ELKHART — The many fans gathered at Rice Field on Monday, June 17, heard remarks with a nice “ring” to them.
During a celebration of Elkhart Central High School’s IHSAA Class 4A state baseball champions, those gathered learned from athletic director Brian Buckley that the Blue Blazers would soon be getting championship rings at a dinner, likely in July, and heard so much more.
A sign was unveiled by Elkhart Mayor Dick Moore touting “Home of the Elkhart Central Blue Blazers 2013 State Baseball Champions.” The sign will soon appear at the school and at entrances to the city.
Central principal Frank Serge told the gathering of several hundred how this team, which went 32-1 and beat Indianapolis Cathedral 1-0 in the championship on June 15, “did everything the right way — on the field and off the field.”
“They are the best in the state,” said Serge. “Doesn’t that sound good? “Once a Blazer, always a Blazer,” he added.
Elkhart Community Schools Superintendent Rob Haworth told the team how they “captured a dream.”
“(It was) a dream that was started when you were given a bat, ball and a glove,” said Haworth. “On Saturday, you grabbed the dream and nobody — nobody — can take it away from you.”
Head coach Steve Stutsman let the gathering in on an exchange he had with Bethany Christian coach Brent Reinhardt (Central scrimmages each year with the Bruins).
“This is the group I’ve been waiting for,” said Stutsman of what he told Reinhardt. “They are a great bunch of guys.
“This is the greatest baseball team in Elkhart history,” he added.
The 18-year coach went on to say how this group had the will to work and the team chemistry which took it to Northern Indiana Conference, sectional, regional, semistate and then state titles and a 22-game win streak to end the whole dream season.
“Is this a dream?,” Stutsman said earlier Monday. “If it is, don’t wake me.”
All players tossed bubble gum into the crowd and several seniors took the opportunity to speak.
“It’s been an amazing ride,” said Kaleb DeFreese, who recalled that assistant coach Steve Asbury helped drive pre-season workouts with one word: “Indy.”
“All that hard work paid off,” said DeFreese.
Casey Ianigro thanked the fans and the parents for all the post-game snacks and the support.
“You guys rock and this team rocks,” said Ianigro. “I’ll always remember you guys.”
Matt Eppers also thanked the supporters.
“We may be the No. 1 team in the state, but you are the No. 1 fans,” said Eppers, who was the Class 4A L.V. Phillips Mental Attitude Award winner at the State Finals.
“Without (the parents and fans,) it wouldn’t be possible,” said Mike Namisnak.
Nick Ponce summed up the pre-rally festivities in six words: “I got to ride a fire truck.”
While introducing the members of the team, FOX 28 sports director Dean Huppert was reminded that it was 20 years ago this month that he saw coach Tom Kurth and his state championship boys track team ride onto campus on a fire truck.
Kurth’s daughter, Kristie, is married to Stutsman.
Monday’s rally was planned last week and was going to happen regardless of Saturday’s outcome.
When asked what would have been done Monday had the game come out differently, Buckley said, “With this group, I knew what was going to happen.”