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McCormick teaching baseball, life skills to Speedway Sparkplugs ‘family’

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Speedway (Ind.) High School head baseball coach Marcus McCormick wants his players to pick up the skills to be successful on the diamond.

But that’s not all.

Passing along life skills is very important to the coach and educator.

“It’s our goal to help the young men who come through our program reach whatever goal they’ve set,” says McCormick, who completed his 10th season of leading the Sparkplugs program in 2018. “We try to identify each goal and they try to work to get there.

“We also try to set things in motion so our kids will be great fathers and great husbands.

“The easy stuff is the baseball stuff. That’s pretty easy to teach.”

To be a part of Speedway baseball is to be part of a group that looks after its own.

“We’re one big family,” says McCormick, who had 27 players in the program in 2018 and went 12-12 at the varsity level. The team lost to Cascade in the first round of the IHSAA Class 2A Speedway Sectional.

The Sparkplugs have won eight sectional crowns, including three with McCormick at the helm (2012, 2013 and 2015). Speedway was 2A state runner-up in 2001 with Bruce Hutchings as head coach.

Besides Speedway, the Indiana Crossroads Conference featured Beech Grove, Indianapolis Cardinal Ritter, Indianapolis Lutheran, Indianapolis Scecina, Monrovia, Park Tudor and Triton Central in 2017-18. Each ICC team played one another once on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. In the future, Cascade will replace Park Tudor.

Though none from the Class of ’18 made any commitments, recent Sparkplugs to go on to college baseball include Jacob Bryant (Franklin College), Bryce Pennington (Parkland College), Matt Turk (Marian University) and Jonathan Willoughby (Anderson University).

Besides McCormick, Speedway baseball is guided by assistants J.D. Clampitt (who played at Danville Area Community College in Illinois), Matt Burke (who played at Glen Oaks Community College in Michigan), Eric Mattingly (formerly the head coach at Brownsburg High School), David McCready and Ryan Neat (who played Butler University).

“That is arguably the best coaching staff in the state of Indiana,” says McCormick. “They all work their (posteriors) off from August to June.”

McCormick is a 1990 graduate of North Montgomery High School, where he played basketball for coach Bob Reese.

“He taught me how to prepare for games,” says McCormick of Reese. “He said, ‘if you’re not good enough, you need to be the gym.’ He talked about the little things and the extra stuff.

“But the person I learned the most from was my dad, Tom McCormick. He was the motivator. He’d say, ‘if you don’t like your playing time, then play better.’”

Marcus McCormick played basketball at Marian College (now Marian University) for coach John Grimes.

“He reinforced the work ethic part of it,” says McCormick.

Tom and Gina McCormick, who celebrated their 50th year of marriage in the spring, had three children — Marcus, Erick and Kara. Erick played football and basketball and Kara basketball, including at Marian.

“They were both better athletes than me,” says Marcus McCormick of his siblings. Erick McCormick died in 2005.

While he devoted much time to the hardwood, Marcus always had an affinity for the diamond.

“Baseball was always been my favorite sport growing up,” says McCormick.

He has coached travel baseball for two decades in the summer — first for the Indy Outlaws and now with the Indiana Pony Express.

After one season as a Speedway High assistant, he was encouraged by wife Kelley to apply for the head coaching post.

“Without her, I wouldn’t get to do what I do,” says Marcus of Kelley. “Her support is incredible.”

The McCormicks have two boys. Michael McCormick (24) pitched at Eastern Illinois University and is now in the Chicago White Sox system. Nicholas McCormick (22) was on the EIU baseball team with his brother before transferring to play at Arizona Christian University.

Marcus McCormick has enjoyed picking up coaching advice from other coaches. After attending his first Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association State Clinic in January 2009, he approached Decatur Central coach Phil Webster after he spoke as a state championship coach from 2008.

“We went to breakfast one day and picked his brain for a couple of hours,” says McCormick of the man who was elected to the IHSBCA Hall of Fame in 2015. “Most coaches are willing to share, it’s just that nobody ever asks them.”

