Sports Business

SPORTS: Time to honor a man who bleeds high school basketball

March 19, 2007

About a year ago, we had to move my wife's father into an assisted-living facility and sell his home in LaPorte.

That also meant going through his many possessions and determining what were keepsakes.

My father-in-law, John Parker Jr., always has been a huge fan of Indiana high school basketball, and he spoke proudly of the many times he made the drive down to Indianapolis to witness the State Finals.

Lo and behold, as we rummaged through boxes and drawers, we stumbled upon-in pristine condition-State Finals programs and ticket stubs, in addition to painstakingly filled-in brackets showing the 64 sectional winners and the path one would take to the state championship.

Included was the game program from the 1954 Milan victory over Muncie Central.

We're holding on to those treasures for now. But where they eventually have to go is the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame in New Castle.

Just as Roger Dickinson would hope.

Since 1999, Dickinson has been the Hall's executive director and one-man traveling salvation show, crisscrossing the state many times over. In fact, he has visited every high school in the state at least once, saying goodbye to his wife, Renee, as early as 4:30 in the morning and not returning until late at night.

His mission is twofold: to raise awareness (and therefore increase visitation) of the Hall, and to make sure the lore and legend of Indiana high school basketball is preserved for generations to come.

With regards to the latter, he wants people to think of the Hall of Fame when they come across memorabilia such as we found.

That the Hall has improved under Dickinson's leadership is akin to a good coach's making a good team into a great one. The 67-year-old Dickinson-once an Indiana high school basketball coach himself-has brought stability to the Hall and brightened its future. He has overseen capital improvements both inside and outside, partnered with educators to bring a curriculum based on Indiana basketball history into classrooms, made recognition of girls' basketball a bigger part of the visitor experience, balanced the books and administered its many activities, including the Hall of Fame tournaments in December, its Hall of Fame inductions in March, and its annual golf tournament in July.

And, in short, that is why-at its annual Hall of Fame induction banquet March 21 at Primo's in Indianapolis-Dickinson will be awarded the Hall's highest honor, the Silver Medal.

The medal goes annually to someone who might not have been an exceptional Indiana high school player or coach, but who nonetheless made significant contributions to the game. The list of winners is a Hoosier hoops who's-who.

"I'm humbled, grateful and shocked," Dickinson said of the honor.

Dickinson is as thick with Indiana basketball as his tongue is with Hoosier twang. He played high school ball at Frankton and coached at Albany (which later consolidated into Delta) for five years after graduating from Ball State University. He then went into administration, and ended up as the superintendent of the West Central School Corporation in Francesville.

After his first wife, Leanna, died of cancer, Dickinson determined a change of profession and scenery were in order. Shortly thereafter, the Hall of Fame was looking for a leader. As they say, coincidence is when God chooses to remain anonymous.

Since then, he's been on a non-stop crusade to sell, sell, sell the virtues of the Hall of Fame. More than 100 Henry County volunteers assist him in providing service, upkeep and tender loving care to the Hall and its exhibits, which include what is believed to be the oldest ball still in existence (circa 1910, it came from Beaver Dam High School near Warsaw) as well as one of the first metal rims used at the Crawfordsville YMCA, where the first game in Indiana was played.

A visit to the Hall is a must if you call yourself a Hoosier. But Dickinson points out that 40 percent of the Hall's visitors come from out of state, and folks from 63 nations have signed the Hall's guest register.

It's a labor of love that doesn't seem like labor at all.

"I don't think, I know I've got the best job in the world," he said. I asked Dickinson if he felt he was a "keeper of the flame" of Indiana high school basketball. "Naw," he answered. "I just feel like I'm carrying the torch right now in a relay. It'll be someone else's turn after my day." But for now, as a Silver Medal winner, the Hall of Fame has its own Hall of Famer.



Benner is associate director of communications for the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association and a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly.To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to bbenner@ibj.com.
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