BY STEVE KRAH
Jack Holley Jr. played baseball at Wabash (Ind.) High School and was on the state championship team coached by Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Chris Rood.
Holley was a sophomore when the Apaches won the title in 1986. Tom Dempsey struck out 12 as Wabash beat Marion 2-1. Jeff Wagner and Brent Johnson (game-winning double) drove in one run each in the top of the seventh inning. The first run was scored by future big leaguer Keith Shepherd and the decisive tally by pinch-runner Holley.
Years later, Holley talks about the life lessons he learned from Rood and about leading the program today.
“(Coach Rood) taught you so much baseball and more things outside the game than most people realize,” says Holley, who joined the baseball staff at his alma mater in the early 2000’s and has been head coach since the 2015 season. “It’s the discipline he instilled in me and his expectations of your as a player, student and a man. These are the things I try to utilize.
“When you’re 16, 17, 18 years old you don’t realize the lessons you’re learning from any high school sport. Winning games is nice. I want effect men in a positive way and that’s probably more important.”
Wabash (enrollment around 470) is a member of the Three Rivers Conference (with Maconaquah, Manchester, Northfield, North Miami, Peru, Rochester, Southwood, Tippecanoe Valley and Whitko).
TRC play each other once and games on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
In 2021, the Apaches was host of IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Carroll (Flora), Lewis Cass, Manchester, Rochester and Whitko. Wabash has won 10 sectional titles — the last in 2019 when the team went 18-7.
Holley says the Apaches would have had 11 seniors for the 2020 season lost to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Two members of that class — outfielder/right-handed pitcher Jared Holley (Manchester University after transferring from Kankakee Community College) and catcher/outfielder Kallen Kelsheimer (Huntington University) — are on college baseball teams.
Holley says three current Wabash players — seniors middle infielder/outfielder Jared Brooks and first baseman/right-hander Chayden Beeks and junior right-hander/catcher Andrew Dillon — have been drawing collegiate interest.
Brooks is all the school’s all-time leader in wrestling victories. Holley sees Dillon as his probable No. 1 mound starter in 2022. Other seniors include Colten Learned and Blake Smith.
The Apaches went 15-14 in 2021, making Holley’s career mark 87-76-1.
The 2022 coaching staff includes Kyle Kelsheimer (Kallen’s brother) as varsity assistant, Luke Helton as pitching coach, Nick Hentgen as junior varsity head coach and Andy Castro, Jordan Holley, Chandler Jones, Kent Montgomery and Shane Smith.
Kelsheimer and Helton are teacher at Wabash. Helton is a Tippecanoe Valley graduate who played at Manchester U. All the rest are played for the Apaches.
Justin Holley coaches the Wabash Middle School team. Started when Matt Stone was varsity head coach, the feeder team helps with the gap between Wabash Little League (T-ball through age 12) and high school.
“It’s an awesome addition to our baseball program,” says Holley. “(Junior high players) get accustomed to what we teach. It’s a way to retain those kids and keep them interested in (baseball).
“We were losing some of those kids. They’d go out for track and we’d never get them back.”
There are typically 20 to 25 players — Grades 6-8 — who play 12 to 16 games in the spring. Middle school practices and games are at Chris Rood Field.
“They usually practice before or after (the high school),” says Holley. “Someone from the varsity or JV staff can help them. They get to know us.”
There is a junior/senior league serving all of Wabash County. Middle schoolers used to practice and play on that field.
“There was a disconnect with middle school teams to our program,” says Holley.
Jack Holley Jr. is in his 21st year as a Welding Technology teacher at Heartland Career Center in Wabash. He and wife of 29 years on Feb. 20, Misti, have four sons — Jack III (29), Justin (27), Jordan (24) and Jared (20). All four boys played baseball at Wabash. Jack and Jordan are U.S. Army veterans. Jack III has two boys with a girl on the way.
Chris Rood Field is located on the Wabash campus and sits in a natural bowl. Spectators sit on a side of a hill looking down at the diamond. Trees were removed to place the field. A few years ago — needing a community service project — Holley’s students created the landscaped seating area around the press box.
An outfielder and pitcher as a player, Holley graduated from Wabash in 1988 and went on to play for Paul Twenge at Valparaiso (Ind.) University.
An ACL injury suffered on the football field as a freshman kept Holley off the diamond in 1989. He played for Twenge’s Crusaders 1990-93 — the first two years in right field and the last two in center. He was also a closer on the mound.
In 1992, Holley hit .285 (41-of-144) with two home runs, eight doubles and 16 runs batted in and five stolen bases.
Holley began coaching football at Wabash right out of college and was the Apaches head coach 2003-07.