McCormick has developed opinions about pitching and the pitch count rule adopted by the IHSAA in 2017 (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days).

“I get the rule, but it’s disappointing we have to have something in place,” says McCormick. “You’d like to think all the coaches in the state have the kids’ best interest at heart.”

McCormick sees arm care as more of an overall development thing?

“Limiting the number of pitchers you throw is not a precursor for keeping you healthy,” says McCormick. “Why does Kid A get hurt and not Kid B? You have to be doing things to truly recover so the next time you go out you’re putting yourself in a good situation.

“I hope the state incorporates programs like Driveline to keep kids healthy and make them better.”

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Speedway (Ind.) High School baseball is a “family” under Sparkplugs head coach Marcus McCormick.

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Nguyen teaching life, baseball at Lawrence Central

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Consistent message and accountability of ballplayers.

Those are concepts Harrison “Harry” Nguyen had reinforced during his assistant baseball coaching days at Indianapolis Cathedral High School and it helps form his foundation as a coach and educator at Lawrence Central High School.

“Players — teenagers — they need that,” says Nguyen of the benchmarks. “They don’t necessarily see the value in it when they’re going through that. It can really be tough in the day-to-day. It can be uncomfortable. But it’s what students need. It’s what baseball players need.”

It’s what Nguyen gained from spending 15 seasons (2002-16) on the Cathedral staff led by Rich Andriole, who goes into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame Jan. 27 and is preparing for his first season as head coach at Guerin Catholic High School in 2018.

“Sometimes (athletes) need to be called out if they are not meeting certain standards,” says Nguyen, who speaks with Andriole on a weekly basis. “Rich is really good at that. We try to instill that in our kids here at Lawrence Central.

“We want to take care of our student-athletes. If we can teach them a little baseball along the way — great — but if we can teach them life, that’s better.”

Nguyen began his coaching career on the staff of Anthony Lowborn at his high school alma mater, Arsenal Tech. Lowhorn went on to coach at Triton Central and sent Luke Stephenson on to college baseball. The right-hander pitched in 2016 and 2017 at Indiana University.

As a youngster, Nguyen played at Lowell Little League in Warren Township and was coaching there when umpire Rick Wagner suggested he look into a coaching opportunity at Cathedral. He met Andriole in the summer of 2001 and began coaching Fighting Irish freshmen and later got to work with standout players like Tommy HunterDillon Peters and Ashe Russell.

“It was a really fun ride,” says Nguyen of his Cathedral tenure. “I coached a lot of good kids and met a lot of good people.

“The X’s and 0s get us into baseball, but what keeps us in it is the people.”

Nguyen, an Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis graduate who got his start in education with schooling at Butler University taught at Indiana Connections Academy, Cathedral and Franklin Central High School before that, is in his second year teaching math in the LC freshman academy. J.R. Shelt is his administrator. Shelt was his junior varsity baseball coach at Arsenal Tech.

After leaving Cathedral, he was not sure where he would land then got contacted by then Lawerence Central athletic director Jeff Irwin, who shared the vision of the school district.

“It all came together really, really fast,” says Nguyen.

The 2017 season was Nguyen’s first as head baseball coach at Lawrence Central. The Bears went 12-16, beating Columbus North and Zionsville and suffering five one-run losses along the way. LC lost to eventual IHSAA Class 4A state champion Cathedral in the semifinals of the Warren Central Sectional.

“We lost some heartbreakers,” says Nguyen. “But we were pretty competitive.”

The junior varsity went 16-4 in 2017 and several players from that squad are looking to make noise at the varsity level in 2018.

“We bring back a lot of seniors,” says Nguyen. “We have had a lot of spirited workouts this off-season.”

The 2017 Bears participated in the I-65 Classic at Purdue University and McCutcheon (along with host McCutcheon, Lake Central and Zionsville). This year, a similar event is planned with Lawrence Central, Brebeuf Jesuit, Hobart and Perry Meridian, perhaps at Grand Park in Westfield.

