The Aeilts name is well-known through the annals of Champaign Central athletics.
Rick Aeilts starred on the football and baseball field in the mid-1980s. He found his way onto four NFL rosters in a brief professional playing career before earning a spot in the school’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 2011. His daughter, Audrey Aeilts, was a superb contributor recently to Central’s volleyball team before graduating in 2012.
Now there’s his son, Joe Aeilts. The Central sophomore is making sure the family legacy continues to thrive. Aeilts headlines The News-Gazette’s 25th annual All-Area baseball team with his selection as the All-Area Player of the Year. He becomes the first sophomore to garner the honor.
CHAMPAIGN — The Aeilts name is well-known through the annals of Central athletics.
Rick Aeilts starred on the football and baseball field in the mid-1980s. He found his way onto four NFL rosters in a brief professional playing career before earning a spot in the school’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 2011.
His daughter, Audrey Aeilts, was a superb contributor recently to Central’s volleyball team before graduating in 2012.
Now there’s his son, Joe Aeilts.
The Central sophomore is making sure the family legacy continues to thrive.
Aeilts headlines The News-Gazette’s 25th annual All-Area baseball team with his selection as the All-Area Player of the Year. He becomes the first sophomore to garner the honor.
“I don’t think he feels a lot of pressure to accomplish what his dad or sister did,” said Susie Aeilts, Joe’s mother. “They’ve had such a camaraderie with sports and enjoyed it together. It’s just been something fun.”
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Fun is one way to encapsulate the recent baseball season for Central and for Aeilts.
The 16-year-old cleanup hitter saw Central post a 35-3 record, the best mark in program history. Saw Central win a Big 12 title outright for the first time since 2006. Saw Central win a Class 3A regional title, giving the program its first piece of postseason hardware since 1993.
Aeilts saw himself transform into an integral piece of Central’s lineup. He led the team with a .512 average and collected a team-high 43 RBI, while adding 12 doubles and 10 triples. The 63 hits he accumulated this season were the most by a Central player in a single season and his 10 triples rank first as well.
The milestones Aeilts accomplished weren’t a big talking point between Central coach John Staab and his third baseman this season.
“When he set the triples record and was standing on third base, I got next to him near the bag and said, ‘Congratulations,’ ” Central coach John Staab said. “He turned and looked and me and said, ‘For what?’ I told him he had just set the single-season record for triples, and he reacted just like typical Joe by saying, ‘Oh, that’s pretty cool.’ I didn’t want to put any undue pressure on him this season, and as a program we were really intent on just staying in the moment.”
All Aeilts experienced on the baseball field the past three months wasn’t something he envisioned heading into the season. He was just happy to play varsity baseball after spending his freshman year splitting time on the freshman and junior varsity teams. A little intimidated, too, because he didn’t want to struggle and fail for the seniors on Central’s roster.
“We had a lot of younger guys that were going to be playing varsity, and our older guys were such great leaders about incorporating us into the mix, so I always felt welcomed, but I was a little nervous that I do my part,” Aeilts said. “I wanted to help the team, not hurt it.”
He most certainly didn’t hurt the Maroons. Aeilts strung together a 15-game hitting streak this season and become a batter opposing coaches did not want to see come up in a crucial situation.
“I saw a lot more breaking pitches in the second half of the season,” Aeilts said, “and I wasn’t getting as many center-cut pitches as I was earlier in the season.”
He wasn’t deterred, though. Good hitters are expected to adjust and adapt. Aeilts understands the concept.
“As a hitter, you still have to be able to hit those pitches,” he said, “so it wasn’t too much of a difference.”
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Champaign was different to Aeilts at first. He didn’t want to live here initially.
Take away all the surroundings and familiar environs a young child has, and such a reaction is expected. Aeilts was born in Carbondale and lived the first five years of his life in Marion.
“I don’t remember it a whole lot,” he said, “but I don’t think I was a fan of moving because I didn’t want to leave my friends.”
Or his baseball team. Rick Aeilts started his son in the game when Joe was 41/2 years old. He was too young to play in a tee-ball league in Marion. So his dad looked around a bit and realized there was Khoury League baseball in the small neighboring town of Pittsburg.
“They had a rash of 4-year-olds that year, so they were going to make another team,” Rick Aeilts said. “Joe was on a team with a bunch of 4-year-olds, and he took right to it. He’s always had a knack for hitting, even from a young age. I really haven’t had to push him. He loved baseball from the first time I put a bat in his hand when he was in diapers.”
