By STEVE KRAH
Phil Beasley faces some challenges as head baseball coach at Career Academy South Bend (Ind.).
As he goes into his fourth season leading the program at the tuition-free public charter school serving grades 6-12, Beasley is met with issues like getting enough players and retaining those.
The school, which opened in August 2011 with grades 7-9 before expanding, presented its first baseball team in 2014. The Trailblazers became eligible for IHSAA tournament play in 2017 — the year before Beasley became head coach.
“The first year we went into most games with 10 players,” says Beasley. “The second year, it was 13 or 14. Last year, we were in good shape with decent numbers then we did not play (because of the COVID-19 pandemic).”
As the 2021 slate approaches, Beasley has been getting a handful out for winter conditioning. He hopes that number will go up at the end of basketball season and when more students begin coming for in-person instruction.
One of the reasons participation is down is because some students take all their classes online and don’t appear at the campus on the northwest side of South Bend just below the Indiana Toll Road. The school has enrollees from all over the area.
“I don’t get to interact with those kids and that’s where a lot of the recruitment comes from,” says Beasley. “Losing the baseball season really hurt because (students and staff) are not talking about it.
“If doesn’t matter if you never played before. Come out and we’ll have some fun. I’m not going to force a kid to come out and do it.”
These novices — some who have never played or have not been on a diamond since Little League — face a varsity high school schedule with experienced opponents. Some of those will go on to play college baseball.
“Retention is hard,” says Beasley. “Many of them do not come back the next year.
“That’s our biggest hurdle.”
There is currently no feeder system for CASB baseball, though Beasley is hoping to develop a middle school team in the next couple years. Career Academy has a second South Bend campus — Success Academy — which serves grades K-5.
Career Academy South Bend (enrollment around 360) is a member of the new Hoosier Plains Conference (with Argos, Bethany Christian, Elkhart Christian, Lakeland Christian Academy and Trinity Greenlawn). LCA and Trinity Greenlawn do not currently field baseball teams.
Beasley, who is assisted by Dustin Saunders and Josh King, says plans call for conference games to be played on Fridays and Saturdays.
The Trailblazers practice and play at Boland Park, a public facility about three miles from the school.
Career Academy South Bend is part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with Argos, Culver Community, LaCrosse, Oregon-Davis, South Central (Union Mills) and Triton. The Trailblazers have won not won a sectional title. SBCA participated in three IHSAA tournaments — 2017 at the LaVille Sectional and 2018 and 2019 at the South Bend Career Academy Sectional (played at South Bend Clay).
Non-conference and non-sectional opponents on the 2021 schedule include Culver Academies, Fremont, Lakewood Park Christian, Mishawaka, North Miami, South Bend Riley, South Bend Washington, Victory Christian Academy and Westville.
Beasley is a math teacher. This year he leads Algebra and Algebra Lab classes.
He grew up in North Liberty, Ind., and played baseball at John Glenn High School in Walkerton, Ind., graduating in 2005. Beasley’s freshmen year was John Nadolny’s first at Falcons head coach.
“He was the coach who taught me the most about all aspects of the game as opposed to just the physical part,” says Beasley. “He had those instincts during the game. Being around baseball his whole life, he did what his gut told him to do and it’s worked out for him.”
Beasley credits “Nud” for teaching him how to look at baseball’s mental side.
“How far I can hit the ball or how hard I can throw is not always the most-important part,” says Beasley.
At Ball State University in Muncie, Beasley played four years of club baseball, serving as president his last two years.
The club played intrasquad games in the fall and then a National Club Baseball Association schedule in the spring. Ball State played in the Great Lakes South Conference with club teams from Indiana University, University of Illinois, Southern Illinois University-Carbondale and SIU-Edwardsville.
The student-run club was responsible for securing its own practice time and space — in the winter that meant 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. when the varsity teams weren’t using any of the BSU gyms.
Working with Muncie Parks & Recreation, the club played at Francis Lafferty Park. As president, Beasley had to lead fundraising efforts and put together a proposal to get financial help from the university. There was also making out the roster and other administrative duties that many don’t associate with coaching.
Before coaching at Career Academy South Bend, Beasley served as an assistant and junior varsity coach at South Bend Clay (2012-17). He got to work with baseball veterans like Colonials head coach Joel Reinebold and assistants Bill Schell, John Kehoe and Dan Kasper.
“It was very informative,” says Beasley. “(Reinebold) always had something that players could do to get better. I learned a lot from him.”
Beasley also learned how to run a team and craft a schedule.