Todd Hammel and Morocco Elementary first grade teacher Pam Hammel, Jarrett received an Elementary Education degree from VU and began the 2020-21 school year as a fourth grade teacher at Prairie Crossing Elementary in Oxford.

At South Newton — a K-12 school in Kentland, Ind. — Jarrett got a chance to help with younger kids as a high school junior and senior.

“I knew I wanted to be a positive role model — someone to look up to,” says Hammel. “I look up to my parents a lot. They made a lot of sacrifices for me to be where I am today.

“They’ve always had my back.”

Coming from a close-knit family where both sets of grandparents live within 15 minutes, Jarrett counts younger brother Jay as his best friend. They grew up pushing each other in academics and athletics. 

With 1,195 points, 6-foot-4 Jarrett Hammel was the No. 1 all-time scorer in South Newton boys hoops history until he was surpassed by younger brother Jay Hammel with 1,363. The 6-6 Jay is now a 21-year-old junior right-hander on the Quincy (Ill.) University baseball team and a Multimedia Journalism major.

A 2016 South Newton graduate, Jarrett Hammel played baseball for Glenn Donahue and basketball for Mike Hall. 

Hammel was born in Lafayette, Ind., and grew up in Brook, Ind., where he still resides. He knew Donahue as a youth baseball coach who moved up to the high school ranks. 

Jarrett played four high school summers of travel ball with the Indiana Nitro.

His first college baseball season was spent with head coach Rick O’Dette at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind. When the school closed, he transferred to Valpo U., and played for head coach Brian Schmack.

Hammel was a high school sophomore when he appeared on O’Dette’s radar. He became a mentor to the pitcher.

“I learned a lot in the year I was (at St. Joe),” says Hammel. “My outlook on life has changed because of him.”

O’Dette stressed being a good example and always staying in contact with people who are close to you.

“Don’t let conversations get stale,” says Hammel. “You never know when they made need you or you may need them.”

Once it was announced that St. Joseph’s was closing, Hammel recalls that O’Dette was worried more about getting us placed than his own career. O’Dette landed at Saint Leo (Fla.) University.

Hammel played summer college ball for the Lafayette Aviators in 2017 and 2018. Brent McNeil (now pitching coach at Purdue Fort Wayne) managed the team to a Prospect League title in 2017. Will Arnold (now with Prep Baseball Report Arizona) was in charge in 2018.

While Hammel was at South Newton, Valpo also had interest in him and Schmack welcomed the southpaw when he became available.

What did Hammel learn from Schmack?

“Just being a man and owning up to your mistakes,” says Hammel. “Never put the blame on someone else.”

It’s about responding to adversity — something that is plentiful in baseball.

From his personal life, Hammel has learned to greater than his ups and downs.

“When things are not going your way in life you can’t put your head down and go through the motions,” says Hammel. “You have to ride the wave. Life is full of highs and lows.”

He also learned important concepts about teamwork and time management while playing NCAA Division I baseball.

As left-handed pitcher, left-hander Hammel hurled for Valpo at Alabama State March 11, 2020 and was announced as the head of the Bison program Jan. 12, 2021. 

The 23-year-old Hammel conducted his first winter practice session where he engaged with 15 athletes (many BC baseball players are involved in winter sports) and dished out baseball and life lessons. 

Hammel expects his players to be role models.

“I told them that someone is always watching your every move,” says Hammel. “You’re high schoolers now. Be good people and go hard with everything you do.”

Benton Central (enrollment around 550) belongs to the Hoosier Athletic Conference (with Benton Central, Lafayette Central Catholic, Twin Lakes and Rensselaer Central in the West Division and Hamilton Heights, Lewis Cass, Northwestern, Tipton and Western in the East Division). 

The Bison are in an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Maconaquah, Northwestern, Peru, Twin Lakes, West Lafayette and Western. Benton Central has won 25 sectionals — the last in 2009.

