BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – A new effort is underway in southeast Iowa to bring skills training to youth baseball and softball players.
The Southeast Iowa Baseball Training Academy has opened an indoor training facility in Fort Madison and is looking for players that want to focus on the finer skills of baseball and softball.
Originally created as a baseball academy to help kids learn the finer points of baseball, Ron Walker, one of the founders of the academy, said parents quickly began to inquire about girls softball.
“We’re three weeks into this program,” Walker said. “It kind of branched off from the Southeast Iowa Junior Blackhawks. We started that about three years ago as a change to the travel ball culture in southeast Iowa.”
Walker said Southeastern Community College coach Justin Schulte asked him about three years ago if he would be interested in coaching a new team as another option to the Burlington Xplosion youth league franchise based out of Burlington.
“He was looking for a change in that culture and his son was playing for the Xplosion. He asked me to coach and I took that position and the interest started growing and we started the Southeast Iowa Junior Blackhawks. We had more than 60 kids show up for the initial tryouts from multiple towns, from Carthage to Mt. Pleasant and up past Mediapolis.” Walker said.
Two years into the new youth program, which has teams from the 8 and under division up to the 14 and under, Walker said more and more people started asking about lessons and instruction.
“When we started hearing people wanted us to expand Junior Blackhawks from 8U to 14U, we also started fielding request from parents for additional instruction, so we formed this academy. We were able to work with Tony and Tara Johnson in Fort Madison to use their indoor training facility and we started holding training sessions about three weeks ago,” he said.
As part of the academy, Schulte and Walker along with a few other volunteers, work with the kids in hour-long sessions from 6 to 7 p.m. on Sundays and Mondays. SCC hitting coach John McVey and pitching coach Daniel Peterson also come down to camps at different times to work with academy kids.
“We kind of opened this on a trial basis to see how it would go,” Walker said. “Monday night was our fourth session. We started with baseball but as word got out we immediately had parents asking us about softball.”
The first Monday session was marked by three different hitting stations where about 10 kids rotated through the stations in cycles focusing on hand and eye coordination, body positioning, and bat speed.
Walker said he expects the academy to grow after the holidays as that is when travel ball clubs start setting schedules and gearing up for the season.
But Walker said the academy is for everyone, even those that want to work on skills for other leagues or just have an interest in learning the game. Right now boys and girls are being integrated together in the camps, but as interest grows Walker said he hopes to have separate boys and girls sessions.
He said each session will be limited to 10 kids per session, but if the interest level warrants additional classes, the academy would look at adding those.
Those interested in the academy can contact Schulte at 319-310-3536 or Walker at 319-750-7837. Both coaches accept text messages or phone calls and the academy has a Facebook page at www.facebook.com/SEIBTA/.
Costs of the sessions are $20/hour, but the academy will be running monthly specials and those interested are encouraged to visit the Facebook page regularly for them.
He said kids need to understand that this isn’t a rush job on training, and focusing on the little things and basics of the game is what leads to improvement.
“A lot of what we want to talk to these kids about is skills,” Walker said. “You don’t have to be the most talented but if you do the little things right, you’ll be one of the best kids on the field.”