LC is also waiting to see if it qualifies for the late-season Victory Field Classic, held at the site of the IHSAA State Finals and home of the Indianapolis Indians.

Lawrence Central is a member of the Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference (along with corporation partner Lawrence North plus Ben Davis, Carmel, Center Grove, Pike, North Central of Indianapolis and Warren Central).

The Bears were Marion County champions in 2015. LC last won a sectional title in 2004, the same year they took a state title.

Nguyen expects Bryan Peters and Greg White to return to his LC coaching staff in 2018. A year ago, the Bears had three teams — varsity, JV and freshmen. It’s not likely the numbers will be high enough for a freshmen team this spring.

“Though I have no scientific evidence, it seems that 13 is where the numbers are getting lost,” says Nguyen. “That’s when many kids go from 46/60 fields to full-size diamonds. In New Palestine, where my son (Ryan) plays in an 11-12 league, it’s 50/70.

“Travel teams start a lot younger these days. It’s harder to know where your home Little League is. There are so many boundaries and choices for parents. Travel ball has become an arms race.”

Besides travel organizations, talent is fed to the high school through Belzer Middle School, where Orion Ogg, is the coach, as well as Lawrence Township youth leagues — Skiles Test, Fall Creek, Oaklandon and Lawrence Lions.

Lawrence Central plays on-campus at Challis-Pauszek Field. In recent years, the facility has added bleachers stretching from dugout to dugout, put in a new press box and did work on the sod. Plans for the spring include new bullpens.

The LC high school program does quite a bit of fundraising to keep participation prices reasonable (it was $73 in 2017 and much of that is township-mandated transportation).

“We have not had kids who could not play baseball here because of cost,” says Nguyen.

Former Lawrence Central players currently in college baseball include J.J. Montgomery (University of Central Florida), Kenny Ogg (Ohio University) and Matt Burleton (Marian University).

LC graduate Jared Ruxer pitched at the University of Louisville and is now in the Kansas City Royals organization.

Current Bears senior Allan Augustus has committed to play baseball and football at Marian. Others who hope to play on a college diamond include senior catcher Drew Prather, 6-foot-7 pitcher Zach McGee and sophomore outfielder Anthony Steinhart.

Besides Ryan, Harry and wife Heather have three other children. Morgan (17) and Tanner (16) are at Franklin Central High School and Hannah (14) is as Franklin Township Middle School-East.

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Lawrence Central head baseball coach Harry Nguyen (right) talks with Zach Rogers during the 2017 season — Nguyen’s first leading the Bears. (Black Rocket Photography, LLC Photo)

Hall of Famer Gandolph back at home at Scecina with high hopes

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Scecina Memorial High School in Indianapolis has won six IHSAA football sectional titles since the Crusaders last won a sectional baseball championship.

The Crusaders reigned on the gridiron in 2001 in Class 2A, 2002 in 2A, 2012 in 1A and 2015 in 2A. Scecina last hoisted a sectional trophy on the diamond in 1992.

Dave Gandolph, a football, wrestling and baseball standout for the Crusaders in the 1960’s, would like to give that ’92 trophy some company in the case.

“We are kind of on the verge,” says Gandolph, an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer who became head baseball coach at his alma mater prior to the 2014 season after 33 years leading Center Grove in Greenwood and two guiding Indianapolis Cardinal Ritter (with an assistant stint at Carmel in-between). He has a varsity record of 766-352-4 in 39 total seasons. “We’ve lost twice in the sectional by one run.”

Scecina bowed out of the tournament by losing 2-1 to Heritage Christian in the 2014 Heritage Christian Sectional final, 12-9 to Park Tudor in the 2015 Park Tudor Sectional semifinals, 8-7 to Ritter in the 2016 Speedway Sectional semifinals, 11-5 to eventual 2A state champion Ritter in the 2017 Park Tudor Sectional semifinals.

