Sports Business

SPORTS: Here's to the last champion of single-class sports

February 13, 2006

Somewhat overlooked at the time because it was (A) girls softball and (B) took place in June, Turkey Run's 11-7 victory over Center Grove nonetheless remains a lasting testimonial to those who believe the size of the dream should not be diminished by the size of the school.

A year later, the dream died for all time when the Indiana High School Athletic Association's board voted to divide team sports championships into classes according to enrollment. That decision-later affirmed by a majority vote of Indiana high school principals-is still a hot-button topic among Hoosiers, though much of the controversy is focused on the decline of the boys' basketball tournament. Most, however, have resigned themselves to the fact that the allcomers competition is never coming back.

"I still believe it sent the message that kids from small schools can't compete in athletics, academics or even the job market," said Keith Newlin, who was the co-head coach-along with his brother, Moe-of the 1996 Warriors.

"Well, we didn't believe that. And we went out and proved it."

And so, this weekend, the brothers Newlin and their magical team-which included Keith's daughter, Kim, and Moe's daughter, Stacey-will gather at halftime of Turkey Run's home basketball game against Clay City to be honored once again by the residents of Parke County.

"There are a lot of memories still," said Moe Newlin. "That championship did a lot for our community and is still an inspiration to a lot of people. And it gives the younger kids a goal and a reason to believe that even if they're from a rural community, they can believe they have a chance to compete at the highest level."

Early on, the Newlin brothers worked to instill that competitive belief in their players. They purposely scheduled regular-season games against the biggest schools they could find. In the non-school season, they encouraged their girls to compete on travel teams at the highest level possible.

"And if we got beat [by a larger school]," said Moe Newlin, "our attitude was to go home, practice and get better."

They didn't get beat often-only once, in fact, in their championship season, to Lafayette McCutcheon by one run in the last game of the regular season. Among their 26 victories that year were two in a doubleheader against Casey, Ill., which went on to win the Illinois state title.

"Beating Casey was a huge boost to our confidence," recalled Julie Wooten, the first baseman on that team who went on to play at Butler University and now works in Butler's athletic office as its compliance director.

"We wanted to beat the big schools," Wooten continued. "We wanted to show we deserved to be there, that it was no fluke."

In the morning game of the '96 final four, Turkey Run sent the message it belonged with a 10-0, five-inning rout of Northridge. Against Center Grove in the championship game that evening, the Warriors fell behind 4-0 before putting together a 10-run inning to take control.

"The one thing we'll always be able to say is that we were the best team in the state," Wooten said.

"We climbed that ladder," added Moe Newlin, "and when we got to the top and looked around, no one was left."

The legacy is being passed on. Kim and Stacey Newlin co-coached Clay City to its first sectional softball title a few years back. And Melanie Newnum, a right fielder for the state champs, is now coach of the current Turkey Run squad.

"There was no secret to our success," said Moe Newlin. "It was a lot of effort and a lot of hard work. Those kids practiced for years. Sure, it came down to a one-time shot, but when they had the opportunity, they took advantage of it."

Still, the coaches did provide one last bit of inspiration. The night before the final four-which was played in Carmel-they took the team to a local restaurant for a meal and a pep talk.

The establishment was Plump's Last Shot in Broad Ripple. And the speaker was, of course, Bobby Plump.

For a softball team, that's known as touching all the bases.



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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