Sunday, December 11, 2016

return to batesville

This trip, back to Batesville, was deeply personal; so read no further if your only interest is the 2016 game between the Bulldogs & the Quakers of Plainfield.  Make no mistake - this is also a story of that game, a game where the Quakers, after  a Friday night drubbing of Martinsville (75-38), rolled over the host Dogs 65-34. Aaron Garrett's squad will recover and I'm sure they'll make a run at their 31st Sectional crown, but Saturday was not their night. This trip, back to Batesville, was more about what happened 20 years ago.  You see, in the winter of 1996-97 all of Indiana high school basketball was on edge.  The last year of one class basketball was under way and Melvin Siefert's Bulldogs, powered by senior Michael Menser, were in the spotlight.  Dubbed the "next Milan", Siefert's squad was deemed to be the only team capable of making the dream of a small school 'winning it all' come true.  They were featured in newspapers, magazines and books.  Washington Post writer William Gildea and Bloomington sports editor Bob Hammel made them the centerpiece of their stories about the "final" season (Where the Game Matters Most by Gildea and Hoosiers Classified by Hammel) and Sports Illustrated photographer Damian Strohmeyer turned out a wonderful book length photo essay (along with writer Alexander Wolff) entitled A March for Honor.  That winter was also my last as chief photographer for Batesville's Hillenbrand Industries Annual Report, ending a tie that began with my time as a writer/photographer for the Batesville Herald-Tribune.  That winter would also be the last for my father, a Ripley County native whose 1937 Versailles Frenchies basketball team was the inspiration for the Hoosier Hardwood Photo Project. All good stories don't always have happy endings but they do end.  Siefert & Menser would finish their season at 26-2 in the Regional Final at New Castle with a heart breaking overtime loss to the host Trojans 61-58.  Melvin Siefert would continue to coach the Bulldogs for 11 more years, winning a total of 262 games (including 6 Sectional, 3 Regional and one Semi-State crowns) and coming four points shy of winning a 2A State Championship in 2001.  Michael Menser would be named an Indiana All-Star (and runner-up Mr. Basketball) and go on to play for Indiana State in 116 games, totaling more than 1300 points and cementing his legacy in the annals of Sycamore basketball.  And, in August of 1997, I buried my father in a Batesville casket and received a copy of the annual report featuring his granddaughter's photograph on the cover. So, Saturday night was a homecoming of sorts;  Siefert and Menser (now principal & assistant principal at Plainfield) returned to their home town and home court, greeted once again by family & friends and I reconnected with names from my past (former coach & teacher Ron Raver, athletic director and Herald-Tribune alumni Bryan Helvie and Greg Meyer, husband of my Hillenbrand buddy Cindy Meyer).  As I said, this return trip to Batesville was about basketball and so much more.  CGS. 

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