Uggen names to Hall of Fame

By Eric Christiansen
Joseph Slacian

Tony Uggen, former Northfield High School baseball coach and athletic director, was named to the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame Class of 2020.

Uggen, along with four others, will be inducted during a ceremony on Friday, Jan. 17, at the Sheraton at Keystone at the Crossing in Indianapolis.

“I am humbled by all this,” said Uggen, who now coaches at his alma mater, Blackford High School. “I wouldn't say it was a goal to get to the Hall of Fame, but once you have the success that we did and you see how other coaches have fared over the years you kind of figure it could happen someday. But I certainly wasn't losing sleep over it.

“I was actually up for it last year but didn't quite make it. To be honest, I was kind of glad I didn't because we were 10-18 that year and it would be strange going in after a losing record, not that that doesn't happen. It’s more of a mental thing. This past spring the Bruins were 19-11 so going in now makes me feel better because we are making some good progress here in trying to turn around the program here.

“I have shared with a few others that this is more a we award rather than a me award. Coaches don't make the Hall of Fame without great kids doing some great things. But there are other factors as well and maybe a little luck.”

Uggen spent his first 20 years at the helm at Northfield. His Norsemen had a long run of success winning 20-plus games in 12 of his 20 years there and garnered 13 conference titles, seven sectional titles, four regionals, two semi-states, and reached the final four on four different times. The Norse won 2A state titles in 2001 and 2012 and were 2A state runners-up in 2013.

After the '13 season, he accepted the challenge of rebuilding the program at his alma mater. His ’14 Bruins finished 14-14 to end the eight-year losing streak. His ’17 Bruins, 17-13, recorded the program’s first winning season since ’05 and won the school’s only sectional title in any sport since ’09. His ’19 Bruins finished 19-11.

Uggen’s teams have compiled a 476-277 record over 26 years. Overall, he has coached six North All-Stars, 15 All-State players, and 20 have gone on to play at the next level.

He was twice named IHSBCA 2A Coach of the Year and received District Coach of the Year honors seven times. He was head coach of the North All-Stars in 2006. He has also served on IHSBCA committees.

He also coached football for several years at Northfield including four years as head coach.

Uggen said he had some of the aforementioned luck during his tenure at Northfield.

“If I remember correctly, we really only had a three-year stretch and the year after the state championship in '01, due to graduation, where we were right around 500,” he told The Paper of Wabash County. “That says a lot about the youth baseball program in Wabash County. Before I got to Northfield, I knew a lot of those guys that coached at the lower levels and they had those kids ready by the time I got them. That certainly makes my job a bit easier because the kids had a good baseball background.

“And it says lot about our kids. We were very fortunate to have a lot of kids who worked hard and had the drive and motivation to be great. That's getting harder and harder to find these days. And we had pretty good leadership. More so by example, but we had some vocal leaders who set the tone for several teams. And they were coachable. We certainly couldn't have got what we wanted accomplished without kids willing to listen.

“I know there were probably some kids who may not have cared about all the discipline nor maybe the way I went about things because I am set on my ways and am not the most personable guy at times which I still am working on, but I think disciplined teams win. And we won a lot. They go hand in hand.”

Uggen said the players he coached consisted of “some incredibly talented kids. Many with baseball smarts.”

“A few off the top of my head were Eric Bear, Brandon Baker, Brian Tyo, Jimmy Wallen, Matt Holmes, Shane Haecker, Shawn Smith, Jason Stanley, Todd McKillip, Bryce Shafer, Ty Mills, Tyler Palmer, Josh Wilcox, David Diener, Braden Birk, Ryan Keaffaber, Andy Roser, Collin Dawes and Adam Roser,” he continued. “I could name several others that stood out. There have been some pretty good ones here at Blackford as well.”

He said he also was surrounded by great coaches, both at Northfield and at other schools.

“Steve McCarty was a big help those early years,” Uggen said. “Steve Lyng stepped up big for me in '01. He admittedly didn't have a great baseball background but I needed him to provide a little more discipline at the JV level and he did that for me. Troy Miller and Ryan Keaffaber were absolutely great to work with. They had great baseball backgrounds and we got along very well together. They also helped keep me grounded and I was able to bounce a lot of thoughts off them.

“There were several other guys that helped now and then -- Ryan Rosen, Andy Dennings and Stan Cox off the top of my head. There were others. I have put together a pretty good staff here at Blackford as well. It makes a difference.

“I would be remiss not to mention coaching under Craig Winegardner. He put the program on the map. He gave me that shot to coach JV and trusted me enough that he turned over the program to me two years later with a lot of great talent. I later appreciated him saying -- maybe after we won state in '01 -- that ‘I knew you could do it.’ He was very structured and orderly and also demanded discipline. Like other coaches who molded who I am as a coach, I took away things from that experience that helped me become a better coach. He still comes to watch one of my games now and then. That means a lot to me.

“It's been great coaching against a lot of great coaches. There were so many great coaches just in Wabash County. And they were all great people as well. Chris Rood was a Hall of Famer. Ron Eberly, Kevin Yenna, Jack Rupley, and Matt Stone to name a few. Those guys were fun to coach against and hard to beat. You certainly didn't have to travel far to play a great baseball team. That’s the same for the TRC. There were several very good teams year in and year out.”

Uggen also gives credit for his success to his family. He and his wife Lisa have 5 children: Stephanie, Christian, Brandon, Brendan, and Elly.

“I have to thank my wife and family for their support,” he said. “Being an A.D. and a coach is very time consuming which means I am gone a lot. But they have been supportive in allowing me to do what I love.”

Parental support of both Uggen and the teams were vital, he believes.

“I have been very fortunate throughout the years to have great support,” he said. “Not everyone has walked away happy. I think every parent wants their kid to play and coaches just aren't able to that all time. But I would like to think that they at least appreciated that I wanted all the kids to get more out of baseball than just playing a game.

“I hope they learned some lessons and values that have helped them succeed after they headed out into the real world. I take the time now and then to look up former players on Facebook and see what they're up to. Most seem to be doing very well for which I couldn't be more proud. I wish I could take the time to keep in touch but most of my spare time, which isn't much, is spent with my wife and family. So, I don't have anywhere near the time I would like to keep in touch.”

In addition to Uggen, others in the Class of 2020 are coach Scott Upp, LaPorte High School; one player, Clint Barmes, Vincennes High School; one contributor/coach, Brian Abbott; and the Veterans Committee nominee, George Cuppy, Logansport.

Posted on 2019 Dec 03