TERRE HAUTE —
Think of every championship that Indiana State has won in each of its sports, past and present. Think of every tournament — postseason or regular season — which the Sycamores have claimed as their own.
In that moment, Sycamores of the past proudly raised their trophies high. For that one day, and sometimes well beyond, it was a triumph that helped add another brick to Indiana State’s athletic foundation. The trophies are something you can hold in your hand and know that they helped define the athletic destiny of Indiana State.
Now they all sit together in the basement of the ISU Arena. Triumphs long remembered, and some long forgotten, in dusty boxes waiting to be relived and remembered again.
And they’re not alone.
The aggregation of ISU’s athletic past has been gathered in the basement of the ISU Arena, directly under the arena practice floor and the athletic department offices. A year and a half ago, ISU’s athletic department claimed many of its items that had been in the possession of the ISU Archives department and that had been stored at Normal Hall.
When Normal Hall was remodeled, the athletic department reclaimed its items. A room in the basement that had served at various times as a classroom and as an archery practice area became the new home for ISU’s athletic past.
“Six or seven years ago, a lot of the stuff was here and then it was moved over to archives in a one-position area. We had our own wing where we could take a look at, if we needed items, but what would happen is that we’d have to call over there, we’d come over and look at our stuff, and it was lot of process,” ISU Assistant Director of Athletics John Sherman said.
“With the renovation of Normal Hall, we were able to bring it all back here. We were able to clean up the basement area, which was not being used by anybody. We cleaned it up, we painted and we put a couple of de-humidifiers down there. We loaded up trucks and brought it all back,” Sherman added.
The basement is a pack rat’s — and history lover’s — dream. The athletic department has organized its materials into informal groupings. Trophies are all located in boxes that take up about 1/5 of the room. The trophies represent all eras and go back as far as a 1919 ICAL championship won by ISU’s baseball team. Several trophies from the John Wooden NAIB era are included.
Many are in disrepair. The glue used for the placards has deteriorated over time and has fallen off. Many of the trophies are wooden and are brittle to the touch.
“Some of the trophies, some of the baseball stuff, some of the NAIB trophies, we’re getting them cleaned up and we’ll try to display them at Hulman Center so they can see some things from our championship years,” Sherman said.
There are also boxes upon boxes of reel-to-reel game, practice, and crowd films from various sports that date from the 1950s to the 1980s. There are videotapes that cover the period from the 1980s to the early 2000s.
“A lot of the stuff wasn’t labeled. When you saw the films down there, we don’t know if they’re practice films, game films, we’re not sure what they are. Some of the better films are over at our TV production area, and even they’re looking through things. We still have a lot of work to do,” Sherman said.
Uniforms, letter jackets and practice jerseys from various eras are stuffed into cardboard boxes, including a jacket that may have dated from the 1920s that was in excellent condition. A bag of 1980s-era tearaway football jerseys sit in a gym bag from that era nearby.
“We’re finding a lot of old uniforms. We found the old 1978-79 team uniforms [ISU’s Final Four team]. We were told they were gone. Then we found them in a box with the short shorts and the warm-ups,” Sherman said.
There are file cabinets that contain media guides, game notes and newspaper clippings from ISU sports, past and present. Included are official scorebooks from most ISU men’s basketball seasons dating to the pre-World War II era. Banners that once hung at Hulman Center now sit folded on top of the file cabinets.
There are sticks and stick bags used by ISU’s long-gone field hockey team. There is a lot of cheerleading paraphernalia, including megaphones and even a pair of crutches used by an injured cheerleader of lore. Team pictures, some extremely large that were once displayed inside the ISU Arena, are also present.
And yes, Chief Quabachi (Or was it Ouibachi or Oubachi? ISU’s media guides of the time never reached consensus on his spelling) lives on too. The long-retired native American mascot’s staff and drum sit on the wall, unsued since 1989, near a stuffed dog that was once the informal mascot of the ISU’s women’s bowling team.
There are also high school trophies.
Of note is the 1965 boys basketball sectional championship trophy, with a piece of basketball net still triumphantly draped over it. That was the last sectional claimed by old State High School, which was closed in the late 1970s. Since State High did not have a direct successor school, its trophies share space in the basement with those of its big brother school.
Some athletic material is still in the possession of the ISU Archives. They are housed at Cunningham Library. The majority of the items there are photographs, media guides and newspaper clippings that date into the 1940s.
Included were several photographs that date from the late period of when ISU basketball played at the ISU Arena to its early years in Hulman Center. The pinstriped shorts ISU wore when Hulman Center opened were featured prominently, including a game against Centenary, in which future NBA star Robert Parish plied his trade. There were also photographs from when Hulman Center hosted a NCAA regional in 1974.
Also included were drawings of the ISU mascot finalists from the 1990s that were beaten out by current mascot Sycamore Sam.
Representatives from the ISU archives could not elaborate as to why or how it was determined what they kept and what went back to the athletic department.
All of the accumulated material presents a challenge for the ISU athletic department. It would like to preserve its history and give the most prominent successes of the past their due with a public display.
Sherman said he’d like to clean up trophies from the John Wooden era, the College Division era, the Larry Bird era and the Royce Waltman era and create displays at Hulman Center for each. With some of the uniforms recovered, he suggested that some of those items could be displayed on mannequins.
Several arenas in the MVC and Indiana have done something similar. Before it was torn down earlier this year, Evansville’s Roberts Stadium had a quasi-museum of memorabilia displayed in its concourses.
“It’s going slow. Manpower is always tough around here. Hopefully, we can get some of it displayed with the help of Fred Clark and the Hulman Center staff,” Sherman said.
But the championship-era memorabilia only covers a fraction of what ISU’s athletic department has in its possession. Sherman said that ISU’s athletic department interns are charged with organizing archival material when they can during summer days. It’s a rainy-day project.
The cost of preserving all of ISU’s memorabilia would be enormous. To convert the reel-to-reel film stock alone would bring a hefty price tag.
“We get requests all of the time, ‘Do you have a game from the sixties or seventies?’ To try and find a reel-to-reel projector with someone who might have been from that era to determine, ‘What game was this?’ It’s a guess. It’s costly, it’s time-consuming,” Sherman said.
Sherman said they’d like to try and get some video on DVD, but ultimately, what’s saved will likely come down to what’s cost-effective.
It is possible that someone could donate time or money to preserve ISU’s past, but with ISU trying to raise money for current projects, it is not something that’s on the front burner as far as soliciting donations is concerned.
“I’m sure someone could earmark a donation for restoration of the archives. I’m sure if someone wanted to help us out we’re not going to say no. It’s probably not high on our list. It means a lot to us, but there’s a lot of things going on today we need to take care of,” Sherman said.
Time marches on. But in the ISU Arena basement, the detritus of its past successes sit and wait to be discovered anew. It’s a living museum of ISU history that waits to be relived again.