In the midst of March Madness, there’s sadness for all of us who love Indiana basketball.
Recent weeks saw the passing of a handful of the Hoosier sport’s key figures, among them former Shortridge High School and Butler University basketball coach George Theofanis. “Theo” had both the distinction and unenviable task of succeeding the legendary Tony Hinkle at Butler. His Shortridge teams—led by George Pillow, Oscar Evans and Clarence Crain—were gems in the golden era of Indianapolis high school basketball and reached the state championship game in 1968. At Butler, over some protests, he recruited more black players to the campus.
He also recruited Barry Collier, who later would become coach and now the athletics director and is generally the man behind all that Butler basketball has become.
Coincidentally, Theofanis was laid to rest the same day as Bill Bright, former basketball coach and athletic director at Indiana Central University, now the University of Indianapolis. Like Theofanis, Bright also had to follow a coaching legend, Angus “Nick” Nicoson, at Indiana Central, and did so for just a couple of years before turning his full-time attention to the A.D. job as well as coaching baseball.
Of course, we all felt the loss of the amazing baritone, Tom Carnegie, the fabled Channel 6 sportscaster whose voice was synonymous with both the Indianapolis 500 and the IHSAA Boys State Basketball Tournament.
And just a couple of weeks back, I learned of the sudden death of Steve Hollenbeck, who was part of outstanding teams at Columbus High School (under coach Bill Stearman) and Indiana State University in the 1960s. Hollenbeck, who was about 6 feet 4 inches and well more than 200 pounds, possessed amazing quickness and agility for his size. Put it this way: He was Charles Barkley long before there was a Charles Barkley. Hollenbeck teamed with the great Jerry Newsome at both Columbus and ISU and had been a teacher and coach at Edinburgh for more than 30 years before his death.
Finally came word of the passing of Herb Schwomeyer, and if anyone embraced the breadth and depth of Indiana basketball, it was Herb.
Herb died at the age of 93 but he actually was lucky to live that long because the onset of multiclass basketball back in 1997 nearly killed him.
Since 1970, Herb had published and updated a book called “Hoosier Hysteria.” But when the IHSAA went to four classes, Herb put out “the ninth and final edition.”
Asked to sum up his feelings about the multiclass decision, Herb always had a succinct answer: “Hogwash.”
Of course, Herb knew the state tourney like no one else. Beginning in 1932, he witnessed 72 consecutive state finals. An official for a dozen years, he refereed the finals in 1955 and 1956 and later served as commentator—with his friend, Tom Carnegie—on finals telecasts.
And if Tony Hinkle was Mr. Butler, Schwomeyer was Mr. Butler 1A.
After he graduated from Manual High School, Herb played for Hinkle for three years, then returned in 1945 to begin a 38-year association with his alma mater that included a long stint as its dean of men.
Herb’s book was no fewer than 600 pages of fine print mixed with photos that traced the origins of the Indiana game and all the coaches, players, records, oddities, rarities that composed its history … until 1997.
Curious about who made the longest shot in tournament history? Well, that was Gary Matthews of Warren Central, who hit an 80-footer at the end of the third quarter in a 1971 Southport Sectional game.
How about who holds the single-game scoring record in Indiana high school basketball? That would be Herman “Suz” Sayger, who scored 113 for Culver in a 154-10 victory over Winamac on March 8, 1913.
The first woman to coach a boys high school team? Thought you’d never ask. It was Elizabeth Dietz, who coached New Alsace (near Lawrenceburg) in 1927.
It’s all there and more in Herb’s book. He also wrote another titled “Hoosier Hersteria,” about girls high school basketball and that tournament.
I last saw Schwomeyer a couple of months ago at a Butler game. We chatted and then I said goodbye. Looking back, it was the perfect adieu, seeing Herb at hoops in Hinkle.
It also was appropriate that Schwomeyer’s calling took place on the fieldhouse floor. He was one with that maple hardwood, and his casket was placed at center court, astride a literal time line that also was a figurative one for his life.•
Benner is senior associate commissioner for external affairs for the Horizon League college athletic conference and a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He also has a blog, www.indyinsights.com.