Tag Archives: Wildcat Baseball League

Fort Wayne’s Wildcat League going strong in 59th year

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Instilling a love for and the fundamentals of the game.

That’s what the Wildcat Baseball League has been doing in the Fort Wayne area for decades.

In its 59th year in 2019, the youth league founded by Dale McMillen Sr. aka “Mr. Mac” where “everybody makes the team” has instruction and competition going on at 10 sites: Aboite (Summit Middle School), Arlington (Arlington Elementary School), Blackhawk (Blackhawk Middle School), Foster (Foster Park), Hamilton (Hamilton Park), Leo (Leo Junior/Senior High School), New Haven (Havenhurst Park), Northside (Northside Park), St. Joe (St. Joe Baseball Complex) and Wallen (Wallen Baseball Complex).

While the season is already underway with about 1,400 participants, players can still sign up at area sites. There is no cost to play Wildcat. Players provide their own glove. The rest is covered by the league.

Divisions are Kitten (6-8), Kitty (9-11), Kat (11-14) and Tiger (14-15).

“We’re flexible,” says Wildcat League president Bill Derbyshire of the age divisions. “We try to make it comfortable for the kids.”

That’s in keeping with the spirit of Wildcat.

“The fundamental principle is that we give all the kids a chance to play. They get to play without the fear of being intimidated or embarrassed.

“We teach baseball skills in an atmosphere of ‘you can do this.’”

Derbyshire, who first became involved with the Wildcat League as a director at Kekionga in 1969 and went on to coach baseball for 17 seasons at Fort Wayne Elmhurst High School (the field at that site bears his name) and has been league president since 2004, says a common memory for coaches is that of seeing youngsters get their first hit or catch their first fly ball.

The annual “Mr. Mac Day” brings together Wildcat Leaguers for fun and competition. This year it is scheduled for July 12 at Kreager Park. There are all-star games, relays and contests like hitting off a tee, accuracy throw, distance throw and baserunning.

Weekly clinics cover pitching, hitting, infield and outfield play, baserunning, “Mr. Mac Day” fundamentals and sportsmanship.

This year, there are 45 on-site staffers and five in the office at 1302 E. Creighton Ave.

Jack Massucci has served Wildcat baseball for more than 50 years and is currently vice president. He coached 37 seasons at Fort Wayne Concordia Lutheran High School and is a member of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

Gerry Tilker also has a Wildcat tenure nearing a half century and now serves as commissioner. He was also head coach at Elmhurst.

Gary Rogers is assistant commissioner and league fundamentalist. He is a former Wildcat site director. He coached 32 seasons at Fort Wayne Luers High School and just completed his second at Leo.

Derbyshire, Massucci, Tilker and Rogers are all in the Northeast Indiana Baseball Association Hall of Fame.

To register or for more information, contact Wildcat Baseball at 260-456-5821.

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Fort Wayne’s Wildcat Baseball League, where “everyone makes the team,” is in its 59th year in 2019.

 

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Veteran coach Rogers enjoys having a diamond to call his own with Leo Lions

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Gary Rogers finally is in charge of a baseball facility where he gets first dibs.

In 32 seasons as head coach at Fort Wayne (Ind.) Bishop Luers High School, Rogers did not have an on-campus field and shared diamonds around the Summit City.

At various times, the Knights practiced at Tillman Park and played games at McMillen Park, Concordia Seminary and Indiana Tech.

“I’m like a kid in a candy store with my own field,” says Rogers, who is in his second season at Leo Junior/Senior High School in 2019.

Rogers landed at Leo as a guidance counselor when Harding High School closed as a high school, but continued to coach at Luers.

When Dave Boyce stepped away and left an opening at the top of the Lions program, Rogers took the opportunity to coach at the same place where he works during the day.

Having his own diamond is a big plus. Leo is the lone tenant at a field that has seen plenty of upgrades since Rogers took over.

“The kids have really worked hard on this field in the two years that I’ve been here,” says Rogers. “We’re still not done.”

Leo’s baseball field has two new hitting tunnels on the third base side with excess turf from the football field.

Last year, 80 tons of infield dirt material was brought in. The mound was re-built. Using 40 more tons of material, the warning track was extended around Thanksgiving time.

