Tag Archives: Teammates

Former college mates Willard, Neuenschwander meet as opposing coaches

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Aaron Willard reached a milestone with his son on the mound and his former college roommate and teammate in the other dugout.

When the Eastside Blazers beat the Adam Central Jets 3-1 Saturday, May 29 in the semifinals of the IHSAA Class 2A Eastside Sectional it gave Willard his 100th varsity baseball coaching victory at his school (to go with 506 in softball including a Class 1A state title in 1998 and 69 in boys basketball).

Locked up in a pitchers’ duel with Adams Central senior right-hander Justin Bultemeier, Eastside junior right-hander Owen Willard struck out 13 while tossing a one-hitter (he gave up a solo home run on a change-up to lefty-swinging senior Brayden Light in the third inning) as the winning pitcher in helping the Blazers (22-6) to the Sectional 36 championship game at 11 a.m. Monday, May 31 against former Eastside head coach Jason Pierce’s Bluffton Tigers.

“I wish (Aaron) all the luck in the world,” says Dave Neuenschwander, who roomed and played baseball with the elder Willard at Huntington (Ind.) College (now Huntington University), and has been head baseball coach at  Adams Central for 27 seasons (1991-98 and 2003-21).

Willard and Neuenschwander formed a bond as Foresters in the ‘80s which he endured to this day.

“He’s always been like a big brother to me,” says Willard of Neuenschwander. “He took me under the wing when I came in.”

Says Neunschwander, “Aaron’s a good coach and he’s a great friend. I wish he lived closer. I know he’d do anything for me and I’d do anything for him.

“I’m anxious for the day when we can both retire and spend some time together.”

Willard, a 1984 Eastside graduate, spent a semester at Franklin (Ind.) College and met sophomore third baseman Neuenschwander, a 1983 South Adams High School graduate, when he arrived on the Huntington campus as a pitcher. 

Aaron’s first season was the first for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Mike Frame as head coach. Other future coaches on the squad included Matt Brumbaugh, Mark Flueckiger and Randy Moss.

When Willard and Neuenschwander’s teams squared off Saturday, it was for just the second time. In 2019, Adams Central and Eastside were not in the same sectional and both received a first-round bye so they met just before the tournament at the ASH Centre in Fort Wayne.

“When we play it’s about respect and a good competition,” says Neuenschwander.

What makes Willard a good coach?

“He understands the game,” says Neuenschwander. “He has the passion for the kids. 

“He gets them to work hard and focus on what they need to do.”

It’s also helped that Aaron has helped develop strong pitchers like his sons Cade (a 2017 Eastside graduate who pitched for Purdue Fort Wayne 2019-21) and Owen.

Also an accomplished shortstop and hitter, Owen could be a two-way player at the next level. He has not yet made a college commitment.

“It’s a big summer for him,” says Aaron of Cade, who plays travel ball for 5 Star Midwest.

Willard coached softball for 23 years before coaching baseball at the high school varsity level.

“I had coached at the Pony League level,” says Willard. “There was a learning curve going from softball back to baseball. There are pick-off and longer distances between bases. It’s getting that timing in your head. I got kids thrown at the plate (as a third base coach). It took them longer to get there.”

Eastside’s 2021 season has included Northeast Corner Conference regular-season and tournament titles.

Besides head baseball coach, Willard is an assistant principal and athletic director at Eastside.

“Aaron’ a great guy to the community,” says Neuenschwander. “He has great friends like Bruce Beard that really helps him out.

“That ’s a tribute to great leadership that he has that people want to help.”

As for the sectional title game against the boys from Bluffton?

Says Willard, “They look like they’re a very scrappy team.”

A fan celebrates a coaching milestone for Eastside High School baseball coach Aaron Willard at the semifinals of the IHSAA Class 2A Eastside Sectional. (Twitter Photo)

After getting so much from baseball, Elkhart Central, Bethel graduate Kloosterman is sharing with youth in his community

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

The little white ball with 108 stitches has given so much to Greg Kloosterman.

“Everything pure in my life came from baseball,” says Kloosterman, 35. “It allowed me to go to college and experience pro baseball. I met my wife while playing pro baseball. Now we have two beautiful young sons.”

A diamond standout at Elkhart Central High School (1997-2000) and Bethel College (2001-03), the left-hander pitcher in the Milwaukee Brewers organization (2003-05). Greg and Megan, who met in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, while he was playing for Beloit, have Grady (9) and Blake (6).

While having his car serviced in Pittsburgh Greg met the father-in-law of Bethel assistant athletic director Chris Hess and was hired for his first job in the oil and gas industry. He is now a sales engineer for Carbo Ceramics and services clients around the Northeast.

Still very much involved in sports, Kloosterman and Kristi Hilbert are partners in GameChangers Baseball Club in Canonsburg, Pa., near Pittsburgh. The facility currently trains 75 youth baseball players in a four-county area and plan to add softball in the fall.

With the help of corporate and private sponsors, GameChangers will soon be changing the way it operates.

“I will no longer support the pay-to-play model,” says Kloosterman of a program that has a roll-out date scheduled for June 1. “My passion is to be able to provide a high level of baseball and softball to anybody willing to earn it.

“Mom and dad’s check book does not insure you can play. It’s all about development, but it’s not going to cost any of our players a dollar.”

