Nearly 40 years after graduating and more than 25 after first serving as an assistant coach, North Judson (Ind.)-San Pierre Junior/Senior High School alum Rabion Frasure has been selected to lead the baseball program at his alma mater. “I’m looking at creating a baseball culture at North Judson the best we can,” says Frasure, a 1983 graduate. “We want to get the young kids interested in playing baseball like they do basketball and football.” The school’s football team is 21-6 over the past two seasons which both ended at the IHSAA Class 1A semistate level. The boys basketball team went 21-6 and won a sectional crown in 2021-22. In baseball, the Ron Benakovich-coached Bluejays were 15-8 overall and 11-4 in the Hoosier North Athletic Conference in 2022. North Judson (enrollment around 350) is in the HNAC with Caston, Culver Community, Knox, LaVille, Pioneer, Triton and Winamac. Conference foes meet each other twice — either in a weekday home-and-home series or Saturday doubleheader. The Bluejays are part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping in 2023 with Hebron, South Central (Union Mills), Wheeler and Winamac. North Judson has won eight sectional titles — the last in 2006. Frasure played baseball and basketball for four years each at North Judson. Fred Perry (1980), Bud Childers (1981 and 1982) and Dave McCollough (1983) were his head coaches on the diamond and Perry (first two years) and Dave Carrington (last two years with McCollough as an assistant) led the way on the hardwood. As a coach, Frasure first helped Ted White for about eight years beginning in 1996 (Rabion’s brother Paul was a senior player in ’96) and assisted off and on, including the past few years with Benakovich. Last April, Frasure retired from 24 years at Urschel Laboratories in Chesterton, Ind., at 57. His last job with the company world-renown for food cutting technology was a a heat treat supervisor. “I always wanted to be a head coach, but it wasn’t possible,” says Frasure. “Now I have the time.” Paul Frasure is one of Rabion’s Bluejays assistant coaches along with Patrick Allen, Perry Thompson and Alvin Harper. North Judson plays home games on-campus on a field that was upgraded five or so years ago with a new playing surface, dugouts and backstop. Frasure was hired in time to oversee two weeks of IHSAA Limited Contact Period activity (two hours for two days a week) in the fall and looks forward to the next period (Dec. 5-Feb. 4). There were as many as six athletes in the fall with many others in football or other fall sports. Some won’t be able to attend in the winter because of basketball. “You need to play more than one sport,” says Frasure. Rabion and Ruby Frasure were married in March 1990. Andrew Frasure — their oldest of four children — competed in football, basketball and baseball at North Judson. As a senior in 2011, Andrew played on a team with his father as an assistant and was selected for the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series. He was also on the Ryan Bales-coached basketball team that went 20-2 and won a sectional title in 2010-11. Andrew is now dentist in Knox, Ind. Jordann Frasure (North Judson Class of 2013), Liliann Frasure (Class of 2021) and Sophia Frasure (Class of 2023) all played volleyball, basketball and tennis for the Bluejays. After scoring 989 points on the court a nursing degree from Valparaiso University came Jordann’s way. Lillian — aka Lilli — was part of North Judson girls basketball teams that went 43-18 — making her the winningest player in program history. She scored 2,234 points and led the Bluejays to a Class 2A regional title in 2020-21 and was part of a Class 2A state volleyball championship in 2018-19. She is now a sophomore on the NAIA No. 4-ranked Indiana Wesleyan University women’s basketball team. Sophia was averaging 18.8 points through North Judson’s first five girls basketball games of 2022-23.
