Tag Archives: Westville

Smith, Morgan Township heading to IHSAA Class 1A regional

BY STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

When John Smith took over as head baseball coach at Morgan Township Middle/High School on the south side of Valparaiso, Ind., the Class of 2022 was in their freshmen year.
Two members of that class — left fielder Nate Hudkins and shortstop Nate Lemmons — are now seniors and the Cherokees are coming off the program’s fifth sectional championship and first since 2018.
“The guys are proud of the accomplishment,” says Smith. “They see the fruit of their labors.”
University of Dubuque (Iowa)-bound Lemmons (.388 average, 22 runs batted in, 28 runs, 20 stolen bases) plus Hudkins (.355, 18 RBI, 28 runs, 17 stolen bases) are part of a Morgan Township offense that also features sophomore Keagen Holder (.426, 15 RBI, 15 runs, 10 stolen bases), junior Jayke Putz (.414, 26 RBI, 29 runs), junior Max Rakowski (.406, 16 RBI, 20 runs), sophomore Grant Cowger (.389), freshman Chase Rosenbaum (.379, 17 RBI, 19 runs), junior D.J. Hand (.310, 16 RBI, 19 runs) and sophomore Jack Wheeler (14 RBI, 18 runs, 12 stolen bases).
The mound crew features Wheeler (5-1, 0.92 earned run average, 64 strikeouts and 20 walks over 45 2/3 innings) and Putz (3-2, 3.67, 42 K’s, 20 BB, 34 1/3 IP).
The current crop of sophomores were eighth graders when Smith took over the school’s fall middle school baseball program.
“Getting those players at a young age has been beneficial for me,” says Smith, who teaches high school and middle school Health and Physical Education. “We get with them early in their baseball careers and establish the culture and the ideals with we strive for.
“We give them that knowledge and get them used to me and how I coach.”
After winning the 2022 IHSAA Class 1A Westville Sectional, Morgan Township is bound for the South Bend Washington Regional (which is being played Saturday, June 4 at South Bend Clay’s Jim Reinebold Field). The first semifinal features No. 4-ranked South Central (Union) Mills) and No. 9 Caston at 11 a.m. Eastern Time/10 a.m. Central Time followed by the 17-8 Cherokees against No. 10 Fremont around 1:30/12:30.
Morgan Township (enrollment around 240) is a member of the Porter County Conference (with Boone Grove, Hebron, Kouts, LaCrosse, South Central of Union Mills, Washington Township and Westville). The Cherokees went 5-2 in the PCC in 2022, finishing third behind Boone Grove (7-0) and South Central (6-1).
Besides the hosts and Morgan Township, the Westville Sectional included 21st Century Charter, Covenant Christian (DeMotte), Hammond Academy of Science & Technology, Kouts, Marquette Catholic and Washington Township.
Smith is assisted by Boone Grove graduate and Morgan Township P.E./Health teacher Dean Hill and Washington Township alum Levi Oman. Hill is in charge of the junior varsity team. In 2022, the Cherokees finished the regular season with 24 players in the program.
Morgan Township calls Curtis C. Casbon Field home. The diamond on the east side of the school has a backdrop of trees in left field.
The facility is shared with Morgan Township Summer League 8U and 10U teams.
Smith is a 2010 graduate of Shakamak Junior/Senior High School in Jasonville, Ind. Chip Sweet, who was inducted into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2017, came back for his second stint as Lakers head coach when Smith was a senior, following three years with Matt Fougerousse rowing the boat.
“He was very knowledgeable guy about baseball and life and how to carry yourself off the field,” says Smith of Sweet. “It was about character and how they represent themselves, their community and their school.
“Coach Fougerousse was an extension of Coach Sweet. He wanted that fire to win and lead and be great young men. It’s something that program stands for.”
At Indiana State University in Terre Haute, Smith earned an undergraduate degree in Exercise Science and a masters in Kinesiology and Exercise Science.
John and wife Megan Smith have been married nearly three years. They do not have children.

Morgan Township baseball coaches Dean Hill, John Smith and Levin Oman with the 2022 sectional trophy. Smith is the Cherokees head coach.

Morgan Township celebrates the 2022 IHSAA Class 1A Westville Sectional baseball championship. The Cherokees earned a berth in the regional in South Bend.