While the COVID-19 pandemic took away the 2020 season, Benton Central fielded two teams in 2019 and Hammel says he expects to have about 30 players for two squads in 2021.

Hammel is in the process of finding assistant coaches. He would like to have a Benton Central alum on his staff. Bringing in coaches from Newton County is not practical since Brook is in Central Time and Oxford is in Eastern Time.

In looking to his feeder system, Hammel likes the youth program already established and plans to place players in competitive summer leagues and with top travel organizations.

“We want to get them out of their comfort zone and change their outlook on life,” says Hammel, who also plans to start a fall baseball program at BC.

“We went to keep kids at it and try to perfect their craft year-round,” says Hammel. “We’re trying to maximize everyone’s potential.”

Recent Benton Central graduates in college baseball include Matt Taylor and Taylor Varnado with Marian University in Indianapolis. Knights head coach Todd Bacon went to BC.

There’s also Alex Thurston at Valparaiso U., and Payton Hall at Oakland City (Ind.) University.

Benton Central senior Dalton Rennaker is a Marian commit.

Jarrett Hammel, a 2016 graduate of South Newton High School in Kentland, Ind., and 2020 graduate of Valparaiso (Ind.) University, has been hired as head baseball coach at Benton Central High School in Oxford, Ind.

DePauw graduate Quinn takes over at Clinton Central

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Andrew Quinn is bringing his baseball knowledge and enthusiasm in Michigantown, Ind., as the new head baseball coach at Clinton Central Junior-Senior High School.

Quinn, who turns 26 in December, was a right-handed pitcher at DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind., for four years (2014-17) and an assistant coach at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Ind., for two seasons (2019 and 2020). 

He is also a lead instructor at RoundTripper Sports Academy in Westfield, Ind., where he gives pitching and hitting lessons and will coach at 14U Indiana Mustangs travel team next summer.

The IHSAA Limited Contact Period for baseball ended Oct. 17. Quinn worked with a few players each Friday, showing them the fundamentals of playing catch and giving them a chance to field ground balls.

Many players were not available since they were involved in football or others were getting ready for basketball season. The dead period lasts until Dec. 7.

Jeff Pittard, the father of Quinn’s former DePauw teammate, Reid Pittard, has committed as a part-time assistant. Other coaching candidates are being considered.

Quinn says he gets a sense that the Bulldogs will be a senior-heavy team in 2021. Among that group of left-handed pitcher J.T. Holton, an Indiana University Kokomo commit.

The new coach recently reached out to youth leagues in Michigantown and Kirkland to build a relationship with future Clinton Central players.

A full-time substitute teacher at the school, Quinn is looking into getting his transition to teaching license. He earned his DePauw bachelor’s degree in Communications. He also holds a personal trainer certification from the National Academy of Sports Medicine.

A native of Chesterfield, Mo., Quinn played at St. Louis (Mo.) University High, where he was an all-state pitcher as a senior in 2013.

Quinn was brought to DePauw by then-DePauw head coach Jake Martin (head coach at his alma mater, Wabash, since the 2017 season).

“Coach Martin drove all the way from Greencastle to St. Louis to take me and my parents to dinner and drove back in the same day,” says Quinn. “He obviously cared a lot about me and his program.

“He made it very clear about how he wanted to do things.”

As a DePauw Tiger, Quinn took the mound 48 times (24 as a starter). He was honorable mental all-North Coast Athletic Conference as a junior and second team all-NCAC as a senior while also serving as team captain. 

During his four years (the last three playing for head coach Blake Allen), DePauw made the NCAA Division III tournament twice and posted the most victories in a four-year record (98) in the history of the program which dates back more than a century.

Allen is a St. Louis native, which helped Quinn relate to the coach.

“He’s super, super passionate,” says Quinn of Allen. “He knows his stuff.”

Allen spent two stints covering five years at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., where he learned from highly-respected Commodores head coach Tim Corbin.

