New Elwood athletic director looks to revive sports programs

·4 min read

Jul. 22—ELWOOD — Tuesday afternoon, Elwood junior-to-be Owen Hinchman was competing in the Little Hackers Tennis Tournament at Ball State University under the watchful eye of coaches John Kelly and Jake Ball.

There was another set of eyes watching, and they belonged to new Panthers athletic director Ryan Vanskyock. He quickly took to social media to celebrate Hinchman, who went on to capture the tournament championship.

Hinchman was doing what most high school athletes are doing during the summer. They play in tournaments, at AAU tournaments or travel ball, often out of the view of media or their school's coaches and administrators.

But Vanskyock has been there, celebrating the softball home runs, the morning track-and-field workouts, as well as a tennis tournament championship by sharing the summer accomplishments of his Elwood athletes on Twitter.

It's all part of his approach to bringing pride back to an athletic department that has largely struggled in recent years.

On the job since May 1, Vanskyock said his top priority when he took the job was to completely revamp the culture of the Panthers athletic student body, which he said was in shockingly poor condition.

"The first thing coming in, I felt that we needed to stop the bleeding if that makes sense," he said. "We had too many kids leaving Elwood Community Schools. The culture when I got here was tremendously a losing culture. The kids didn't think they could win, the coaches didn't think they could win, and the students just had that losing mindset and everybody was OK with that. For me, that was the number one thing we had to change right away. If you have that losing mentality, you're never going to win."

Vanskyock graduated from Jay County High School in 2003 before going on to study marketing and education at Vincennes and Ball State. He has previous coaching experience while in college, in Fort Wayne and at Delta High School before beginning an administrative career as an assistant AD with the Eagles.

One of his early goals to revive the athletic department was to gain the support of the Elwood community. If finances are any indicator, his efforts have been largely successful. He said the school's athletic fund — which was a woefully low $2,000 when he took over — will approach $90,000 by the time a golf outing is held at the end of July.

"When I got the job, everybody said the first thing I'll have to do is win over the community because there was a real disconnect between the community and the athletic department," Vanskyock said. "To me, I felt that was the number one thing I could do was get on those social media platforms and reach those community members with the things that we wanted to do."

He was also faced with making several high-profile coaching hires, including girls basketball, volleyball and baseball. In making those choices, he was looking for coaches who would stick around, grow the program's feeder systems and share his excitement for Panthers athletics.

Incoming girls basketball coach Courtney Lickliter said she likes what she has seen so far this summer.

"He's a go-getter," she said.

While working toward improvement in the future, Vanskyock also has an eye on Elwood's past. He noted early on there are very few records or statistics from the past nor was there acknowledgement of historic successes — including state finalists and 1,000-point scorers — apparent in the hallways or the gymnasium.

While he is learning about Elwood's rich athletic history himself, he said this will be a priority, beginning with a 'Champions Night' prior to Elwood's Sept. 9 home football game against Alexandria.

"That's one of the first things I've changed, we're going to put a sign with all that stuff in the gym," he said. "I just felt that I love the history of athletics and sports at schools, and when I came in it just seemed dead."

With a renewed focus on strength, conditioning and agility programs for the student-athletes, Vanskyock knows things will not turn around overnight. With student participation in sports already having grown from 7% to nearly 20%, he is optimistic and excited about what the future holds for Elwood.

"I really do feel that in two to three years, we're going to have some really talented teams here at Elwood," he said.

Contact Rob Hunt at rob.hunt@heraldbulletin.com or 765-640-4886.