Hustle on the base paths helped Indianapolis Lutheran High School baseball set theft records the past two seasons. Josh Meaney, who moves up to head coach in 2023 after two years as a volunteer on Adam Gouker’s staff, will again have the Saints running. “Being aggressive is what wins ball games,” says Meaney, who saw Indianapolis Lutheran go 22-9, win the program’s 14th sectional title in 2022 while amassing 186 stolen bases. That number eclipsed the mark of 174 set in 2021. “We’re staying focused at all times no matter the situation — whether we’re down 10 runs or up 10 runs,” says Meaney. “Stay focused with the mission because at any point the tide could change. “Stay aggressive and never feel like you have enough runs and continue to put pressure on the other team.” Meaney subscribes to the system established by New York Yankees baserunning coordinator and Fort Wayne Dwenger High School graduate Matt Talarico (who spoke at the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association State Clinic in January and has addressed the American Baseball Coaches Association Convention on the big stage). “We don’t need to be fast to steal bags,” says Meaney. “It’s all about timing.” Meaney accepted the head coach job — his first at the high school level — last in the summer of 2022. The Saints took part in conditioning during the fall IHSAA Limited Contact Period. This winter, players have got in infield and outfield work on the turf football field when the weather has permitted. There’s also been weight and speed training. Pitchers have been getting used to mechanics so they are ready when it comes time to start ramping up their arms for the season. Indianapolis Lutheran (enrollment around 250) is a member of the Indiana Crossroads Conference (with Beech Grove, Cardinal Ritter, Cascade, Monrovia, Scecina Memorial, Speedway and Triton Central). The Saints are part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping in 2023 with Edinburgh, Eminence, Greenwood Christian Academy, Indianapolis Metropolitan and Morristown. Meaney’s assistants are Russell Parker, Jonas Akers and Jacob Cutter. The expectation is that there will be 21 or 22 players for varsity and junior varsity games. Meaney says the varsity and JV will not play on the same days and he and Parker will go with the JV to evaluate that group. Located on-campus next to the tennis courts and softball diamond, Dick Alter Field is the home of Saints Baseball. Meaney says new fencing is going up down the first base line. Plans call for padding to the be added to the backstop. Fundraising is being done with the hopes of adding a press box and upgrading bleacher seating. Alter coached baseball in central Indiana for four decades, including several years at Indianapolis Lutheran. The high school typically gets most of its students from four Lutheran K-8 school on the southeast side of Indy. The Junior Saints is a team for Grades 6-8 that is coached by Indianapolis Lutheran alum Bryce Lucas. “We want him to build that program and run the same style of baseball (as the high school),” says Meaney. Recent alums playing college baseball include Class of 2019’s Noah Wood (Franklin College) and Class of 2022’s Sean Moore (Lake Erie College). A 1995 graduate of Martinsville (Ind.) High School, Meaney played the outfield at Decatur Central as a freshman and the last three years with the Artesians and IHSBCA Hall of Famer Bill Tutterow. “Not too many people can say they played for a Hall of Fame coach,” says Meaney. “At the time — as a young kid — I didn’t understand what it takes to be honest with your players and let them know where they stand and treat them as young men and not children. It empowers them to work on their own which increased their ability to play baseball. “I take a little bit of that into my coaching.” Meaney also coaches for the Baseball Academics Midwest travel organization and coached many years in the Little League at Brownsburg and Decatur Central. After high school, Meaney served in the U.S. Marines from 1996-2000. He is now a laboratory technician at SRT Prosthetics & Orthotics in Indianapolis. Josh and Robin Meaney have three children — Ahkena Gaines-Meaney (18), Gage Meaney (15) and Nico Meaney (12). Gage is a freshman baseball player at Indianapolis Lutheran.
Has it really been a generation since Indiana widely adopted high school class sports? Of course there were classes in football going back to the 1970s, but check the records and you will find that 1996-97 (when Jasper outlasted Carmel 10-8 for the IHSAA baseball championship) was the last year that other sports were in the all-comers category at state tournament time. With the COVID-19 pandemic taking away the 2020 spring season, that makes 2023 the 25th year of class baseball in the Hoosier State. In the multi-class era, 56 different schools have won state baseball championships. Of that number, only Jasper, LaPorte and Penn earned titles prior to 1997-98. There are 22 schools with multiple state runner-up finishes. That accounts for 60 red ribbons — all but 12 coming from 1997-98 forward. Noting that some schools came about in recent years because of consolidation, unification or other reasons, those that won their first sectional championship during the multi-class era include 4A’s Elkhart (2021), Evansville Harrison (1999), Fishers (2017), Fort Wayne South Side (2012) and Michigan City (2002), 3A’s Angola (1999), Charlestown (1999) and Hamilton Heights (2006), 2A’s Austin (2002), Central Noble (2009), Clinton Central (2005), Covenant Christian of Indianapolis (2008), Delphi (2008), Fairfield (1998), Hanover Central (2011), Heritage Christian (2005), Illiana Christian (2022), Lewis Cass (2000), North Decatur (2011), Parke Heritage (2021), Sheridan (2004), South Knox (2004), Southwestern of Hanover (1999), Southwood (1999), Taylor (1998), Triton Central (2003), Whitko (2017) and Woodlan (2005) and 1A’s Argos (1998), Bethesda Christian (2008), Caston (2012), Christian Academy of Indiana (2004), Cowan (2004), Daleville (1999), Edinburgh (2009), Elkhart Christian (2013), Eminence (2005), Fort Wayne Blackhawk Christian (2001), Fort Wayne Canterbury (2009), Greenwood Christian (2014), Hauser (2004), Henryville (1999), Indianapolis Lutheran (2017), Kouts (1998), Marquette Catholic (2002), Milan (1999), Monroe Central (2001), Morgan Township (2004), Morristown (1998), New Washington (1998), Northeast Dubois (1998), North Miami (2019), Oldenburg Academy (2003), Park Tudor (1998), Pioneer (2016), Randolph Southern (2010), Rising Sun (2002), Seton Catholic (2011), South Central of Elizabeth (2005), Southwestern of Shelbyville (1999), Tecumseh (2000), Traders Point Christian (2021), Trinity Lutheran (2009), Triton (2000), Washington Township (1999), Union City (2012), University (2012), Waldron (2001), West Washington (2021), White River Valley (2017) and Whiting (2008). A quarter century in, there are still plenty of opinions in the Indiana high school baseball community about the system. These questions were posed to several coaches around Indiana:
Is class baseball a positive or a negative?
Who benefits the most from class baseball?
If you could change anything about class baseball what would that be?
“(Class baseball) is a positive. It has allowed schools of all sizes to be recognized and have some success at the state level while increasing fan interest in our sport. The players and the communities truly benefit the most from class baseball, in my opinion. “The IHSAA does a great job of administering the state tournament and ending each year at Victory Field allows our sport to be showcased on a big stage! However, the tournament format itself needs to be addressed, especially at the sectional level, and we can’t continue in a ‘one size fits all’ cookie-cutter format. Our sport is different than others and our tournament format needs to reflect that. Seeding, success factor, and travel also need to be looked at in light of the fact(s) that class sports are here to stay and there are geographical constraints/factors based on the location of the school(s). “Baseball in general is changing for the better in Indiana … the IHSBCA and the IHSAA need to continue to work together on formats/philosophies/participation guidelines that foster growth in our sport and develop a mutual relationship where everyone’s input is valued. We, the IHSBCA, have several ideas to share about the state tournament format/setup and how we can better grow our sport, in general. We are all stronger when we are working together and my goal as the Executive Director is to help facilitate positive changes that will grow our sport and unify our coaches at the same time.”
“(Class baseball) is a positive. “I assume that smaller schools are more likely to benefit so they play teams that are more competitive. “I would support adding a fifth ‘super class’ of the largest schools and then balance the rest of the four classes.”