The family moved to Champaign in 2003 and Joe started playing Little League baseball before adding in travel baseball on two teams, the Champaign X-Men and the Champaign Tribe. He couldn’t get enough of the game. Still can’t. He’s playing this summer with Team Mizuno, a travel team based out of Champaign, and getting time with the Maroons as well when they play in the Illinois High School Baseball Coaches Association summer league, mostly against opponents out of the suburban Chicago area.
“Baseball is my passion,” he said. “I just love the game. There’s just something about being out there on the diamond with your teammates that’s a lot of fun to me.”
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Ryan Tabeling is well-versed on the tradition of Central baseball. A former standout pitcher with the Maroons in the mid-1990s, Tabeling played with one of the best hitters the Maroons have had in Danny O’Neil.
“I keep texting Danny saying that, ‘You’ve got a clone that’s going after all your records,’ ” Tabeling said with a laugh. “When Joe hits at the cage, people stop because it just jumps off his bat. Little kids stand around and just watch.”
Aeilts has taken hitting lessons the last two winters from Tabeling, a former Parkland standout and Tuscola coach who guided the Warriors to a fourth-place finish in Class 1A in 2008. It must have worked. Aeilts’ .512 average this season is fourth in school history, only behind O’Neil (.519 in 1995), Eric Wilson (.528 in 2007) and Alex Acheson (.541 in 2005).
“I had a parent come up to me after one game and say, ‘Wow, Aeilts has got to cool off. You don’t think he’s going to keep this up?’ ” Staab said. “I said, ‘Yeah, I do.’ The only way Joe is going to slump is if he slumps mentally. He stays level through the strike zone and stays inside the ball. His approach is one of the best I’ve ever seen.”
Tabeling isn’t just impressed with what attributes Aeilts brings when he steps in the batter’s box.
“He’s such a good kid,” Tabeling said. “He’s so level-headed, and he sees the big picture. At that age, he’s way ahead of the game. He’s been brought up right.”
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Aeilts is starting to hear from colleges. Eastern Illinois and Illinois State have sent invitations for him to attend camps. The recruiting process could pick up if Aeilts continues to produce like he did this spring. Despite the accolades and attention Aeilts has received for his play during 38 memorable games for Central, he isn’t letting it get to his head.
“I feel more responsibility to work that much harder in the offseason to keep moving forward and not get complacent with what’s going on,” Aeilts said. “Any hitter can tell you they’ve struggled. This was my best hitting season, but I’m always just trying to stick with it. Even when things don’t go well, I want to keep the same approach.”
Both his parents said they did not anticipate the youngest member of their household to have the season he did.
“Heck no!” Susie Aeilts said with a laugh. “Honestly, it was a real surprise, but this whole season was a gift. Who knows if anything like this will happen again, so we just want him to enjoy the moment.”
Dad echoed those sentiments.
“In my mind, he’s always been a solid hitter, but you never expect a season like this,” Rick Aeilts said. “It was just a pleasure to watch.”
Aeilts has now become a player to watch. Two more years of high school await, and he could become the first player to record back-to-back N-G Player of the Year honors since Acheson did so in 2005 and 2006. No one has won it three straight years, but Aeilts has the tools to possibly become the first.
“He’s got a good head on his shoulders, and he keeps things in perspective,” Rick Aeilts said. “At the same time, this is such a huge honor, and it’s awful early for him to get this. I hope that he can come out next year and do well, but every game is a new game. You’ve got to put the past behind you, and I think he’ll do that.”
News-Gazette baseball Players of the Year ...
YEAR PLAYER SCHOOL
2014 Joe Aeilts Champaign Central
2013 Hunter Hart St. Joseph-Ogden
2012 Chuckie Robinson Danville
2011 Jason Ziegler Mahomet-Seymour
2010 Brannon Kwiatkowski Mahomet-Seymour
2009 J.D. Learnard Salt Fork
2008 Clayton Meyer Tuscola
2007 Neil Wright Mahomet-Seymour
2006 Alex Acheson Champaign Central
2005 Alex Acheson Champaign Central
2004 Andy Pollock Tuscola
2003 Ryan Bird Armstrong-Potomac
2002 Ryan Bird Armstrong-Potomac
2001 Joey Frerichs Armstrong-Potomac
2000 Matt Minnes Urbana
1999 Mike Saunches Argenta-Oreana
1998 Travis Florey Sullivan
1997 Jason Anderson Danville
1996 Dave Hoffman Schlarman
1995 Quinn Moller Centennial
1994 Caleb Englehardt Tuscola
1993 Doug Little Monticello
1992 Jeff Martin Mahomet-Seymour
1991 Troy Pruitt Mahomet-Seymour
1990 Kerry Cheely Villa Grove
... and Coaches of the Year
YEAR COACH SCHOOL
2014 John Staab Champaign Central
2013 Gary Hansgen Salt Fork
2012 Duff Hoel Tuscola
NAME SCHOOL YR. POS.
