Trisha Lawless is a full-time communications advisor and writer based in Indianapolis. She previously served as a television news journalist for 15 years in Illinois, Iowa, and Indiana. Trisha is the author of a memoir, Know When to Run: Lessons from the Diary of a Gen X Mom, which explores the pivotal year that led to her career shift away from television in 2011. She is a big fan of musical theatre, and she also loves biking, hiking, grilling for family and friends, working with her husband Ben on their historic home, and, of course, watching their kids play sports.
Youth Sports in Indy: A Baseball Mom’s Perspective
Ninety-four miles per hour. That’s how fast my kid is pitching a baseball nowadays. Faster than (most) traffic zooming across Indianapolis on the I-70 highway. My son pitches at 94 miles per hour.
I watch Calvin in his element on the mound, cool and confident. Sometimes I have to remind myself to close my jaw. Who is this tall, driven young man, striding fearlessly onto the field with a mop of sandy blond waves poking out from beneath his ball cap? How exactly did my firstborn go from a four-year-old playing in the Rookie League to an 18-year-old Division 1 college recruit snowballing towards a professional baseball career?
Genetic gifts? Hard work? Obsessive drive? Great coaches? Yes, yes, yes, and definitely, yes. But in my opinion, there’s one more important thing. We were in the right place at the right time. We were in Indianapolis.
Your kids can find their sport in Indianapolis.
After several career moves, my family landed (very intentionally) in Indy when Calvin was in preschool. We were initially drawn to Indianapolis because the city is big enough to feel big but still easy to navigate. We fell in love with the city’s beautiful downtown and parks, attractive and affordable neighborhoods, many school options, and its proximity to Chicago. Youth sports were just starting to enter my “mom radar” at the time, so it was just good luck that we stumbled into such incredible opportunities for our kids!
Calvin was gravitating toward baseball even back then, and he landed in the Skiles Test Youth Baseball League on the northeast side of Indy. Although I lack athletic talent, I had brothers who were great ballplayers, and I always loved baseball. I remember a conversation with tiny preschool Calvin where I casually asked about his interest in soccer, football, basketball, baseball, etc. (That way I wouldn’t “lead the witness” toward my favorite sport!) “I like baseball,” he told me, while holding a fat plastic bat in the backyard. “I wanna do baseball.”
The Indy community is perfect for beginners starting a new sport.
I loved those years of watching the little kids learn the ropes! Preschoolers run their little tails off in tiny ball caps that frame their dirty faces. Parents volunteer as coaches and fill the fan section in lawn chairs, clutching mugs of coffee on chilly spring mornings. Siblings run on the playground with lips bright blue from concession stand Ring Pops. And everyone wears a huge grin at the trophy ceremonies.
When my daughter Clara was in preschool and wanted a taste of life as a ballplayer, she got to join the co-ed Rookie League on a team called the “Grasshoppers.” (How stinking cute is that?) The coaches patiently taught those little ones how to play the game, no matter how clueless they were. Now, I love watching our 11-year-old Dawson follow in Calvin’s footsteps. He’s transitioning from his recreational community league in New Palestine to the Indy Sharks traveling team. And I love seeing our little nephews start to fall in love with baseball, too!
If your little player is new to the game, then set aside your anxieties. At every turn, we found fellow Indy sports families who were eager to help us learn the ropes of the beginner phase. So, get ready to ask a lot of questions and enjoy the heck out of this adorable season!
Indianapolis is a destination for serious athletes.
Sometimes, those little beginners evolve into die-hard, serious, driven athletes. One of the big fears young parents tend to have is about the travel commitment of serious sports. I hear it often: “Wow, your kid is playing at that high a level? You guys must have to do some crazy travel!” Actually… not really. The Indianapolis region has so many sports amenities that it’s become a big destination for teams from all over.
The creation of the Grand Park Sports Campus in Westfield around a decade ago was a game changer. The 400-acre campus includes 26 turf diamonds, 31 multi-use fields, and three indoor sports facilities.
“The tournaments at Grand Park bring in high-level talent from across the country,” says Phil Wade, Indiana Director of Prep Baseball Report, one of the nation’s top scouting organizations. He points out that the Indy area also has some of the best indoor facilities around, including RoundTripper Sports Academy, Pro X Athlete, and Finch Creek.
“Players and teams have the opportunity to practice, take lessons, and work on their game year-round,” Wade says. “There are also several facilities around the area that may not have the size of the big three but have highly qualified coaching and instruction that develop many of the state’s best ball players.”
Our family rarely has to travel for athletic competitions.
Calvin’s longtime travel baseball coach—Jason Taulman with Indy Sharks—represents one of those “smaller facility” guys who creates big opportunities through his training programs and teams. Taulman is a fan of keeping costs and travel as reasonable as possible for baseball families.