“Class baseball is definitely a positive thing. It levels the playing field for teams when it comes to player depth and facilities. “For example, a school with an enrollment of 2,200 has a lot more players to work with and pull from than a school with an enrollment of 300. Both teams can be good and have good players, but the bigger school is very likely going to have more depth. The smaller school is likely to have one really good pitcher where the bigger school is likely to have two, or even three really good pitchers. As a result, the bigger school would have a big advantage in the sectional and regional. “The other way it levels the playing field is when it comes to facilities. Bigger schools tend to have nicer facilities to train and practice in during the off-season where some schools, usually the smaller ones, don’t have anything close to the facilities of larger schools. Many schools either can’t get access to the facilities they have during the off-season because other in-season teams are using them for practice or games, or they just don’t have the facilities or space period. “It can put teams at a big competitive disadvantage when they can’t train or practice the way they want to and need to during the off-season, and I think class baseball helps in this regard because schools that have similar enrollments tend to have similar facilities. “Everyone benefits from class baseball. The smaller schools obviously because of what I mentioned in my previous answer to the first question, but also the larger schools. When you’re competing for anything, let alone a state championship, you want it to really mean something and be a challenge. It’s what competing is all about. It’s not going to mean as much when a school with an enrollment of 2,200 plus kids goes up against a school with an enrollment of 300 plus kids and beats them in a sectional or regional. They should be able to do that again referring back to what I mentioned in my previous answer to the first question. “Not only would they win but they wouldn’t have to throw their No. 1 pitcher to do so and would have them available for the next game, where the smaller school would likely need to throw their best pitcher in that situation. And if they did win, do they have a pitcher that could compete and win against another team with a large enrollment…not likely. “There are two things I would change about class baseball, and one of them is being talked about right now. First, I would seed the postseason. It’s frustrating when you have teams that have done really well during the regular season and they meet in the first or second round of the sectional, and there are teams that didn’t fair as well in the regular season getting a bye in the first round and/or playing another team that didn’t do as well in the early rounds. “It’s something I feel wouldn’t be too difficult to do or set up and it would make the postseason better and provide even more meaning to the regular season. I like that everyone makes the postseason because you can have something happen with injuries and get a player back, or a team hasn’t quite figured things out yet but later in the year they do and are still in it. “But, there needs to be something in place for teams that do better in the regular season. I think seeding the sectional would be really good for Indiana high school baseball. “The other thing I would change is going from four classes to five classes. Again, for all the reasons I’ve mentioned previously. Many times there’s such a large gap between the teams in 4A. I think going to five classes would help this and it’s something the IHSBCA and IHSAA are talking about and looking into. “The success factor has worked well and is set up well. How they have it set up is good and I think it’s accomplishing what they wanted it to.”
“There’s no doubt that class sports have provided more opportunities for athletes, coaches, schools, and communities by creating a level of fairness with classified state tournaments. I understand the traditional approach of one class and experienced it as a player as we advanced to the semistate finals as a small school (at Western) in ’93 and ’94. But as a coach, the class system allows for accomplished small school teams to aspire to be state champions instead of hoping to win a sectional in a one class system. “All stakeholders of a school’s baseball program (benefit most from class baseball). Having ranked teams and winning championships builds a greater sense of tradition within communities and raises interest amongst school children, faculty, and administration. Players and coaches benefit from the sense of accomplishment by developing a highly competitive team within a post-season setting. “I would make the tradition factor a four-year stay in an elevated class — not just two years. Those who are state champion caliber teams seem to continue to dominate the current landscape. Also, if a team moves up in class and wins a sectional, regional, etc., a system needs to be created to keep them in that class because they are showing the ability to compete. “We need to restructure our tournament. Six-team sectionals and format need to be uniformed. Only the sectional final should be played on Memorial Day. We’d have two-team regionals, four-team semistates and seed the tournament. “We are the only sport that, based on pitching restrictions (pitch counts and days rest) and may not have our best lineup on the field in a championship setting. Too many sectional championships are decided by Team 1’s ace dominating vs Team 2’s bullpen because of weather, graduation or the draw. Basketball will always have their point guard.”
“There have been a lot of positives (with class baseball). There have been some very good smaller schools that have gotten the chance to experience state tourney runs that might not have happened in areas where there were perennial large school programs had too much depth for the smaller schools. I think that has been a good thing for Indiana high school baseball. “Small schools with open enrollments and the ability to reach out from beyond what would be considered a normal attendance area have done extremely well (in class baseball). This, however, is not entirely the fault of class sports. Open enrollment and increased club and travel athletic teams have opened up a whole different experience for high school athletes today. “High school athletes are far more likely to travel further, meet and become friends with new teammates outside of their own school in the off-season and subsequently more likely to travel further away to attend a school of their choice. In a way I can’t blame them. Unfortunately, that choice often comes with a greater financial obligation and not all athletes and their families can afford to do so. Smaller schools have benefited in some areas directly. That’s not necessarily a criticism of the class sports, it’s the trend and we aren’t going to a one-class tourney.”
“Overall (class baseball) is a positive. At times, schools being up a class or down a class will dictate how successful they can be. “The smaller schools probably benefit most (from class baseball). Winning a sectional would be a huge feat for a small school (during the one-class era). I know it was for us (at Northwestern) when we played in the sectional with Kokomo). “There’s talk of the IHSAA going to a five-class system. I’d probably be in favor of that. If you’re going to do class might as well break it up a little more. “How are sectionals are being distributed and seeding of the tournament would take much more priority over how many classes there are. “Let’s set up a season where the regular season is more meaningful and the better teams are meeting at the end (with semistate- and state-caliber games at those stages rather than at the sectional level). “I like the way Ohio (has seeded). The way I understand it, teams have been ranked off their MaxPreps ranking. Head coaches have a meeting. If you’re ranked No. 1 you pick your sectional. If you’re No. 2 you pick your sectional and you’re probably not going to put themselves in the same sectional as the No. 1 team.”
“(On the positive side,) class baseball provides more kids, coaches, and communities an opportunity to be a state champion. (On the negative side,) prior to class baseball we were used to minimal travel. We’ve also lost the local rivalries because of class baseball. “Good smaller programs who were fundamentally sound yet they usually didn’t have the pitching to advance deep into the tournament (benefit most from class baseball). “I would place all private schools into Class 4A or 2A. The success factor has helped every two years, but you still have those schools who dominate every two years they move down. “I’ve coached at the 4A and 3A level and even though I am at a 3A school, I would still rather compete against local rivalry teams rather than class baseball. However, we will never return to a one class system and I understand why!”
“Class baseball is a positive and helps balance the playing field. Since I’ve been coaching, I believe all but just a few schools that have made the State Finals in 4A are in the top 32 in enrollment in the state. “Baseball is a game where you are not always putting your best 9 or best team on the field depending on pitching rotation and availability of arms. “The larger enrollment typically means there are more available players trying out, which creates a greater opportunity to development quality depth in your pitching staff. That is one advantage that bigger schools have. So, the idea of class baseball helps to control some of the variables on both sides of the field. It is not perfect, but it is a way to try and help control some of the unique variables that are different in baseball than other sports. “I believe the top half of each class benefits the most from class baseball, especially at the 3A and 4A levels because the range of enrollment is so much bigger from the smallest school to biggest school in those classes. The range in enrollment in 1A and 2A is much closer from top to bottom. “I don’t really want to go down this path, but the private schools also benefit from class baseball, especially in 1A, 2A, and often 3A. Private schools are not limited to school district lines and are able to draw from a wider range of students compared to the smaller enrollment schools in 1A and 2A. “Not really answering the question, but if I could change anything about the IHSAA tournament, I would make the regular season matter and seed the tournament (or at least seed the teams that feed into the regionals). “You might not be in the same sectional each year if you are seeded from the regional level. I would also create double-elimination rounds at the different levels (sectional, regional, etc.). Similar to the thought above that you are not always putting your best team on the field depending on pitcher availability, a double-elimination tournament would help to insure the best team advances and not just the team with the best pitcher and the best blind draw. “Classes need to be set by a specific enrollment range and not try to keep every class the same size. I would add a fifth or even a sixth class and set the range for the enrollment so that each school in the class is close to the same enrollment size. If that means that one class only has 32 teams, another class has 48, another class has 64, and another class has 96, then that is what should be done and would help make the tournament as fair as possible.”
“Overall (class baseball) is a positive. It has given a lot of smaller schools a chance to be successful and show some of these coaches at smaller schools can really coach. “Smaller schools definitely benefit the most (from class baseball). Some of the teams that have won state championships would never make it out of their sectionals if we were one class. Nothing against them but when schools have 2,000 students to pick from they are going to have a lot more athletes and in the sports that require more players like baseball and football that makes a big difference. “(I favor putting) private schools in their own class. I think they have such a huge advantage. Not because they recruit or anything like that, but they tend to get the players that are more apt and able to do the extra things such as lessons, travel ball, etc. “Overall (class) been good for sports in Indiana. I know Silver Creek has won three state championships in boys and girls basketball in the past four years and made we have made some long runs in baseball. Not sure we would have been able to do that in one class. If you ask any of those kids that were on the state championship team and I am sure they could care less whether it was one class or four.”
“I have no issues with class baseball. I like competing against other schools my size because they have the same issues (positive and negative) that I have. “(Class baseball) definitely helps the smaller schools being able to compete against other schools their own size. “Baseball is a sport where a dominant pitcher can have a great bearing on the game. I remember playing Bremen in the semistate in ’94. (John Glenn head coach) John Naldony has had some very good teams that can compete against larger schools. “As far as changes, a double-elimination sectional would be interesting. I am not sure if a five-class baseball system could accommodate that.”