Brody Kutc is heading into his third season as head baseball coach at Westville (Ind.) Middle/High School with a different focus. “A point of emphasis moving forward is that we are trying to create great men and good ball players,” says Kutch as he looks to the 2023 season. “I think in past years my competitiveness has gotten the better of me. I chose talent over heart. I chose athleticism over character. I learned the hard way that athleticism and talent do not win ball games. “Moving forward we will be emphasizing the type of men our players are before the type of ball player they are.” Westville (enrollment around 300) is a member of the Porter County Conference (with Boone Grove, Hebron, Kouts, Tri-Township, Morgan Township, South Central of Union Mills and Washington Township). The Blackhawks are part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping in 2023 with Argos, Culver Community, Marquette Catholic, Oregon-Davis, South Bend Career Academy, Triton and Tri-Township. Westville (which went 6-12 overall and 1-6 in the PCC in 2022) has won yet won a sectional championship. Kutch was a Blackhawks assistant from 2017-20 before taking over leadership of the program. In the fall of 2020, he was pitching coach at Purdue Northwest. Kutch teaches “Blackhawk Academy” at Westville — a credit retrieval class — and is also going into his third year as an assistant for the Indiana Playmakers travel organization. A 2013 graduate of LaPorte (Ind.) High School, Kutch played four years of baseball for the Slicers. He played four years at Purdue Northwest and earned a bachelor’s degree in Psychology in 2017 and a masters degree in Psychology from Illinois State University in 2020. Several coaches have helped shaped him. “Mike Rosenbaum (Rosie) was a Babe Ruth coach in LaPorte for many years,” says Kutch, 27. “I never had the pleasure to play for him but my brother did. I got to be the bat boy and for many years he helped many boys fall in love with the game of baseball while also teaching them the right way to play. Even as a bat boy, he had a positive influence on me as a coach. “I was lucky enough to be coached by my brother (Michael Kutch) and father (Bruce Kutch) for a few years as well. They were a big positive influence on me. “Coach Scott Upp and all of my high school coaches taught me valuable fundamentals, discipline, and the importance of how you hold yourself on and off the field. “Coach Shane Prance coached me for four years (three as a head coach and one as an assistant). He is one of the most knowledgeable pitching coaches I have ever worked with. I also credit him with showing me how to have fun while playing this game. That may not seem like much but it is something I am extremely thankful for. “My final year as a player I played for Dave Griffin at PNW. He was one of the best game managers I have played for. He knew how to use his roster and put guys in the right spots to be successful. “I learned valuable lessons from each one of these coaches.” The IHSAA Limited Contact Period was used at Westville to do major renovations on the baseball field, which is located on-campus. “I do not know the actual dimensions but the field plays big,” says Kutch. “The grass is in incredible shape. That has nothing to do with me. I think we just got lucky with the surface in that instance. “Our grass has never been unplayable. The only reason we ever have a delay or a cancelation is due to our infield dirt. Our infield dirt is mostly clay which is an awful chemical makeup for a baseball field. In the spring the rain turns it to mud and in the summer the heat dries it into bedrock. We are in the process of substituting new infield material to try and change this.” The middle school team — which serves as a feeder for the high school — played on the field in the fall. “I normally coach this team but this past year I trusted one of my assistant coaches (Bryce Barton) to direct the middle school program,” says Kutch. “He is doing a great job. He really wants what is best for the kids and truly understands our philosophy here at Westville.” Besides Barton, Kutch’s high school staff includes Mike Mikulich and Jake Pisowicz. Cody Brooks (Class of 2022) is now playing for Oakton Community College (Des Plaines, Ill.). He is the first to go on and play college baseball since Kutch has been at Westville. “I have many current players that are also pursuing this dream,” says Kutch. Brody and Elly Kutch have a son named Cooper (1 1/2).
They are honesty, selflessness, relentlessness, competitiveness and positivity.
“On the baseball side, we stress offense and being aggressive,” says Hardy. “We’ve got to score runs to win games.”
A 2012 graduate of Logansport (Ind.) High School where he won two letters each in football, wrestling and baseball, Hardy credits two former Berries head baseball coaches — Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Jim Turner Sr. plus Jim Turner Jr. — as well as current Logansport bench boss Dan Frye, Craig Crozier and Jon Vernon for adding to his diamond knowledge.
“I’ve learned that the main thing is to be patient with players and even other coaches,” says Hardy. “And to study the game.”
Hardy has received plenty of pointers from Turner Sr., on how to run a practice.
Prior to taking over the Pioneer program, Hardy coached in the Logansport Lookouts travel organization.
In Hardy’s first season, Pioneer has 32 players for varsity and junior varsity squads.
Assistant coaches include Jacob Hardy (Josh’s younger brother), Cory Harmon, Darrell Couch and Miles VonTobel.
Jacob Hardy, who played baseball at Ancilla College in Donaldson, Ind., works with pitchers and catcher. He is a Logansport alum as are Harmon and Couch. VonTobel is a 2020 Pioneer graduate.
Copies hang in the Dragons dugout and a point or two is highlighted on a daily basis during practice.
“You only get to do sports for so long and then you are put into the working world, I would like to see my players be good men in society,” says Kindig, who has two sons — junior Dylan and freshman Jackson — on the team and another — Ian (pitching and catching coach) — on a staff that also features Chris Lacher (bench coach) and Todd Montgomery (assistant head coach and father of Dragons batboy/manager Brady). “This helps with that foundation, not just by talking for a few minutes but emphasizing that is also carries over into the classroom as well.
“It is a very good approach and if you live, breathe and adopt those 19 standards not just in baseball but work/job, any other leadership role they have later in life, then they are going to be great contributors to society and leaders down the road.”
Kindig notes that leadership is not just for captains, it’s for everybody.
And it’s not just about bats and balls at Argos.
“We take academics serious, we follow up with kids who may be struggling with grades and try to get them help if needed via tutoring, or any other program that may help them get a better understanding of the subject matter,” says Kindig.
The 2021 Dragons have 17 players — three with previous high school experience — for a varsity-only schedule.
