Old school

New head coach brings experience to SHS baseball program


Kelsey Jones

New head coach Phil Webster coaches art a practice on March 7.

Clara Oesterling

SHS baseball came out of the 2017-2018 season 10-9 in need of a new coach and facing a change of leadership. Their interim head coach, Mike Klopfenstein, had stepped down, and with many anxious players, action had to be taken. At the end of the SHS athletic department’s search, 77-year-old Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame coach Phil Webster was hired to lead this growing team.

“My very, very first impression: he’s old,” assistant coach David Chamberlin said. “Shortly after I met coach Webster, I realized that while numerically he’s older, he’s got a ton of energy and a lot of knowledge.”

With over 50 years of coaching experience under his belt, Webster has seen a lot, including a state championship with Decatur Central High School in 2008. Despite his old age, he did not see himself stopping. Instead, after watching SHS play in sectionals last season, he became interested in what he could do for the team.

“I loved the spirit of the team,” Webster said. “I thought the team was hardworking. I very much enjoy coaching and this gave me an opportunity, even in my elderly age, to be able to go out there and be with young people.”

While this opportunity gave Webster a new feat to conquer, it also gave SHS a new perspective and outlook on how to approach baseball. He filled a leadership gap by implementing fundamentals he have proved effective in his extensive career.

Part of the change Webster is trying to make is focusing more on hitting and its basics. He believes in the importance of laying out a strong foundation on which to build up SHS baseball. In the 2018 season, the team batted .235 and had four home runs all season.. This year, the goal is to change their approach in order to increase home runs and their offense overall. In the past, the team has played traditionally. Now, more risks are being taken and the offensive approach has become more aggressive.

“We have been working really hard on changing the way they hit,” Webster said, “implementing a different kind of hitting philosophy and then just making sure we throw and field the ball correctly.”

Players have had to adjust to the new direction. Many have had to change the way they play in order to make the new system work cohesively with Webster.

“He changed our fundamentals, the way we swing and the way we throw,” sophomore Carson Moore said. “It is different from what most coaches teach, but everything is more clean and more fluent.”

Senior Jack Vanover has also felt the changes induced by the introduction of a new coach to the program. Though Webster is different from coaches Vanover has had in the past, he sees the reasoning behind his ways.

“He is old-fashioned, he teaches everything old-fashioned,” Vanover said. “He doesn’t get involved with a lot of the new aspects of baseball, but a lot of the old-fashioned things that he knows and we do still work.”

There is a lot of speculation around SHS baseball to see what the change will mean success-wise for the team when they start competition on March 26. With many returning seniors and prestige on the name of the coach, as well as the renowned pitcher Avery Short, their skill will be tested and compared to the high expectations people have set.

The most promising prospects are the returning players who have improved their game since last season. Short has already broken the school record in career strikeouts and hopes to gain even more on that stat this season. He is also getting the attention of MLB scouts. Vanover and junior Ryan Lezon are key outfield and offensive players returning from last year and senior Nick Lynn is looking to improve his .273 batting average and make strides for the team this season.

“I can’t predict what’s going to happen, but should things pan out the way that we expect them to, I think our record will be significantly better,” Chamberlin said. “Offensively we are doing a lot of positive changes, and I think we have a team that could be competitive.”

Webster is excited to see what he can do for SHS as well as what SHS is able to give him nearing the end of his career. In the near future for the SHS baseball program, there will be many changes that will depend on the fit of Webster with the team. He has plans that will affect the course of the organization and only time can tell what they will shape up to be.

“A lot of baseball has to do with luck, (like) little dribblers that they weren’t supposed to hit or little balls that fall in that they weren’t supposed to hit, ” Webster said. “If we do our job and we get some luck, then we have a chance.”