“Wapahani is in favor of class sports. I believe it makes sports a more even playing field. We won the state in 2014 in 2A, that would not have happened if there was one class. “Our girls volleyball just won state, which is a big deal for small communities, they lost to Yorktown twice and HSE (Class 4A finalists) all were sweeps and not really close. “Even though our team in 2014 and our girls last week were very good, competing against the bigger schools in the tournament would be very difficult. That being said, our State Championships are still a very big deal for our community, school, and students. “Therefore, class sports are a positive. As little league participation in small communities keep losing kids to travel ball and other activities small school numbers are seeing less kids playing baseball and softball unless they have a successful program which is a minority. “Small schools at least feel like they have a chance to win in the tournament and maybe even a state championship when they are playing schools close to their same size. Very few 1A or 2A teams can compete in the tournament with the bigger schools, once they realize that kids quit playing or go to another sport where they might have a chance to win. “The current format is fine for the tournament. Adding additional classes or a class would benefit big schools only in my opinion. Four classes has been a success. Can you tweak things? Maybe. But why change if it is not broken?”
“I like the one-class system but also know that class sports are not going anywhere so we can take the positives from it and live with it. “It is probably the small class schools and communities that benefit the most as they typically have a greater opportunity to advance when playing similar size schools. “Class sports are here to stay so one change I’d like to see for baseball would be the tournament run in some way that has a series feel to it as baseball is not a sport that is suited for a ‘one and done’ tournament.”
“I’m fine with class sports but concerned about the impact of some private and parochial schools that seem to put great emphasis on athletic success which can make it difficult for public schools to compete on an annual basis. “Class sports are here to stay but this situation and the number of transfers at public schools are the next challenges for the IHSAA.”
“(Class baseball) is a positive. It has created more excitement for more schools and their fans. “Probably the smaller schools feel as if they have a better chance to experience sectional and regional championships than when it was one class. “The only drawback (in class baseb all) I could see is you may have farther travel but in your sectional pairings than when it was one class. When I played in the single class, your sectional would be more local. It would have teams of various sizes, but we seemed have greater rivalries because many times you played against those teams in the regular season or against those players in your summer leagues. “As a coach today, I want to play the best schools we can (no matter the size). I want to prepare ourselves for our conference and sectional. When I was a player, we wanted to be able to compete with Logansport, Kokomo, Marion and LaPorte. Today, we want to compete with Andrean, Jasper, Brebeuf and Southridge.”
“(Class baseball) is a positive. I witnessed first-hand what the state tournament does in small communities. The student-athletes have a more balanced playing field. “The benefits go to the teams that advance the furthest in the tourney. Without class baseball a 1A could defeat a 3A or 4A school in the tournament on a given day. However, in most cases those smaller schools don’t have the depth, especially with pitchers. “We are at the point that we need to look at the number of classes. I would be in favor of adding a fifth class. The current disparity in school sizes is extremely large in the upper class. With the growth and addition of smaller, private schools, other mid-size schools are being bumped up. “The biggest problem facing our tournament currently is the number of schools in the sectionals. Host schools have roughly a week to host a sectional tournament. “Depending on your sectional, you could have anywhere from 5-8 teams in that sectional. Huge difference between five and eight. In a five-team sectional the winning team would have to win two or at most three games, and could possibly do that with two pitchers. In an eight-team sectional, the winning team would have to win three games and would possibly need three if not four pitchers in that 5-7 day window for the games.”
“(Class baseball) is a positive. It levels the playing field for all schools, especially the ones that are not in that top quarter or so. “The smaller schools and even the medium-sized schools benefit the most. “The thing that football did with the Top 32 (being in the largest or super class), I’d like to see that in the other sports. There are different things you could do with the other four (in a five-class system). You could divide it up evenly. There’s been discussion of capping 1A at 128. There’s a big discrepancy right now between the bottom of 4A and the top of 4A. “(The Indiana Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association) has talked about running data and see how people would fall. There would not be (an) equal (amount of) schools in every class. We’re still in the process of gathering information. The IHSAA was at our last two athletic directors conferences and present for those discussions.”
“Class baseball will have a positive effect on high school baseball. I think that it levels the playing field for the state tournament. Also, having class baseball will allow more schools the opportunity to earn a state title just like with football’s six classes. “I believe that the smaller schools will benefit.” “It would be fun to see all state title teams play in a small tournament to see who is the best of all of the classes.” “Even with the change to class baseball, there are very good teams at each class level. It will still not be an easy road to get the opportunity to play at Victory Field.”
“Had class sports been in place (when I was at Clinton Prairie) I may have never left. One of the things class sports does is that you can achieve everything positive you want to achieve from a goals standpoint. “Class sports kind of levels the playing field during the state tournament. I had some terrific teams back at Prairie. In five years, we won two sectionals. “A disadvantage for class sports is that when you get to a bigger school like Noblesville there’s no ceiling on the enrollment. “Believe it or not once we went to class sports Noblesville had the smallest enrollment in our sectional at 1,250 (Clinton Prairie was around 300). “If I were at Clinton Prairie I’d welcome it as a smaller school. I might have one really good pitcher that could help me compete against anybody, but in most years would have a drop-off in pitching depth. “At Noblesville — a larger school — I have the chance to have more depth. In baseball it always comes down to pitching. You can be good in a lot of areas of the game. If you have a question on the mound you’re going to struggle.”
There’s positives and negatives for everything, but it’s good for baseball to have class. “If we expand to another class it’s going to be even better. It makes everyone feel like they have a chance. If you’ve got the right group of guys you can win. “At the State Finals you see a difference between the 1A game and 4A game. The lineups are deeper at the bigger level. The 4A game is little more of a college game than a high school game. “The smaller schools probably benefit more (in class baseball) than the bigger schools). “In baseball, it’s how the pitching lines up. “I like how Iowa does it. They don’t start baseball until the end of April and their tournament’s in July. I don’t know if that will ever happen here.”
“Class baseball is a positive (but classification should be addressed) … The number of schools in each class doesn’t need to be the same. “Breakdown of each class needs to be more than an arbitrary enrollment number. There needs to be thought into why the lines of demarcation are made (spread, standard deviations, range). Athletic department size (percentage of the student body participating in each sport should be used for classes) could be used to determine classes. “Many large schools have very small baseball programs. Some small schools have very large baseball programs in terms of numbers. The class system should be used to place a school into its appropriate level of competition, not just for the number of students that attend a school. There are many other variables to consider.”
“I don’t know if (class baseball) is a positive or a negative per say. I played when there wasn’t any classes and I think the class system has taken away for the local rivalries. Now depending on your class and the location of your sectional, you may have to travel up to an hour to play in sectionals, although more teams have the opportunity to win a state championship, a win over a neighborhood rival might mean more, bragging rights. “There are eight teams every year who have the opportunity to play in a state championship game so that’s a benefit (to class baseball). More players, coaches, and schools who have a chance to experience a state championship game. “I’m not sure that I agree with the success factor movement (for all schools), aside from private schools you may be punishing kids who aren’t even in high school because current classes are winning. In small towns you may have a group of kids who all hit at once and then the next year they have nothing, those young men, in the current format are being punished for the success of prior classes. “For me it comes down to the local excitement, the rivalries, the competition between kids who know each other, who’ve grown up playing each other since little league. That’s what’s I believe is missing with the class system. Coming from a coach at a small school I know that if there wasn’t a class system the likelihood of us winning a sectional would go down dramatically, but just think if we would ever knock off one of the local big boys, it would be remembered forever.”
“Overall you can’t make a real argument that (class baseball) is a negative. You’re putting more kids and more schools in successful situations. I get that part. “We were fortunate enough to win eight sectionals (at Northeast Dubois) which wouldn’t have happened in single-class. “That being said, I’m not sure its been a positive for small-school athletes as far as recognition goes (for all-star consideration or scholarships). “The smaller schools were the target when this all started 25 years ago.” “There are private schools that have it better than other private schools (some have thrived and others have had a hard time fielding a team).”
“Class baseball is a positive for the most part. The obvious plus is that there are more ‘winners.’ The big negative in my opinion is that schools lose local rivalries. Pre-class era, we had great rivalries with all the local schools because you were going to potentially play one of them at the sectional or regional level. Those teams and games are now just another game on the schedule unfortunately, especially in my neck of the woods. “Terre Haute South and Terre Haute North are on a ‘big school island.’ We have to travel at least 50 miles to play another 4A baseball team. It was much easier to have a rivalry with say a West Vigo, South Vermillion, Sullivan, etc. before class baseball because we would most likely see them in the state tournament. It is difficult to have a rivalry with a school that is located in or around the Indianapolis area. “The IHSAA can expand to five classes for baseball — that’s fine. But, in my opinion, the private schools need to have their own class/classes.”
“I think class baseball has been positive even though I was a little skeptical when it first started. “Class baseball probably benefits the smaller schools the most because it gives them a realistic chance in the tournament. “The biggest thing that I think that could help class baseball would be looking at creating a separate parochial school class.”