The Crusaders compete in the Indiana Crossroads Conference (along with Ritter, Park Tudor, Beech Grove, Indianapolis Lutheran, Monrovia, Speedway and Triton Central) and then there’s the Indianapolis city tournament.

Athletic director and former Crusaders head baseball coach Jason Kehrer and Gandolph craft Scecina’s non-conference slate.

“We play a pretty tough schedule,” says Gandolph.

To get ready for the postseason, Scecina has faced a buzzsaw of a regular season. The 2017 campaign, which carried the team-picked motto “Trust the Process,” opened with losses to traditional powers Indianapolis Cathedral (4A), Indianapolis Bishop Chatard (3A), Guerin Catholic (3A), Lafayette Central Catholic (2A) and Evansville Memorial (3A). Cathedral went on to win that program’s third state championship and seven-time state champion Lafayette Central Catholic was a regional finalist.

Gandolph has enjoyed plenty of success in his career by stressing the importance of hitters putting the ball in play and since he does not have many players who promise to mash the baseball out of Neidlinger Field or other parks, that is still his approach.

“I teach a lot about ‘small ball’ and moving runners over,” says Gandolph. “(The opposing defenders) have to catch it, throw it and catch it again.

“But you have to have good pitching. That’s where it starts.”

The 2017 season was first for the IHSAA’s new pitch count rules (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days).

“The rule was put in because pitchers were getting used too much, but that was more in the summer and fall and all that,” says Gandolph. “High school coaches — for the most part — were not abusing anybody’s arms. This (new rule) creates a little more paperwork, basically.”

At state tournament time, coaching staffs must plan and strategize with the pitch count in mind.

“Everybody puts the best pitcher out there they can and go with them as long as they can,” says Gandolph. “You get a complete game or near-complete game and you’re in pretty good shape. If you get a big lead, you may want to get your (top) pitcher out of there.”

One change Gandolph would favor is seeding the sectionals.

“Seeding the sectional might alleviate some of that imbalance that might happen with a blind draw,” says Gandolph. “The city tournament is seeded and has 16 or 17 teams. We’re only talking about five, six or seven teams in the sectionals. In most cases, it’s fairly obvious (how to seed the field). You don’t want a championship game that is a blowout. That is not good for our game.

“The IHSAA has seeded wrestling for a long time and that’s a lot harder than seeding baseball teams.”

While most athletes play a fall sport, Gandolph has been working with about 10 who are not once a week this fall while sharing part of the baseball field with the Crusaders’ soccer programs. His assistants are Ted Clements, Tim Anderson, Pat Gedig and Jim Maslar. Clements and Gedig are Scecina graduates and Maslar teaches at the school. Anderson graduated from Lawrence North.

Gandolph, a 1968 Scecina graduate, was in football for coach Dave Oberting, wrestling for coach Jeff Lazo and baseball for coach Larry Neidlinger when Scecina had about 1,000 students, encourages multi-sport participation at a school of school that now has about 450.

“At smaller schools, you have to share athletes,” says Gandolph. “Otherwise, you won’t be able to compete.

“I was in football, wrestling and baseball both at Scecina and Saint Joseph’s College (in Rensselaer). I’m a firm believer in a multi-sport athlete.

“For those who specialize, there are limits what they might be able to do in some other sport. They might get get burned out mentally and it’s good to use other muscles. It keeps you more balanced.”

Participating in wrestling kept Randolph in shape for baseball and football, where he was invited to training camp at SJC with the Abe Gibron-coached Chicago Bears in 1973. He played many years of minor league football around Indianapolis and was an assistant at Center Grove for two decades, retiring after a Class 5A state runner-up finish in 2000.

Gandolph notes that his top Scecina pitcher — 6-foot-3 junior right-hander Mac Ayres — is also the starting quarterback for the Crusaders’ 7-1 football team. To keep his pitching arm in shape, Ayres gets in workouts on Sundays.