Nick Stokowski Monticello Sr. OF
Cully Day Mahomet-Seymour Sr. OF
Mike Plecki St. Thomas More Sr. OF
Joe Kenney Mahomet-Seymour Jr. Inf.
Storm Joop St. Thomas More Sr. Inf.
Connor Gross Cerro Gordo/Bement Sr. DH
Jake Snider Champaign Central So. Inf.
Dylan Grady Centennial Jr. Inf.
Brock Immke St. Joseph-Ogden Sr. P
Chase Gadau St. Joseph-Ogden Jr. C
Joe Aeilts Champaign Central So. Inf./POY
Phillip Swartz Champaign Central So. P
Cole Taylor Salt Fork Sr. Utl.
NAME SCHOOL YR. POS.
Alec Altmyer Champaign Central Sr. P
Nick Bates Tuscola So. Utl.
Nick Brunson Champaign Central Jr. Inf.
Matt Crook Monticello Sr. P
Greg Huss Centennial Sr. Inf.
Austin Johnson Centennial Sr. OF
Tom Kenney Mahomet-Seymour So. OF
Ross Learnard Salt Fork Sr. OF
Jeff Lindgren Centennial Jr. P
Keegan McHood Argenta-Oreana Jr. P
Tanner McLain Rantoul Sr. Inf.
Tanner Russell Urbana Sr. DH
Jake Stewart St. Joseph-Ogden Sr. Inf.
NAME SCHOOL YR. POS.
Cole Berry St. Joseph-Ogden Sr. Inf.
Kyle Brazas Westville Sr. Inf.
Daniel Caldwell Monticello Jr. P
Noah Darr Salt Fork Jr. C
Dylan Dodd Bismarck-Henning So. OF
Axel Doran GCMS Sr. Inf.
Will Duggins Blue Ridge Sr. Inf.
Gage Eller Argenta-Oreana Sr. P
Kyle Flessner Rantoul Sr. OF
Cyrus Furgeson Tri-County Jr. Utl.
Conner Gremer Urbana Sr. P
Hunter Hart St. Joseph-Ogden Sr. P
Tyler McCormick St. Joseph-Ogden Sr. P
Marty Mennenga Paxton-Buckley-Loda Sr. Inf.
Mason Neisslie Cerro Gordo/Bement Jr. Inf.
Clint O’Neal Blue Ridge Sr. C
Zach Parks Centennial Sr. OF
Darrin Raby Prairie Central Sr. C
Chris Redman Mahomet-Seymour Sr. P
Tyler Rogers Fisher Jr. C
Devin Rose Tuscola Sr. P
Cole Sanford Salt Fork Sr. OF
Drew Schrodt Paxton-Buckley-Loda Sr. OF
Tyler Schuring Arthur-Lovington/A-H Jr. P
Sean Sullivan St. Thomas More Sr. C
Austin Tabeling St. Thomas More Sr. P
Johnny Walder Paxton-Buckley-Loda So. OF
Austin West Danville Sr. Inf.
Taylor White Unity Jr. P
Kyle Williams Fisher Sr. P
ARCOLA — Justin Kuhns, Jr.; Devin Warren, So.
ARGENTA-OREANA — Cameron Hupp, Sr.; Logan Jackson, Sr.
ARMSTRONG-POTOMAC — Christian Hunt, So.; Dentler Loschen, Jr.
ARTHUR-LOVINGTON/ATWOOD-HAMMOND — Ross Ryan, Jr.
ARTHUR OKAW CHRISTIAN — Drew Beachy, Jr.; Josh Gingerich, Jr.
BISMARCK-HENNING — Michael Feeney, Fr.; Dalton Strawser, Jr.
BLUE RIDGE — Cory Jayne, So.; Dylan Trent, So.; Isaac Trotter, So.; Ben Williamson, So.
BUCKLEY CHRIST LUTHERAN — Shane Hewerdine, Jr.; Slater Scheurich, Jr.
CENTENNIAL — Anthony Martin, Jr.; Luke Smith, So.
CERRO GORDO/BEMENT — Cole Blickensderfer, Sr.; Steve Isbell, Sr.; Chase McNamara, Jr.; Ethan Morton, Sr.