“Having been a high school football coach for 40 years and a head high school baseball coach for 45 years, I have seen the ‘evolution’ of class sports here. My connection to friends and relatives in neighboring Ohio and Michigan has also allowed me to ‘watch’ the evolution of class sports there. In my early years (1981), I was part of Leland Etzler’s Woodlan football staff that went to the Class A state championship game vs. Hamilton Southeastern. There were three classes of football at that time compared with the six we have now. The game was played outdoors in a blizzard on November 20, 1981 (the night before my wife and I were married). It was an awesome experience for everyone connected to the small town communities of Woodburn and Harlan, Indiana. That puts my vote on the positive side of class sports in general and class baseball in particular. “In 2007, I was fortunate enough to be part of the Class 2A baseball championship game at Victory Field with my Heritage Patriots. We came up short to a powerhouse from South Spencer, but once again it was a tremendous experience for the communities of Monroeville and Hoagland. Players, parents and fans were the biggest beneficiaries in both cases. “I have seen point systems both here and in Ohio. I have seen other limited entry systems where not everyone gets to participate. I have seen ‘seeded’ systems (currently in Ohio) where top seeds are given regional choice and early round home games. Later rounds are played at ‘neutral’ sites. There are good and bad characteristics to all of these hybrid systems — depending on where you fall in the ‘rankings.’ I feel that things continue to evolve and therefore should only get better in the future — as long as we keep all kids in mind.”
“I believe it to be positive for the student-athletes throughout the state as class baseball has provided opportunities for schools of all sizes to compete with more of a level playing field. Being at a smaller school for five years (Delphi) and now at a bigger school for the last 11 (Harrison), I have been lucky enough to see several outstanding programs and coaches at all levels. “While at Delphi, we were fortunate enough to advance to the 2010 2A state championship game. While I would like to say we’d compete well in a one-class system, the truth of the matter is, we would have struggled to compete against bigger schools in a two- or three-game sectional (or regional) due to the differences in depth of our roster in comparison to bigger schools. “At Harrison, we have been lucky enough to have several arms that we could run out in an elimination game. At Delphi, that number is quite smaller, which would have really hurt us if we were to play vs. bigger schools in a two- or three-game sectional (or regional). That is a huge competitive advantage for the larger schools and something that is beyond the control of smaller schools. When class baseball started, it provided schools of all sizes the ability to compete on a level playing field in each of the four classes.
“I really see (class baseball) as a positive for the lower classes. Class A and AA have the opportunity to get a State Championship and not have to butt heads with the larger schools. In Class AAA and AAAA, there’s not as big a difference in talent.”
“Class baseball is both positive and negative in my mind. You lose some of the regional rivalries although you could still play local/smaller and larger teams on your regular season schedule. We certainly have more sectional champions and more kids are able to enjoy success playing baseball so that is a huge plus. It leaves more kids with positive experiences while in high school and playing our great game. “I would have to think that the smaller schools benefit the most from class baseball with all respect to them. Our state has tremendous coaches and programs at all levels. Again the opportunity for kids at those schools to be able to compete in the state tournament and enjoy success is a great benefit. “I’m not sure there is much to change for the better — possibly a Champions Tournament but on the flip side it may be rough to win a title and then turn around and possibly get beat. Basketball got away from it, obviously. Some schools have to travel quite a bit for sectional play, but again not sure if there is a way around that. “Baseball at the 3A level on a whole rivals the baseball being played at 4A. Jasper and Andrean’s success when they bumped up is a testament.”
“As in other sports, classification was created to level the playing field keeping schools with similar enrollment sizes within the same bracket and to also create more winners per sport. Classification has added hope to teams who may otherwise not have it if they are put into a sectional with bigger schools. To be perfectly honest most of the time the bigger schools just have access to more choices, such as players, facilities and money. “The smaller schools benefit the most from classification. It has allowed talent to grow and flourish, as having an opportunity to win a sectional breeds hope, which makes it easier to get kids out to play. “I would create a separate class for private schools, the advantage that they have can not be matched by the public school. I will say open enrollment has helped, but the private schools have distanced themselves a lot especially in baseball. “I like where we are at with baseball in the state of Indiana. The training facilities and opportunities that our kids have after high school has grown since I have been in the game the last 20 years.”
“I am somewhat of a traditionalist, so a single class had a little soft spot in my heart. That said, there are some benefits to a class system. The class system allows for: 1. More state winners, 2. A chance for smaller schools to compete at a high level, 3. It helps promote the game of baseball in the state. “I would say the smaller schools and the schools that fall just under the class limits (benefit the most from class baseball). What I mean by that is if the top 101 enrollments go to 4A, school number 102 has an advantage because they are playing in 3A. The private schools also benefit from the class system. “If we are to stay in the class system (which we will), I would say that for baseball there needs to be five classes instead of four. “Another change I would enact would be to not separate by an equal number. If there are 400 schools, it doesn’t need to be 100 in each class of four. “A final change would be the success factor rule. The requirements need to be adjusted, mainly the length at which they must stay up a class should be longer. “One thing that class baseball hurt (along with class basketball) was the community sectionals. I graduated in ’93 when it was still one class and I remember that all the sectionals in every sport were heavily-attended. The attendance has gone down in terms of sectionals.”
“Class baseball is a positive thing, especially for schools with lower enrollment. It helps create a somewhat even playing field for tournament play. Class sports have allowed for multiple smaller enrollment schools to have teams thrive and have success that may not happen if class sports didn’t exist. “Class baseball has allowed our kids to compete against schools of like enrollment. It has allowed our school to enjoy tournament success. It has allowed our school and community to host sectional and regional tournaments, whereas without class sports, we may have not had these opportunities. “I understand the log jam in class sports that occurs at the 4A level, especially in larger city schools. Oftentimes top teams match up early in a tournament, which I am sure is frustrating for those programs. “Overall, class baseball has been a positive thing, especially from the Caston baseball programs perspective. We feel as though it provides parity for our kids, and it gives them a chance to be successful in tournament play. Like in any system, there are pros and cons, but our feel is this has more pros than cons for our student athletes.”
“Class baseball is a positive thing. Teams get a chance to play vs comparable sized teams, better chance for success in state tourney. “The lower classes (benefit most from class baseball) as they all have a legitimate chance for tourney success. “My thoughts about change, which I presented to LaPorte AD, Ed Gilliland, over five years ago is this: All classes play their sectionals. Winners would then meet up in a demographic regional competing with those winners meeting in a four-team semi and finally in a final four State Championship tournament. I actually broke it down statewide with who goes where potentially each stage. This give each class a chance for a sectional title and a tourney overall state champion. I also put this idea for basketball as well. “IHSBCA has done a tremendous job in supporting high school baseball. Baseball and basketball are sports where small schools can compete vs. larger schools. My format would appease all schools with a chance for a sectional trophy, but let’s see one overall state champion.”
“(Class baseball) is a positive. “Smaller public schools definitely benefit the most from class ball. “I don’t feel there is anything wrong with our classification system. There will always be some argument that private schools should perhaps have their own division.”
“I am from the group that favors the one-class system when it comes to the tournament. I think in baseball you can still be competitive with bigger schools if you are a smaller school. “If you have four or five classes then you really don’t have a ‘state champion.’ You have four or five ‘state champions.’ “If you want a true state champion then, let the class winners compete against each other a week later and really come up with a ‘state champion.’ Until then, you just have ‘class champions.’” “If you are going to have class state champions, why are big schools and little schools playing during the regular season?”
“Class baseball is a positive thing. I would say I grew up as a traditionalist and loved the single-class basketball era; however, I’ve grown to appreciate the advantages/disadvantages that come with the size of schools. “Classifying baseball is something that benefits all programs, schools and communities. At the end of the season, eight communities get to compete for the state title at an amazing stadium. Maybe that will soon expand to 10! “I am excited to see the potential of a fifth class built into the state tournament. This would help create more balance among the classes once it is all said and done. It would be interesting to see how things would shake up if multipliers were given to various things like private/public schools, free/reduced percentages, etc. I’ve heard arguments for the success factor to be implemented differently as well. I am not sure it’s entirely fair that the success of graduated juniors and seniors determines the fate of the rising freshman and sophomores who were not directly a part of that success. “I would love to see consistent sectional/regional alignments across as many team sports as possible. I feel this would enhance the rivalry aspect of the state tournament from a sectional/regional standpoint.”
“For us, class baseball has certainly been a positive. Realistically we don’t have the manpower to compete in a tournament with the larger schools. It gives us something to shoot for, and a legitimate chance to win tournament championships. “All small schools benefit from class baseball. Even at the state tournament there is a very noticeable difference in the talent level between the class A game, and the Class AA game. Larger schools have 4-5 times more kids try out for their team. Valpo has over a hundred, we typically get 20 boys out per season.”
“(Class baseball) has been a real positive for high school baseball. Although every once in awhile you have a team you feel can compete in any class, the class system gives teams a level playing field on a more consistent basis. “The kids and community benefit most (from class baseball). At the end of the day when you are a state champion, none of those kids or community identify as a class state champ, they identify as a state champion and the memories from that success. “Baseball should be a double-elimination tournament in order to get a true team champion. A team can eliminate a really good team in a single-elimination tournament with a dominant pitcher. “In 2008 we had Tyler Watts and Kevin Kiermaier get seen by the Parkland College coach because we had the opportunity to advance in the state tournament in Class 2A. They both went to Parkland and Kevin is having a pretty good major league career.”
