Benner/Sports and High School Sports and Sports Business

Friendship built on basketball was admirable

November 24, 2008

Even in the difficult times we find ourselves in this Thanksgiving, there is still plenty for which to be thankful.

Such as undying, unyielding, unrelenting friendship. Here's an example.

Jim Rosenstihl, the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame coach, passed away Nov. 15 at the age of 82.

"Rosie," as everyone called him, was one of the finest people and coaches I know. That was a shared feeling. In fact, a funeral home was inadequate to hold his memorial service. It took place in the Lebanon High School Gymnasium that bears his name.

Rosie, a Zionsville grad who was a three-sport star under Tony Hinkle at Butler University — he's also in the Butler Hall of Fame — had been in deteriorating health for more than 20 years.

In the mid-1980s, while still coaching at Lebanon, he noticed he was losing strength on his left side. As the condition became more pronounced, he eventually found his way to the Indiana University Medical Center for tests.

Within a few days, doctors concluded that Rosie was suffering from a condition that was affecting his brain stem. They told Rosie that he could live for an undetermined length of time, although each successive day, week and month would likely be worse than the one preceding it.

That was in October of 1986. Rosie checked himself out of the hospital, returned to Lebanon, and immediately resigned as the Tigers' coach, thus ending a career that included 600 victories and stops at Center Grove, Zionsville, Bluffton and Lebanon.

But giving up coaching didn't mean surrendering his love of Indiana basketball. Soon, he was unable to drive, and walking was becoming more difficult. Yet he still wanted to attend games and practices.

Enter Jim Limp.

Limp's two sons, John and Bob, had played for Rosenstihl at Lebanon. Retired from Eli Lilly, Limp took it upon himself to be Rosie's chauffeur, friend and helper. Wherever he needed to go, Limp made certain Rosenstihl got there.

Within a few years, Rosie's wife, Pat, had passed away, and he was confined to a wheelchair. Getting Rosie to games and practices became increasingly difficult. Didn't matter to Limp. Friends do what friends need to do.

"We went to every Lebanon game and practices all over," Limp recalled. "We'd go to IU practices, Purdue practices, Butler practices. Guys just loved seeing him there. We'd show up at Purdue, and [Coach] Matt Painter would stop whatever he was doing to have a conversation with him. I can't tell you how much people admire him.

"He was such a first-class guy and would never talk about himself unless you asked."

Limp estimated that he took Rosie to more than 600 games and countless practices over the years. But two of their annual trips together were especially meaningful. On the last Thursdays of April and September, "Rosie's Roundup" would convene at Stookey's Restaurant in Thorntown. At Rosie's invitation (he and Limp would painstakingly call each of the invitees), nearly 100 Indiana basketball coaching, playing and refereeing legends would gather to catch up and reminisce.

Rosie was kind enough to invite this old scribe, too. A few years back, I wrote about Rosie's Roundup in this space. Just to be there to dine with these men and share in their conviviality was a joy.

Ironically, WFYI television's excellent "Across Indiana" show did a segment on the Roundup that aired two days after Rosie died. Narrated by Butler University men's basketball coach Brad Stevens, it ended up being a fitting memorial tribute.

At the last Roundup, I was honored to sit with Rosie and his friend, Jim Limp. Driving home that day, I kept thinking about Limp's longtime commitment to his friend.

"You know, Rosie's been good for me, too," Limp said. "I've gained a lot out of our relationship, met so many good people, been to so many different places. He was a joy to be around. All those trips ... I had the opportunity to talk with him for hours. His mind stayed good. He had great knowledge about things other than basketball. He knew what was going on in the world."

Limp, who also is 82 but looks younger, admitted it wasn't always easy transporting Rosie around the state, especially in the latter years. He gives credit to his wife, Mary Jane, for her understanding.

I asked him about the upcoming basketball season.

"I guess I'm going to be the most lost guy in the state of Indiana this winter," he replied.

___

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. Listen to his column via podcast at www.ibj.com. He can be reached at bbenner@ibj.com. Benner also has a blog, www.indyinsights.com.

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