Let him play coach

Dylan Weldy, NorthWood head baseball coach A.J. Risedorph and senior Matt Dutkowski pose for a picture before the North-South All-Star baseball game in Madison, Ind. on Saturday. Weldy, a Panther manager for four years, had a chance to play for the North team on Sunday.

Dillion Weldy has never been the kind of person to ask for a favor.

But on Sunday morning, the players on the North and South Indiana High School All-Star baseball teams went to North head coach Mark Schellinger with a request on behalf of Weldy.

"They asked coach if I could play in the game on Sunday afternoon,'' Weldy said.

Schellinger, the head coach at New Prairie High School, agreed and in the eighth inning of the North's victory over the South on Sunday, Weldy had the opportunity to pinch run for the North team.

For Weldy, who had served as the manager for both the NorthWood baseball and basketball teams and was named the manager of the North team, it was the first action of his high school career.

"I had to find some cleats and a helmet that fit me,'' Weldy said after Schellinger told him prior to the North team's 8-4 victory. "But I was obviously very excited for the opportunity coach Schellinger gave me. I just told him I couldn't slide or dive.''

Weldy pinch ran in the top of the eighth inning at second base and was attempting to steal third when the batter hit a ground ball to the third basemen for the final out of the inning.

According to Weldy, the idea was launched Saturday night in the dorm room of Mishawaka pitcher Grant Jablonski.

"One of the guys brought up the idea of me getting to play on Sunday,'' Weldy said. "Once that happened, some of the others thought it was pretty cool and that's when they decided to ask the coach. I really didn't have much to say about it, but I was thankful for the opportunity.''

When you look at the entire story, there is little doubt that Dillion deserved the chance he received in the game.

Just two weeks into his life, Weldy went to Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis to repair a heart defect. He has continued to live with a heart murmur and also has an abnormally shaped aortic valve.

In 2008, when he was 7, his situation became even worse, as doctors discovered that Weldy had non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and a golf-ball-sized tumor on his spine.

After being airlifted to Riley, Dillion had surgery and doctors were able to remove the tumor, which was wrapped around his spinal cord. One vertebrae was fractured and another one was removed during the surgery.

Two years later, he was declared to be in remission, although he still went in for monthly checkups at Riley until earlier this year.

"Because of the cancer, I wasn't able to participate in sports through junior high,'' Weldy said. "But when I got to high school, my mom told me I needed to become more involved with some of the activities that were out there. I wasn't sure what to do really, then I discovered basketball and, after basketball was done, baseball.''

Weldy served as a manager for the NorthWood freshman team as a ninth-grader, before varsity coach Aaron Wolfe brought him up to the varsity after the freshman season ended.

Wolfe never regretted the decision.

"Dillion became a great leader for our team and an integral part of the success we had while he was at NorthWood,'' Wolfe said. "I believe what he went through helped make him who he is today and gave him the strength of character to live each and every day to the fullest. He is just a tremendous young man.''

"I never liked the 30- or 40-point wins, I always wanted the game to come down to the final seconds,'' Weldy admitted. "I loved it when we would win on a buzzer-beater ... those are the kind of games where the coaching strategies were always so important.''

NorthWood baseball coach A.J. Risedorph took over the Panthers' program two years ago, which meant Weldy spent two years working with the young coach. It was Risedorph who first got the idea rolling to have Weldy serve as a manager for the North team at the All-Star weekend.

"For everything Dillion has done for us, I wanted to try and give something back,'' Risedorph admitted. "Being a manager is a tough job and while our players really appreciate Dillion, it's still a pretty thankless job.''

While the Panthers are losing five talented seniors from this year's team, including North All-Star Matt Dutkowski, it's the sixth senior – Dillion Weldy – that Risedorph believes could be the toughest to replace.

"Dillion just meant so much to our program through the years,'' Risedorph said. "He's done everything from keep the book to give younger players a ride home and everything in between. He's a guy that bought into our philosophy of being relentless and the next-pitch mentality. He's the first one to arrive and get things ready for practice and the last one to leave once everything is finally taken care of.

"Coaching next year without Dillion will be more of a challenge because of all he has done for us.''

But just because he's now a NorthWood graduate, it doesn't mean Weldy's time as a manager is over. He will be attending Indiana University-East in Richmond and has received a partial scholarship to serve as a basketball manager. He is planning to major in marketing with a minor in sports management. His goal is to serve as an athletic director someday.

Meanwhile, his twin brother Garrett will attend Purdue University to study agriculture and animal science.

"We're a house divided,'' Dillion joked. "But it's all good. We're both getting the chance to do what we want.''

And if anyone can keep a house together and running smoothly, it's Dillion Weldy.

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