Special to the Tribune-Star
History is being made here. One sees it most Friday or Saturday nights in the winter, being quietly made by a man who isn’t necessarily quiet, especially when he sees bad play or a blown call.
He sits on the bench in the high school gym, wearing a dark green sport coat and soft green necktie, a program rolled up in one hand, like Norman Dale in “Hoosiers.” Only he’s played that role since long before that movie was made. When the Cloverdale boys team tips off at North Central tonight, he will have begun his 50th season of coaching. And if you think a man who’s coached that long is Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame material, you’re right.
Seventy-two year old Pat Rady has been there since 2002. And in all this time he’s never missed a game. That’s right. Not one.
“I hope I don’t jinx myself [by talking about it],” he says with a grin.
Rady is neither tall nor short, and his face, behind black-rimmed glasses, lends credence to a number of possible identities. He could pass for the man behind the counter at the co-op, or the minister who baptized you. He could pass for the doctor who delivered you, one who still makes house calls. Listen to him for two minutes and you know he’s a Hoosier. Watch him demonstrate a practice drill and you can see the ex-jock.
Rady lettered twice at Hanover College, where his teammates elected him honorary captain as a senior (He’s listed in the athletics Hall of Fame there as well). Surprisingly he was cut as a freshman, and it was this disappointment that turned him into a serious student of the game.
It also deepened the empathy he feels for prospective players he’s had to turn away through the years.
“The hardest part for me in coaching is selecting a team,” he says.
“And my wife can tell you, I am not the same person until the tryouts are over.”
Have the kids changed much over the years?
“I don’t know that they play as much basketball anymore,” he muses, “because there’s so many other activities they can do.”
But Rady recognizes complete players when he sees them.
“So much of basketball is played on the level of reaction and instinct: how quick you can react to what’s in your peripheral vision and how well you understand game position, watching the flight of the ball,” he explains. “And a good rebounder has a certain sense.”
Today’s game features slam dunks, alternating possessions and 3-pointers. Does he approve?
Rady pauses. “I’ve accepted them,” he concedes. “With the 3-pointer I think it’s helped bring the smaller kid back into the game, and I like that part of it. But what we’re missing now is that good 15-foot shooter, because the big guy only wants to dunk and the little guy only wants to shoot the 3-pointer. They forget there’s a gap in between there, and if you can drop that shot it makes you a lot tougher.”
As for the game officials, he says in part, “[They] have a thankless job when you really look at it.”
He adds that he respects officials and the role they have played in helping make this high school game in Indiana what it is today. “I guarantee you they don’t do it for the money,” Rady states. “They do it for the love of the game.”
Rady insists that his players behave as young men, and realizes that in the world of teenagers stuff happens. When it does, and consultation with the athletics director and/or the parents is required, then he and his player sit down with them. But when a choice is required, he prefers that his player step up and make it himself.
No one lives a life without regrets, and Rady’s had his share: moments when his emotions got the better of him, players here and there he may have pushed too hard. Competition for spots on the roster at Terre Haute South was so keen that he felt compelled to put both of his sons on the cut list. Yes, there are tougher predicaments for a father. But if you’re also a coach, that one’s right up there.
Former players — Indiana University’s and Terre Haute South’s Brian Evans among them — might think Rady has mellowed a little, and he will admit as much himself. He hasn’t been charged with a technical foul in many years, and fewer than 10 in half a century. But a Cloverdale practice is still vigorous enough to make his players look forward to the games, so easy are they by comparison.
If there’s a word that describes Pat Rady in the twilight of his career, the word is grateful. Grateful most of all to Margaret, his wife of 47 years, and their two grown sons, Patrick and Michael. They’re the ones he lives for. And he’s grateful, too, for all of the assistant coaches, friends, and acquaintances he’s made in his 50-year, six-school sojourn from that first varsity job at Bainbridge (now North Putnam). Their love, friendship, and support will never be forgotten.
Perhaps you’ve noticed no mention here of the number of games Rady’s won. That’s no accident. He doesn’t consider the number important, and he will tell you that it was his players who won those games and not him.
From the rafters of the Cloverdale gym hangs a banner commemorating the 1966 Clovers, the outfit that thumped, bumped and swished its way to a berth in the state finals. Beneath it, on Nov. 30, the newest edition of the boys team will play their first home game of the season, versus Riverton Parke. Be witness to something special. It’ll be a great night for history.