News From Terre Haute, Indiana

March 6, 2009

Amey Takes Aim: Searching for another Norm Van Lier

By Andy Amey

TERRE HAUTE — Some of the younger guys around the office get a little bit of amusement about the fact that I would rather watch the National Hockey League than the National Basketball Association on my nights off.

It’s not completely a lack of NBA interest. I scour the boxscores every day, try to know the roster of every team, and can appreciate the rather bizarre cast of idiots, malcontents, spoiled brats and near-criminals who populate a reasonably high percentage of those rosters.

I just don’t like to watch them play basketball, or what passes for basketball at the professional level.

I got a sad reminder of why that’s the case earlier this week. Find me another Norm Van Lier in this year’s NBA and I’d be back watching — his team, anyway.

About 30 years ago my uncle took my cousins, Tom and Harry, and me to Wrigley Field on a rainy summer day to see the Cubs play the San Francisco Giants. The game got rained out, but the day was a success for me because, a few rows in front of us in the cheap seats of the left-field grandstand, was Norm and his wife.

“That’s Norm Van Lier,” I told Tom and Harry. “So?” was the response from a couple of even lesser NBA fans than I was. “I’m going to get his autograph,” I said, undeterred.

Norm is less than a year older than I am, so when I handed him my Cubs scorecard to sign he gave me a bored expression that clearly said, “Dude, aren’t you a little old for this?” But he signed. I’ve still got that scorecard somewhere.

He must have been in a really good mood that day, because Stormin’ Norman was never a guy who believed in the value of public relations. He teamed with Jerry Sloan in what has to be the meanest, fiestiest, most physical backcourt in the history of the NBA. How mean were they? Sloan, who some of the old-timers around here might remember from his days at Evansville and now the crusty old coach of the Utah Jazz, was the nice guy of the two.

So find me an NBA player with that kind of passion, and maybe I’ll watch. Until then, I’ll spend my time watching athletes who care about what they’re doing.

• Geography — I’ve mentioned before that the Indiana High School Athletic Association has a limited grasp of that subject, having seen the IHSAA send Seeger to Evansville for a softball semistate (all three other semistates were closer) or North Vermillion to Shelbyville for a basketball regional (something like six high schools in the entire state were farther away from there than the Falcons were).

Now the good folks at the Illinois High School Association are joining the act.

There are four super-sectionals next week for Class 2A boys basketball teams — at Southern Illinois (Carbondale), at Lewis (Romeoville), at Northern Illinois (DeKalb) and at Western Illinois (Macomb). You may have read in this newspaper where the winner of the Robinson Sectional — Marshall, Paris or Tolono Unity — will have to go.

Yes, it’s to Macomb. It might be quicker to get to Macomb than to Carbondale for the folks at Tolono — and I’m not completely sure about that — but for the other schools that’s the farthest distance among the four sites. If Robinson had won its own sectional, the Maroons would have had to travel at least five hours for their next game.

On a school night!

• Wounds remain — Got an e-mail recently from David Troup, manager of the South Bend East Side Little League teams who were declared ineligible at North Terre Haute the past two summers.

According to a Feb. 25 story in the South Bend Tribune, the last boundary map filed by that league with its regional office in 1992 verifies that all the players were legal; unfortunately for the boys and their parents who made the trip, their district administrator was unable to provide documentation at the time.

East Side is not happy with Little League in general as a result. Troup said he wishes all the Terre Haute teams luck this year, but his team will be competing in Cal Ripken.

• Swim stuff — Forgot to mention after Saturday’s state finals that the points scored by Terre Haute South enabled the Braves to finish tied for 16th in the state, while the backstroke points tallied by John Craig Huster put Terre Haute North in a tie for 44th.

And remember the name Kyle Whitaker when you get ready to watch the Olympics in three years. The junior from Chesterton not only set a national record in the 200 IM — did Michael Phelps compete as a high school swimmer? — but an hour or so after that was seen doing the thankless and boring task of holding lane cards for a teammate swimming the 500 freestyle.

Andy Amey can be reached after 4 p.m. for comments or news items at (812) 231-4277 or at 1-800-783-8742; by e-mail at; by mail at P.O. Box 149, Terre Haute, IN, 47808; or by fax at (812) 231-4321.