“With so many great tournament opportunities right here in Indy for elite players, there really isn’t a need to travel that much,” Taulman told me. “Teams from all over the place want to play in Indy, and we get to stay home and host them.” Between the Grand Park tournaments, Pastime Tournaments, and the many other venues in the area, young athletes have a wide range of local places to play.
Taulman typically only schedules a couple trips a year for the Indy Sharks team, and he usually sticks to drivable destinations like Ohio, Illinois, and Tennessee. (We did make one “bucket list” road trip to Cooperstown, New York, as a team, and we’re planning to go again with Dawson’s team next year. I can’t wait!)
But most of our weekends during the baseball season are spent right here in the Indy area. I love the simplicity of spending a day at the ballpark and landing in our own beds at the end of the night. And while baseball has been our focus over the years, we’ve gotten to see how appealing Indianapolis is for all kinds of athletes.
The Indiana Convention Center alone is a strong magnet for youth sports. Its huge size, central downtown location, and connection to Lucas Oil Stadium makes it an incredibly appealing venue for athletic teams and marching bands. We’ve welcomed lots of out-of-state friends as they travelled here for volleyball tournaments, cheer competitions, soccer tournaments, and more.
Our athletic community fosters talent for college recruitment.
All the high-quality training available in the Indy region contributes to a player’s skills, confidence, and career opportunities. “You see a lot of Indy area kids going on to play at the college level because their youth experience has helped them develop their skills,” Taulman told me. “College coaches come and camp out in Indy to evaluate players and watch their skills. A lot of the college scholarship opportunities happen because kids have had access to so much training, and the coaches recognize it.”
Wade agrees, describing the high school tournaments in the Indy region as a “haven” for college recruiters. “College coaches flock to Grand Park every weekend throughout the summer,” he says. “This is huge for parents and players in the area, knowing they don’t have to travel across the country in order to be recruited or face high-level competition.”
In our case, Cal’s development and experience as a player helped him attract scholarship offers from several strong college baseball programs. The decision ended up being a tough one. The day he committed to the University of Illinois—located in the city where he was born—was unforgettable.
According to Wade, Cal is in good company. Each year on average, 60 baseball players from Indiana commit to a D1 school, and more than 200 commit to play college ball at some level. Now, Cal is hoping that he’ll fit into the final statistic Wade shared: Since 2015, 109 players who played high school baseball in Indiana have been drafted into the Major League Baseball system.
The Indy region supports robust school sports programs.
From a school sports perspective, many of the nine township school districts within Marion County have large and strong athletic programs. Outside of Indianapolis, there are also leading programs in the suburbs around the region, such as Carmel, Fishers, Brownsburg, Greenwood, and New Palestine. Indy also has several highly competitive private schools and other athletic programs that are much smaller in scale.
“The Indy area is home to many of the state’s top high school baseball programs,” says Wade. “If you go back to the year 2000, 15 teams from the Indy area have won state championships and 14 others have been state runner-up.”
If your young athlete is ready to play at a highly competitive level, they’ll enjoy the challenge of top-level school athletic programs. But if their level of ability or experience is not as high, they may not have the chance to play on some of the largest schools’ teams. (We’ve had this experience, with kids not quite making the cut for middle school teams against stiff competition.)
Bottom line: Do some research, and find the coaches, schools, and programs where the level of play and appetite for travel match yours. I recommend asking a lot of questions and considering whether you should explore smaller school options to expand your child’s chances of playing school sports.
Indianapolis lets you explore the world of sports.
Between all our kids, we’ve experienced the full smorgasbord of sports over the years. We’ve done football, cross country, basketball, gymnastics, swimming, dance, softball, karate, tennis, baseball, volleyball, soccer, track, wrestling, and even fencing. We also watched our friends’ kids excel in rugby, cheer, lacrosse, and golf.
Some of these turned into serious and long-term athletic endeavors, but others were super casual explorations. My philosophy is simple. If a kid shows interest in something, get them in there and let them try it out! Fortunately, we’ve found a treasure trove of options in Indy for kids just wanting to try something new.
So, how do you know where your kids should play, especially if they’re exploring a new hobby? The fact is that here in Indy, you could ask pretty much any random parent, and they’d probably have a list of answers so long you’d wish you re-filled your coffee cup first. Youth sports are everywhere in the Indy region, and parents in our community love to share what’s working for their kids.
My kids discovered the beauty of sports as a hobby.
My daughter Clara got interested enough in baseball and softball to spend several years playing, and she got pretty good at it! But after a while, it became clear that her heart wasn’t really in it. As we considered signing up for another season, I asked her, “So, what is your favorite part about softball?” Her answer: “The pool party at the end of the season, and when I get to sit on the bench and take a break.” Enough said.
