Lesley Weidenbener: My love letter to basketball

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I hope you take a little time to read the special All-Star Access publication we’ve included in this week’s IBJ. On page 20B, you’ll see examples of the “love letters to basketball,” which the 2024 NBA All-Star Host Committee collected from Hoosiers. The notes will be left in hotel rooms for visitors to find when they check in.

I meant to submit a love letter but never did. So a colleague suggested I use this space to do it. Here’s my love letter:

Dear Basketball,

You were destined to be a big part of my life, even though I was the only person cut from Clark Middle School’s seventh grade team.

My dad loved basketball. The team he played on at tiny Gill Township High School in Sullivan County won the sectional in 1955, an achievement memorialized with a plaque and trophy displayed at the Merom Community Center.

Dad moved to Vincennes, where basketball is part of the fabric of the community. He became a Lincoln High School season-ticket holder and started attending the high school state championship even before he married my mom. Together, they went to probably 40 championships, no matter who was playing, and countless sectional, regional, semi-state and state championship games in which Lincoln was playing.

As a little kid, I went to all of Lincoln’s home games, sitting up in the rafters of the gorgeous Adams Coliseum with my friends and dreaming about when I could join the high school cheer block.

Nearly every year, Lincoln won its sectional. (Indiana had one-class basketball then, and Lincoln was the largest school by far in a four-team tournament.) We would trek down to Evansville for the regional tournament in a car we decorated with paint on the windows and streamers coming off the antenna.

When I was in sixth grade—in 1981—Lincoln won the state championship. And I remember like it was yesterday the song “Celebration” by Kool & The Gang playing as my heroes celebrated on the court. That summer, the team would play pickup games at a playground court across the street from my house. I and other kids in the neighborhood would sit on the grass and watch, sometimes asking for autographs.

When I was a freshman, Lincoln returned to the state championships—“No. 1 in ’81; once more in ’84,” we chanted—but lost to the Warsaw Tigers.

Over the following years, I joined my parents at dozens of high school championships. When my dad published a book, “90 Years of Alices,” about my high school’s basketball history, I wrote a chapter about the gyms where the team played over the years.

And before I was married, I was a fan of Purdue University’s women’s basketball and would travel to West Lafayette regularly for games. I had Indiana Fever season tickets for several years. As I progressed in my career and developed other interests, I fell away from some of my fandom, but the high school tournament remained a constant.

The 2013 IHSAA Boys High School State Championship was the last one I attended with my dad. He was sick. And just a month or so later would undergo a major surgery to implant a device in his heart. He never fully recovered and died on Christmas Eve that year.

I haven’t been back to the tournament. Too many memories. But basketball, you are a treasure in my life—and you were in my dad’s as well.•

__________

Weidenbener is editor of IBJ. Reach her at lweidenbener@ibj.com.

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