Howard highlighting importance of fundamentals with Hobart Brickies

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Trent Howard has been a high school assistant or travel baseball coach for about a decade.
He assisted at Wheeler High School in Valparaiso, Ind., in 2021 and was with Portage (Ind.) High School during the 2020 season that did not happen because of COVID-19.
Howard, 32, has also coached in the Morris Baseball organization with teams from 13U to 18U.
He will take those experiences and that of playing for the Hammond (Ind.) Seminoles, Hammond Chiefs (now 5 Star Great Lakes), Hammond Clark High School, Central Michigan University and in the Baltimore Orioles organization to use them as the new head coach at Hobart (Ind.) High School. He was hired in August to lead the Brickies.
“I was very fortunate to have coaches that had several different philosophies that handled players in different ways,” says Howard, a 2021 Hammond Sports Hall of Fame inductee who played for Dave Sutkowski with the Chiefs, Gary Ridgely and Pat Montalbano at Clark and head coach Steve Jaksa and pitching coach Jeff Opalewski at Central Michigan and later served with Jeff Enright at Wheeler and Bob Dixon at Portage. “I saw how they developed a culture and I’ll take take bits and pieces from each of them.”
The first IHSAA Limited Contact Period in the fall saw Howard stressing fundamentals with his Brickies.
“We went back to the basics,” says Howard. “We want to make sure we’re laying a solid foundation for these kids.”
With winter workouts that recently began, it’s more of the same along knocking off the rust for players who have not swung the bat in awhile.
“We want to develop a hitting philosophy and go to the plate with a game plan,” says Howard. “We want to understand what the pitcher is trying to do.”
A former left-handed pitcher himself, Howard allowed his pitchers to rest their arms during the fall and the dead period that followed.
“We wanted to take the time for our arms to fully recover (from spring and summer baseball),” says Howard. “Now it’s about building up arm strength.”
Howard says bullpens will not begin until January.
“Then the keys will be consistency and throwing strikes,” says Howard. “We want them hitting spots and moving the ball around.”
Hobart (enrollment around 1,290) is a member of the Northwest Crossroads Conference (with Andrean, Highland, Kankakee Valley, Lowell and Munster).
NCC teams play home-and-home series on Mondays and Tuesdays with a new opponent for five straight weeks.
“We’re fortunate to be in a tough conference,” says Howard. “We play a pretty tough non-conference, too.”
Among those foes are Boone Grove, Chesterton, Crown Point, Hammond Morton, Hanover Central, Illiana Christian, Lake Central, Merrillville, Michigan City, New Prairie, Portage, Valparaiso, Washington Township, Westville, Wheeler and Whiting.
In 2021, the Brickies were part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with Andrean, Chesterton, Crown Point, Lowell, Portage and Valparaiso. Hobart has won six sectional titles — the last in 2014.
Howard’s coaching staff includes brother Trevor Howard (Clark Class of 2002), Scott Trcka (who was a pro scout for 27 years) and longtime Brickies assistant Bob Wineland with the varsity and Kyle Jenkins and Zak Pizer with the junior varsity.
Hobart plays its home game on-campus. The diamond’s mound was re-built and the infield was re-leveled in the fall.
Feeding and aiding the high school program are Hobart Little League, Hobart Baseball Club Storm, Hobart American Legion Post 502 Blaze and 5 Star Great Lakes Chiefs.
“Kids are everywhere,” says Howard. “We make sure they are with good coaches and in a situation where they’re comfortable.”
Jaden Deel (Hobart Class of 2021) is now on the baseball team at Huntington (Ind.) University. Ivan Balboa (Class of 2022) has signed to play at Ivy Tech Northeast in Fort Wayne. Howard says he sees college potential is other Brickies.
Howard is a School Resource Officer at Portage. Trent and wife of seven years Alexandria live in Portage with sons Eli (5) and Ezekiel (2).

Trent Howard
Trent Howard
Trent Howard

Kouts still prioritizes ‘culture’ with Yager at helm

BY STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Randy Yager is now in charge of the baseball program at Kouts (Ind.) Middle/High School.
The new head coach says the Mustangs will continue to emphasize “culture” — something they did with Jim Tucker as head coach and Yager an assistant the past five years.
“We want to doing the right thing on and off the field,” says Yager, who was promoted at the beginning of the 2021-22 school year. “Growing baseball players into young men, husbands and fathers and employees is more important than the current statistics.
“Their lives mean more to me than winning baseball games.”
Tucker and his wife have moved west. He is coaching junior varsity baseball at Douglas High School in Minden, Nev., and is on the phone multiple times a week with Yager.
The owner of Yager Construction in Kouts and Ace Hardware stores in Kouts and Hebron and the chairman of deacons at First Baptist Church of Kouts, Yager was born in Valparaiso, Ind., spent most of the first 20 years of his life in Florida then moved back to northwest Indiana.
He is a 1986 graduate of Ambassador Christian Academy in Fort Lauderdale, where he played baseball for four years.
At Kouts, Yager has also served as an assistant boys basketball coach for five years. His baseball assistants are Doug Murray, who was on Tucker’s staff for thee years, and son Hunter Yager (21). The latter holds the school record for baseball games played.
Randy and wife Traci have three children. Oldest Lauren (Yager) Kemp is 23 and the head softball coach at Kouts, her alma mater. Eric Yager (17) is a Kouts junior.
The Mustangs play on Keith Nuest Field, an on-campus facility named for the alum and longtime scorekeeper.
Randy Yager was a middle school coach this fall and there was no IHSAA Limited Contact Period baseball activity with so many fall athletes at Kouts (high school enrollment around 270).
The Mustangs are members of the Porter County Conference (with
Boone Grove, Hebron, LaCrosse, Morgan Township, South Central of Union Mills, Washington Township and Westville).
In 2021, Kouts was part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with 21st Century Charter, Covenant Christian (DeMotte), Hammond Academy of Science & Technology, Marquette Catholic, Morgan Township, Washington Township and Westville. The Mustangs have won five sectional titles — the last in 2011.

Randy Yager with Hunter Yager and Lauren (Yager) Kemp.