“In our area, the vast majority of schools are 3A and 4A. I’m not sure it makes a ton of difference one way of the other. I’m sure for many small schools, (class baseball) provides some positive benefits. “(Class baseball) is beneficial for some of the smaller schools that may not have a chance for success against bigger schools. “There should be other factors involved in the equation when classifying schools. You’re not always comparing apples to apples when you look at enrollment numbers. You can compare similar-sized schools and athletes in one district that do not necessarily have the same opportunities and resources that athletes in another district do.”
“(Class baseball is a) very positive thing. Enrollment is definitely not the only factor, but it does make a big difference. It’s not realistic to think that small schools can compete consistently with the higher enrollment schools. The depth that the larger schools have because of numbers and the in-team competition that brings gives them a major advantage. Larger schools often have more resources — including indoor facilities and more coaches that is also advantageous for them. “The benefits from class baseball can be seen throughout all classes. The idea is that schools are competing against similar schools is good for all. “I would actually like to see five classes. The descepancy between the biggest schools in 4A and the smaller schools in 4A is very large. We have schools with over 3,500 students competing against schools that have less than 1,500 students. That is a major difference that brings some big advantages for the larger schools.”
“At Rossville, we benefit from class baseball. I cannot speak for any other coaches or programs but my guess is most would say that smaller schools and/or private schools benefit from the most. With that said, sectionals are generally aligned by geographical location so my guess is a 4A Sectional in the Indianapolis area might not see significant change if we had one class. I could be wrong though. “I would love to see baseball do something like basketball did for a short time with the Tournament of Champions. Baseball — unlike basketball or football — has what I consider to be an equalizer with pitching. It would be neat to see it played out. “I am a fan of the old school single-class system as well. I don’t know what it feels like winning a sectional in a single-class system and I do not want to undermine how special winning a sectional championship is. It is a great accomplishment and there is a great amount of pride felt from the program, school and community. “With that said, I would think winning one in a single-class system would feel different for small schools because of the enrollment differences with the teams you would have to beat.”
“Class baseball is a positive. It creates an opportunity for more competition across the board. “Smaller schools with fewer arms benefit the most from class baseball. Larger schools with more pitchers only are at a great advantage over the smaller schools whose best position players are typically also their best arms and usually have far fewer pitcher-only type players. “I would love to play three-game series in the postseason rather than the one-and-done model. I’m not sure it is even possible and have no idea how they could arrange it but I think it better fits baseball. You would get the better TEAMs winning sectionals as opposed to the team with the best arm or two winning them.”
“(Class baseball) is mostly positive. It gives hope for many of the smaller schools to earn a sectional, regional, semi-state ,and state championships. “The negative would be private schools seem to be earning most of these championships. “Private schools (benefit most from class baseball). In the lower classes, private schools have been piling up the state championships. “I would like to have three classes of public schools and one or two classes of private schools.”
“I am old-fashioned, I began coaching when it was a one-class system. I liked the rivalries and going to the local areas to play the sectional games (playing at home or in Terre Haute or Brazil against Northview, Terre Haute North Vigo, Terre Haute South Vigo or West Vigo). “The reason I bring it up, I felt that it was some Hoosier Hysteria in baseball. It was the local teams playing in a sectional and no one had to travel a great distance.
“It is a benefit for a smaller school to advance farther in the (class baseball) tournament. It takes away the big upsets, but more have a chance to reach the state.”
“Class sports has worked out to be a good thing for everyone involved. The competitive nature of each class is relative and that gives everyone the opportunity to see different teams in different years be successful. “The smaller schools most definitely benefit the most due to the shear numbers that are limited they have to choose from. This allows them to compete against like size schools and provide a great experience for the athlete.
“I think the way the IHSAA has it set up is good and there’s not really much to change.”
“Overall class baseball is a positive. It allows for a more-even level of competition. If we look at the schools with larger enrollment it is more common (especially now with pitch count rules) for them to compete with schools their size who have a similar pitching staffs.
“(Who benefits the most from class baseball is a two-pronged answer. On one hand you have smaller schools 1A, 2A, even 3A who have had more of a chance to compete and have success against schools their size. Again, looking at depth of pitching on those levels it creates a more even playing field. Second answer would be the private/parochial/preparatory schools. They have had more success than most public schools in the tournament, yes they fluctuate in classes because of success factor, but also they have the advantage of being able to set an enrollment where public schools do not.
“Maybe add one more class, I’d like to see just what that would look like. Northview is at the top of the 3A scale so that may move us to the bottom of 4A. I don’t know how that would effect everyone. Also maybe look at a multiplier for the private/parochial/preparatory schools in sports like other states have done. Other states have done it and I think it does create a more even system.
“Overall I think class baseball is great. I think however we could all look back to the days of the David vs. Goliath matchups which brought in huge crowds. I would also like to say that I’m not trying to bring anyone down in this because right now I would argue the state of Indiana has as much baseball talent as any state in the Midwest. The coaching in our state has been really great. I enjoy competing against these coaches from all the different classes and I think baseball in Indiana is as good as it has ever been and I think with the classes we’ve seen some great tournaments and will continue to do so in the future.”
“I think (class baseball) is a positive. I was fortunate to have some teams make deep runs in the tournament during my career that likely would not have happened under a one-class system. In fact, one of my best teams at Northfield was during the one-class era and we were beaten by what is now a 4A school. Had that been a class season, we may have had a chance to win state, minimally, made a deeper run. It provides a few more teams the chance to finish as champions thanks to a more level playing field. “More communities (benefit from class baseball). When we came back into town after our first championship years ago, there were thousands of people in the Kmart parking lot waiting for us. Then we took the fire engine ride through town and spent the next week getting treated like royalty … That was a great experience for the community of Wabash and the players and their families. All have a memory that will last a lifetime. In the one-class era, very few small communities got to experience the state level. “(Class baseball) is pretty good overall, but I would like to see a more consistent schedule set at the sectional level for all sites as much as possible. That is hard to do since some sectionals have lights, others don’t, and trying to work around graduations. But host schools have the slight advantage of setting a schedule that best suits their pitching staff. Of course, weather can play havoc to the best of schedules and no matter how the schedule is set, someone will still likely be unhappy. “There’s some talk about a slight revamp of the class system to help break down the large enrollment gap between the top and bottom 4A schools. Like most, those at the bottom of 4A just want to have a more balanced system. I appreciate the IHSBCA and IHSAA exploring possible options.”
Chris Card plans to emphasize details as the new head baseball coach at Monrovia (Ind.) Junior/Senior High School. “We’re going to do all the little things right,” says Card, who was hired in July to guide the Bulldogs. “It’s the nuances of the game — how to field a baseball the proper way, how to lead-off — all the little things that are equivalent to the big things. “There are a lot of people that don’t teach that anymore.” Monrovia (enrollment around 525) is a member of the Indiana Crossroads Conference (with Beech Grove, Cascade, Indianapolis Cardinal Ritter, Indianapolis Lutheran, Indianapolis Scecina, Speedway and Triton Central). The Bulldogs were part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping in 2022 with Cascade, Covenant Christian, Park Tudor, Speedway and University. Monrovia, which won five games in 2022, is seeking its first sectional title. Card comes to Monrovia with assistant coaching experiences at three high schools. The 1995 graduate of Decatur Central High School in Indianapolis started on the 2005 staff of Phil Webster and spent eight seasons assisting with the varsity Hawks. Decatur Central won an IHSAA Class 4A state championship in 2008. Card, who played second base for the man who landed in the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame, describes Webster as “very hard-working.” “It’s all the work done on the field and the countless hours he put in with the kids to get better,” says Card. “You learn dedication when you’re with him.” Born in Indianapolis, Card lived in Decatur Township until moving to the Monrovia district in May. While in school, he played baseball at Carson Park and one summer of American Legion baseball managed by Webster. Following his stint at Decatur Central, Card was away from high school coaching for few years then helped head Aaron Kroll at Ben Davis for one varsity season. After a few more seasons off, Card was with Kroll for one season as junior varsity coach at Roncalli. Card has also coached the Decatur Hawks travel team. An IHSAA Limited Contact Period goes from Aug. 29-Oct. 15. Card began going through the basics and getting to know participating players Tuesday. The plan is for two hours of baseball activities on Tuesdays and Thursdays during the LCP with weight room sessions on Mondays and Wednesdays. “We want to introduce ourselves, what we are about and get on the same page,” says Card, who counts Terry McGlothlin, Anthony Eldridge and Casey Martin as varsity assistants and Cole Keeley and one as-yet-named person as junior varsity coaches. While there are not college commitments among current players, Card says he says .472 hitter in 2022 Julian Zhou (Class of 2023) and right-handed pitcher Brayton Belcher (Class of 2024) have a shot. Belcher is a pitcher. Zhou is on track to be the school’s valedictorian and foresees a career in medicine. Feeding Monrovia baseball are a school-sponsored seventh and eighth grade teams. Card says he hopes to develop a relationship with Monrovia Organized Baseball & Softball. Away from coaching, Card runs the family lawn care business. Chris and wife Mandy Card have three daughters — Franklin (Ind.) College senior Haley (21), dental assistant Breanna (19) and first grader Kendalee (6).
