Each of his 24 assistants hold a special place in John Froedge’s heart, but none more than the 35 years his brother-in-law Rhett Welliever spent as his right-hand man.
“Rhett has helped for 35 of my 39 years,” Froedge said. “Having him work alongside for all these years is part of what kept me going and encouraged. I absolutely could not have done this myself. CHS baseball is something we talked about and planned year-round. There were not many family gatherings they we were not talking at least some CHS Baseball.”
Welliever joined the Athenian staff for the 1986 season, and the rest is simply history.
“We both learned a lot from each other,” Welliever said.
Crawfordsville won its first sectional title with Froedge at the helm in 1991, and Matt McCarty and Brett Motz being named back-to-back first-team all-state as shortstops in 1994 and 1995, helped set the stage for one of the best 29 year runs in the history of Indiana high school baseball.
“When you get back-to-back first team all-state shortstops in single class then people started looking at you and say ‘hey these teams are really good,’” Welliever said. “and people want to play for winning programs. That was really really big.”
The next move came at the turn of the century. A subtle change by the coaching duo that led to six different pitchers earning Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association first-team all-state nods.
“I can’t remember the exact year, it was either after the 99 or 2000 season, and John asked me ‘what do we need to do to bring our level up to state championship caliber?” Welliever added. “What I told him was we needed to do two things. We needed to throw harder, and the emphasis needs to be on throwing harder, and the way we did our bullpens in practice. We used to do them at the end of practice, and I just told them that they were tired, and they need to be at the beginning of practice when they are fresh so they can throw harder, have better stuff, and throw more strikes, and they are going to come away from that with a lot more confidence.”
The change ultimately led to four regional and two state titles.
“Coach and I decided many years ago that our pitchers’ development and preparation was paramount,” Froedge said. “They would always get their work in even if they got shorted in their hitting or defensive work. Our pitching depth was remarkable for a 3A school. It is that quality of depth that allowed us to have a chance to win every game. A lot of young baseball players wanted to pitch for CHS when they got to high school. They saw the success that the ones before them were having and they wanted to do that. Our pitchers were highly motivated and worked hard year in and year out.”
In the background at the Crawfordsville Youth Baseball level, two guys were at the center of molding future Athenians — Tony Bean and Daryl Hobson.
Hobson’s ties to Froedge went back to their adolescent years in northern Parke County, so the idea of starting a middle school program quickly became a reality.
“I talked to John about it, and he said ‘I’ve been wanting to get a middle school program going here for years, why don’t you just get that going,” Hobson said.
During the first year in 2003, Hobson coached the seventh grade group that consisted of Cody Dowell, Blake Harris, Cameron Hobson, Mitchell Ray, Jason Spurlock, Andrew Swart, and Justin Wright — all of whom would help lead the Athenians to their first state title as seniors in 2008.
“Basically what I did was I went to the high school practices, and when they started their indoor practices I went and watched them, and watched their drills,” Hobson added. “and recorded everything and we just basically made our practices just like the high school practices, and John and Rhett both said when those kids got to high school their freshman year, they could really tell the difference.”
While many people tend to only look at what Froedge has done since the 1991 season, Brian Norris brought stability to the program as the JV coach under Froedge for his first nine seasons before taking the varsity softball job.
“His integrity of the program and what he wanted to accomplish and means of going about things is one of the things I noticed, and I tried to carry a lot of that over to what I did with softball,” Norris said. “I learned a lot from him, and then our families became good friends.”
The success the Athenians were having on the baseball field followed Norris to the softball diamond, where he led Crawfordsville to four sectional titles, including in 2002, when his son Adrian Norris was a north/south All-Star for coach Froedge, and Froedge’s daughter, Britney, was an all-state shortstop for Norris.
“It was a lot of fun,” Norris added. “You’re playing there so close together on the fields. There’s my son playing over there, and his daughter his playing over here, and you’re trying to peek and see what the score is over there while the game is going on over here. It was interesting times, and it was a lot of fun. And nobody supported softball more than John, and I think he would agree that I supported baseball too.”
After joining Hobson on the middle school staff, Bean, a former player of Froedge’s, stepped into the JV role in 2008.
For the next 11 seasons Bean was able to confirm what he already knew about his high school baseball coach.
“He would have meetings with just me in the coaches office almost daily, and he would ask ‘what do you see in these specific kids,’” Bean said. “and kids that he’s thinking he might need down the road in this particular season.”
“Coach and I got really close, and I consider him a dear friend today, and somebody I can always count on.”