As first official practice approaches, Hensley heading up HAST Hawks

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

There’s a place where a baseball can be pitched and struck in Indiana and land in Illinois.

That place is Hermits Park in the 4200 block of Dearborn Avenue on the north side of Hammond, Ind.

In the spring of 2021, the big diamond — where a home run to left field or deep center can clear the state line which cuts through the outfield — will be home to the Hammond Academy of Science and Technology (HAST) baseball program. The school’s softball team will also play at Hermits.

Dennis Hensley, who has been affiliated with the Hammond Hermits Cal Ripken/Babe Ruth League for 19 years and was with Robertsdale Youth Baseball before that, was just named HAST Hawks head coach.

“We started a partnership last year then COVID hit and everything stopped,” says Hensley. “We were one of the last (youth baseball/softball) associations to fold. We were down to only our high school level team that traveled.”

In the fall, Hermits Outlaws played in a fall league at the Ho Chunk Sports Complex in Lynwood, Ill., which is 12 miles southwest of Hermits Park.

Hensley, who is assisted by Travis McKimmey and Ryan Massey, held his last HAST baseball call-out meeting March 11 and has had 10 coming to conditioning sessions. There is hope that more will joint the team. The first IHSAA practice is Monday, March 15. 

“We have a real fresh batch,” says Hensley, noting there a a few players who’ve played high school baseball with others who have been away for years or are fairly new to the sport.

“We’ll start with new or younger guys,” says Hensley. “But we gladly accept that challenge.

“There might be more of a level playing field since everybody did not play last year.”

While the focus this spring will be on a varsity team, Hensley says he hopes to bring baseball to middle schoolers — at HAST and the surrounding area — through the partnership with Hermits.

Hammond Academy of Science and Technology (enrollment around 300) is an independent and not affiliated with the conference.

The Hawks are part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with 21st Century Charter-Gary, Covenant Christian (DeMotte), Kouts, Marquette Catholic, Morgan Township, Washington Township and Westville

The IHSAA announced this week that Washington Township will be sectional host.

HAST’s first appearance in the state tournament series was in 2017. The Hawks have not won a sectional championship.

While changes continue to be made to the schedule, Hensley says he expects his club to have around 20 regular-season games.

HAST, which was established in 2010, is a charter school focused on both science and technology with a heavy emphasis on a small teacher-to-student ratio. It is both a high school and middle school with grades ranging from 6-12.

Not affiliated with HAST, School City of Hammond currently has four high schools — Hammond, Clark, Gavit and Morton — and will cut down to two. 

The district is scheduled in 2021-22 to have Hammond and Clark combine into the new Hammond Central with current Gavit students being divided between Hammond Central and Morton.

“It’s always sad to see a part of someone’s history go,” says Hensley, a 1988 Clark graduate. “But we’re looking for change and something new.”

Dennis and Gail Hensley have been married for 26 years. The couple has two adult children — Taylor (25) and Dennis (20). 

Gail Hensley works for the City of Hammond.

Taylor Hensley, who played volleyball and basketball at Whiting (Ind.) High School, graduated from Calumet College of St. Joseph and is with the Merrillville Police Department. 

Dennis Hensley, a five-year cancer survivor, played baseball at Whiting and now works at Wolf Lake Terminals. 

An aerial view of Hermits Park in Hammond, Ind., with the big diamond split by the Indiana-Illinois State Line in the foreground.
Dennis Hensley is the head baseball coach at Hammond (Ind.) Academy of Science and Technology. The Hawks first played in the IHSAA state tournament series in 2017.

Beasley guides Career Academy South Bend baseball

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Phil Beasley faces some challenges as head baseball coach at Career Academy South Bend (Ind.).

As he goes into his fourth season leading the program at the tuition-free public charter school serving grades 6-12, Beasley is met with issues like getting enough players and retaining those.

The school, which opened in August 2011 with grades 7-9 before expanding, presented its first baseball team in 2014. The Trailblazers became eligible for IHSAA tournament play in 2017 — the year before Beasley became head coach.

“The first year we went into most games with 10 players,” says Beasley. “The second year, it was 13 or 14. Last year, we were in good shape with decent numbers then we did not play (because of the COVID-19 pandemic).”

As the 2021 slate approaches, Beasley has been getting a handful out for winter conditioning. He hopes that number will go up at the end of basketball season and when more students begin coming for in-person instruction.

One of the reasons participation is down is because some students take all their classes online and don’t appear at the campus on the northwest side of South Bend just below the Indiana Toll Road. The school has enrollees from all over the area.

“I don’t get to interact with those kids and that’s where a lot of the recruitment comes from,” says Beasley. “Losing the baseball season really hurt because (students and staff) are not talking about it.

“If doesn’t matter if you never played before. Come out and we’ll have some fun. I’m not going to force a kid to come out and do it.”

These novices — some who have never played or have not been on a diamond since Little League — face a varsity high school schedule with experienced opponents. Some of those will go on to play college baseball.

“Retention is hard,” says Beasley. “Many of them do not come back the next year. 

“That’s our biggest hurdle.”

There is currently no feeder system for CASB baseball, though Beasley is hoping to develop a middle school team in the next couple years. Career Academy has a second South Bend campus — Success Academy — which serves grades K-5.