Not all high school baseball players in Indiana are tied to a school. There are homeschoolers who also take to the diamond. Indy Genesis is a homeschool sports organization that will field its first baseball team in 2022. While the majority of players are from the Indianapolis area, some come from as far away as Greensburg and Lafayette. Phil Smith, who teaches life skills students to Special Education students at Beech Grove (Ind.) High School (he is a 1999 BGHS graduate), is Indy Genesis head coach. “One of my strengths is the mechanics of a swing or throw, emphasizing technique and honing in those skills,” says Smith, who began winter workouts with athletes in early December. “We have a wide range of really good ballplayers and kids who haven’t played much. “It’s interesting coaching the chasm. Some just need to be left alone. I know some coaches like it done their way. If they need something then we attack it.” There are 14 players getting ready for a schedule that is slated to begin April 2 against Arsenal Tech. Indy Genesis will only have a varsity team in 2022. There will be a mix of varsity and junior varsity teams on the slate. Indy Genesis practices indoors at Beech Grove and outdoors at nearby Sarah T. Bolton Park. The lone “home” game is scheduled for May 2 against Greenwood Christian Academy at Center Grove Youth Baseball in Greenwood. Other opponents include Crispus Attucks, Eastern Hancock, Edinburgh, Horizon Christian, Indiana Deaf,Morristown, Oldenburg Academy, Purdue Polytechnic Englewood, Purdue Polytechnic North, Triton Central and University. Indy Geneis is not an IHSAA member. A Midwest Homeschool World Series is scheduled for May 19-20 at a site to be determined. “One of my goals is to not treat it like travel ball,” says Smith. “We do not have an exorbitant amount of cost.” Assistant coaches include Phil’s brother, Chris Smith, Charles Howard and, occasionally, Indy Genesis founder Matt Hogan and oldest son Mekhi Smith. Smith played baseball at Beech Grove for former University of Indianapolis pitcher Steve Bair (now assistant superintendent Beech Grove City Schools) as well as American Legion ball in the summer. He received offers to play college football. “Baseball was always my first love,” says Smith. “My dad (David Smith) was a great baseball player growing up in Virginia.” The elder Smith (who died in 2021) was part of multiple state championship teams at Turner-Ashby High School in Bridgewater, Va., with five players who were selected in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, including Alan Knicely (1974 by the Houston Astros) who played eight years in the big leagues. A machinist for 17 years, Phil Smith obtained his teaching certification through WGU and is in his third year in the classroom. Phil and wife Taunya Smith, who celebrated 20 years of marriage in February, have homeschooled their four children. Mekhi Smith graduated in 2021. Oldest daughter Maya Smith is a senior. Youngest son Keyton Smith is a freshman and an Indy Genesis player. Youngest daughter Abigail Smith is a fourth grader.
Promoting retention of concepts taught, Indianapolis Lutheran High School head baseball coach Adam Gouker is testing his players as they prepare for the 2022 season. “People talk about the five tools of baseball (speed, power, hitting for average, fielding and arm strength),” says Gouker, who was hired prior to the 2020 season canceled by the COVID-19 pandemic and led the Saints on the field for the first time in 2021. “Baseball I.Q. or Baseball Awareness is the most under-taught part of baseball. “We put players through mental training.” Ramping it up in January, players will witness presentations on various parts of the game and then take an exam which produces a metric — a Baseball Academics Rating (BAR). “We are by no stretch of the imagination the most athletic team, but we understand what to do with the ball (on defense),” says Gouker. “It makes us extremely competitive. “It’s my favorite thing to teach. The guys eat it up and it builds passion.” As co-founder and vice president of BAMFAM (Baseball Academics Midwest/Fastpitch Academics Midwest) and owner/operator of Extra Innings Indy South, Gouker has been testing players’ knowledge for years. “I’m involved in a lot of instruction,” says Gouker. “Baseball is life.” Gower also insists that his assistant Lutheran coaches get certified through Dugout Coalition. “It’s a a really useful tool to make sure we’re all teaching accurately the same things,” says Gouker. “There are lot of coaches out there in the world that have been involved in baseball in the past and not enough recognition if those coaches are staying up with the latest and greatest in the sport.” In getting Dugout Coalition-certified, coaches take in about 44 hours of online training and then must pass an exam. Lutheran assistants for 2022 are Zach Akers, Tyler Danner, Josh Meaney, Russell Parker and Jonas Akers. Danner, Meaney and Parker are also BAMFAM coaches. Jonas Akers, son of Zach, is a former Lutheran player now attending Wabash College. Another emphasis for Gouker’s Saints is base running. Players able to attend fall IHSAA Limited Contact Period practices (many others were involved in fall sports, including the state championship-winning Lutheran football team) worked on base running (reading pitchers, getting leads) and there will be more of the same when the next LCP window opens Dec. 6 along with arm strengthening, velocity care, defensive fundamentals, batting practice, weight training and — of course — mental training. Lutheran’s high-octane running program produced 143 stolen bases in 2021 with four players in double digits for a squad that played 27 games. Senior Sean Moore, a commit to Lake Erie College in Painesville, Ohio (where former University of Indianapolis assistantLandon Hutchinson is head coach) is coming off a 22-steal season as is senior Cade Tabit. Senior Cole Perkins swiped 19 in ’21. “We had a pretty solid offensive year,” says Gouker. “We want to make sure their defensive side is as high as we can have it.” The Saints play home games on-campus. The facility has recently had its mound and home plate areas re-built and lean bars added in the dugout. “We want players up and engaged in the game,” says Gouker. There’s also been talk of upgrading the backstop with padding and new netting. Recent Lutheran graduates that moved on to college baseball include Matt Alter (Piedmont University in Demorest, Ga., and now at Hanover College) and Noah Wood (Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill., and now at Franklin College). Lutheran graduate Jared Broughton was once a Piedmont assistant and is now a volunteer assistant at Clemson University. A feeder system for the high school are the Junior Saints junior high team (formerly coached by Greg Hughes), which had about a dozen seventh and eighth graders taking on area teams in 2021. Lutheran (enrollment around 220) is a member of the Indiana Crossroads Conference (with Beech Grove, Cascade, Indianapolis Cardinal Ritter, Monrovia, Scecina Memorial, Speedway and Triton Central). Conference games are played in home-and-home series on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. “I like that format,” says Gouker. “This way you’re not facing the same pitcher each time and you can make adjustments from the first game to the second.” In 2021, the Saints were part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with Edinburgh, Greenwood Christian Academy, Morristown, Southwestern (Shelbyville) and Waldron. Lutheran has won 13 sectional titles — the last in 2019. Lutheran’s social media includes Facebook and Instagram. Gouker is a 2007 graduate of Alexandra-Monroe Junior/Senior High School who played at Anderson (Ind.) University. He has been married to high school sweethart Hannah since 2014. The couple has a son — Odin (10 months).