Also last fall, lips were cut out, new sod was planted and the home plate area was lifted.

“Your field is a reflection of your program,” says Rogers. “I’ve always felt that way.”

Rogers is a 1974 graduate of Merrillville (Ind.) High School and he saw how much tender loving care Pirates coach Bill Metcalf put into his field.

“He was always on the field doing something and we wondered what he was doing,” says Rogers of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association and National Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer. “Now, I understand that really well.”

He got a chance to plenty of work on the field at Indiana Tech for coaches Lance Hershberger, Steve Devine and Kip McWilliams.

With just one gym at Luers, the location of indoor workouts was not a certainty for Rogers and his teams. It may still get crowded, but there is a main gym and auxiliary available at Leo Junior/Senior, a part of East Allen County Schools.

Leo carries a brand resembling that of the “South Side Hitmen” era of Chicago baseball, a device devised by Boyce and kept by Rogers.

“I love that logo because I’m a White Sox guy,” says Rogers.

The coach considers himself to be “old school.”

“Everybody wears the uniform the same,” says Rogers. “We’re either all up (with the socks) or all down. We ask them to get haircuts. Those are my things.

“As for the baseball, we always work and always hustle. We want to be the first ones on the field and the first ones off the field. We want to get after every ball.

“I’m trying to teach the game the right way. I disagreed with Bryce Harper when he said there is no right way to play the game. I believe there is.”

One former player really took the Rogers’ insistence on hustle.

While he grew physically after high school and was very talented athletically, Kevin Kiemaier worked his way to the major leagues. He is now the starting center fielder for the Tampa Bay Rays.

Rogers cherishes the memory of visiting Kiemaier while he was in rookie ball and him telling his former coach, “the rays like me because I’m a program guy. That serves me well.”

A three-sport athlete at Luers (football, basketball and baseball), Kiemaier demonstrated his athleticism while on the mound in the 2008 South Bend Semistate championship game against Boone Grove. A ball was smashed up the middle and Kiermaier stabbed it behind his back.

“He doesn’t make that play if he’s not an athlete,” says Rogers.

Winning pitcher Kiermaier led off and hurled the first five innings before going to shortstop as Luers beat Elwood 14-9 to win the IHSAA Class 2A state championship in 2008. That capped a school year in which the Knights also took state crowns in football and basketball.

Besides the state championship, Rogers-coached Luers baseball squads won four sectionals, one regional and one semistate.

He was an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Coach of the Year in 2008 and has earned district COTY honors twice.

Very involved in the Fort Wayne diamond community, Rogers has been part of Wildcat Baseball League since former Fort Wayne Concordia Lutheran and IHSBCA Hall of Famer Jack Massucci asked him to help more than three decades ago. He started as director at Northwood Middle School, moved to St. Joe Little League then took on an administrative role.

Rogers is on the board for the Northeast Indiana Baseball Association and is an NEIBA Hall of Famer.

The 2019 NEIBA banquet is May 19. Mike Nutter, Mike Marchesano and Mike Frame are all to be inducted in the Hall of Fame. Spearheaded by Rogers and Carroll High School assistant Brett Windmiller, the organization will present at Northeast Indiana High School Player of the Year award.

Rogers played at Huntington College (now Huntington University) and graduated in 1978. He was a sophomore when Dave Goodmiller (now head coach at Norwell High School) was a senior. The two went on the play together in Fort Wayne’s Stan Musial League with Blackie’s Rib Corral and Mexican Joe’s. Rogers was the head coach for the North for the IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series at Notre Dame in 2008. Dave Goodmiller was an assistant and his son, Rhett Goodmiller, played in the game.

On April 23, 2019, Rogers earned career victory No. 500 against Norwell.

Rogers was an assistant to Don Hummel at New Haven and Larry Gerardo at Luers before taking over that program.

The 2018 Leo squad went 19-8. The 2019 team was 18-3 through May 13.

Alex Bireley, Christian Brubaker, Chase Chaney, Ryan Hackworth, Chance McMaken, Tyler Parker and A.J. Restivo are seniors on the current Leo squad. Hackworth has committed to play baseball at Heidelberg University in Tiffin, Ohio.