Career Academy South Bend (enrollment around 360) is a member of the new Hoosier Plains Conference (with Argos, Bethany Christian, Elkhart Christian, Lakeland Christian Academy and Trinity Greenlawn). LCA and Trinity Greenlawn do not currently field baseball teams.

Beasley, who is assisted by Dustin Saunders and Josh King, says plans call for conference games to be played on Fridays and Saturdays.

The Trailblazers practice and play at Boland Park, a public facility about three miles from the school.

Career Academy South Bend is part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with Argos, Culver Community, LaCrosse, Oregon-Davis, South Central (Union Mills) and Triton. The Trailblazers have won not won a sectional title. SBCA participated in three IHSAA tournaments — 2017 at the LaVille Sectional and 2018 and 2019 at the South Bend Career Academy Sectional (played at South Bend Clay).

Non-conference and non-sectional opponents on the 2021 schedule include Culver Academies, Fremont, Lakewood Park Christian, Mishawaka, North Miami, South Bend Riley, South Bend Washington, Victory Christian Academy and Westville.

Beasley is a math teacher. This year he leads Algebra and Algebra Lab classes.

He grew up in North Liberty, Ind., and played baseball at John Glenn High School in Walkerton, Ind., graduating in 2005. Beasley’s freshmen year was John Nadolny’s first at Falcons head coach.

“He was the coach who taught me the most about all aspects of the game as opposed to just the physical part,” says Beasley. “He had those instincts during the game. Being around baseball his whole life, he did what his gut told him to do and it’s worked out for him.”

Beasley credits “Nud” for teaching him how to look at baseball’s mental side.

“How far I can hit the ball or how hard I can throw is not always the most-important part,” says Beasley.

At Ball State University in Muncie, Beasley played four years of club baseball, serving as president his last two years.

The club played intrasquad games in the fall and then a National Club Baseball Association schedule in the spring. Ball State played in the Great Lakes South Conference with club teams from Indiana University, University of Illinois, Southern Illinois University-Carbondale and SIU-Edwardsville.

The student-run club was responsible for securing its own practice time and space — in the winter that meant 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. when the varsity teams weren’t using any of the BSU gyms.

Working with Muncie Parks & Recreation, the club played at Francis Lafferty Park. As president, Beasley had to lead fundraising efforts and put together a proposal to get financial help from the university. There was also making out the roster and other administrative duties that many don’t associate with coaching.

Before coaching at Career Academy South Bend, Beasley served as an assistant and junior varsity coach at South Bend Clay (2012-17). He got to work with baseball veterans like Colonials head coach Joel Reinebold and assistants Bill Schell, John Kehoe and Dan Kasper.

“It was very informative,” says Beasley. “(Reinebold) always had something that players could do to get better. I learned a lot from him.”

Beasley also learned how to run a team and craft a schedule.

This image was used while seeking potential baseball players at South Bend (Ind.) Career Academy.
Phil Beasley is a math teacher and head baseball coach at South Bend (Ind.) Career Academy. His first season in charge of the Trailblazers was 2018. His is a graduate of John Glenn High School in Walkerton, Ind. He played club baseball at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind.

Coulter, South Central Satellites eager for ’21

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Zach Coulter has been head baseball coach at South Central Junior/Senior High School in Union Mills, Ind., for more than 500 days and has yet to earn a win or loss.

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.”

South Central (enrollment around 325) is part of a 1A sectional grouping with Argos, Culver Community, LaCrosse, Oregon-Davis, South Bend Career Academy and Triton. The Satellites have won 16 sectional crowns, including 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019. South Central won regional crowns in 1999, 2005, 2006 and 2011.

“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.

Besides South Central, the Porter County Conference includes Boone Grove, Hebron, Kouts, LaCrosse, Morgan Township, Washington Township and Westville.

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).

Coulter encourages his players to talk and think like a coach and presents lessons from American Baseball Coaches Association convention speakers and the Baseball Coaching Bible edited by Jerry Kindall and John Winkin and featuring 27 coaches including LaPorte legend Ken Schreiber.

“It’s been real beneficial,” says Coulter. “The No. 1 priority in our program is to play catch. If you can’t play catch, you can’t play baseball.

“(Our players) hear some words from people at the top of the game.”

There are plans for Coulter and his assistant to tap into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association State Clinic, which will stream its speakers to members Saturday, Jan. 16. 

“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. 

Zach Coulter is the head baseball coach at South Central High School in Union Mills, Ind. The graduate of LaPorte (Ind.) High School and Manchester University in North Manchester, Ind., is also a Indiana Farm Bureau Insurance agent in LaPorte.

Snyder in second go-round leading LaCrosse Tigers

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Eric Snyder’s coaching style is based on discipline.

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.”

LaCrosse (enrollment around 105) is a member of the Porter County Conference (with Boone Grove, Hebron, Kouts, Morgan Township, South Central, Washington Township and Westville).

PCC schools field junior high teams and Snyder is there to guide the LaCrosse squad for sixth, seventh and eighth graders.

The Tigers are part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with Argos, Culver Community, Oregon-Davis, South Bend Career Academy, South Central (Union Mills) and Triton. LaCrosse has won three sectional titles — 1976, 1989 and 2002.