GameChangers is in the process of implementing an academic and athletic institute to provide baseball, softball and other sports for every kid regardless of socio-economic standing. Planning for the initiative began in August 2016 and many people have gotten on-board.

“We will make their academics their tuition,” says Kloosterman, who holds a B.S. degree in organizational management from Bethel. “A lot of our young folk are in pretty bad situations. They don’t have parents to look over their homework. They don’t get $20 for every ‘A’ they bring home.

“We want to make them successful in school while making baseball and softball the base.”

If a young person needs assistance or recommendation with a university of college, GameChargers has every intention of helping them get there.

“My goal is that if our athletes our privileged enough to play college baseball, they never have to take an athletic scholarship,” says Kloosterman. “Academic scholarships can’t be taken away; athletic scholarships can.”

While GC teams will play in tournaments, they won’t be in it to chase trophies.

“A son or daughter going to college not having to play any money, that’s what a championship means to me,” says Kloosterman.

GameChangers will host college and career fairs, social media do-and-don’t presentations and showcases while inviting local colleges and universities to check out their operation and their student-athletes.

The organization is working toward being fully-funded and providing all the equipment needed for players to be successful in the classroom and on the field. Besides bats, balls and uniforms, there’s laptops, back packs and academic tutors.

Kloosterman and company are using baseball to fulfill what he sees as a duty.

“Every person who can has the morale obligation to make sure kids are warm, fed, educated and un-abused,” says Kloosterman. “If you don’t think you do, you need to go to the doctor and get your mind right.

“I’m just in a position I can do that. Since I’m in that position, I don’t have a choice.”

Kloosterman notes that kids are most at-risk from 2:30 to 7 p.m.

“Parents aren’t home and kids are unsupervised,” says Kloosterman. “They can come to us.”

He is not worried about accommodating higher numbers of youngsters.

“It’s like facing Clayton Kershaw and you have two strikes on you and you’ve got to drive in that run,’ says Kloosterman. “You’ve got to figure out a way.”

Kloosterman, who recently accepted an invitation to be the keynote speaker at the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series banquet Friday, July 20 at Century Center in South Bend, insists that players earn what they get.

It’s a concept that he sees as very rare.

“It’s a vital life lesson,” says Kloosterman. “In baseball at the 18-and-under level, kids don’t have a skin in the game. But from 6, 7 and 8, just because you show up doesn’t mean you play. We want to them earn your spot everyday.

“That’s completely lost on today’s players. They didn’t have to take it away from somebody and hold it. They never had to do it.

“The game didn’t change. There are 35 guys in each dugout (in college baseball). Nine players still play.”

As an Elkhart Central player for head coach Steve Stutsman, Kloosterman was honorable mention Class 4A All-State in 2000.

Going into 2018, Kloosterman was the Blue Blazers’ career leader in innings (256 1/3), walks (160), losses (23) and wild pitches (23), second in strikeouts (317), tied for fourth in complete games (19) and fifth in wins (17). Offensively, he ranks first in batting average (.415) and on-base percentage (.530) and second in hits (137), runs batted in (97) and innings played (749) and fourth in home runs (16).

As an outfielder and pitcher at Bethel, he played for coaches Sam Riggleman and Mike Hutcheon.

Kloosterman helped Hutcheon’s Pilots win a National Christian College Athletic Association national championship in 2002.

He was an NCCAA Division II All-American in 2002 and 2003 and NAIA honorable mention All-American in 2003. He was the NCCAA National Player of the year and Mid-Central Conference (now Crossroads League) Player of the Year in 2003.

The left-handed slugger hit .380 with 40 home runs and 138 in his three collegiate seasons, b testing 18 home runs in 2002 and 20 in 2003. As a pitcher, he fanned 162.

Selected in the ninth round of the 2003 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, Kloosterman pitched in 61 games (55 as a starter) with a 12-28 record a 5.28 earned run average.

Before landing in Pennsylvania, Kloosterman was a coach and instruct for Slammers Training Academy in Lake Forest, Ill.

Along the way, he gained an appreciation for teammates.

Those mates come in different forms.

“One teammate is your best friend,” says Kloosterman. “One teammate you are trying to compete with. Competition is healthy and you’re pushing one another.

“Another teammate is a leader to you. You definitely respect this person. Another teammate looks up to you.”

Kloosterman counted Tom Gifford, Nick Treadway, Marcel Guevara, Javier Guevara, Chris Jergens, Brock Doty and Javier Jimenez among his Bethel band of brothers.

“If it wasn’t for my teammates, I don’t where I’d have gone,” says Kloosterman. “All those guys were instrumental in getting where I got. You have to be surrounded with good teammates.

“If you try to play this game solo, you’re going to miss a ton of fun and probably not be as successful as you could be.”

His teammates and friends have been there for him and his family over the year. When Grady was born with a heart rhythm condition called Long QT syndrome, he received a pacemaker at six days old. Last December, he received his second pacemaker.

“He’s doing wonderful,” says Greg of his baseball-loving third grader.

Through genetic testing, it was learned the Megan and her father, Michael, also have the syndrome and so does Blake. They all treat it with medicine.

KLOOSTERMANS

The Kloostermans (from left): Greg, Megan, Grady and Blake.