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Bill Benner on sports

In the heat of summer, I am thinking of all that is cool about Indiana high school basketball.

The impetus for such is the latest arrival in my mailbox of a treasure chest that comes four times a year. It is the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame’s Indiana Basketball History Magazine.

I leaf through the pages, uncovering gems, some that I’d forgotten and some that I never knew, even though I’m a lifelong Hoosier who considers himself fairly familiar with our game and its high school heritage.

For example, I didn’t know that the legendary John Wooden, then the coach at South Bend Central High School, was actually considering offers to go to either Anderson or Marion high schools when the job at Indiana State (then Teachers College) University opened up.

Wooden thus moved into the collegiate ranks at Terre Haute and, a few years later, found himself on the way to UCLA, 10 national titles in 12 years, and Wizard of Westwood status. But what might have happened if he’d chosen the Marion or Anderson opportunity instead?

“The rest is history,” Wooden writes in a note to a friend back in Indiana. The history magazine has a photo of the note, which is typical of the magazine’s content, drawn from contributions from readers, professional and amateur historians, fans, and reprinted articles from newspapers and periodicals.

The first issue was published in fall of 1992 and represented a significant expansion of the Hall of Fame’s quarterly newsletter. The Hall’s executive directors serve as editors. Then it was Ron Newlin. Now it is Chris May.

“For every thrilling game this year that is, fleetingly, the province of today’s media, there are hundreds of past great games that people look to us to recall,” Newlin wrote in the inaugural issue. “Every coaching milestone passed, every pep rally, every time a young person puts on the school colors for the first time, it is news for a day … then history forever.”

So did you know that the Patoka Wrens dressed eight players in a game against the Mackey Aces back in 1958 … and that all eight of the Wrens then fouled out? Author Emerson Houck details that and other oddities in an article titled “So You Thought You Knew All There Was To Know About Indiana High School Basketball.”

Another issue features a story written by Nyles Layman that traces the history of great Indiana basketball families. To name just a few, there were famous twins (Manual’s Dick and Tom Van Arsdale); the Terre Haute Gerstmeyer trio of twins Harley and Arley Andrews and their Uncle Harold; and fathers and sons such as Bill, Billy and David Shepherd of Carmel and Pete, Rick and Ritchie Mount of Lebanon.

But I also was delighted to be reminded of the Steele brothers from Cloverdale: Billy, Bob, Jim and Mike, who all played for the Clovers in the same season (1969-1970) and the famous Humes brothers from Madison: Larry, Bugsy, Willie, Kenny and Howard, whose careers overlapped from 1959 to 1967.

A piece written by former Hall of Fame Executive Director Roger Dickinson recaps the career of legendary Frankfort coach Everett Case, who later coached at North Carolina State University. Case was merely responsible for the 10-second line, the time clock (time once was kept by stopwatches) and the now standard tradition of the introduction of starting lineups.

Another article, a first-person account by James W. Gardner, recalls the Manilla Owls from Rush County being asked to play in a tournament in 1937. Only problem was, the Owls always had played on a dirt court behind their school, and never on a hardwood floor.

“The first thing we noticed,” Gardner writes, “was that the ball bounced differently. And it didn’t get any dirt on it.”

Then there was this, taken from a 1979 Evansville Courier piece by Joe Aaron, recalling an early 1900s team from Luce Township in southern Indiana. He quotes an octogenarian who played on that team: “We only had one ball … leather with a rubber bladder inside, inflated by someone blowing air into the bladder through a tube. We had only one boy who could blow it enough. He was a red-faced boy and when he got the ball blown up, I think you could have lighted a match on his face.”

And so the stories and anecdotes and bits of history go, edition by edition, each replete with the legend and lore that have made Hoosier Hysteria so much a part of our Indiana experience. An annual subscription, for $20, is available through the Hall of Fame. If you love our game, I’d highly recommend it.•

__________

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 bbenner@ibj.com. He also has a blog, www.indyinsights.com.

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