“(Allen) got the best out of everybody on the team,” says Quinn. “He was really good at understanding the mental side and getting us to lock into that.”

Allen had DePauw hitters in an attacking mindset and Mike Hammel and Jack Thompson both set the school record for home runs in a single-season at 13 in 2017. The ’17 Tigers hit 46 bombs as a team.

As a college freshman, Quinn took a Baseball History class. He is familiar with the old Polo Grounds in New York, where the dimensions were short down the foul lines and deep to center. He looks at the Clinton Central field and is reminded of that image.

“Our center fielder has to be very quick,” says Quinn. “He’ll have a cover a lot of ground.”

He’ll be asking his pitchers to throw a lot of strikes, keep the pitch count down and work to all parts of the strike zone.

Quinn also plans to take a page out of Hall of Famer Bob Gibson’s book.

“Gibson said that with every pitch, act like you meant it to go there,” says Quinn. “Don’t get frustrated. Get the ball back and get ready for that next pitch.”

Clinton Central is part of the Hoosier Heartland Conference (with Carroll of Flora, Clinton Prairie, Delphi, Eastern of Greentown, Rossville, Sheridan, Taylor and Tri-Central).

HHC teams play each other twice with many home-and-home weekdays series.

The Bulldogs are part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with Frontier, Rossville, Sheridan, South Newton and Tri-County. Clinton Central won its lone sectional title in 2005.

Quinn is engaged to DePauw graduate Emily Matthews, who went through the excellerated nursing program at Marian University in Indianapolis. The couple’s wedding is slated for September 2021.

Andrew Quinn, a DePauw University graduate, has been hired as head baseball coach at Clinton Central Junior-Senior High School in Michigantown, Ind. After playing four seasons at DePauw, he was an assistant coach for two years at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Ind., and is a lead instructor at RoundTripper Sports Academy in Westfield, Ind., and is a 14U travel coach for the Indiana Mustangs. (Wabash College Photo)

Hudson helps North Miami Warriors win first sectional

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

How revved up are folks around Denver, Ind., about their North Miami Middle/High School baseball program?

The Warriors just earned the first IHSAA sectional title in that sport in the school’s history.

North Miami (9-16) bested West Central, Caston and Northfield to reign at the Class 1A Caston Sectional and earn a berth in the South Bend Regional on Saturday, June 1 at Four Winds Field. The Warriors take on Washington Township at 11 a.m., followed by Fremont vs. South Central (Union Mills) with the championship at 8 p.m. Washington Township and South Central are tied for No. 4 in the final Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association regular-season poll.

“There’s a lot of excitement going on right now,” says third-year North Miami head coach Troy Hudson. “We had unbelievable support at the sectional championship game.”

Warrior fans stood up at the end of the game which saw North Miami outlast Northfield 1-0 in eight innings.

The day after the championship, the team gave back to the community by helping with tornado damage clean-up.

Hudson says that the roots planted when he took over are beginning to blossom on the field, with the home field and the feeder system.

North Miami goes to South Bend with a pitching staff led by junior right-handers Nathan Musselman, Jackson Green and Braxton Beal.

The lineup features junior lead-off man Eli Henderson plus Green, Musselman, sophomore Tyler Bauer, senior Jackson Holland, freshman Parker Johnson, sophomore Alex Masters and Corey Collins and senior Austin Carter.

Hudson’s assistant coaches are Josh Donathan (pitching), Steve Holland (catching), Jake Green (infielders), Daryl Schanlaub (outfielders) and Steve Frank (head junior varsity).

Warrior Field is North Miami’s on-campus home. The facility has undergone a complete transformation the past three years. Bullpens have been added on each side of the field with a new batting cage on the home side. The mound has been reconstructed. Infield and outfield warning tracks have been installed. The inside of the dugouts have been re-done. The infield has been re-leveled with new grass and the field re-edged.