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.

Eli Snyder, a baseball and basketball player, is Wanatah School. There are plans in the Tri-Township Consolidated School Corporation to change the high school location eight miles north to Wanatah.


Tiger Field is the home of the LaCrosse (Ind.) High School baseball program. There have been many upgrades to the facility in the past year. (LaCrosse Tiger Baseball Photo)
New stone graces the dugout at Tiger Field, home of LaCrosse (Ind.) High School baseball. (LaCrosse Tiger Baseball Photo)
Tiger Field — home of LaCrosse (Ind.) High School baseball —  has gotten quite a facelift since Eric Snyder returned as Tigers head coach leading into the 2020 season, which was canceled because of the pandemic. (LaCrosse Tiger Baseball Photo)
Baseball players — young and old alike — work to get better at LaCrosse (Ind.) High School. The Tigers’ head coach is Eric Snyder. (LaCrosse Tiger Baseball Photo)
A new backstop and wall is part of the upgrades at Tiger Field — home of LaCrosse (Ind.) High School baseball. (LaCrosse Tiger Baseball Photo)
Another view of Tiger Field — home of LaCrosse (Ind.) High School baseball. (LaCrosse Tiger Baseball Photo)
The press box at Tiger Field — LaCrosse (Ind.) High School’s baseball home. (LaCrosse Tiger Baseball Photo)
Youngsters in the LaCrosse (Ind.) baseball program are taught the skills they will need when they reach high school. Eric Snyder is the Tigers head coach. (LaCrosse Tiger Baseball Photo)
There was plenty of work done at Tiger Field — home of LaCrosse (Ind.) High School baseball — in 2020. Nearly $60,000 — mostly donations — was and will be put into the facility, (LaCrosse Tiger Baseball Photo)
A view of the area behind home plate at Tiger Field — home of LaCrosse (Ind.) High School baseball. (LaCrosse Tiger Baseball Photo)
There’s been plenty of sprucing up at Tiger Field — home of LaCrosse (Ind.) High School baseball. (LaCrosse Tiger Baseball Photo)
The new brick wall extends from dugout to dugout at Tiger Field — home of LaCrosse (Ind.) High School baseball. (LaCrosse Tiger Baseball Photo)
Laying new sod is part of the upgrades to Tiger Field — home of LaCrosse (Ind.) High School baseball. (LaCrosse Tiger Baseball Photo)
Eric Snyder, a 1986 graduate of South Central High School in Union Mills, Ind., is in the second year of his second stint as head baseball coach at LaCrosse (Ind.) High School. He first led the Tigers 2000-04 with an IHSAA sectional title in 2002. (LaCrosse Tiger Baseball Photo)

From baseball-fueled friendship of Furman, Brunke, Marovich comes The Yipps Podcast

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Baseball brought them together as boys.

It’s keeping a trio from northwest Indiana connected as young men even though they are scattered across the country.

Creators of the brand new The Yipps Podcast Aaron Furman, Matt Brunke and Brett Marovich were in grade school when they began playing Saint John Youth Baseball together.

Brunke and Marovich grew up as next-door neighbors and have known each other since before they went to elementary school.

Furman and Brunke played baseball through high school. Marovich played until about 16.

Furman played third base for coach Doug Nelson at Hanover Central High School in Cedar Lake and Brunke second base for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dave Pishkur at Andrean High in Merrillville and graduated in 2014. Brunke helped the 59ers to a IHSAA Class 3A state championship dogpile as a senior.

A year younger than the other two, Marovich did not play baseball at Lake Central High School in St. John, but enjoyed lively conversations with Furman and Brunke about sports.

Like it had for years, this would often go on for hours.

Furman and Brunke were roommates during their freshmen year at the University of Southern Indiana in Evansville.

All earned their bachelor’s degrees.

Furman stayed at USI, got even more immersed in baseball, including positions with the Screaming Eagles team, and earned a Sport Management degree. In February, he started with Sports Info Solutions as a Major League Baseball video scout based in Coplay, Pa., near Allentown.

Brunke transferred to Purdue University Northwest (which has campuses in Hammond and Westville, Ind.) and earned a Business degree before moving to Phoenix where he is a Hertz branch manager.

Marovich picked up a diploma for Mechanical Engineering Technology at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., and is now employed as a quality/mechanical engineer by Regal Beloit Corp., in Valparaiso, Ind.

During all those spirited boyhood conversations at one another’s houses, a parent would sometimes say they should their own show.

Now they do.

This week marked the debut of The Yipps Podcast (@theyippspod on Twitter), a weekly baseball conversation featuring Furman in Pennsylvania, Brunke in Arizona, Marovich in Indiana and a guest from their location.

An introductory episode dropped May 24, followed by an interview with Nick Podkul May 27. Brunke was a teammate of both Podkul brothers — Frank Jr. and Nick — at Andrean. Nick played at Notre Dame and is now in the Toronto Blue Jays organization.

The plan is to feature players and coaches in professional and college baseball and show their “normal side” and put out one episode a week — usually on Wednesday nights.

“Our goal is to get their story and take the professional athlete out of them to show that they’re just normal guys who love baseball,” says Furman.

The Nick Podkul episode tells about how he lost his father while in high school and used that to motivate him.