A teacher for 40 years, Gandolph retired from the classroom Jan. 1, 2014. But he welcomed the opportunity to come back to the east side of town where so many memories were made and so many friends still live and keep coaching baseball.

“I’m glad I went back to Scecina,” says Gandolph. “It’s like going back home. There are still a lot of people around from my era. It’s where I met my wife (Ann). At the time, my mom (Pat and brother Ron) were were practically living across the street in the house where I grew up.”

Dave, the oldest of Eugene and Pat Gandolph’s seven children, lost Ron in November 2016 then his mother, Pat, in December.

“It was a tough winter and spring,” says Gandolph.

Dave and Ann Gandolph still reside near Center Grove. Their four children — Dave Jr. (47), Dan (42), Tom (40) and Jennifer (34) — and eight grandchildren are all on the south side.

Dave Jr. averaged more than two strikeouts per inning during his Center Grove career, which concluded in 1988.

“Those were some boring games,” says his father.

After playing at Indiana University, 6-foot-4 left-handed Dave Jr. was selected by the Texas Rangers in the 26th round of the 1991 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft and logged five minor league seasons. He is one of seven draft picks developed by Dave Gandolph Sr.

Among the others is 1996 Mr. Indiana Baseball A.J. Zapp, who hit .524 with 16 home runs and 50 runs batted in and was taken in the first round of that year’s MLB Draft by the Atlanta Braves and got as far as Triple-A.

Dan Gandolph played football and Tom Gandolph baseball at SJC. Dave Jr. and Dan are now in financial services and Tom is an Indianapolis firefighter.

Jennifer Gandolph was a senior member of Center Grove’s 2000 4A state championship team which featured her mother as an assistant coach and went on to play volleyball at the University of Michigan. Now known as Jennifer Hawk, she is now head volleyball coach at Perry Meridian High School and manages Orangtheory Fitness, owned by retired WNBA All-Star Katie Douglas, in Greenwood.

Dave and Ann Gandolph (she is an IU graduate but “Puma at Heart”) have remained close with St. Joe alumni even through the closing of the school at the end of the 2016-17 academic year.

Embracing the idea of #PumasForever, the couple attended an off-campus homecoming event a few weeks ago.

“It’s such a strong bond that everybody has,” says Gandolph, who is hopeful SJC will be able to rise from the ashes like a Phoenix. “It’s a big part of our lives.”

More than 80 players have gone on to college baseball during Gandolph’s coaching career, including Scecina graduates Bradley Meade at Anderson University, Aaron Leming at Franklin College, Genero Angeles at the University of Saint Francis.

“We have had a lot of football players go on to college from Scecina,” says Randolph. “We are trying to make them think about playing baseball in college.”

Catholic grade schools that feed into the school have not had baseball programs in recent years. Many players come through Irvington Sports Association and various travel ball organizations.

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Dave Gandolph, an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer, is heading into his fifth season at Indianapolis Scecina Memorial — his alma mater — in 2017-18. It will be his 40th overall as a high school head coach, including two seasons at Indianapolis Cardinal Ritter and 33 at Center Grove.

Alter has 1A Indianapolis Lutheran hanging with the big schools

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Dick Alter has coached baseball in central Indiana for nearly four decades.

He has been around some talented players and coaches and helped mold young minds in dugouts and classrooms.

Since 2005, the former North Central player and assistant coach and former Manual head coach has made an impact at Indianapolis Lutheran High School, an IHSAA Class 1A member on the city’s southeast side.

The Saints won the eighth sectional title during Alter’s tenure and extended their streak of sectional championships to six in 2017. Lutheran went on to take the first regional crown in program history.

After beating Bethesda Christian 16-0 and University 5-1 to win the Sheridan Sectional, the Saints topped Edinburgh 10-1 and Rising Sun 6-1 in the Morristown Regional before losing 6-2 to eventual 1A state champion Lanesville in the Jasper Semistate.

What propelled Lutheran in ’17?