“It takes a lot of time and a lot of commitment,” says Hudson. “But our school is the baseball of the community and (the field) is a good representation of the community.

“It gets kids excited when they’re playing on something nice.”

Hudson has increased his involvement with the Town & Country baseball program at Denver (which begins with T-ball) and helped get junior high baseball established at North Miami.

A combination of junior high and Babe Ruth, there were 11 players the first year led by Schanlaub and two teams of 12 each the next year, guided by Schanlaub and Shannon Floor. Last summer, the 15U team placed second to New Castle in the Babe Ruth state tournament and participated in regional play in West Virginia.

This year, Floor and Josh Hershberger coach the junior high teams.

This summer brings a high school team schedule.

“It gives the kids a chance at more baseball and more baseball knowledge,” says Hudson.

While there are no college commits on the current team, North Miami has sent Patrick Masters to Manchester University. Shane Holden played a season at Ivy Tech Northeast.

North Miami (enrollment around 290) is a member of the Three Rivers Conference (with Maconaquah, Manchester, Northfield, Peru, Rochester, Southwood, Tippecanoe Valley, Wabash and Whitko).

The TRC features mostly 2A and 3A schools with North Miami, Northfield and Southwood being in 1A. Conference schools play each other once to determine a champion.

The Warriors are part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with Caston, North White, Northfield, South Newton, Southwood and West Central.

Hudson is a 2006 graduate of Peru High School, where he played for Chuck Brimbury. He tries to follow the lead of his mentor and bring those qualities to the North Miami program.

“I learned a lot from him,” says Hudson of Brimbury. “You try to get the best out of your players.”

Hudson is building a culture where the good of the group comes ahead of that of the individual.

“You play for the guy next to you,” says Hudson. “What they should really care about is what the team is doing.”

Troy is dean of students at North Miami Elementary. His wife of 9-plus years, Amy, is an oncology nurse in Rochester, Ind. The couple have two children — son Kolten (9) and daughter Skylar (5).

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North Miami Middle/High School’s baseball team dogpiles after winning the school’s first IHSAA sectional baseball title in 2019.

 

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In his third season as head coach, Troy Hudson led North Miami Middle/High School near Denver, Ind., to its first IHSAA baseball sectional championship. The Warriors raised the 2019 trophy at the Class 1A Caston Sectional.

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For the first time in school history, North Miami won an IHSAA baseball sectional title. The 2019 Warriors won the Class 1A Caston Sectional.

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The Hudson family (clockwise from upper left): Amy, Troy, Skylar and Kolten. Troy Hudson is the head baseball coach at North Miami Middle/High School near Denver, Ind.

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North Miami Middle/High School won the 2019 IHSAA Class 1A Caston Sectional baseball title and earned a berth in the June 1 South Bend Regional.

 

Kiifner wants South Newton Rebels to be strong up the middle

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A border town will play more baseball in 2019 on the side of the state line where it plays its home games.

South Newton High School, located in rural Newton County, Ind., between the incorporated towns of Kentland, Brook and Goodland, went 17-10 in 2018 and played 15 games against Illinois high schools.

After three seasons in the Illinois-based Sangamon Valley Conference (current members are Cissna Park, Clifton Central, Dwight, Iroquois West, Momence, Paxton-Buckey-Loda and Watseka), South Newton (enrollment around 190) is a member of the Midwest Conference (with Indiana schools Frontier, North Newton, North White, Tri-County and West Central).

Jim Kiifner, a 1984 graduate of Sheldon (Ill.) High School (now consulted into Milford Township), is entering his 10th season on the South Newton coaching staff — his third as head coach.

The 2019 Rebels — led by Kiifner and assistants Jason Krug (third season), Ricky Montemayer (fourth season) and Conner Ulmer (first season) — are scheduled to play 23 varsity and 13 junior varsity contests. Ulmer, a 2013 South Newton graduate, is a teacher while the others are lay coaches. Kiifner works in a warehouse for DuPont Corporation.

