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Ben Smith

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Semistate
Today
Kokomo
Class 3A
Norwell (31-3) vs. Western (23-5), 1 p.m.
Class 2A
Northfield (28-3) vs. Adams Central (26-3), to follow

AD departs with Jets flying high

So now it’s down to the kids with the bats, as the first summer of the rest of Rick Minnich’s life taps its foot impatiently. Softball at Ben Davis in Indianapolis. Baseball at Highland Park in Kokomo. Two weekends, tops.

Two weekends, tops, and then Minnich has all this time on his hands, for the first time in 39 years. He was 21 years old when he came back to his alma mater to coach and teach. He is 61 now. Cut him and he’ll bleed red for you, same as any human.

But not just any red, of course.

Adams Central red. Flying Jets red.

“Going to be strange when I drive away, whenever it is in June,” says Minnich, who stepped down three years ago after 35 seasons as an assistant or head football coach at AC and now is stepping down after 18 years as athletic director, too. “It is going to be really, really different next fall when I don’t have to plan anything and everybody’s going to go back to school. … It’s a bittersweet ending, but it’s not that I’m getting out because I hate my job or anything. It’s just like football: You know when your time is right.”

And the time, he says, is so, so right. He made the decision in February, but he started thinking about it in November, when he had what he describes as “some minor health issues.” He got to thinking about those 39 years. And the fact there was heart trouble and stroke in his family tree. And the fact he had grandkids now, and how he really wanted to spend some time with them while he could still enjoy them.

First, though, there are the other kids, the ones with the bats and gloves.

The softball team you know about, because it’s making its second straight trip to the Class 2A state finals. The baseball team, though, maybe sailed beneath your radar, even though it’s 26-3 and ranked No. 3 in 2A and hasn’t lost since Heritage shut it out 3-0 on May 2.

In the intervening five weeks, the runs have come in bunches: 12 against South Adams and 12 against Churubusco and 11 against Southern Wells, and then 15, 12, 13 and so on. Going into the semistate showdown with top-ranked Northfield (28-3), the Jets have rung up double digits in their last eight games. They scored 23 runs in the regional, beating No. 2 Hammond Noll 12-9 in the title game. The last time they scored fewer than 10 runs was May 11, when they shut out Churubusco 1-0.

Isaac Soldner has been the big stick, batting .462. Four other players – Dalton Combs, Isaac Luginbill, Conner Lengerich and Cooper Hill – are batting better than .400. Luginbill and Combs are a combined 17-0 on the mound, and Soldner (44), Combs (38) and Lengerich (33) have all driven 30-plus runs.

Combs, Luginbill, Lengerich, Soldner, Hill and Matt Schwaller and Chance Reynolds and Kyle Baker. Those are the kids who will escort Minnich to the door, after 39 years of kids. Those are the kids who will have him running up and down the road between Indy and Kokomo on Saturday, one last sprint before it’s summer, true summer, at last.

“You know what’s amazing?” says Minnich, who, sure enough, is in his car this day, with a back seat full of grandkids. “How can I ask for anything more to go out on? Seriously, what more can I ask for to have two teams do as well as they’ve done? And they’re great kids, too.

“It’s adding days to the end of my year. But that’s OK.”

Better than OK.

Ben Smith has been covering sports in Fort Wayne since 1986. His columns appear four times a week. He can be reached by email at bensmith@jg.net; phone, 461-8736; or fax 461-8648.

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