Once Hobson’s oldest son, Cameron, retired from playing, Froedge asked him to join the varsity staff as an assistant. A move that helped continue to show Hobson, Froedge’s commitment to make Athenian baseball all about family.
“He just wanted everybody to feel a part of the program,” Hobson said. “And that goes to John’s credit that if you’re part of the program, you’re more than just a baseball player for the program. He was really interested in developing young men, and just seeing that they met their potential. And his faith was a big part of that. Sharing his faith with the boys, and they were hearing how God had impacted his life. John put a lot of value in that.”
And it had been a family atmosphere since day No. 1.
“You can tell when somebody really cared about the kids, and that was obvious,” Welliever said. “The amount of time that he would spend not just with the kids, but with the parents about the players.”
At the end of the day, Froedge’s priority as a coach and throughout his life has been his faith, and it has spread throughout his players and assistant coaches.
“There’s no doubt that he’s intense and wants to win, but it goes back to what he cares about and that’s people. And I think everything he does he tries to do it faith-based,” Norris said. “The Lord never said it was going to be easy, and we are always going to have trials
and tribulations. All that comes out in athletics, but he always strived to respect the game and to play the game the right way and I think that was one of the biggest things I got from those nine years and tried to carry over to the softball program.”
In total, Froedge had 24 assistant coaches over his 39-year tenure, many of which were former players.
“I had some of the best assistant coaches possible during my 38 seasons on the field,” he said.
They included Brian Norris, Mike Sorrell, Rhett Welliever, Kevin Gallagher, Brian Norman, Scott Thompson, Tim Morrison, Charlie Martin, Tom Lutz, Eric Bowman, Chad McAtee, JD Flynn, Dustan Stevens, Jay Strickland, Jason Surber, Ashley Lucas, Matt McCarty, Brandon Froedge, Brett Motz, Tony Bean, Kevin Kellerman, Tommy Coy, Connor Smith, and Daryl Hobson.
Bridging The Gap
After 39 seasons, a new, but familiar face will take over the Athenian program as Brett Motz takes the reigns.
“One of the reasons Brett came back home from North Putnam in 2006-2007 was to hopefully become the next baseball coach at Crawfordsvill,” Froedge said of his successor. “He has done a lot to build our entire athletic program as the strength and conditioning coach at CHS. Brett grew-up around CHS athletics and specifically the baseball program. Of course, his father, Larry coached the Athenians in the late 60s and early 70s and his older brother, Scott was a star on our breakthrough team of 1991. Brett was, without a doubt, one of the very best ever to wear the Gold and Blue. I have many stories I could tell about his legendary high school baseball career. He was a 12-letter winner over four sports in high school. Our team record during his final three years of varsity baseball was 85-10. Brett was an assistant coach during our amazing run from 2007-2010.Brett has a strong desire to help young men as they grow up. He is passionate about baseball, his school and community. We couldn’t have found a better coach for the situation. He will do great and put his own stamp on the program quickly.”
And Motz is eager to leave his mark.
“There is a bond that not all players get to experience with their coaches,” he said. “I had that relationship with coach Froedge and I am thankful it has lasted for over 30 years. I look forward to the many conversations we have in the future as I try to help as many Athenian Baseball players experience the same great memories that I was fortunate to have under the leadership of coach Froedge.”
Hobson also recalls a special moment when Motz recalled what Froedge meant to him as a player, mentor, and fellow coach.
“We were heading down to a game in Evansville, and Brett (Motz) was on a mini bus with us, and John wasn’t on there, and he was asking the other coaches on there,” he said. “‘what do you guys think that John does that why he is so successful,’. And everybody had a little something to say, and then Brett said ‘for me when I played he made me feel like I was the best player in the state.’”
Crawfordsville baseball is in good hands.
While Froedge has been at the front and center of all of the success over the last four decades, he wants to say thanks to many of the moving parts.
To Bob Taylor:
“Bob video-taped most of our games and many other baseball activities over the past 27 seasons. At the end of each season, he provided every player with a 90-minute highlight tape of the entire season. He did it out of the goodness of his heart. To this day, I do not know of any other program having a guy like Bob. His videos helped our players improve more quickly than they might.”
To Justin Dugger:
Loved being a big part of what we were doing. Justin took a big load off of coaches by serving in areas that were vital to the overall quality of the program. Another loyal Athenian.