Beech Grove (Ind.) High School baseball adopted a mantra as the Hornets took to the diamond in 2021 under head coach Jacob Wickliff: Turn the page. “Physically and philosophically one will never reach the end of the book unless you turn the page,” says Wickliff of the fresh-start approach in a program he was hired to lead in the summer of 2019. The COVID-19 pandemic took away the 2020 season. “The clear message to everyone is that we’re starting over,” says Wickliff. “That’s been big with parents. Our upperclassmen and key underclassmen have bought in.” Wickliff has been made excitement and standards a high priority at Beech Grove, which is just inside the I-465 corridor southwest of Indianapolis. “Kids weren’t excited to play here and that’s been our big push,” says Wickliff, who says there is a buzz around the Hornets who play at new all-turf on-campus facility — Jim Hensley Field of Dreams. The diamond, which debuted in 2021, is part of a district referendum that put turf on the football field and added the baseball and softball fields and other school-related projects. Baseball games and practices used to be at Sarah T. Bolton Park in Beech Grove. Since the new baseball field is landlocked, it is 297 feet down the left field line and there’s 10-foot high fence from the pole to left-center. Planes that fly by can’t miss the place since there’s a huge black, orange and white Hornet logo in center field. The field also brings in plenty of rental fees that Wickliff turns right back into the baseball program to cover the cost of spirit packs and more. Wickliff, who teaches at Beech Grove Middle School, wants the excitement to reach down to the community’s younger players from Beech Grove Little League which leads to the junior high program then the high school. A tradition has been started of inviting junior high players to have a practice and play a game on the turf at the end of the season. Beech Grove Middle School play its home games at South Grove Intermediate. “It goes back to excitement,” says Wickliff of getting those youngsters charged up about baseball. Beech Grove (enrollment around 1,000) is a member of the Indiana Crossroads Conference (with Cascade, Indianapolis Cardinal Ritter, Indianapolis Lutheran, Indianapolis Scecina Memorial, Monrovia, Speedway and Triton Central). Last spring, the ICC adopted a two-game series format. There are home-and-home conference games each Tuesday and Wednesday. In 2021, the Hornets were part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Herron, Indianapolis Bishop Chatard, George Washington and Indianapolis Shortridge. Beech Grove has won six sectional crowns — the last in 2014. With a smaller student-athlete pool and so many multi-sport athletes, Beech Grove did not participate in the recent fall IHSAA Limited Contact Period. But many returnees play travel ball and fall ball in addition to a fall sport. “Guys doing it year-round deserve a little bit of a break,” says Wickliff. “Winter time is where we have to make the most growth and development.” Two seniors finished the season at Beech Grove in 2021. One of those — Garrett Esposito — is now on the baseball team at Kaskaskia College in Centralia, Ill. Wickliff says hopes to have several college baseball-worthy players in the Class of 2023 by the time they’re entering their senior year. Beech Grove assistant coaches include Garry Hampton, Austin Jones and Ryan Kendall with the varsity and Christian Brown (head coach) and Justin Duhamell (assistant) with the junior varsity. Wickliff is a 2012 graduate of Franklin Central High School in Indianapolis, where he played baseball for John Rockey and football for Michael Karpinski. “I’m still in-touch with him to this day,” says Wickliff of Karpinski. “He’s one of my pivotal role models.” Head JV baseball coach Devin Phillips was someone Wickliff looked up to going through school and had a big impact on him. “He started process of me becoming a coach,” says Wickliff of Phillips. “It’s the way he was able to relate with the players and build those relationships.” After earning a Physical Education degree with a Coaching minor at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis, he completed a Masters in Coaching Education and Athlete Development from Xavier University in Cincinnati. While in college, Wickliff coached baseball with Rockey at Franklin Central and also was a middle school then freshmen football coach in an FC program led by Burt Austin followed by Grant Lewis. Wickliff has been involved with three travel baseball organizations — the Indiana Astros, Midwest Astros and currently, Baseball Academics Midwest (BAM). After years of coaching 15U to 17U teams, he is now helms the 18U Signature team and serves as Director of Baseball Operations for high school age groups and is a lead evaluator on the Coaching Evaluation Team. Jake Banwart, who counted Wickliff as an assistant at Perry Meridian High School in Indianapolis before the latter took his current Beech Grove job, is BAM president. Jacob and wife Bridget Wickliff were married Nov. 2, 2019. They reside in Perry Township.
When Brice Davis got the call that led him into professional baseball he was busy on the field. Davis was coaching third base for Indiana Wesleyan University in a doubleheader when the independent Frontier League’s Schaumburg (Ill.) Boomers manager Jamie Bennett, who pitched of the DuBois County (Ind.) Dragons and Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats coached with the RailCats, and outgoing hitting coach Derek Shomon reached out about filling Shomon’s spot since he had taken a coaching job in the Minnesota Twins organization. “They wanted to see if I’d get rattled,” says Davis of the timing. “It was a twisted joke.” But Davis impressed and after the twin bill received text messages and got a good review. The next thing he knew he is joining the Boomers for spring training and after that came a 96-game regular season and the fourth league championship in franchise history. “It was whirlwind,” says Davis of the 2021 baseball season began in early February with Indiana Wesleyan in Lakeland, Fla., and ending in late September with Schaumburg in Washington, Pa. “It was an incredible year and an incredible ride. “It was a really special group (at IWU). To be leaving them at that time was incredibly tough. I’m in awe that we got to share all those runs together.” Indiana Wesleyan wound up 2021 at 44-14, Crossroads League regular-season and tournament champions and an NAIA Opening Round host. Davis, a four-year starter at IWU and a 2013 graduate with a Sports Management degree, spent three seasons on the staff of Wildcats head coach Rich Benjamin (2019-21). “He’s a huge offensive mind and about hitting for power,” says Davis of Benjamin, who was an assistant at Fishers (Ind.) High School before moving on. “I saw it as an opportunity. “I wanted to see if I could hack it at the college level.” Davis first became a hitting instructor in 2009 (his training business is Davis Baseball LLC). But it was a big transition to working with professional hitters in 2021. “You’re helping prepare guys to be successful (in pro ball),” says Davis. “At the college level, you’re doing a lot of development. They’re making strides every single month to be the best versions of themselves and trying to stay locked in. “Guys at the professional level are already pretty talented. They want to take their skill level and apply it against a pitching staff (or individual). In both arenas the goal is to simplify life. You pick out an approach that is going to breed results and success.” The difference between high school and college and pro baseball is that the pros play everyday with much more travel and they don’t have as much time to work on their craft. “Learning how to hit when you’re only 80 percent or getting your two knocks comes in a lot of ways,” says Davis. “I was amazed how many guys played hurt.” How a player felt on any given day is how they prepared for that day’s game. That might mean more batting practice or less. “You can’t treat everyday like Opening Day,” says Davis. “It just doesn’t work like that.” Since Schaumburg is an independent league team, scouting is done differently. Major League-affiliated clubs have access to plenty of stored data on opponents. The only resource available to the Boomers staff was Frontier League TV (2021 was the first year that all league clubs broadcast games). Coaches and players spent a lot of time looking at video to find tendencies. The Evansville Otters were the only team who put pitching velocity on the screen during their broadcasts, leaving Schaumburg to study those videos when teams took on Evansville. In the league championship series against the Washington Wild Things, the staff was at a disadvantage. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Boomers had not played anyone on Washington’s side of the league during the regular season. Also, there was no radar gun reading available at Wild Things Park. “It was all hearsay. You had no more information than in a non-conference high school baseball game. It was ‘see it and hit it, boys!’ It was absolute gauntlet level from our staff and our players. It’s not copy-paste-print like it is at some of the other levels. It’s not like high school baseball where you can trade tapes. “It was a big learning curve.” Davis notes that the Frontier League is now partnered with Major League Baseball so maybe things will change for the better. Not all pro players take to information the same way. “This guy wants to know velo and out pitch and this guy wants to know as much as possible,” says Davis. “Other guys don’t want to know anything and just play the game.” And if a pro hitter doesn’t want info, it’s not up to the coach to shove it down his throat. “You have respect for what they’re trying to do,” says Davis. While Schaumburg players hail from all over the country, there are also a number with ties to the area, including former Indiana Wesleyan pitcher Isaiah Rivera from Des Plaines, Ill. “There are a lot of college players in the region,” says Davis. “You don’t want to miss on anything in your back yard. Chicago is a cool city with a lot of great athletes in it.” Davis says many have the misconception that independent ball is full of 27-year-old has-beens. But a good deal have been selected in the MLB First-Year Player Draft and spent time in the affiliated minors. The Frontier League is unique because it puts players into Rookie, Experienced and Veteran eligibility classifications and there is a cap on veterans (those turning 29 by Oct. 1). Teams can also make just 30 transaction moves per season. “The world of independent baseball is fascinating,” says Davis. Another thing about 2021 in much of independent ball is that there was no season in 2020 because of the pandemic. “They’re learning how to play baseball again and getting their timing back,” says Davis. “It’s like they’ve been waiting for the prom for two years. “It was about managing emotions, telling them to enjoy the moment and don’t overthink it.” There was a time when Davis didn’t want to think about baseball. It stung too much when his playing career was over and he did not watch a game for two years. Brice’s father was a high school boys basketball coach for many years. Hagerstown, Ind., native Jerry Davis was a head coach at Triton Central and Wawasee and an assistant at Marion and Hamilton Southeastern. He came back to Indiana from Dallas, where Brice was born, to teach math and coach hoops. “I grew up in the gym,” says Brice. “My safe place to process life was listening to bouncing balls. That’s a sanctuary few people understand.” Davis, who did not play high school basketball to focus on baseball opportunities, joined the Hamilton Southeastern hardwood staff of Brian Satterfield and coached freshmen for two seasons. “Climbing up the hard way in basketball appealed to me,” says Davis. “Going to clinics and studying tape was a journey in itself.” Then came the call back to baseball and he answered it. “I’m in a better head space when I’m going to the field,” says Davis, who received words of encouragement that still resonate with him. Brian Abbott, the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association executive director and a former IWU assistant, approached Davis at the IHSBCA State Clinic when the latter was on Matt Cherry’s Fishers Tigers staff. “He was one of the first people who told me I needed to be in coaching,” says Davis of Abbott, the IHSBCA Hall of Famer. “It’s because of kids like myself. He said, ‘you belong in this industry. You might be the only person who gets to tell a kid that day that they matter. “You have a purpose to connect with kids.” Davis has taken that connection to heart. “I love teaching the game,” says Davis. “I know it’s what I’m supposed to be doing. A lot of good can be done by powerful teaching and coaching. “It’s a great profession.” Davis, who was part of Fishers’ first graduating class in 2008, was reunited with Cherry for three seasons (2016-18) as an assistant coach. The 2018 team made an IHSAA Class 4A state title run. “He’s single-most influential person in my life besides my dad since I was 15,” says Davis of Cherry. “He knows there’s more to people than baseball. He’s transformational.” Cherry, who had coached Davis prior to the 2016 season he needed a freshman coach. Davis accepted the invitation. “I’ll be darned if I wasn’t completely consumed,” says Davis. “I told (Cherry) the next year I want to be a varsity coach. I want to be with the older kids. I want to dive in and see where it could go.” In 2017 and 2018, Davis was Fishers’ hitting coach. The latter team set 21 school records. “We had all the fun in the world,” says Davis. Now 32 and living in Wheeling, Ill., Davis is teaching at area facilities, including Parkway Bank Sports Complex aka The Dome in Rosemont, Ill., and East Sports Academy in Itaska, Ill., and helping at Oakton Community College in Des Plaines. Owls head coach Bill Fratto is also an assistant/first base coach for the Boomers. Through it all, Davis has developed a fraternity of brothers at each baseball stage and keeps in-touch with people on his high school, college and pro path. Kris Holtzleiter, the new Eastbrook High School head coach, played and coached with close friend Davis at IWU. “Every season has a story whether it’s good or bad,” says Davis. “You must make the most of the moment you’re in. “It’s not about the championships or the trophies.” It’s the people.