“We’re trying to understand how the game works, situations and things like that,” says Kindig. “We’re basically trying to build everything from the ground up.
“We want to get kids started (playing baseball) as young as we can and bring them up through the ranks. We want to make things as fun as possibly and see if we can start competing again for those sectional and regional titles.”
There has been talk of establishing an Argos American Legion Post 68 team for high school age players.
Post 68 was going to field a team in 2020 until COVID-19 came along.
Another way to build up and spark interested in the sport is through winter camps.
Sam Rowe, a 2020 Argos graduate, is on the baseball team at Bethel University in Mishawaka.
A Bethel graduate — Eric Stults — graduated from Argos and pitched in the majors with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Colorado Rockies, Chicago White Sox, San Diego Padres and Atlanta Braves and in Japan with the Hiroshima Toyo Carp.
Kindig grew up in Mishawaka, Ind., and played in the Inter-City Catholic League. In 1998, he graduated from Mishawaka (Ind.) High School, where he ran track and played football. He lives in Argos with wife Amy and sons and is a cost account for Valmont Industries in Plymouth.
As he goes into his fourth season leading the program at the tuition-free public charter school serving grades 6-12, Beasley is met with issues like getting enough players and retaining those.
The school, which opened in August 2011 with grades 7-9 before expanding, presented its first baseball team in 2014. The Trailblazers became eligible for IHSAA tournament play in 2017 — the year before Beasley became head coach.
“The first year we went into most games with 10 players,” says Beasley. “The second year, it was 13 or 14. Last year, we were in good shape with decent numbers then we did not play (because of the COVID-19 pandemic).”
As the 2021 slate approaches, Beasley has been getting a handful out for winter conditioning. He hopes that number will go up at the end of basketball season and when more students begin coming for in-person instruction.
One of the reasons participation is down is because some students take all their classes online and don’t appear at the campus on the northwest side of South Bend just below the Indiana Toll Road. The school has enrollees from all over the area.
“I don’t get to interact with those kids and that’s where a lot of the recruitment comes from,” says Beasley. “Losing the baseball season really hurt because (students and staff) are not talking about it.
“If doesn’t matter if you never played before. Come out and we’ll have some fun. I’m not going to force a kid to come out and do it.”
These novices — some who have never played or have not been on a diamond since Little League — face a varsity high school schedule with experienced opponents. Some of those will go on to play college baseball.
“Retention is hard,” says Beasley. “Many of them do not come back the next year.
“That’s our biggest hurdle.”
There is currently no feeder system for CASB baseball, though Beasley is hoping to develop a middle school team in the next couple years. Career Academy has a second South Bend campus — Success Academy — which serves grades K-5.
Beasley is a math teacher. This year he leads Algebra and Algebra Lab classes.
He grew up in North Liberty, Ind., and played baseball at John Glenn High School in Walkerton, Ind., graduating in 2005. Beasley’s freshmen year was John Nadolny’s first at Falcons head coach.
“He was the coach who taught me the most about all aspects of the game as opposed to just the physical part,” says Beasley. “He had those instincts during the game. Being around baseball his whole life, he did what his gut told him to do and it’s worked out for him.”
Beasley credits “Nud” for teaching him how to look at baseball’s mental side.
“How far I can hit the ball or how hard I can throw is not always the most-important part,” says Beasley.
At Ball State University in Muncie, Beasley played four years of club baseball, serving as president his last two years.
The club played intrasquad games in the fall and then a National Club Baseball Association schedule in the spring. Ball State played in the Great Lakes South Conference with club teams from Indiana University, University of Illinois, Southern Illinois University-Carbondale and SIU-Edwardsville.
The student-run club was responsible for securing its own practice time and space — in the winter that meant 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. when the varsity teams weren’t using any of the BSU gyms.
Working with Muncie Parks & Recreation, the club played at Francis Lafferty Park. As president, Beasley had to lead fundraising efforts and put together a proposal to get financial help from the university. There was also making out the roster and other administrative duties that many don’t associate with coaching.
Before coaching at Career Academy South Bend, Beasley served as an assistant and junior varsity coach at South Bend Clay (2012-17). He got to work with baseball veterans like Colonials head coach Joel Reinebold and assistants Bill Schell, John Kehoe and Dan Kasper.
“It was very informative,” says Beasley. “(Reinebold) always had something that players could do to get better. I learned a lot from him.”
Beasley also learned how to run a team and craft a schedule.
Hired prior to 2020, there was much anticipation with a talented group coming back.
The Satellites won the Porter County Conference for just the third time (2009 and 2017 were the other title seasons) and the IHSAA Class 1A South Bend Career Academy Sectional before losing in the South Bend Regional championship to eventual state runner-up and fellow PCC member Washington Township in 2019.
