Tuesday, May 22, 2018

over there & coming home

It would seem appropriate that a member of the Versailles Frenchies basketball team would end up in France.  But, in the winter of 1937 I'm not sure that Herman Jahnigen (#10 & #34) was thinking much further than the upcoming Sectional tourney.  Although the Frenchies would play well, defeating Vernon (40-13) and Scipio (49-20), their season would end in a 49-25 loss to eventual Sectional champ North Vernon.  The Panthers of North Vernon would march on, winning the Regional before losing in the second round of the Semi-State to eventual State Champ Anderson.  

Moving toward graduation and away from the Great Depression, Herman probably imagined a very different future from the one that was about to unfold, for this team from a small country town would be swept up in the greatest maelstrom ever seen - the Second World War. 

My dad (the manager of the Frenchies) would graduate in 1938, attend Indiana University (graduating with a degree in business) and join the Air Corps as a captain in Army Intelligence.  Herman followed a different route as a member of the 508th Parachute Infantry of the 82nd Airborne Division, parachuting into France on June 6, 1944 in the first wave of the D-Day invasion.  He was  wounded, but would fight on through western Europe and eventually end up at the Battle of the Bulge (where America suffered 75,000 casualties).  By the time the war was over Herman would become Ripley County's most decorated veteran, having been awarded the Silver Star, the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart, European Campaign Medal, French Fourragere, Netherlands Citation, Distinguished Unit Citation, the Victory Medal and ultimately receive a battlefield commission promoting him to Lieutenant. 

These boys, from the same hometown, would go on to live different lives but the common bond of growing up during the Depression, fighting in a world war, and being team members on a Hoosier high school basketball team would shape them forever.  And now, as the final chapter in their story, they have returned to where they began - lying less than 100 yards apart.  © Chris Smith

Sunday, April 22, 2018

the tower

In the shadow of the old black water tower, ten miles from the farm, my grandmother kept her sausage, bacon & beef stored in the Milan food locker.  On summer days I made the trip at least once a week and the sizzle of meat in an iron skillet is as memorable as the sound of cicadas in late August.  I don't think I ever saw the white letters stenciled above my head until years later - State Champs 1954.  Now, with five years of basketball photos stored away, I wonder what else I've missed.  © Chris Smith

Monday, April 2, 2018

after the storm

"The March 18, 1925 Griffin tornado is considered one of the 10 worst natural disasters of the century, carving out a three-state, 291-mile path of destruction and it remains the most destructive, deadliest tornado in U.S. history. The tornado began three miles north by northwest of Ellington, Missouri, at 1:01 p.m and struck Griffin, Indiana at 4 p.m. It ran out of steam three miles southwest of Petersburg, Indiana, at approximately 4:30 p.m. According to the National Weather Service, the EF-5 twister ran continuously for 3.5 hours and had an average land speed of 62 mph with wind speeds calculated at nearly 300 mph. By the time it hit Griffin it was over a mile wide, eventually destroying 150 homes, 85 farms and killing 76." *Mt. Vernon Democrat

"On March 2, 2012 an EF-4 tornado came together when a cold front moved through a warm southern Indiana day, creating a monster that tore a 50 mile swath.  Damage was estimated at more than $1 billion and Henryville (and the high school) took a direct hit." *Indianapolis Star

Later that day an EF-3 tornado caused major damage in Holton, Indiana "destroying frame homes, obliterating mobile homes and killing three. The tornado was on the ground for nine miles before dissipating near Osgood." *National Weather Service 

Tornadoes - the ever present spring companion in Indiana and unfortunately our schools & gyms have been victims on more than one occasion.  We have visited the site of the old Holton school (home to the Warhorses) and know that all that remains is a broken black top court with two abandoned goals.  We have also been to Griffin, the former home of the Tornadoes, stopping by on a beautiful October evening (with no threat of bad weather).  The folks in Griffin have restored and maintained their wonderful old gym (built after the 1925 storms) and outdoor courts - maybe as a reminder to all that tornado damage should be as fleeting as the storm itself.  © Chris Smith

Friday, March 30, 2018

cedar knob

"You're playing' Cedar Knob tomorrow, ain't nobody knows them better than me.  They got no head toppers - a bunch of mites, run ya off the boards.  You got to squeeze 'em back in the paint, make 'em chuck it from the cheap seats. Watch that purgatory they call a gym - no drive, 12 foot in.  That'll do."  With that scouting report Coach Norman Dale of the Hickory Huskers got his first insight into his future assistant Shooter Flatch and we got a preview of our visit to the real "Cedar Knob" - St. Philip Neri School gym.  Located in downtown Indianapolis, the little arena proved to be a perfect location for the fictional Cedar Knob in the 1986 film Hoosiers, with its narrow confines and overhead seating. Although the original floor has been replaced (due to damage), the old gym's supporting role in the defining film about Hoosier Hysteria won't soon be forgotten.  © Chris Smith

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

the undercard

I compared last week's Marion-New Castle Regional matchup to an old fashioned title fight. Little did I know that a week later we would be traveling to Seymour for another heavyweight hard court battle between two of the best 4A teams in the state, Warren Central & New Albany.  Once the tourney schedule was released it seems that everyone in southern Indiana penciled in this Semi-State on their calendars and the 3rd largest high school gym in the nation was filled to the rafters.  But, if you looked carefully you could see that not all had come to see the Romeo Langford farewell tour as nearly half the crowd had travelled from the small towns of Morristown and Montgomery to cheer on the pride of their 1A communities, the Barr-Reeve Vikings & the Morristown Yellow Jackets.  Although the obvious undercard on this day, the game was anything but a warm-up for the main event.  These were two well coached, well prepared basketball teams with a history of hoop's success and for 90 minutes on Saturday afternoon they commanded the floor and the crowd's attention.  The Morristown 77, Barr-Reeve 70 final score doesn't really represent how close this game was until the very end.  And now, next up for the Yellow Jackets - a trip to Indianapolis and a chance for a state championship that eluded them in 1911, when they were one of twelve teams to participate in the very first Indiana state basketball tournament.  © Chris Smith