“It’s the stories you never hear,” says Furman.

Brunke says the idea is to give the listener a deeper connection with the guest.

“They still have a life off the field,” says Brunke. “We want to be the avenue to personalize these guys for fans.

“We want to make (the podcast) a platform for all levels of baseball to share stories about normal people rather than have them seen just as athletes.”

Marovich explains his role in the project, which came to fruition over the past few weeks.

“Baseball is the first sport that we played,” says Marovich. “We’ve always had a passion for it. Why not try to explore this avenue of the Podcast space?

“I have friends who wanted to start this journey and I compelled to help them start it.”

Marovich has no previous audio editing/mixing skills.

“But I’m a quick learner,” says Marovich. “I’m a quick learner.

“If it’s something I’m passionate about, I can grind on it heavily.”

Marovich dove into YouTube videos and is teaching himself about it through trial and error.

Right now, podcasts are recorded by taking the audio from a Zoom conference call. He expects to find a method for a higher sound quality in the future.

In baseball, the “yips” usually manifest themselves in the sudden inability to throw the ball accurately. Three famous examples — Steve Sax, Chuck Knoblauch, Rick Ankiel.

So podcast rookies Furman, Brunke and Marovich chose The Yipps as their handle.

“We’re probably going to have mistakes, especially in the beginning,” says Marovich, the executive producer. “You have to learn. It’s all part of the experience.

“The best is yet to come.”

Furman got started with USI baseball when he learned that he needed 20 internship hours for one of his Sports Management classes. He approached assistant coach Jeremy Kuester and wound up being team manager for his first two years of college.

“At that time I really wanted to get into coaching,” says Furman.

Then came a conversation between Furman and Screaming Eagles head coach Tracy Archuleta just before Christmas break in the fall of 2016.

There were thoughts of purchasing some video scouting equipment for the program.

“I had two weeks to learn the system and then we’re off to Tampa to play our first series,” says Furman. “That’s where my career changed for baseball.”

Furman’s last two seasons at USI were dedicated to working with video, analytics and scouting as it related to player development.

“It was not so much about spin rates and launch angles,” says Furman.

Instead, he was gathering information about the hot and cold zones for opponents and Southern Indiana hitters as well as spray charts and defensive shift reports.

Since then, the baseball world has become more analytics-driven.

“We were the first Division II team in the country to implement one of these systems,” says Furman of USI. “It’s become a big recruiting tool for players.”

Before and after graduation, Furman worked at the Kevin Brown Baseball & Softball School, soaking up knowledge from the former big league catcher and current USI volunteer assistant.

“Kevin taught me a lot about the mechanical side of baseball,” says Furman, who learned how to recognize things like hand grip and weight shift. “In 2018, I was helping college hitters at a higher level.”

Furman then worked with the Collegiate Baseball Scouting Network, which had many MLB organizations as clients. He worked from a list of players near Evansville and evaluated many NCAA Division I and II as well as some high school players.

“It was a really cool experience,” says Furman.

There were several interviews in the baseball industry before the chance came to join Sports Information Solutions.

“I knew this was a great opportunity to take and I didn’t want to pass it up,” says Furman.

During COVID-19 quarantine time, he has been working on small projects.

When spring training was happening, he was at home or in the office watching feeds of games and charting every pitch, running times, ball off bat speed, velocity, defensive shifts, catcher positions and more.

“It takes awhile to get used to,” says Furman. “It’s basically the same thing I did at USI, but probably with 10 times more data.”

As an SIS video scout, Furman can rewind and zoom to get different camera angles. He usually employs three screens per game.

“Once you get into the groove of things, it’s really fun,” says Furman. “Once the season starts I’ll be doing the same thing.”

Scouts work either the morning or night shift. In the mornings, they go over games that have already been charted and make sure the data is inputted and correct. At night, it’s usually about live games.

With this experience, Furman is not the same kind of baseball fan he was growing up, though he still roots for his Chicago White Sox.

“My viewpoint on baseball is completely different,” says Furman. “I can sit and watch a game and I know what pitch they’re going to throw before they throw it based on things like swing patterns.

“I look at baseball differently than I ever thought I would.”

Brunke counts himself fortunate to have been part of Andrean baseball, led by the Hall of Famer.

“(Pishkur) knows how to get the most out of you as a player,” says Brunke. “There was a sense of pride in wearing (Andrean) across your chest. There was competition within the program. Practice was not easy.

“If you’re going to play in the program, you’re going to have to play your tail off and really buy in or it’s not going to work. It was a super-advanced program.”

Brunke recalls tracking things like launch angle and pitch locations and using them to the 59ers’ advantage.

Next up on The Yipps Podcast (available on Spotify): Atlanta Braves prospect Logan Brown.

The Yipps Podcast is presented by (from left): Aaron Furman, Matt Brunke and Brett Marovich. The trio played baseball together as boys in northwest Indiana and now they talk about it. The podcast was launched May 24, 2020.

Lopez, North Vermillion baseball looking to feed off football, basketball success

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Success in one sport can lead to another.

That’s is the hope for baseball at North Vermillion Junior-Senior High School in Cayuga, Ind., after the school saw its football team make it to the state championship game last fall and its boys basketball team advance to the regional championship contest this winter.