Several key starters from that squad returned in 2020.
But the Satellites never took the field in 2020 thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“That’s the hand we’ve been dealt,” says Coulter. “Like everyone else.”
Coulter and company now getting ready for 2021 with more high hopes.
“I think we’ll be a dark horse this year,” says Coulter. “We’ve revamped the entire program and internally changed our mindset.”
“We’re the sectional favorite or co-favorite almost every year,” says Coulter. “We don’t want winning sectional defining our season.”
When the Satellites break a huddle in practice, the chant is “138.”
That’s the number of miles from Satellite Field to Victory Field in Indianapolis — site of the IHSAA State Finals.
“We have a very talented group,” says Coulter. “It’s an exciting time to be a South Central baseball player.
“We’re more poised now to make a pretty deep (tournament) run.”
Last summer, South Central took part in five travel tournaments. No players were turned away. There were 32 taking part in games and workouts.
With the majority of the varsity lineup committed to other travel teams, 14-, 15- and 16-year-olds played in 17U events.
With all the players together, a title was won at the On Turf Sports Classic in Columbia City, Ind., beating a team made up of Avon and Plainfield high school players for the championship. There was also a squad from Cincinnati and the Harris Storm (Penn High School players).
There are currently 38 identified with the program, including 18 freshmen. One member of the Class of 2024 — pitcher Bradley Ferrell — shined at a recent Perfect Game event in Florida.
Coulter is a 2009 LaPorte High School graduate. Other LPHS alums on his Satellite coaching staff include pitching coach Tony Ferrell (a member of the 1992 state champions and father of Bradley), Dave Santana and Garrett Kautz with the varsity. Alex Rochowiak is the JV head coach. Zach Lee is the JV pitching coach. Chesterton High School graduate Rochowiak played is the son of Michigan City High School head coach Jeff Rochowiak.
South Central has also gotten new uniforms for its varsity and junior teams and put a new windscreen completely around its home park.
The coaching staff donated their 2020 salaries to pay for infield playing mix, which helps with turnaround time on rain days.
The grass baseline have been replaced with dirt.
“It looks more like a baseball field now,” says Coulter.
Boone Grove won the IHSAA Class 2A state championship in 2018 with Washington Township making it to the Class 1A finale in 2019.
“It’s a pretty solid conference in baseball,” says Coulter. Currently the largest of Indiana’s 1A schools, South Central has yet to win a PCC tournament.
Recent South Central graduates now in NCAA Division I college baseball are Carson Husmann (Bradley University) and Kyle Schmack (Valparaiso University).
The Satellite Series — a competition among groups — was launched in November and will continue until tryouts in March. Upperclassmen drafted teams of underclassmen. Teams compete for weekly points based on attendance, Baseball I.Q. sessions, in-person hitting sessions and school grades.
“The kids have absolutely eaten it up,” says Coulter, who adds that they are vying for a letter jacket patch and a steak dinner grilled by the coaching staff.
South Central players build their Baseball I.Q. with Zoom sessions that have included guests like Evan Miller (a pitcher in the San Diego Padres system who starred at LaPorte High and Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne) and Rob Younce (a Philadelphia Phillies scout and national travel coach with the Canes).
“It allows us to grow and stay current with the times,” says Coulter.
After playing football and lacrosse and a few seasons of basketball in high school, Coulter went to Manchester University in North Manchester, Ind., where he pursued a Business Management degree and served as a student assistant football coach on the staff of Shannon Griffith.
After a season a junior varsity baseball coach at LaPorte, Coulter led the South Shore Smoke 13U travel team.
Coulter and partner Kevin Tran are Indiana Farm Bureau Insurance agents based in LaPorte.
In his second stint as head baseball coach at LaCrosse (Ind.) High School, Snyder expects his Tigers to say “Yes Sir” and “Yes Ma’am” and to keep their hair neat and jerseys tucked in. They must stay on top of their studies.
“Today’s society shies away from discipline,” says Snyder, who led LaCrosse for five seasons (2000-04 with IHSAA Class 1A top-10 rankings in four of those seasons and a West Central Sectional title in 2002) then took time off to raise his children. “There’s a way to win and it does take discipline.”
During his first Tigers tenure, 18 players went on to college baseball in five years.
“I push extremely hard with grades,” says Snyder. “That’s part of the discipline factor. I want people to say that’s a baseball player at the school.
“They know we’re different.”
Snyder derived this approach from the men he encountered along his baseball path. A 1986 graduate of South Central High School at Union Mills, Ind., he played for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Bob Schellinger and later coached with him. He also coached C-team boys basketball and was involved in Hanna youth baseball.
Snyder was on the Satellites high school baseball staff for 11 years before taking over the reins at LaCrosse.