To Scott Kinkead:
Student manager in the 80s. Public Address announcer and administrative assistant in the 90s and 2000s until his passing in 2008. Scott was one of the most loyal people I have ever been known. A cool thing is that his son, Christopher, has been our scoreboard operator the past few years. It has been great to have a Kinkead back in the program. Dave Ranard took over for Scott and has served and supported for the past 12 seasons.
To Rhett Welliever:
“In addition to developing amazing pitchers he is responsible for organizing and overseeing our internet broadcasts. There were others who have served as play by play announcers over the years as well.”
To Daryl Hobson:
I couldn’t begin to name all the ways Daryl contributed to our success over the past 25 years. He ran the CYB organization; coached many youth teams; helped to organize and ran our middle school program; coached on the high school staff and served in countless other ways to make CHS Baseball a better situation for the players.
To Tony Bean:
“Coach Bean has been a tremendous asset to our program for many years. He was a 3-year starter in centerfield for the Athenians in the mid-80s. He was also my student-assistant at school back then. He was President of CYB for several years. He then was instrumental in the early days of our middle school program both as a coach and administrator. We finally got him on the high school staff in 2008. He is that coach who enthusiastically and effectively takes a lot off the plate of the head coach. He is a great organizer and loves to work on the field (I finally found my equal). We spent a lot of time together working on the field over the past decade plus. He primarily served as the JV head coach the last 12 years and did an amazing job preparing the future varsity players. He has filled this same role for the basketball program for many years as well. He is now helping Coach Schlicher in the football program. Between he and Coach Welliever, you are not going to find two more dedicated and loyal men to have on your staff. They are passionate about helping young people through sports.”
“There is absolutely no way I could have coached so long without the unwavering support of a loving wife. Deb is a very competitive person as well and was truly into CHS Baseball throughout. In the early years before we had parent groups, she did all of those things, including packing food for the team for Saturday doubleheaders, hosting team meals, making scrapbooks for the players, etc. She carried a big load at home as well (as all coaches’ spouses know), especially when our kids were young and then involved in their own sports and activities. We thoroughly enjoyed and cherished the opportunity for our kids to grow-up around CHS Baseball. Getting to coach Brandon for four years and then as an assistant for 10 years was a great experience. The final fours years were a great experience having Britney coaching Softball at CHS. It has been a family thing for us from the outset. That would also include my in-laws (Dan & Judy Welliever). They have been two of the biggest supporters we’ve had throughout. It has been a big part of our life together and we wouldn’t trade it for anything. We have been blessed. Now though, it’s time for Deb and me to undertake some new adventures together.”
To Brandon Froedge:
“He maintained our Baseball Facebook page at a professional level for many years. He also provided special video shorts from games and other promotional videos.”
To Vern and Clyde Rager:
“Though they were school employees, they both went beyond to call of duty to help with many special needs and projects at the field over the years in addition to being frequent bus drivers for our road trips.”
To Randy Francis and Jim Williams:
“They are mostly responsible for the first-class outdoor batting cage set-up and bullpen area we have near the field. We completed that big project in the fall of 2004.”
To Gary and Wilbur Rice, and Daryl Hobson:
“We completely renovated the infield in the fall of 2008. We had major infield drainage issues since the opening of the field in 1995. We typically had to play a few home games at Baldwin almost every season due wet grounds at our new field. Daryl and Gary approached me and asked if I was up for a big project. So, we did. We escavated the entire infield sod and dirt; laid an entirely new drainage system underneath and then sodded and resurfaced the skin portion of the infield. It made a huge difference. We have not played a varsity game at Baldwin Field since. What those two did was incredible. We each put in a couple of hundred hours to complete the project that fall along with some generous help from others. It was incredible what those guys did.”
“There were many parents who went above and beyond in helping support the program. I have heard many coaches from other schools talk poorly about their parental support, etc. Our parents were the best. CHS Baseball would not have been the great experience it was for hundreds of young men without all the great things the parents have done. They were our booster club that provided so much support in so many positive ways.”
To All Former Players:
“Most people do not realize the number of hours the players and coaches spend working to maintain our beautiful facility. We also had a major facility workday prior to the season where the parents would join the players and coaches in prepping the field and entire facility for the upcoming season. I was a great team-building day each year. The players really took pride in their baseball home. Field maintenance was a great team builder as well. It was great to see the older players teaching the new ones the fine art of field maintenance.”
To The School
“First for the absolutely beautiful first-class facility and most recently the addition of the finest wall and netted backstop I’ve yet to see at any high school facility.”