Six starters on the football squad that finished as IHSAA Class 1A state runners-up are returning starters for the Falcons in baseball — senior two-way lineman/right fielder Derek Foncannon, junior quarterback/shortstop Brennan Ellis, junior running back/center fielder Wyatt Reynolds, junior center/catcher Kale Flynn, junior offensive tackle/inside linebacker/third baseman Josh Little, and junior wide receiver/left fielder Lucas Cook.

The Falcons’ top two pitchers — senior right-hander Alex Tallman and junior righty Luke Osborn — are also back for 2019.

Hank Lopez, who is defensive coordinator in football and the father of Derek Foncannon (a Vincennes, Ind., University baseball commit), returns for his fourth season as North Vermillion’s head baseball coach. His assistant coaches are Maris Clark and Paul Hamilton.

“We want to be mentally tough,” says Lopez of his team’s core values. “They’ve put in some adverse situations in practice that hopefully make the games a little easier.

“We have high expectations.”

Lopez says there are usually 18 or 19 players in the program for varsity and junior varsity teams. This year it should be 15. The Falcons have a large junior class, but just one sophomore.

Feeding the high school program is a seventh and eighth grade junior high club coordinated by Lopez which plays 12 to 14 games in the spring.

A North Vermillion Pony League squad for grades 7-10 plays about that many games plus an end-of-season tournament in the summer.

North Vermillion (enrollment around 240) is a member of the Wabash River Conference (with Attica, Covington, Fountain Central, Parke Heritage, Riverton Parke, Seeger and South Vermillion).

WRC teams meet once each twice to determine the conference champion, either in weekday home-and-home series or Saturday doubleheaders.

The Falcons are scheduled to open the season March 28 in a non-conference game against Eastern (Pekin) at Vincennes University.

North Vermillion is slated to meet Peru May 4 at Wabash College in Crawfordsville.

Among other non-conference foes are North Central (Farmersburg), Shakamak and West Vigo along with Illinois teams Bismarck-Henning, Georgetown-Ridge Farm/Chrisman and Westville. Cayuga is less than five miles from the Indiana-Illinois state line.

The Falcons are part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with Attica, Covington, Parke Heritage (consolidation of Rockville and Turkey Run) and Riverton Parke. North Vermillion has won five sectional crowns — the last in 1997.

NV home games on-campus. Lopez says there has been discussions about re-working the infield and mound.

IHSAA official practice began March 11. During the limited contact period, Lopez had his team working out when they could find gym space.

“We threw in he gym whenever we could get it,” says Lopez. “If it was nice enough outside, we’d throw in the parking lot. We did conditioning in the hallways of the high school. We did baseball and flip drills in the weight room.

“We did a lot of conditioning, arm strengthening and working on swing technique and instilling the fundamentals. We wanted to hit the ground running when practice starts.”

Before going to North Vermillion, Lopez was assistant to Charlie Martin at Riverton Parke for one season then spent 10 years as Panthers head coach.

Lopez is a 1998 graduate of Vincennes Lincoln High School, where Chris Rhodes was his head coach, and 2002 graduate of Indiana State University, where he earned a elementary education degree with a social studies endorsement.

“He was a hard-nosed, fundamental-type of coach,” says Lopez of Rhodes, who was also his seventh grade basketball coach. “He was very successful in Vincennes.”

The Rhodes-coached Alices won sectional titles in 1996 and 1997 and a regional championship in 1996. Rhodes later coached at DeKalb.

Katelyn Foncannon, daughter of Lopez, is a cheerleader at Vincennes University.

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HANKLOPEZ

Hank Lopez is the head baseball coach at North Vermillion Junior-Senior High School in Cayuga, Ind. He is also defensive coordinator for the football team.

 

Kouts’ Tucker wears many hats — coach, teacher, husband, blogger, podcaster, wiffleballer

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jim Tucker wants to make a difference in the lives of kids.

His vehicles are the classroom and the baseball diamond.

Tucker teaches Language Arts and Reading to middle schoolers at Kouts (Ind.) Middle/High School and also serves as head baseball coach. The 2019 season will be his third leading the Kouts Mustangs.

As an educator, Tucker helps students along their path.

“I try to get the kids to be able to handle the real world,” says Tucker. “I tell them, ‘you can be who you want to be.’

“This is the toughest time in history to be a teenager. You can never shut it off.”

Tucker relates to his students and players through his ability to connect.

“I’m a storyteller,” says Tucker. “I get buy-in from the kids through stories, emotion and feelings.

“In coaching and teaching, I am a relationship builder and a communicator. The game is just an opportunity to becoming who we want to become.”

Some refer to that as transformational coaching.

“We’re here to shape the kids through baseball,” says Tucker. “We’re building a culture we are proud of from top the bottom. That’s what it’s all about.”

Tucker does not base his worth in his won-loss record — though he wants his players to experience winning.

“It’s about making an impact with these kids,” says Tucker, who was the fifth person named as baseball coach at Kouts when he took the job (John Hall took over the Mustangs softball program before the 2016 season).

His coaching staff includes two men — Randy Yager and Doug Murray — with little or no baseball background, but that’s not the priority.

