Saturday, August 10, 2019

welcome to Indiana basketball

The story has been repeated a hundred times - a young boy sees a photograph of an old gym and dreams of becoming a basketball player.  He works to learn the game, its history and where it is played.  He watches the film Hoosiers over & over until every line is known, every play understood.  He grows older, becomes a man, but still the love of the game lives on.  This could be the tale of any Hoosier boy born in the last 100 years but this time the story is about a boy from northern Spain, near the Basque Country.  This story is about Javier Puertas, who as a young boy saw a photo of the New Castle Fieldhouse in his text book, made himself into a 'ball' player in football (soccer) country and dreamed of coming to Indiana to see his beloved game & gyms firsthand. 

This past week Javier's dream came true as he and his family (wife Edurne and sons Aitor & Eneko) made the journey to Indiana, to the "promised land."  He was greeted by Chris May at the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame, written about by Kyle Neddenriep of the Indianapolis Star, guided through the gyms at New Castle, Kokomo, Lebanon, Bloomington, Martinsville, Rushville, Hinkle and then finally, Knightstown.  

And at the Hoosier Gym, home to one of the greatest sports films ever, something amazing happened.  Javier was greeted by David Anspaugh (Hoosiers director) and Angelo Pizzo (the film's writer).  Imagine that, life and imagination becoming one.  This story, Javier's basketball story, had entered the realm of fairy tale.  A better ending could not have been imagined.  © Chris Smith   

Friday, July 5, 2019

barn ball, Jersey cows & Blackhawks

Sustaining a legacy can be tough.  Take Sheridan for example.  First entering tournament play in 1916, the Blackhawks had success in the late '30s & early '40s (Regional champs in 1938) and especially in the 1950s - winning the Sectional from 1950 to1955 and the Regional in 1950 & 1955.  Lately they have had the misfortune to be in the same Sectional as Lapel (State Champs in 2005 & 2016) and Frankton (State Champs in 2017).  But, maintaining a legacy can take many forms.  Just outside of town at the Dandy Breeze Dairy Farm Tom Waitt (former ball player and current 7th grade science teacher) & his wife Sally oversee  a herd of 85 grass fed Jersey milk cows, producing some of the best tasting non-homogenized milk (white, chocolate & strawberry) around.  Sharing space in the 115 year old barn is a half court complete with backboard & hoop (occasionally co-opted by hay bales) where the Waitt boys used to play ball during the winter months.  And during the summer?  Well, there's a concrete court surrounded by pasture and dairy cows serving as loyal fans.  Up the road in Sheridan another legacy is being re-shaped as the old Adams Elementary (& former high school) is being converted into housing (to be named Blackhawk Commons), scheduled to open in December 2019. The gymnasium (& original floor) will also be refurbished and used by the Sheridan Youth Recreation League. Sustaining a legacy takes work, whether in a brewpub, distillery, county library or inside an old dairy barn, but work that is well worth the time.  © Chris Smith

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

the new game, part three

In this little investigation into what has become of our gyms we've seen beer, food & whiskey - now, how about a little summer reading?  Nestled along the Indiana-Illinois border with I-74 on the north and Terre Haute to the south lies Vermillion County.  Ernie Pyle, the Pulitzer Prize winning World War 2 correspondent, is the county's most famous son and the little town of Newport, the county seat.  Just off State Road 63, traveling east on Market Street, the intrepid traveler will discover the Vermillion County Public Library (built in 1923) and inside the former home court of the Newport Tigers.  Although they never won a Sectional title, Newport did participate in the tourney from 1915 until their consolidation into North Vermillion in 1964.  Overseeing the legacy of the Tigers' hardwood home and all the reading you could want is director Misty Bishop, usually barefoot during the summer months, but always more than happy to check out the latest bestseller or a basketball.  Your choice, read or play ball. © Chris Smith

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

the new game, part two

Recipe for Hoosier bourbon: take one old gym (Richland Township in Newtown), add Indiana sweet corn (grown on the Fruits family farm), distill in German copper/stainless pot stills & age in charred white oak barrels from Minnesota. Then transport the barrels down the stairs (below the former gym) into the old cafeteria where they will age at a constant temperature for several years.  Finally, bottle the whiskey (in French bottles, stored in the gym), name it after the state road that runs in front of the old school (Old 55) and offer for sale some of the best bourbon north of the Mason Dixon line.  It somehow seems appropriate that all of this would happen where a team named the Red Devils played their games and although they were short lived (1942-1965), the Devils saw a large degree of hardwood success in the 1950s, winning Sectional crowns in 1950, 1952 and 1957.  And now, a new kind of success.  © Chris Smith    

Monday, July 1, 2019

the new game, part one

When their time is past many old high school gyms follow the same path that their former players, coaches & fans are on - slow decline leading to an eventual quiet end.  Some linger on as elementary or middle school facilities while others become community recreation centers or senior living spaces.  But some are reinvented to a new & different purpose, all the while preserving their original intent.  Three examples of this live in the west central part of our state.
Whitestown, the former home of the Panthers, participated in Sectional play from 1921-1963 and won their lone title in 1946, posting a record of 24-10 and defeating Zionsville in the championship game.  Since it's consolidation & closing in 1963 the old gym has gone through a number of changes, most recently in 2017 when the Mattingly family renovated the property and opened the Moontown Brewing Company, a brewpub/restaurant.  Not only does Moontown preserve and protect the legacy of the old Whitestown gym, it may serve as  a roadmap for others lost along the way. © Chris Smith 

Monday, March 4, 2019

tourney time

Sectional Final at Clay City's Eel Dome (another beautiful Ralph Legeman designed sunken gym).  Bloomfield vs Shakamak & the Cardinals roll on to the Regional after defeating the Lakers, 34-21.  © Chris Smith