While still a player, Snyder was on a world champion Junior Olympic team that featured IHSBCA Hall of Famers Ric Tomaszewski and Len Buczkowski plus Jim Dermody among the coaches. These men all ran extremely disciplined high school programs — Tomaszewski at South Bend Washington, Buczkowski at South Bend Adams and Dermody at Warsaw.
Teammates included LaPorte High School’s Scott Upp and Greg Perschke. Upp went on to be head coach at LaPorte, following legend Ken Schreiber and Perschke the head coach at Trine University in Angola, Ind.
One of Snyder’s best friends in coaching is Washington Township’s Randy Roberts. They share similar styles.
“I had a good upbringing,” says Snyder, 52. “I’m very appreciative of all the people that came into my life.”
While he came back to just in time to have the 2020 season taken away because of the COVID-19 pandemic, there are plenty of positives surrounding LaCrosse baseball.
Nearly $60,000 — most of it donated — has been poured into the improvement of Tiger Field, which is located less than a mile northeast of the school building.
“It’s going to surprise a lot of people,” says Snyder of an ongoing project at the Dewey Township-owned facility that has added a new net back stop with a four-foot brick wall inside and stone outside plus updated dugouts, mound and plate areas and an infield sprinkler system with more to come.
Snyder is approaching 19 years with North Star Stone in Valparaiso, Ind. The company manufactures and installs stone products.
Snyder expects as many as 28 players (including 13 freshmen) this spring, meaning the Tigers will be able to field a junior varsity team for likely the first time ever.
Helping Snyder coach are Brian “Chico” Lipscomb, J.T. Snyder and Dan Snyder. Lipscomb was a standout at LaPorte who played in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization. J.T., Eric’s son, and Dan, Eric’s nephew, played at South Central. Dan Snyder, who pitched and was the athlete of the year at Purdue University Northwest, is LaCrosse’s pitching coach.
Other former college or pro players have come in to help teach the Tigers.
Feeding the high school program is the Southwest County Conference — a youth league for ages 5 to 12 with teams feeding schools at LaCrosse, Wanatah, Clinton, Hanna and Union Mills. LaCrosse uses the softball field near Tiger Field.
“I’m a big part of that,” says Snyder. “I want to teach them everything I need them to know (at the high school level).
“We teach them how to bunt, lead off and steal. We treat the youngest kids just like they were freshmen.”
In coaching LaCrosse fifth and sixth grade boys basketball players this winter, Snyder took over a team with a 1.7 grade-point average. By season’s end it was 3.1.
“That’s why I’m involved at the lower levels,” says Snyder.
LaCrosse conducted fall IHSAA Limited Contact Period workouts and is just getting started with winter conditioning/practice given that so many baseball players also play basketball.
Eric and Sara Snyder have five children (two girls followed by three sons) — Alex (26), Danielle (25), J.T. (23), R.J. (21) and Eli (10). The four oldest were all South Central athletes — Alex in volleyball, basketball and softball, Danielle in softball, J.T. in baseball and basketball and R.J. in baseball and basketball. R.J. Snyder is an outfielder at Grace College in Winona Lake, Ind.
The ninth-year GC assistant has certain things for pitchers to do six days a week while they each are encouraged to find what works best for them.
These are college athletes. It’s no cookie-cutter or one-size-fits-all system.
“A lot of these kids when they get here never really focused on pitching,” says Grubbs. “If they were at a school where they played multiple positions they might play shortstop, come in and pitch and the next day they’re back at shortstop.
“One of our outfielders — a freshmen — said he never thought of himself as a pitcher through he was the No. 1 at his school. Here, you’ve got to put a lot more emphasis on it if you want to get better at it.”
Having an abundance of quality arms has long been important when playing a 55-game NAIA schedule. But with the Crossroads League going to 36 conference games and Friday and Saturday doubleheaders, it has taken on even more significance for the Maple Leafs.
“You have a really good chance of getting on the field as a pitcher. We need pitching,” says Grubbs. “With this many innings, there’s going to be opportunities.”
Grubbs spells out his points of emphasis.
“What we’re big on the most is being able to attack hitters, have command and be able to throw secondary pitches for strikes,” says Grubbs. “We’re pretty successful with that compared to some other programs.
“A lot of times, we’ll pitch backwards to teams. We’ll always work off our fastball. But you’ve got to be able to mix speeds and change locations.”
In 2019, the GC staff set a school record for strikeouts (345). In the past four seasons, the top four team earned run averages in Goshen’s DakStats-era history have been posted.
“We’d like to pitch to weak contact at times, too,” says Grubbs, recognizing that strikeouts tend to raise the pitch count. “We have a nice core of veterans back that are going to be able to help us (in 2021).”
Now in the sixth of seven fall practice weeks, the Maple Leafs are looking to get better even as the COVID-19 pandemic took away or shortened the 2020 spring and summer seasons.