“I’m more concerned with bringing in good men,” says Tucker. “True growth comes from the conversations after (players) fail.”

First-year volunteer coach Stefan Roney is a Kouts graduate. He was on the last Mustangs teams to win an IHSAA sectional championship in 2011 (Kouts reigned in the tourney held at Washington Township).

Kouts, a school of about 275 students, is in a Class 1A sectional grouping with 21st Century Charter, Covenant Christian (DeMotte), Hammond Academy of Science & Technology, Marquette Catholic, Morgan Township, Washington Township and Westville.

The Mustangs belong to the Porter County Conference (along with Boone Grove, Hebron, LaCrosse, Morgan Township, South Central (Union Mills), Washington Township and Westville). Boone Grove won the 2018 Class 2A state title.

Tucker played at Calumet High School in Gary, Ind., graduating in 2008. He then went on Chicago State University and pitched four seasons in five years, sitting out the 2011 campaign recovering from Tommy John elbow surgery and earning his English degree in December 2013.

His head coaches at Calumet were Larry Drake and Roger Azbill with Michael Caston leading the CSU Cougars Tucker’s first four years and Steve Joslyn his last.

Azbill approach baseball with a blue-collar mentality.

“I learned toughness,” says Tucker of Azbill. “He wanted you to show up everyday and do your job. You wanted to always try to get better.”

Caston was a Hammond, Ind., native who played at Valparaiso University. His pitching coach at Chicago State was former Lake Central High School, Tampa Bay Rays Triple-A hurler and Gary SouthShore RailCats player Neal Frendling.

What Tucker remembers most from his college baseball experience is playing teams from every corner of the country and seeing the different styles of playing and coaching.

The year he sat out as a player, Tucker traveled with the team and did laundry. But he also decided his baseball future was in coaching. He came away from each trip with page after page of notes.

Before college, Tucker had played travel baseball for Dave Sutkowski with the Hammond Chiefs (now the Morris Baseball Chiefs) and soaked up much about the game. He later coached with Sutkowski.

“He was very detailed,” says Tucker of Sutkowski. “Everything was broken down and position-specific. He was also very competitive.

“We run our stuff (at Kouts) very much like we did with the Chiefs.”

Tucker was the pitching coach for Dave Griffin at Purdue-Calumet for one season before joining Steve Strayer’s coaching staff at Crown Point High School leading up to taking the Kouts job in the winter prior to the 2016 season.

“It was awesome learning from (Griffin),” says Tucker. “He does it a little bit differently. He allows guys to do their own thing. He wants to serve as a guy to help you get where you’re going.”

During games, Tucker would see the wheels turning for Griffin.

“He would call things before they happened,” says Tucker. “He was always thinking ahead.”

Tucker was with Strayer at the time the Bulldogs boss suffered a stroke and marvels at how quickly he bounced back.

“I was so impressed how he could manage so many people,” says Tucker of Strayer. “He was very diligent in his planning.

“He always had that growth mindset. He was always learning and adding to coaching tool kit.”

Strayer was quick to share his faith and to ask the opinions of his assistants, making sure to give them ownership in the program and Tucker takes the same tactic with his staff.

Tucker is also part of the new Wheelhouse Baseball podcast. It is part of the Chicago-based Overtime Sports Network, which promotes its various podcasts and blogs.

With Tucker, best friend and former Chicago State teammate Jeremy Ratjaczyk and avid podcaster and Calumet College of St. Joseph graduate Mikey Kubacki Jr., adding to the chatter, Wheelhouse podcast focuses on historic Major League Baseball games, quirky stats and obscure players.

It’s buddies talking baseball with a sense of humor.

“We’re three goofy guys and we’re quirky,” says Tucker. “We try to be genuine.”

The first episode debuted Oct. 10 and was centered on Chicago White Sox left-hander Mark Buehrle’s perfect game for the White Sox in 2009.

Episode 2 is to be about the 10 worst contracts in MLB history.

Episode 3 will feature former Hammond Bishop Noll Institute and current minor league pitcher Matt Pobereyko. Episodes generally premier each Wednesday morning.

While his baseball playing days are done, Tucker still competes on the fast pitch wiffleball field. He plays for both the Griffleball League’s GasHouse Gorillas and in the Leroy Wiffle Ball Association.

Griffleball has been around for eight years and has seven teams playing on Sundays at Bridges’ Scoreboard Restaurant & Sports Bar in Griffith. There is no base running. Wherever the ball lands determines the outcome of the at-bat.

Next year, the LWA is to have 14 teams and seven fields. Player do run the bases. If a team issues five balls to the opposing batter, they must lob the next ball in so there’s more offense.

Jim and wife Mysta Tucker have been married for a year and have two dogs.

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Jim Tucker, a 2008 Calumet High School graduate, delivers a pitch for Chicago State University. He played baseball for the Cougars in 2008, 2010, 2012 and 2013. He is now head baseball coach at Kouts (Ind.) Middle/High School. (Chicago State Photo)

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Jim Tucker is a teacher and baseball coach at Kouts (Ind.) Middle/High School. The graduate of Calumet High School and Chicago State University is also a husband, blogger, podcaster and wiffleballer. The 2019 season will be his third as head coach of the Kouts Mustangs.