Change of pace for Panthers’ coach
Published 11:39 pm Friday, June 8, 2018
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
He enjoys the change of pace.
David Kelton is the head baseball coach at LaGrange College, so for most of the year he’s teaching the sport to grown men who have been playing the sport for years.
For two weeks each year, Kelton takes on a different challenge.
Kelton offers a youth baseball camp each summer, and there are two week-long sessions.
On Friday, on a scorching June morning, the first of those sessions wrapped up, with more than 80 campers showing off what they’d learned during a demonstration for their parents at Cleaveland Field at Phil Williamson Stadium.
“You’re teaching those college kids all year long,” Kelton said. “It’s fun, and I wouldn’t want to do anything else. But this gives you something else. This allows you to sit back and slow things down a little bit, and see some of the young ones. They come in day one, and you can tell they’re nervous. By the end of the week, you see how they can go along with you with everything you’re saying.”
Kelton likes to end the week by having the young players provide a visual example of the things they learned during the five days of the camp.
Kelton leads the campers through a series of drills as they display the proper way to bunt, take a swing, make a throw, and field the ball.
“You try to give them as much as they can handle in a week’s time span,” Kelton said. “You try to teach them as much fundamentals as you possible can, just to give them a foundation, something to grow with. To be able to balance the teaching side, with the fun side, it’s always a juggle. We’ve been able to balance both of them.”
Helping Kelton out during the camp is Nick Beamenderfer, who has been an assistant coach at LaGrange College for the past four seasons.
Like Kelton, Beamenderfer takes a lot of satisfaction from watching the young campers grow and learn the sport.
“Going from college guys, trying to get the attention of a 6-year-old, it’s challenging,” he said. “It’s an adjustment, but it’s fun. You see it pay off on Friday, it’s rewarding. And the parents like it, too.”
Also serving as an instructor during the camp is Al Bell, who has been helping out since 2003, as well as Craig Mobley, a former LaGrange College player.
The remaining instructors are LaGrange College players Dawson Weaver, Jud Moore and Jake Smith.
Kelton said the primary focus of the camp is giving the players a firm foundation in the fundamentals of the sport.
“We had kids in this camp of all different skill levels,” Kelton said. ”At the end of the day, with players playing extremely well, usually they’re doing the basics and the fundamentals really well. Usually when they’re struggling, we always take them back to the basics, we always take them back to the foundation of where they started. It’s fundamental work, a lot of basic information that we’re giving to the guys.”
Kelton took over as the Panthers’ head before the 2014 season, and he has been offering the camp every summer since then.
The Panthers had losing records in each of Kelton’s first two seasons, but they’ve been rolling since then.
Over the past three seasons, the Panthers have a 100-37 record, and they’ve won back-to-back USA South championships and made two straight appearances in the NCAA Division III playoffs.
Perhaps not coincidentally, the camp numbers have risen over the past few years on the heels of the team’s success.
There were 83 participants in last week’s camp session, which is the most Kelton has ever had.
“It’s grown every year,” Kelton said. “I think last year we were in the 70s, and the year before in the 60s. It’s a great group. We didn’t have any issues. It was a good week.”
OF NOTE: During each session Kelton recognizes a camper of the week. The camper of the week for the first session was Ben Brown.