WEST TERRE HAUTE —
I can’t imagine a better first class of inductees into the West Vigo High School Athletics Hall of Fame than the one that was feted Saturday night in the Jim Mann Green Dome.
I might have added one more name to the list — more about that later — but you’d have to pick your nits pretty hard to find fault with an inaugural group of John Kesler II, Bob Woolley, Lisa Ridenour White, Cory DeGroote, Amy Vaira Booker, Bridget Miller Short and Gabe Cook.
As I sneaked in late to catch the bulk of the program after another work assignment Saturday, I was struck by several things: first, how much the honor meant to each of the athletes (the voices of more than half of them, as well as several of those who presented them, caught in their throats on many occasions); second, that the ceremony was prestigious enough to involve the commissioner of the Indiana High School Athletic Association (Bobby Cox was Kesler’s teammate on the track team and Butler and presented his award); and third, how the school’s athletic history parallels my own history at the Tribune-Star.
(I have a very dear son-in-law who used to think — or still thinks — there’s more to it than that, which is why he often gets green shirts at Christmas.)
Kesler is best known as a distance runner, for example, but I remember him as the starting point guard in the first high school basketball game I ever covered for the Star in the winter of 1971-72.
By that time, I’d already learned who Woolley was, because I’d seen West Vigo’s 1971 football team play in the fall. Their uniforms at the time were modeled after those of the New York Jets, and Woolley was the closest thing to Joe Namath that I’ll probably ever see in high school. I think I saw them win 79-0 thanks to a bunch of little receivers who would be 40 yards downfield catching the ball in stride; Bobby will forever be in any discussion I have about the greatest arms I’ve seen.
The four “kids” in the group I’ve known since they were in junior high, I believe. The only one of the seven I don’t know well is Lisa, because I didn’t cover much track and field in the mid-1980s. The people I know who saw her — don’t get Mike McCormick started on the subject if you don’t have a few minutes to spare — have made it clear how much I was cheated by not seeing her run.
Tribune-Star news space does not permit me to list all the accomplishments of these seven athletes. You could probably get a copy of the program from Ryan Easton if you wanted to read them all, which would take some time. Here are the moments I appreciated most on Saturday.
• Most heart-felt expression of appreciation — Among the seven, I liked Lisa’s best. With voice catching, of course, she said, “One of my biggest regrets was getting the McMillan Award and not saying anything to thank my parents.”
• Ultimate competitor — Distance running was what Kesler did best, but not always what he did for fun, he indicated. He mentioned that both he and Woolley were playing some kind of sport well into their 50s and pointed out that his Hall of Fame plaque in the Green Dome is in addition to ones he has in Hinkle Fieldhouse (Butler Athletic Hall of Fame) and Archie’s Bar (Terre Haute Softball Hall of Fame).
• Least surprising presenter — Former volleyball and track coach Faith Hatcher was there for both Vaira and Miller, whose McMillan Awards came consecutively and who were teammates for 24 of the 31 letters the two earned at West Vigo. “Two peas in a pod,” Hatcher said. “I’m so pleased we’re going in together,” Amy noted.
• Best family joke — Culley DeGroote introduced Cory and said he’d gotten the same question several times in the week preceding the ceremony: “Two DeGrootes speaking back-to-back? How long’s this thing going to last?”
• Inspiration — Gabe, who you probably know as the wrestling coach at Terre Haute South, explained why he stays in the sport by saying, “For what this school did for me, I owe my time to another kid who loves the sport.”
Easton and Jim Mann, the keynote speaker for the evening, are the ones that I’m guessing did a lot of the legwork in getting the Hall of Fame established and who organized the proceedings Saturday night, and I’m also guessing that’s the reason for the name that I think is missing.
The second class is scheduled to be inducted Nov. 2, 2013. Nobody asked me, but I would hope the name that appears first and last in this column is in it.
Andy Amey can be reached after 4 p.m. at (812) 231-4277 or at 1-800-783-8742, Option 4; 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. Follow TribStarAndy on Twitter.