Friday, April 29, 2016

Central head coach Steve Stutsman, left, smiles as he and his coaches wait for the start of the title game at Victory Field Saturday, June 15, 2103. The Blazers defeated Cathedral 1-0 for the state championship. (Truth Photo by Jennifer Shephard) (AP)

Central baseball head coach Steve Stutsman holds one of the signs that the city plans on putting up at the entrances to Elkhart. Assistant coaches Steve Asbury and Lonnie Weatherholt look on. Several hundred fans turned out to celebrate a Class 4A state baseball championship with the Elkhart Central team Monday evening June 17, 2013, at Rice Field. (Truth Photo By Larry Tebo) (AP)

Elkhart Central High School head baseball coach Steve Stutsman (center) and his assistants (clockwise from lower left) Steve Asbury, Chad O'Brien, Jason Paulson and Lonnie Weatherholt have helped the 31-1 Blue Blazers into the Class 4A state championship game. The contest against Indianapolis Cathedral is Saturday, June 15, at Victory Field in Indianapolis. (Truth Photo By Steve Krah)

Elkhart Central High School head baseball coach Steve Stutsman (third from left) and his assistants (from left) Chad O'Brien, Steve Asbury, Lonnie Weatherholt and Jason Paulson have helped the Blue Blazers land in the Class 4A state championship game. (Truth Photo By Steve Krah)

Tanner Tully left and Cory Malcom display their trophies for being co-MVP's of the NIC conference as coach Steve Stutsman looks on after he gave them the hardware. The 2013 Indiana state champion Blazer baseball was honored Wednesday evening August 7,2013 with a banquet and given their awards and rings in the Crystal Ballroom of the Lerner Theatre. (Truth Photo By Larry Tebo) (AP)

Central head coach Steve Stutsman pulls his team together for a team photograph after defeating Lafayette Jefferson at Coveleski Stadium in South Bend Saturday, June 8, 2013. The Blazers advanced with their 2-1 victory. (Truth Photo By Jennifer Shephard) (AP)
Elkhart Central's Stutsman still living the dream of a state championship

Posted on Feb. 15, 2014 at 8:00 a.m.

Eight months have passed since Elkhart Central gave Elkhart County its first IHSAA state baseball championship.

Blue Blazers coach Steve Stutsman, who can relive the moment in his mind everyday, got a chance to share his thoughts on the title run and his program with his peers.

To the victor go the spoils and, in the case of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association members and state champions, the speeches.

As coach of the Class 4A champions, it was Stutsman turn to speak at the IHSBCA clinic last month in Indianapolis.

"I can't believe I'm up here," IHSBCA first vice president Stutsman told the group. "Thousands have coached this game that have never had the chance to experience this."

Stutsman, who enters his 19th season at Central in 2014, took the time to remember an opponent before launching into his remarks about his team and his methods.

Chad Hudnall coached South Bend Clay to a 2013 sectional championship while fighting cancer. His Colonials lost 5-4 to Central in the semifinals of the LaPorte Regional.

Stutsman was struck how Hudnall took the time call him on Sunday to congratulate him on the Blazers' regional title, then again after the semistate crown and yet again following the state championship.

"We talk about graceful winners, but we can also be graceful losers," said Stutsman.

Hudnall died last October.

"We lost a great coach," said Stutsman. "We lost a great man. We're going to miss Chad very much."

Stutsman shared with the coaches at the clinic a formula that takes things he's learned in his years of coaching and paired it with the teachings of sports psychologist Bruce Brown.

Central baseball's "roles to success" are three-fold: Players, Coaches, Parents.

Players Role

• Play the game for fun.

• Respect and abide by the rules of the game.

• Put the team ahead of yourself in every situation.

• Demonstrate respect to your opponents, coaches and teammates

• Be accountable for your own actions.

• Develop a teachable spirit that allows you to take correction as a compliment.

• Be an athlete of character

• Play with commitment, enthusiasm and passion.

Coaches Role

• Lead with character and by example.

• Put the needs of the team ahead of any individual.

• Constantly work to improve your knowledge and ability to teach the game and the athletes.

• Be willing to confront incorrect behavior or less than an all-out effort.

• Encourage multi-sport participation.

• Keep the game simple and fun.

Parents Role

• View the game with team goals in mind.

• Encourage multi-sport participation.

• Release your children to the coach and team.

• Be a good listener.

• Accept the goals, roles and achievements of your child.

• Have your son meet with the coach before you ask for a meeting with the coach.

• Do not ask for playing time for your son after a game, set up a meeting.

Stutsman also outlined critical points of emphasis for parents:

• Ask their children questions about why they play, what their goals and roles are, and accept young athlete's reasons as their own.

• Once parents know their children are safe physically and emotionally, they should release them to the experience (the game, the team and the coach).

• During the game, parents should model poise and confidence and keep their focus on the team.

• After the game, parents should give their children space and time and leave them alone. If you want to say something, tell them you love watching them and the team play.

"The ride home is not the time to ask your kid why they made that error or that pitch that cost us the game," said Stutsman. "Kids do not want to hear that."

• Parents should be a confidence builder by maintaining a consistent perspective and not saying or doing anything that will have their children feel like their self-worth is tied to playing time or outcome of a game.

Stutsman said he has changed his coaching philosophy over the years. When he was starting out, he took the "my way or the highway" approach and had a long list of do's and don'ts. The don't included long hair and facial hair.

About six years, he eased up on those last two.

"Kids change and I've got to change with them," said Stutsman. "If they want to have mohawks like my team did (in 2013), let them have mohawks. A month after the season, they were all gone. It was just a bonding situation."

Stutsman's list of rules has essentially been whittled to four:

• Be on time.

• Play hard.

• Be respectful.

• You must be at practice to play in the game.

Stutsman watched his 2013 Blazers do all these things while combining talent, strong pitching, unity, competitiveness and a will to win.

"(The players) believed and they got us coaches to believe also," said Stutsman. "They weren't going to let anything get in their way.

Players accepted their roles."

Stutsman said there were no divisions among players.

All the coaches and players were on the same page.

"It was a special thing," said Stutsman.

Stutsman's varsity staff included Steve Asbury as hitting and team defense coach, Chad O'Brien as pitching coach and Lonnie Weatherholt as corner infield and baserunning coach with Jason Paulson as junior varsity coach.

The assistants had their responsibilities and Stutsman let them run with them.

"Kids don't need to hear five different voices when they're doing something," said Stutsman. "They don't know what to do."

Stutsman talked about his team's prison chili supper, "Trivia Night" fundraiser, March youth clinic, open fields and off-season workouts and community service (the Blazers will be shoveling snow and raking leaves for the elderly).

He also let his clinic audience know some other things about Central, telling them that the school has about 1,800 students with 26 percent Hispanic, 16 percent African-American and 62 percent on free or reduced lunch. He let them know that Elkhart is a two-high school town (Central and Memorial) with three Little Leagues that sends players to Central.

Stutsman noted that Central has no fieldhouse and two small gyms with one batting cage and a weight room that is a converted classroom.

Why did he lay all this out?

"Never ever think your lack of facilities or circumstances can get in the way of you to succeed," said Stutsman. "You can do it.

"Not very many people can say they're living their dream."