CHAMPAIGN CENTRAL — Alec Barger, So.; Luke Beesley, Jr.; Zach Dorner, Jr.
CISSNA PARK — Wyatt Froehling, Sr.; Josh Marquez, Sr.; Dylan Reetz, Sr.
CLINTON — Mason Dial, Sr.
DANVILLE — Dylan Marble, So.; Brady Watkins, Jr.
FISHER — Brad Pettenger, Sr.; Grant Pointer, Sr.
GEORGETOWN-RIDGE FARM/CHRISMAN — Jake Brasker, Sr.; Dylan Cosat, Sr.; Rylee Goodwin, Jr.; Tyler Lunger, Jr.; Garrett Martin, Sr.
GIBSON CITY-MELVIN-SIBLEY — Jake Brewer, So.; Brady Fleming, Sr.; Austin Hornstein, Sr.
HOOPESTON AREA — Bailey Crose, Fr.; Kendall Walder, Sr.
IROQUOIS WEST — Clark Fink, Sr.; Trenton Miller, Sr.; Payton Stiers, So.
JUDAH CHRISTIAN — Ian Allender, Jr.; Dylan Hamilton, Sr.
LeROY — Ethan Bryant, So.; Bryce Dooley, So.
MAHOMET-SEYMOUR — Andy Livingston, Jr.; Nick McHale, So.; Jack Rettig, Jr.
MILFORD — Tanner Davenport, Sr.; Clayton Rieches, Sr.; Ryley Ward, Sr.
MONTICELLO — Ryne Bundy, Jr.; Jacob Burton, So.; David Vanderkloot, Jr..
OAKWOOD — Hunter Fleets, Fr.; Kyle Girton, Jr.; Skyler Slade, Sr.; Taylor Turner, So.; Blake Vinson, So.
PAXTON-BUCKLEY-LODA — Axl Denault, Sr.; Jay Eshleman, Sr.; Jonah Wilson, So.; Andrew Zenner, Fr.
PRAIRIE CENTRAL — Tyler Wenger, Sr.
RANTOUL — Kolton Vermillion, Sr.
RIDGEVIEW — Ryan Klintworth, Sr.; Brock McDaniels, Sr.; Dylan Ruestman, Sr.; Grant Townsend, Jr.; Corey Volz, Jr.
SALT FORK — Colton Baird, So.; Garrett McFadden, Sr.; Max Stutsman, Sr.; Lane Westin, Sr.
SCHLARMAN — Mason Gard, Jr.
ST. JOSEPH-OGDEN — Dalton Parker, So.; Dalton Walsh, Sr.
ST. THOMAS MORE — Cam Deedrich, Sr.; Braxton Parisi, Jr.; Harrison York, Jr.
SULLIVAN — Shane Atchison, Sr.; Dakota Clayton, Jr.; Nick Frerichs, Jr.; Zach Hrvol, So.; Levi Nadler, Jr.
TRI-COUNTY — Luke Armstrong, Sr.; Clint Foster, Sr.; Eli Furguson, Jr.; Brandon Getche, Jr.; Brandon Stone, Sr.
TUSCOLA — Austin Martin, Sr.; Tristan Williams, Sr.
UNITY — Mitchell Snodgrass, Sr.
URBANA — Kiel King, Sr.; Jon Tauber, Sr.
VILLA GROVE/HERITAGE — Royal Charles, Sr.; Dalton James, Jr.; Tyler Price, Jr.; Jake Reifsteck, Sr.
WATSEKA — Justin Moyer, Sr.; Caleb Parker, Sr.; Cody Scott, Sr.
WESTVILLE — Tristan Flynn, Sr.; Adam High, Sr.; Austin Milholland, Jr.; Mark Strebin, Jr.; Jeffery Thompson, Sr.
Final Top 10
SCHOOL (PRVS.) RECORD
1. Argenta-Oreana (10) 24-6 Third in state in Class 1A
2. Champaign Central (7) 35-3 Final 32 in state in Class 3A
3. Monticello (—) 26-6 Final 8 in state in Class 2A
4. St. Joseph-Ogden (1) 32-3 Final 32 in state in Class 2A
5. Centennial (4) 21-15 Final 64 in state in Class 3A
6. Salt Fork (2) 24-3 Final 32 in state in Class 1A
7. Cissna Park (—) 18-15 Final 32 in state in Class 1A
8. Mahomet-Seymour (3) 26-6 Final 128 in state in Class 3A
9. St. Thomas More (5) 25-6 Final 64 in state in Class 2A
10. Paxton-Buckley-Loda (—) 27-8 Final 64 in state in Class 2A