Over the years, she also got good at gymnastics, explored volleyball clinics, and took tennis lessons. She discovered that (not surprisingly) she’s good at almost everything! Now, she is putting more of her energy into academics and the arts, but I’m thankful she had so many opportunities to dip her toes into various athletic waters.
Meanwhile, our youngest, Daisy, has tried soccer, swimming, and gymnastics. Her instructors could not have been sweeter or more encouraging, even when she showed up to her first soccer game wearing the shin guards on the outside of her socks. (We had no clue!) And both of our baseball players, Cal and Dawson, have also spent lots of time playing basketball in various leagues. Dawson in particular loves to play—whatever the game is! So, he’s also been in and out of soccer, wrestling, and football programs.
All in all, the Indy region has given my kids no shortage of opportunities to explore their options. They all had the chance to meet new faces, learn new skills, and get a taste of different sports and athletic activities. So, don’t be afraid to let your kid try something new! No matter what, they’ll get something of value out of the experience—even if it’s the pool party.
Indianapolis is home to a world-class professional sports scene.
Since becoming a Hoosier in 2007, I’ve been impressed by how many opportunities Indiana’s pro sports community offers for families and kids. The Indiana Pacers, Indiana Fever, Indianapolis Colts, Indy Eleven soccer team, and the Indianapolis Indians (Triple-A baseball!) all have great facilities and strong community outreach programs. It is so cool to be able to take the kids to see a basketball or baseball game on a regular school night! And the Colts Training Camp stands out to me as an incredible way for families to get close to their favorite players and be part of the behind-the-scenes NFL experience.
The Indians’ Knot Hole Kids Club allows kids 14 and under to get free admission to games with their membership, as well as chances to run the bases on Victory Field on Sundays. The gorgeous downtown stadium also plays host to some youth events like the Marion County Baseball Tournament and State Championships. It gave me chills to see Calvin and his Lawrence North High School teammates step onto that field a few years ago, claiming their place as Marion County Champions! And if you want to check out an MLB game, both Cincinnati and Chicago are a super quick and easy drive from Indy. (Go Cubs, says this Chicagoland native!)
Hoosier Hospitality is at the heart of youth sportsmanship in Indy.
Have you heard the term “Hoosier Hospitality?” Yes, it is a real thing. With just a few exceptions—you know those overzealous and competitive types—I have found friendliness and humility to be alive and well in Indy’s youth sports community.
After all, parents need friends, too! I have no clue how we would have gotten through so many years of sports without the incredible friendships we’ve formed with our fellow sports families. We share rides, plan fundraisers, and throw together team pool parties. We collaborate on hotel laundry strategy during baseball trips and take over parking lots with tailgate gatherings and between-the-games barbecues. Most of all, we always make sure to cheer extra loud and take videos of players when their parents have to miss a game!
Your kids make friendships that last a lifetime.
I get such a kick out of seeing Julia, who is a junior in high school, laugh with her cross-country teammates as they catch their breath after a meet. Her group of running friends has formed such a tight bond that they seem like a little family. They have their own traditions, quirks, and memorable adventures. (They once spent an entire day filming their own version of a Niall Horan music video—ridiculous and hilarious!) And it’s obvious that these friendships with her teammates have truly transformed her.
This spring, Calvin had fun cheering on his school’s basketball team at sectionals. He and his baseball teammates masked up and got decked out for one of the big games, wearing tropical-patterned shirts, Bermuda shorts, and sandals to create a loud and proud Hawaiian-themed student section. These kids go nuts for the themes at basketball and football games.
From camo to cowboys, we have gone through a lot of face paint, body paint, and colored hair spray over the years! But it has been awesome to watch his friendships with his teammates grow stronger and stronger every day. (Although, I could have done without a few of the pranks. We were still finding foam packing peanuts a year after they stuffed Cal’s car with them!)
I am grateful to raise my kids in Indianapolis.
As I look up from my screen right now, I see Calvin and his amazing mop of hair. He’s eating a huge, athlete-sized meal as he gets ready to make his daily visit to Coach Taulman’s indoor training facility. He is wearing a University of Illinois sweatshirt, already representing the college he’ll call home in just a few months. I find myself staring at him more often nowadays, taking it all in.
The past 18 years watching him grow up have been priceless and fleeting. I’m so grateful for all the coaches, teammates, school and league administrators, and facilities that have made his experience an exceptional one. I’m grateful for our amazing city, and the abundance of opportunities it has provided to our family.
May our children continue to find experiences that will help them grow and flourish—on and off the athletic fields.