TERRE HAUTE —
I don’t know if anyone in this part of the state could actually say they enjoy going to Fort Wayne and back, but I was glad to see the Turkey Run Warriors play one last time during the girls basketball state finals Saturday.
Warrior statistician John Jeffers reminded me right away that morning that I’d predicted, as soon as the Indiana High School Athletic Association announced a couple of years ago that the girls finals would be moving to Allen County War Memorial Coliseum, that it would be the girls from Turkey Run who would drag me up there. See, I get these things right once in a while.
I also had Chelsea Francis in the she’ll-cry-the-most pool — sister Meghan came pretty close — although I’m not sure what my prize is. There were a couple of times that day when I felt like joining them in tears — and winning or losing the game had nothing to do with the sadness.
I was a little late to the party in noticing the Turkey Run girls. They were probably already in the fifth or sixth grade when I would show up at their school to referee or to cover a game and started wondering who the girls were that had to be shooed off the court beforehand and who jumped right back on it as soon as the game was over. You don’t see that very often.
I didn’t have the privilege of covering more than a dozen of their games during their four years of high school, but I probably could have covered all 102 (final record 84-18) and still wanted more. I’m almost as sad as they are that their team is no more, although they at least still get to sit together at lunch — and now without the threat of some old guy from West Terre Haute joining them unexpectedly.
Falling in love with kids is pretty easy in my business, and it was ridiculously so with this bunch. I probably didn’t interview the underclassmen on the team like I should have, but the seven seniors were so much fun to talk to that it was hard to save time for anyone else: some of the most interesting athletes I’ve ever met, and almost certainly the most intelligent group I’ve been around.
Their only problem was that they were apparently cloned. About a year after the Turkey Run girls started playing together 11 years ago, the girls who became Vincennes Rivet got together a little farther south.
This year’s stats for the two teams were uncannily close. Turkey Run shot 50 percent from the field and 66 percent from the foul line, Rivet 49 percent and 68 percent respectively. (Those 12 games or so that I saw probably dragged down the Warrior percentages, because I don’t remember seeing them shoot that well. Maybe I made them nervous; I know they made me nervous.)
But here’s the thing about both teams. Nobody cared who scored — or seemed to particularly want to score. Offense was just something to do in the down time between chances to guard people, apparently, which is why nobody from Rivet was a double-figure scorer (six averaged between 6.8 and 9.7 points per game, however) and why Turkey Run had only two — Jordan Hunt at 10.7, Adrianne Francis at 10.6. The lowest scorer for the season among Saturday’s 10 starters, Shelby Davies, led the Warriors in the championship game, and the leading scorer for that game — Mallory Niehaus — ranked fifth for the year among the Patriots.
And although it’s a little close to sour grapes, I’m going to say it anyway — the Warriors were the Class A public school champions the last two years.
• Empty chair — I know my old friend Steve Hollenbeck was looking on appreciatively last week as Indiana State won the Missouri Valley Conference basketball tournament.
I’ve said it before, but the boys from Columbus — Holly and Jerry Newsom from the 1964 state finalists, Butch Wade a year older — were among the main reasons I came to ISU in the first place, and all three are among the finest the school has ever produced.
Holly was unique, a guard who stood about 6-foot-1 and weighed … well, in his senior year he trimmed down so much he was almost unrecognizable, and still probably weighed 225 or so. Not a great shooter, but his heart and desire made up for that.
He was also an awfully good third baseman and, having had the opportunity to play intramural flag (or so they said) football against him, I can attest to his ability in that sport too.
He’s also pretty high on the list of most loyal Sycamore alumni ever. He always knew what was going on, and he knew because he was always there. Maybe the school could retire that aisle seat under the south basket in Hulman Center where I often found him.
• Speaking of loyal — I also need to belatedly congratulate West Vigo High School for the naming of its gym in honor of Jim Mann.
The Vikings’ long-time athletic director set the standard for that position back in the day (and took pretty good care of the sportswriters too). Anytime I need any West Vigo sports history I know I can call him and he’ll tell me what year the game was played, who won, and if the answer to that latter question wasn’t West Vigo he might even remember who was officiating.
I’m pretty sure I’ve never met another person with more love for his community than Jim Mann.
Andy Amey can be reached after 4 p.m. at (812) 231-4277 or at 1-800-783-8742; by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org; by mail at P.O. Box 149, Terre Haute, IN, 47808; or by fax at (812) 231-4321.