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Play ball!

Play ball!

Center Grove native Kent Thompson celebrates his 25th year coaching All-Star Little League teams

Kent Thompson recently celebrated 25 years of coaching Little League.

Through the first portion of his All-Star coaching years with Center Grove Little League, Kent Thompson was focused on teaching the youth about the game of baseball and giving them the best chance to win.

Now celebrating his 25th year coaching, that focus has transitioned into how he can best relate to these children, using baseball to help them succeed in their future life endeavors.

“For a shy little kid who grew up on a farm, how did I get to where I could coach these kids?” he said, “I don’t coach them so I can see them win a baseball game. I coach them because 10, 20 years down the road I want to see who they’ve become.”

Thompson grew up in White River Township. He played in the Little League for two years as a youth. He graduated from Center Grove High School in 1981.

Kent Thompson coaches the 1992 World Series All-Star team at Center Grove Little League.

After taking six months off to spend time with his uncle in Iowa, he returned and was asked to help coach a Little League team in 1983. A few years later, he received a phone call from the president of the Center Grove Little League, saying they needed coaches. So Thompson coached the Junior League, ages 13 and 14, from 1983 to 1990. He then began coaching the Senior League, ages 15 to 18, from 1991 to ’93.

“In 1992, we went to the World Series,” he said. “It was a unique situation that year. I wasn’t going to coach the All-Star team that year, but they said you should take it and I agreed. That team had never even won the district tournament. The more we practiced and played, the better we got as a team. We won the district… I thought this team is really doing something. We made it to the World Series. It all came together. We finished third in the U.S. and sixth in the World.”

Thompson didn’t coach in ’94 or ’94, instead taking care of his family in a transition period of building a home. In ’96, he was asked to return to coaching. He coached his son in the Center Grove Little League for two years, then his daughter in softball for three years – both of which were new to him since those leagues were for the small children.

After his daughter stopped playing, he took a break from coaching, until his brother began getting sick in 2005. He needed to get his mind off of that, and a friend at church said he could help coach his team in ’06. He again took a break until 2011, when he came to the Greenwood Little League, where he has been coaching an All-Star team ever since.

The 1992 Center Grove team earned six in the world at the World Series championships.

Thompson serves on the board of directors and is in charge of the grounds. Although he has undergone a heart attack and surgery this year and has to limit his physical activity, it hasn’t stopped him yet. He celebrated his 25th year of coaching All-Star teams with his Little League friends in May.

“The longevity is amazing to me,” he said. “You have to prepare yourself every year to do this again. 35 years is what could have happened if I stuck with it. I started at 20 years old. I’m now 55. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I love baseball and I love being around the kids. There are kids that ask for me, that want to play for me. That’s the reason I coach today.”

His 25th year isn’t over with yet. The team won its championship on July 6, which brings them to the State Tournament in Anderson, Ind. on July 13 to 15. If they make top two, they will advance to semi-finals on July 16.

“My coach and I got the idea this year will be special,” he said. “I’m waiting to see where this year goes.”

With his health, Thompson said he knows he needs to cut back, but has no plans to stop coaching altogether. He won’t coach fall ball, but has yet to make any further decisions about the All-Star team.

“I love the kids too much to say I’m just walking away,” he said.

Getting to know Kent…

What’s some advice you wish someone had given you when you were younger?

To not be so afraid of people. I would stay in my room and never get out. I wish I would have had that confidence, or belief in myself that I could do it.

In your school-age years, is there a person who had a significant impact on you? Who and why?

As far as baseball goes, Larry Socks, I graduated with his son. I didn’t play for him during the regular season. We had a team called Big League. I played three years, from 16 – 18. From 17 to 19, I helped him coach his team. We practiced in Center Grove High School parking lot. I would sit on the bench beside him, and he told me everything he was doing. That’s when I realized you don’t have to be a great player to be a good coach. You just have to be willing to learn and listen. He always told me, you can do whatever you set your mind to doing. In ’93, he looked me up after he found out that we went to the World Series. He said ‘I knew you’d do that, because of your passion for the game.’ He’s gone now. He was my biggest influence to the team.

Another person is my grandfather who had the farm. Where Hickory Stick is was my grandfather’s farm. It was neat to grow up on a farm and between those two things, baseball and farming, I look back at my childhood and think I was luckier than I thought.

What do you do in your free time?

If I had my way, I would coach Little League year-round. I do try to help out at food pantries and stuff to keep busy. I’ll have to find something in the fall to keep busy. I enjoy going to high school ball games to watch them.

What are some goals you’d like to accomplish in the coming years?

I don’t ever see me not having baseball in my life. That’s where I’ve been most of my life. There’s not a better atmosphere for me than the baseball field.

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