Recent Leo graduates to move on to college ball are Easton Embry (Earlham College), Lukas Kline (Franklin College) and Max Minich (Kankakee Community College).

Rogers’ assistants are Brent Davis, Brian Turner and Jim Sickafoose with the varsity and Tom Miller and Mitch Meinholtz with the junior varsity. Davis is a New Haven graduate. Turner went to Fort Wayne Snider and played for Indiana Tech when Hershberger was a head coach and Rogers an assistant. Sickafoose is a former Central Noble head coach. There are 33 players in the program in 2019.

Leo (enrollment around 975) is a member of the Northeast Eight Conference (with Bellmont, Columbia City, DeKalb, East Noble, Huntington North, New Haven and Norwell).

The Lions are part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger, Fort Wayne Bishop Luers, Fort Wayne Concordia Lutheran, Garrett, New Haven and Columbia City. Leo has earned eight sectional crowns — the last in 2012.

Besides various travel teams, Leo Grabill Little League serves as a feeder program for the Lions.

Gary and Jackie Rogers have three daughters — Melissa, Emily and Katie — and five grandchildren.

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Gary Rogers is in his second season as head coach at Leo Junior/Senior High School after 32 seasons at Fort Wayne (Ind.) Bishop Luers.

Hershberger pouring baseball passion into new Ivy Tech Northeast community college program

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Twice in a lifetime.

Lance Hershberger is starting another college baseball program in his native Fort Wayne.

Hershberger, who turns 62 Friday, June 9, built the Indiana Tech program from the ground up (1991-2003) and took the Warriors to multiple NAIA College World Series trips.

Now, Hershberger is heading up the new squad at Ivy Tech Northeast — the third community college baseball program in Indiana, following Vincennes University and Ancilla College. It also brings the number of Indiana college programs at all levels to 36.

Hershberger and his assistants — Connor Wilkins, Dru Sebastian, Todd Armstrong and and Mark Delagarza — are currently on the recruiting trail for the Ivy Tech Northeast Titans, which will field a team in the National Junior College Athletic Association Division II in 2017-18. Teams are allowed to play 56 spring games with more contests in the fall.

Hershberger would like to carry about a 25 players the first year. That’s a minimum of four outfielders, three middle infielders, four corner infielders, three of four catchers and as many pitchers as he can get.

“If we get 100 kids in here for visits, we’ll meet our 25,” says Hershberger. “The excitement level’s there.”

As an NJCAA D-II school, Ivy Tech Northeast is eligible to provide athletic scholarships limited to tuition, books, fees, and course required supplies. The school is researching the possibility of joining a conference in the region.

Hershberger, who was inducted last weekend into the Northeast Indiana Baseball Association Hall of Fame and coaches the Summit City Sluggers 16U travel team which includes son Grant (daughter Maddie just graduated from Homestead High School), is educating folks about community college baseball.

“I think there’s really a place for a JUCO here in northern Indiana,” says Hershberger. “In Indiana there’s a big void of knowledge about junior college. A lot of players think it’s a step down (from NCAA Divisions I, II and II and NAIA).

“You go south and you go west and they understand what they’re about.”

Hershberger, a Wawasee Prepatory School and Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne graduate (he also attended the University of Saint Francis) who has also coached high school ball at Fort Wayne Concordia Lutheran, Fort Wayne Bishop Luers, Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger and Whitko and with the Wildcat Baseball League, lists some of the main reasons a player chooses a junior college:

1. His grades weren’t good enough to go to a four-year school.

2. Maybe he was drafted and didn’t get the round or the money he wanted and doesn’t want to wait until after his junior year to get drafted again.

3. He’s not big enough yet or needs to work on his skills.

The top two objectives when Hershberger was flying high at Indiana Tech were compete for the national championships (during Hershberger’s tenure, the Warriors won 407 games and were NAIA World Series runner-up in 1998 and a fifth-place finisher in 2003 as well as a World Series participant in 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2002 ) and send players on to the professional ranks.

While winning is important, development and getting a player ready for the next level will be the top priorities at Ivy Tech Northeast.

“Every program I run or am coaching for is going to compete we want to win,” says Hershbeger. “But we’re going to get kids ready.”

