By STEVE KRAH
Justin Keever didn’t start the baseball culture at Noblesville High School.
Millers baseball has a storied tradition. Men like Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famers Don Dunker and Dennis Kas had the ball rolling before Keever arrived on campus.
The former Twin Lakes High School and Butler University player left coaching and teaching jobs at Avon High School to become Noblesville head coach in the summer of 2004 and logged his first season in 2005.
In 2014, the Millers hoisted an IHSAA Class 4A state championship trophy. In Keever’s first 12 seasons, Noblesville has won four sectionals, three regionals and three titles in the “meat grinder” Hoosier Crossroads Conference.
With baseball assistants Kevin Fitzgerald, Caleb Small, Quinton Miller, Ben Yoder, Eric Slager and Gene Marinacci plus strength and conditioning coach Brian Clarke enforcing the same message, Keever has kept Noblesville among the best big-school programs in Indiana with a set of core values.
“We have really good staff,” says Keever. “They love kids and hold them accountable.
“It’s about being part of something bigger than yourself. It’s bigger than the sum of its parts.”
Members of the program — coaches and players — talk about investing in each other and the good of the whole.
“When you can create that ownership in the program, you have something special,” says Keever. “When you have authentically invested in your teammate, they will be more receptive … they know you care.”
It can be expressed in a straight-forward equation — fitting in that Keever’s classroom job is math teacher — Program > Team > Individual.
Adopted from the Butler Way (Keever hit for a school-record average of .426 as a junior for the Steve Farley-coached Bulldogs in 1999), The Miller Way “demands commitment, denies selfishness and accepts reality, yet seeks constant improvement while promoting the good of the team above self.”
Noblesville follows the S.T.U.P.H. method.
Servanthood — makes teammates better, lead by giving.
Thankfulness — learn from every circumstance.
Unity — do not divide our house, team first.
Passion — do not be lukewarm, commit to excellence.
Humility — know who we are, strengths and weaknesses.
Keever said its the team-first philosophy that drives all three squads for the Millers — varsity, junior varsity black and junior varsity gold.
Is it a perfect system?
“You’re dealing with teenagers,” says Keever. “There will always be push-back. We’re dealing with human beings here — coaches included.”
But with older players modeling behavior for their younger teammates, it becomes self-policing program and rules violators generally step back in line in short order.
“You learn the most from your peers and teammates,” says Keever. “They speak your same language.”
Keever expects a total buy-in and players striving for the high side of the “C” scale.
“If you’re resistant or reluctant, you are not going to be part of our program,” says Keever. “You can be compliant (do the minimum), committed (go above and beyond) or compelled (go above and beyond and bring people with you).”
To make the Millers better and allow for team bonding, Noblesville has been going on a southern trip (Kentucky in 2008 and Tennessee since 2009). This year means an appearance March 30-April 1 in Murfreesboro, Tenn.
Conference games will again for played as three-game series.
“It’s a blast,” says Keever of the format. “It’s the college model, how baseball should be played. Our league is able to do something like that. We finding out who has the best team, not just who has the best pitcher. (Indiana high school) baseball needs to get off the basketball model and onto the baseball model, especially in the state tournament.”
Keever notes that in basketball you are pretty much the same team each time out. In baseball, it makes a big difference who is on the mound.
Noblesville High School head baseball coach Justin Keever is a 1996 Twin Lakes High School and 2001 Butler University graduate. The 2017 season marks his 13th of leading the Millers.