Miller called on senior workhorse Mason Muncy to take the mound against Triton Central.
“He threw a great game and he got big hits throughout the lineup,” says Miller of the comeback win. “We scored three in the first and gave up five in the top of the second.
“But the kids never quit.”
Muncy was able to pitch again in the Heritage Christian game. The Panthers faced sophomore Andrew Wiggins (an Indiana University commit) and were down 1-0.
Senior Ben Newby hit a two-run home run and senior 8-hole hitter Robert Porter produced two clutch hits for Knightstown.
Then there was senior Aaron Reagan.
“He might be one of the best baserunners I’ve ever coach,” says Miller of Reagan. “He ade a great slide that put us ahead 6-3 in the sixth. We executed a suicide squeeze on the next pitch (for a 7-3 lead).”
The Panthers fields a team with experienced seniors and a mixture of freshmen and sophomores. Junior Carson Smith is the starting shortstop.
TEC teams play each other one time in 2021 as it worked into their schedules.
With the most-recent title, Knightstown has won seven sectionals. Three of those came back-to-back-to-back (2014, 2015 and 2016). The Panthers were regional victors in 2015 and 2016, losing to eventual state champion Providence in the Plainfield Semistate.
Miller, who resides in Greenfield with wife Allison and daughters Ella and Abbi and works for Anthem, enjoyed his time as a volunteer coach at New Palestine (he is a 1997 graduate) with Dragons head coach Shawn Lyons.
“I learned a lot from him,” says Miller. “I had been coaching against him for like 15 years.
“New Pal’s a great program. (Lyons) does things the right way. He wants to win as much as anybody and he prepares better than any coach I’ve ever been around. His other assistants are phenomenal. They made me feel wanted from Day 1.”
Miller wasn’t looking for another coaching gig when he was told about the opening at Knightstown. A basketball official in the winter, he happened to be going to Knightstown a few weeks after learning about the opportunity. He was hired in January 2020 by Panthers athletic director Matt Martin.
When the season was taken away and workouts were then allowed in July, Miller took the opportunity and had 10 or more at each session while sharing athletes with football and basketball.
“I was still trying to get to know the kids when they said baseball was done (in March),” says Miller. “The good news is a lot them played travel ball and I tried to see as many games as possible.”
Miller’s assistant coaches are John Walters, Nic Murray and Jim Kayajan.
Knightstown had 20 players in uniform this spring. The junior varsity schedule was clipped because of COVID contact tracing.
The Panthers play on a field that’s part of a complex that’s just a few years old.
“I feel really lucky,” says Coy, who is heading into his first season as head coach at Waldron (Ind.) Junior-Senior High School in Shelby County. “There are a lot of guys I can seek council from all over the place.
“They want baseball to be great in this state. They’ll give you any piece of advice you need and do anything to grow the game.”
Coy was going to be an assistant to Doug Burcham before the 2020 season was called off because the COVID-19 pandemic.
Southwestern is No. 3 and Hauser No. 6 in the 1A preseason rankings and Knightstown is receiving votes in 2A.
With 16 players — up from the usual 11 or 12 — Coy says the Mohawks will play only a varsity schedule this spring.
Coy’s 2021 assistants are all Waldron graduates — Cam Wells (Class of 2018), Nate Bernard (2019) and Cole Chappelow (2020).
The 2020-21 school year is Coy’s second in Shelby Eastern Schools (which includes Waldron and Morristown) where he teaches U.S. History, Psychology and Sociology. At various times, he educates sixth through 12th graders.
Coy has also been an assistant boys basketball coach on the Waldron staff of Beau Scott.
Waldron Junior-Senior serves the communities of Waldron, Geneva, St. Paul and some students outside Shelbyville.
“I’ve had a nice little gambit to learn from and coach under,” says Coy. “(Carlton) is a bright young coach. He eats it up.
“They do it differently, but (Cosgray) and (Froedge) were awesome mentors for me.”
Carlton helped Coy upgrade the infield at Waldron’s on-campus field.
There are five high schools in Shelby County — Waldron, Morristown, Shelbyville, Southwestern (Shelbyville) and Triton Central. Coy and Carlton would like to see a county league for younger players with teams feeding their respective schools.
A 2002 graduate of Western Boone Junior-Senior High School in Thorntown, Ind., Coy played for Stars head coach Don Jackson and pitching coach Rob Ebert (who also coached him during the summer). His father, Doug Coy, was also a WEBO assistant.
Jackson had a passion for baseball and expected his players to respect the game by playing hard.
Ebert taught Coy how to “turn the ball over” to get it to move in on a right-handed batter.
“If we can pitch inside I think we’ll have a lot of success at Waldron for sure,” says Coy.
Before arm issues cropped up, right-hander Coy pitched two seasons at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Ind., where Tom Flynn was the Little Giants head coach and Cory Stevens the pitching coach.
Flynn was the Old School, in-your-face type of coach.
“He’d get the most out of you,” says Coy. “He genuinely cared for his players.”
Stevens, who is now athletic director at Jennings County High School in North Vernon, Ind., let Coy know the importance of controlled movement and pitching backwards (throwing breaking balls and change-ups in counts were the hitter is usually looking for a fastball — 0-0, 1-0, 2-0, 3-1 and 3-2).
“The change-up is most underutilized pitch in all of baseball,” says Coy. “It’s all the grip and takes time to develop. Kids don’t have the patience.
“They want instant gratification.”
Coy admires how Hall of Famer Greg Maddux — while not throwing in the upper 90’s — was able to craftily pin-point his pitches on the inside and outside corners of the plate and get lots of movement.
Tommy and Stacey Coy (a 2004 Waldron alum who was a senior in the pep band at the time the Mohawks went 27-0 and won the IHSAA Class 1A boys basketball state championship) have two sons — Kellen (9) and Karsten (7). The boys will have birthdays two days apart in May — Kellen on the 12th and Karsten the 14th.
The Twisters of Oldenburg (Ind.) Academy enjoyed the highest number of participants and victories in a number of years in 2019.
The IHSAA Class 1A member in Franklin County near Batesville had 24 players in the program and followed up two straight five-win seasons by going 16-8-1.
The Twisters fell to Rising Sun in the championship game of the Jac-Cen-Del Sectional. The win total is two shy of single-season school record.
“We’re on the uptick with enrollment and with kids being interested (in baseball),” says Doug Behlmer, who just finished his 19th season as OA head coach (the private school went coed 19 years ago). “Hopefully, it keeps going.”
With more than a dozen incoming freshmen indicating a desire to play baseball in 2020, Behlmer says the program could have an all-time high of more than 30 players and could even have to make cuts for the first time.
When the program began, there was just 13 freshmen and the Twisters played a junior varsity schedule. That moved toward a full varsity schedule in the next few years.
The 2019 team was led on the mound by sophomore right-handers Chris Hautman, Andrew Oesterling and Riley Schebler and in the batter’s box by Oesterling, Hautman, Schebler, sophomores Race Carle and Patrick Thompson and juniors Matt Sedler, Adam Huber and Michael Hoff.
Senior Hunter Sullivan has committed to play baseball for Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa.
Behlmer’s coaching staff included former OA players Spencer Gommel, Patrick Kolks and Matt Bohman and pitching coach Jeff Ahaus (a Lawrenceburg eye doctor who had two sons play for the Twisters). Bohman is in charge of the junior varsity team.
Points of emphasis include dependability and hard work.
“If you say you’re going do something, make sure you do it,” says Behlmer. “Family, faith and academics all come in front of baseball.”
A 1988 graduate of Greensburg (Ind.) High School, Behlmer played for head coach Roger Cash.
“Coach Cash was an old school guy,” says Behlmer. “He believed in fundamentals and making the routine play. I’ve carried that over to our guys. Nothing too flashy. Be solid. Throw strikes. That sort of thing.”
Doug and Judy Behlmer have been married 21 years and have no children. He is employed by Hill-Rom in Batesville.