“Chemistry,” says Alter, who is also chairman of the school’s social studies department. “It was certainly not the best team we’ve ever had here. But those boys put it together better than the other teams did when it counted. We had unified players that played together and wanted to win.”

There are not that many 1A schools in the Indianapolis area. The smallest school in the Indiana Crossroads Conference (which also includes Beech Grove, Indianapolis Cardinal Ritter, Indianapolis Scecina, Indianapolis Park Tudor, Monrovia, Speedway and Triton Central), Lutheran benefits from its strong regular-season schedule come postseason time.

ICC games are played on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and there’s the test of the Marion County Tournament.

Ritter won the 2017 Class 2A state title. The Saints also squared off with 4A’s Lafayette Jeff and Perry Meridian (three times) and 1A powerhouse Hauser. In recent seasons, 4A’s Columbus North and 3A’s Bishop Chatard and Guerin Catholic have been on the slate.

“We play a very competitive schedule,” says Alter. “We go out of our way to play good schools. We don’t have the depth these 4A schools have, but on any given day we can play with them.”

Sophomores Matthew Alter (Dick and Karen Alter’s only child) and Noah Wood and freshman Bradbury Aiden — all right-handers — did the bulk of the mound work for last season’s Saints. It was the first campaign of the IHSAA’s new pitch count rule (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days).

The coach is not a fan of the new rule.

“It severely limits a 1A program,” says Alter. “We really have to plan and be judicious with our pitchers. I like the old rule — 10 innings every three days. That made a lot of sense to me. It worked for me. If you are an experienced coach, you’re not going to hurt your kids’ arms by overthrowing them.”

Alter has heard the response of those like him who oppose the new rule.

“You can say ‘go develop more pitchers.’ But that’s easier said than done,” says Alter, who notes that many schools have players who grew learning to be pitchers. “We’re developing kids who can throw and hopefully they throw strikes. I understand the concept, but in practicality you’re not going to get a lot of good pitchers out of it.”

The Saints play games on their Arlington Avenue campus. Land-locked in a residential area, the field has relatively short dimensions.

“There’s one house we regularly hit in left field,” says Alter. “Any home run to the right side is going into somebody’s yard.”

Since Alter’s arrival, the field located in a residential area has received upgrades like a new backstop and dugouts and netting instead of a fence. Windscreens have been added and the home plate area and mound have been re-done.

Alter graduated from North Central in 1973. His coach was Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Tom Bradley, who was the original host of the IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series. Alter played one year on baseball scholarship to Stetson University in DeLand, Fla., Alter transferred to Indiana University, earned a degree and began his professional life in marketing research.

In 1979, he began running the summer baseball program at North Central and later served as an assistant to Bradley.

He decided to change his profession to teacher and wound up coaching baseball and basketball at Manual. For a short time, he was head coach for both sports.

Alter led the Redskins on the diamond 1994-2004 then went to Lutheran when Matthew was 5.

Nephew Jared Broughton was a freshman on the 2005 Lutheran team. He went on to be a Junior College All-American at Vincennes University, a starter at the University of Dayton and is now associate head coach at Piedmont College, an NCAA Division III school in Demorest, Ga.

Alter coached Caleb Hougesen, a third baseman who was selected in the 46th round of the 2010 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the San Francisco Giants.

“He was a great player,” says Alter.

What feeds the Saints program?

The high school typically gets most of its students from four Lutheran K-8 schools on the southeast side of Indy. Almost all of the Saints have a travel baseball background.

As Lutheran plans for 2018, Tom Riensche (former Warren Central head coach) and Ryan Baglow are back as varsity assistants. Zach Akers has been a junior varsity coach.

The Saints normally have a JV team, but low numbers in some years and one available diamond mean they only field a varsity squad.

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A veteran of nearly 40 years as a high school baseball coach, Dick Alter has been head coach at Indianapolis Lutheran since 2005. The Saints won their sixth straight sectional and advanced all the way to the semistate in 2017. (Indianapolis Lutheran Photo)