Goshen was 7-11 overall and 2-1 in the Crossroads and on a two-game win streak when the season ended soon after a March 7 doubleheader sweep of visiting Taylor.
Newcomers and veterans are getting roughly the same amount of playing time in intrasquad games so the coaching staff can see what the players can do.
“We try to even up teams so they get a fair crack at it,” says Grubbs. “They have an opportunity.”
In a typical non-pandemic year, Goshen would be playing outside competition in the fall. Not so in 2020.
“We’re getting a lot of reps against each other,” says Grubbs. “Some nights we have to grind through it a little bit.”
The Maple Leaf World Series — Purple vs. Black — is slated for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of next week.
Right now, Childers is with his wife Amber and family at Riley Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis while Wellenreiter and Grubbs run the team.
“Alex is the type of coach that has given us so much responsibility and given us the reins to lead our components of the team,” says Grubbs. “He gives us that freedom to coach.”
During the season, Grubbs helps Childers with in-game decision-making and also handles much of GC’s recruiting.
The Leafs roster includes players from Indiana, Michigan, Illinois and Ohio. But it also features those from California, Georgia, Idaho, Maryland, Nevada and Texas plus Alberta in Canada, Puerto Rico and Venezuela.
Once the pandemic hit, there was a slow start to recruiting for the 2021 class. But with the help of the admissions office, virtual visits soon became the norm.
“These were guys we’d already done research on,” says Grubbs. “We’d seen videos and texted back and forth. We had an idea of who they are and talked with their coaches.”
Following the school’s protocol and precautions, there was one short recruiting trip to Michigan in the summer. In most years, Grubbs would log many miles in pursuit of players.
Grubbs grew up just outside Bourbon, Ind., and graduated from Triton Junior/Senior High School in 1998. The Trojans won the old Northern State Conference title in 1997 and were perennial NSC contenders.
Eric Stults, who went on to star at Crossroads League member Bethel College (now Bethel University) and pitch in the big leagues, lived just a couple of miles away. In Justin’s final high school game — left-hander Stults hurled Argos to a 3-2 victory over Triton.
Landon Grubbs — Justin’s brother — was the starting right fielder and clean-up hitter on Triton’s 2001 IHSAA Class 1A state championship team.
Both Grubbs brothers were coached by Jim Shively.
“He got the best out of his players,” says Grubbs of Shively. “He had a lot of enthusiasm. He taught guys how to hit. I never knew how to hit until I got (to high school). I was also more of a pitcher type who hit at the bottom of the order.”
Grubbs ended up in the No. 2 hole on a squad featuring Kyle Gould (who is now the head baseball coach at athletic director at Crossroads League member Taylor University).
On the mound, Grubbs was 15-4 and a two-time all-NSC selection. He also played football and was academic all-state in 1997.
Grubbs was relief on the baseball team at Indiana Wesleyan University. Mark DeMichael was then head coach of the Wildcats. He learned lessons of pitching and spirituality from IWU pitching coach Mike Burchette.
“He talked about the side work and what a pitching program really looks like,” says Grubbs of Burchette. “He had a really good Christian twist to everything and would really lead us spiritually.”
After a couple years, Grubbs decided to begin his coaching career while working toward a Indiana Wesleyan degree he earned in 2002 (he got a masters in Administration of Physical Education and Sport).
Grubbs then became varsity assistant and pitching coach to head coach Steve Shugart at Madison-Grant Junior/Senior High School in Fairmount, Ind. The Argylls regularly won 20 games as season and were state-ranked in Class 2A. M-G won a Central Indiana Conference championship.
After that, Justin and wife Emily (who also went to Triton and Indiana Wesleyan), opted to move closer to home to start a family (their daughters are Eliana and Maycee).
The couple, married since 2004, settled in Bremen, Ind., and Justin took a job as a math teacher and assistant baseball coach at Goshen (Ind.) High School. He was the varsity assistant for the Redskins (now RedHawks) for five years.
Grubbs continues to teach at Goshen and coach at Goshen College. When deciding whether to take the college job, Grubbs consulted with former GHS teacher and coach and GC coach DeVon Hoffman.
He also talked with GHS principal Barry Younghans, who makes it possible for him to teach and get to college games — sometimes the second half of a doubleheader.
“Alex is very flexible as a coach,” says Grubbs. “He’s even said there are times that I need you even more in practice than I do at the games because that’s where all of our work is put in and it’s just performance at the game.
“I’m thankful I’m around people that are really good people to work for at the high school and here at the college.”
“We’re going to make it a week-long event,” says Tim Armstrong, head baseball coach at Madison Consolidated High School. “We’re exciting about having an opportunity to host. We want to do it up right.
“We’re going to make the all-stars feel like all-stars.”
Festivities are to be held at Madison Consolidated, nearby Hanover College as well as on and along the Ohio River.