Hershberger (Kansas City Kansas), Wilkins (Jackson of Michigan) and Sebastian (Owens of Ohio) all played community college baseball. Hershberger is excited that Ivy Tech Northeast chancellor Jerrilee Mosier once worked at Allen Community College in Iola, Kan., which is in the same conference at KCK.

“She gets it,” says Hershberger of Mosier. “She knows what it takes.

“If we’re going to do it, we’re going to do it right or I’m not in. You can be a great coach at the college level, but if you don’t have the resources to get players it doesn’t matter.”

State Representative Bob Morris has also helped make baseball at Ivy Tech Northeast a reality.

Hershberger notes all the ties to northeast Indiana with the Kankakee (Ill.) Community College team that won the 2017 NJCAA Division II World Series.

Assistant coach Bryce Shafer (Northfield High School) played for the Sluggers, Valparaiso University and in the Chicago Cubs organization. KCC’s 2017 roster included Logan Gallaway (Fort Wayne Bishop Luers), Noah Hoeffel (Fort Wayne Bishop Luers), Devin Peters (Churubusco), Pancho Luevano (West Noble), Waylon Richardson (West Noble) and Brennan Kelly (Southwood) plus Indiana products Benjamin Clevenger (Carmel) and Caleb Matthews (RoncallIi).

“We hope to keep some of (the local talent) home,” says Hershberger, “We would eventually like to recruit nationally, but I don’t think we can every forget that we are a community college.”

The NCAA D-I College World Series is slated for June 17-27/28. Hershberger promises that the eight teams in Omaha will have rosters with plenty of players from junior colleges.

Hershberger signed on at Indiana Tech in late July, meaning that it was too late in the recruiting cycle to bring in much talent and the first squad went 0-23.

“I think it better positioned starting out than Indiana Tech was,” says Hershberger. “People find that hard to believe because they look at the stadium down there (at the corner of Washington Boulevard and Anthony Road) which I designed. They see the end product.”

All that happened over time. When Indiana Tech was national runners-up in 1998, the Warrior Field had one set of bleachers behind a chain link backstop (most fans sat on the berm), wooden bleachers and the “press box” was a card table with scoreboard controller.

“There’s going to be bumps,” says Hershberger of the Ivy Tech Northeast program. “There’s going to be naysayers. Indiana Tech was the same way.

“(Baseball) put vibrancy into that school. We’re hoping to do it again.”

As he does with all his other baseball ventures, Hershberger is bringing passion and “ridiculous attention to detail.”

He has already been checking on the facilities at Ivy Tech Northeast’s North and South campuses, picked out “old school” green and white uniform designs, met with planners on a baseball stadium (the Titans are likely to play home games at Shoaff Park until a field can be constructed on the north campus behind the Innovation Center on Stellhorn Road), talked with local patrons about funding and on and on.

“I’m really busy,” says Hershberger. “I’m really tired. But it’s a good tired. I’m really fulfilling what I’m supposed to be doing. I’m involved in all kinds of baseball stuff in Fort Wayne.

“It’s what I do. I’m a baseball coach, a baseball guy.”

Besides getting Ivy Tech baseball up and running, he’s also the executive director of Community Impact Zone, a non-profit organization that is partnering with groups like Boys & Girls Clubs of Fort Wayne, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northeast Indiana and the Euell Wilson Center bring the game to intercity kids at Fort Wayne’s Strike Zone Training Center, 4141 N. Clinton.

Ivy Tech will also do its indoor workouts at the facility.

“It’s a been a dream of mine for a long time, this urban initiative,” says Hershberger. “I don’t want to walk away from it right when I’m finally getting it going. I don’t want kids to limit their options or their horizons. I want them to look at baseball as a viable option for college and beyond.

Many area high schools have already volunteered to the Community Impact Zone instructors.

Hershberger is working with urban leaders to get young adults from the community to observe his coaches so they can take knowledge back to their neighborhoods and maybe rejuvenate local youth leagues.

“I love teaching the game,” says Hershberger.

He does that for players from college age on down to kindergartners.

Baseball. It’s what he does.

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Lance Hershberger has been involved in many baseball ventures in his hometown of Fort Wayne in his 62 years. The latest include the new Ivy Tech Northeast community college program along with Community Impact Zone. (Steve Krah Photo)