“My boss allows me to be a little flexible,” says Kiifner. “It also helps that I work in the Eastern Time Zone and coach in the Central Time Zone.

“I gain an hour.”

South Newon’s non-conference varsity opponents include Attica, Benton Central, Fountain Central, Frontier, Kankakee Valley and Seeger in Indiana and Cissna Park, Milford Township, Momence and Watseka in Illinois.

The Rebels are part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with Caston, North Miami, North White, Northfield, Southwood and West Central. South Newton has won eight sectional titles — the last in 2017. That year, the Rebels advanced to the semistate for the first time, losing to eventual state runner-up Rossville at Plymouth.

“We’ve been pretty successful the last four years,” says Kiifner, 52. “We get a lot of fan support.”

Athletic budgets at the small school are supplemented through community fundraisers.

Kiifner was coaching in the Travelers Babe Ruth League when then-South Newton head coach Ron Benakovich invited him to join his staff. Benakovich led the Rebels from 2009-12 and Glenn Donahue from 2013-16 before Kiifner took over the as leader of the program in 2017.

“I want the kids to have the most fun as possible,” says Kiifner. “Discipline is a big thing. But I don’t like to be a brow beater.”

Program numbers are up to 23 with 11 newcomers.

“We’re working to get them up to speed on what we expect and do,” says Kiifner, who had a veteran team the past two seasons. The 2018 squad had six seniors and three juniors in the starting lineup.

Kiifner says he wants his teams to be strong up the middle on defense.

“Defend the middle first and work your way out,” says Kiifner. “(Pitchers are asked to) throw strikes and let the defense do the work behind them.”

With that in mind, South Newton has junior Austin Miller and sophomore Brandon Gilliam in the mix at catcher, senior Levi Sample and freshman Kayden Cruz at shortstop and Cruz and junior Terron Welsh in center field.

Senior left-hander Riley Patterson is the top returning pitcher who also plays first base. Senior Tyler Martell is at second base and freshman Kellen Krug at third base. Senior Ben Bryant is a candidate to play a corner outfield spot.

Offensive approach depends on personnel. Kiifner says the Rebels are transitioning from a power team to more of a small-ball squad.

The Hammel brothers have taken their pitching talents from South Newton to the college level.

Junior left-hander Jarrett Hammel started at Saint Joseph’s College and is now at Valparaiso University.

Freshman Jay Hammel was an all-state third baseman as junior, all-state first baseman as a senior and became the school’s second Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series player (Trent Smith was the first in 1990) and is now a freshman right-hander at Quincy (Ill.) University.

Trent Smith is the brother of Tracy Smith, a South Newton graduate who played at Miami University in Ohio and in the Chicago Cubs system before head coaching assignments at Miami University-Hamilton, Indiana University and Arizona State University. Smith’s 2019 Sun Devils were off to a 22-1 start.

Rebel Field, located on the South Newton campus, is a small non-lighted diamond with the distance down the foul lines at 272 feet to right field and 300 to left. Kiifner says there is talk about moving the fences back in the future.

With the school and field sitting in the midst of farm land, it is a breezy place.

“The are winds always blowing,” says Kiifner. “And it’s either too hot or too cold.”

Sheldon was a school of less than 100 students and baseball was a fall sport where there was no football team. Kiifner’s baseball coach was John Spezia, who has gone on to win more than 500 games as a basketball coach.

“He broke down fundamentals really well and brought it to your level,” says Kiifner of Spezia. “He tried not to overwhelm (his players).”

Jim and Madonna Kiifner have been married for 26 years. They have two sons who both played baseball at South Newton — William (24) and Luke (22).

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This is the 2019 South Newton High School Rebels baseball team.

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South Newton won a sectional and regional baseball title in 2017.

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Jim Kiifner is the head baseball coach at South Newton High School in rural Newton County, Ind., between the incorporated towns of Kentland, Brook and Goodland.