Madison boasts the “largest contiguous national historic district in the United States” with sites, landmarks and tours plus speciality shopping, restaurants and cafes and the lure of Clifty Falls State Park.
Madison Consolidated will be the site of three all-star games for seniors (25 each representing the North and South) on the weekend. Hanover will house the players and be the site of the Futures Games (replaces the Junior Showcase) and all-star banquet.
The plan is to get local youth leaguers and Boys & Girls Club members involved in the fun.
Madison has long considered making a bid for the North-South Series. When Armstrong returned to the Madison Consolidated program for his second stint as head coach, he and former assistant Mike Modesitt (who now tends to all of Madison’s outdoor athletic facilities) began planning and got the mayor’s office and tourism folks involved.
Armstrong served as Madison’s mayor (Jan. 1, 2008 to Dec. 31, 2011) and was a city police officer for many years. He is currently certified through the Jefferson County Sheriff’s office and a resource officer at Madison Consolidated.
Basketball is also dear to Armstrong. He was varsity assistant in boys basketball at Madison two different times and was a lay head boys hoops coach at Shawe Memorial Memorial High School in Madison for two seasons.
The baseball-playing Madison Cubs call Gary O’Neal Field home.
Former Madison head coach Gary O’Neal, who retired for the second time after the 2002 season with 601 career victories, is a member of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
Armstrong graduated from Shawe Memorial in 1979. He became an assistant to O’Neal at Madison in 1982.
After sitting out the 2002 season, he returned as Madison’s head coach from 2003-07, resigned to serve as mayor and then got back into law enforcement. He returned to the program for the 2017 season.
Gary O’Neal Field is getting a new scoreboard and windscreen this spring and plans call for an expansion to permanent seating.
During Armstrong’s first stint with the Cubs, he enlisted the help of Madison American Legion Post 9 and got upgrades to the park like irrigation, a new back stop and fencing and a three-tier press box.
“It’s constant work if you want a nice facility,” says Armstrong. “We’ve got a lot of work to do between now and June. But we’re getting there.”
“It’s a great conference,” says Armstrong. “It’s traditionally strong.”
The Cubs are part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Batesville, Franklin County, Greensburg, Lawrenceburg, Rushville and South Dearborn. Madison has won 22 sectionals — the last in 2009. A 3A state championship was earned in 1999 as the Cubs topped Fort Wayne Carroll 10-0.
Bryan Bullington was the winning pitcher in that contest, capping off a 15-0 senior season.
Bullington was selected in the 37th round of the 1999 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Kansas City Royals, but opted to go to college. He played three seasons at Ball State University and was chosen No. 1 overall in the 2002 draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates. He made his MLB debut with the Pirates in 2005 and went on to pitch for the Cleveland Indians, Toronto Blue Jays and Royals then in Japan.
Armstrong’s 2019 assistants include Joe Jenner, Ryan Mahoney and Drew Frazier with the varsity and Derek Wynn, Peyton Head and James “Doc” Boyd with the junior varsity or C-teams.
Local attorney Jenner and insurance agent Mahoney both played on Madison’s 1999 state championship team. Frazier played for Armstrong during his first stint as head coach.
Wynn also played one season for Armstrong at Madison. Head is a Hanover student. Boyd played at Evansville Memorial.
Armstrong’s core coaching values include taking responsibility for one’s actions.
“I stress accountability,” says Armstrong. “I hold them accountable for what they do on and off the field.”
The coach also looks to build a relationship and a sense of trust with his student-athletes.
“I’m very personable with my players,” says Armstrong. “We’re building the character and the type of person they will be once leave high school.”
Armstrong says he appreciates the drive and camaraderie of his current group.
“These kids work hard and they get along together,” says Armstrong. “That’s a big part of it.”
There are 30 in the Madison Consolidated program in 2019.
“Our middle school program is really strong,” says Armstrong. “They are athletes and baseball players. They’re going bump our numbers back up.”
There are close to 30 for seventh and eighth grade squads that play in the spring. The Madison Junior High School field is inheriting the old scoreboard and batting cage from Gary O’Neal Field.
This year, Madison Baseball Club aka Mudcats will field eight travel teams ranging from 7U to 14U. The 14U team, made up mostly of seventh and eighth graders, goes by the Madison Fusion.
Not strictly a Madison organization, players are welcomed from all over southeastern Indiana.
“We want to give kids an opportunity where they can play and not travel far and play a lot of money,” says Armstrong, who indicates that costs to families are cut through fundraising and sponsorships.
Mudcats and Fusion players are encouraged to participate with the local recreation leagues during the week and their travel teams on the weekend.
Madison American Legion Post 9, which won a state championship in 2000, went on hiatus in 2018. Armstrong and Jenner were coaches and would like to bring the team back in the future.
“(Post 9) pays for it all,” says Armstrong, who saw American Legion Post 9 Field become a reality at Shawe Memorial and games move to Gary O’Neal Field when he landed there. “It doesn’t cost the kids a dime to play.”
Armstrong played Legion ball for Delbert Liter in the ’70s and later coached with him.
Tim Armstrong is in his second stint at head baseball coach at Madison (Ind.) Consolidated High School.
Baseball is a big deal at a small school in Fulton County, Ind.
The Comets of Caston Junior/Senior High School (an IHSAA Class 1A member with an enrollment of about 215 in the top four grades) take pride in their facility — known as the “The Crater” — and the ball that is played there near the town of Fulton.
Since he arrived on-campus, Caston has overhauled its field, adding lights and a new press box, refurbishing the dugouts and upgrading the playing surface.
“It’s one of the better fields in this part of the state,” says Mollenkopf. “Our kids, school and community are very proud of it.”
The Comets hosted sectional and regional tournaments in 2018.
Caston is part of a sectional grouping with North Miami, North White, Northfield, South Newton, Southwood and West Central. The Comets won the first sectional crown in school history when Mollenkopf’s squad hoisted the trophy at Tri-County in 2012.
Caston is a member of the Hoosier North Athletic Conference (with Culver Community, Knox, LaVille, North Judson-San Pierre, Pioneer, Triton and Winamac). Each team plays the other twice to determine the champion. LaVille won the crown in 2018.
“It’s a very balanced conference,” says Mollenkopf.
HNAC’s 14 conference games are played with home-and-home series either on Monday or Tuesday or Thursday and Friday and a Saturday doubleheader, depending on the week.
Mollenkopf says participation numbers tendto hover from 16 to 24 at the high school for varsity and junior varsity squads.
“It’s important to have a JV, especially at the 1A level to develop kids,” says Mollenkopf. “We try to play up (in class), especially at the JV level. We want to challenge them and prepare them for varsity baseball.”
The 2019 season will be the third for the IHSAA pitch count rule. This year, the parameters will be the same for varsity and JV (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).
“We’ve always stressed arm care here,” says Mollenkopf. “We do a lot in the fall and in January and February. At the varsity level, there’s very little influence. I’ve noticed it more on the JV level, where we’ve not had strike throwers all the way through.”
Mollenkopf says a focus on throwing strikes should be able to keep pitch counts down.
Assistant coaches are Adam Goller (14th year), Nick Stuber (ninth year), Matt Gibson (second year) and Brandon Kinser (first year). Stuber will run the JV team this spring.
Caston Athletic League (for ages 5-12) and a junior high club (for grades 7-8) are feeders for the high school program.
Though not affiliated with the school, the junior high team does play its games in the spring on the high school diamond.
In the summer, some Caston players take part in the Babe Ruth League in Logansport. There are others, including Gavin Mollenkopf (Blake’s oldest of two sons), who play travel ball for the Indiana Chargers.
There are some high school summer workouts and games and a team camp at Bethel College.
Caston graduate Seth Zartman is head baseball coach at Bethel. Ethan Zartman played at Caston for Mollenkopf, and then for big brother at Bethel.
Last summer, players from Plymouth and Rochester joined the Comets. In the past, South Adams and Tri-County have participated in the camp.
Frame was known for his attention to detail, practice preparation and communication skills.
“I remember the Friday morning devotions,” says Mollenkopf. “He met with small groups of players. He tried to make an impact as future husbands, fathers and people.
“I went there to play baseball, but came out as a better man because of him, too.”
Mollenkopf received an elementary education degree at Huntington. Before coaching at Caston, he spent two seasons as an assistant to IHSBCA Hall of Famer George Phares at Taylor High School.
“He’s a special individual,” says Mollenkopf of Phares. “I learned how to interact with players, handling parent meetings and working with the administration
driving an hour back and forth.”
At the time, Mollenkopf was making the commute from Fulton County to Kokomo.
“There were so many meals and more he and (his wife) Martha provided for me.”
Mollenkopf is married to a Caston graduate. Blake and Stephanie have four children — eighth grader Kinzie (13), fifth grader Gavin (11), third grader Logan (9) and kindergartener Remy (6). All of them attend Caston schools.
After a few years on the job, Blake Mollenkopf resigned last May as Caston athletic director. Besides coaching baseball, he is an elementary physical education teacher and is involved with youth football and eighth grade girls basketball.
The Mollenkopfs (clockwise from upper left): Blake, Stephanie, Kinzie, Gavin, Remy and Logan. Blake Mollenkopf is head baseball coach at Caston Junior/Senior High School in Fulton, Ind.
Blake Mollenkopf has been head baseball coach at Caston Junior/Senior High School in Fulton, Ind., since the 2006 season.