News From Terre Haute, Indiana

February 8, 2008

Hughes News and Views: Engineers celebrating 100th season of basketball Saturday

By David Hughes

TERRE HAUTE — Saturday should be a fun day at Rose-Hulman.

That’s when the eastside engineering institute will celebrate its 100 years of basketball with a women’s/men’s doubleheader against Defiance College in Hulbert Arena. Tipoffs are slated for 1 and 3 p.m.

Not only do both Rose teams need victories to stay in the hunt for playoff spots in the upcoming Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference tournament, the women’s contest will showcase the team’s “Think Pink” for breast cancer awareness day. Fifteen minutes before opening tipoff, approximately 45 breast cancer survivors from the Wabash Valley will be honored in a ceremony.

The team also has sponsored the sale of “Think Pink” T-shirts on campus. All proceeds from the women’s Saturday gate receipts and T-shirt sales will go toward breast cancer research.

Then at halftime of the men’s game, a substantial number of former men’s and women’s players will be introduced on the court.

The day concludes with the “100th Season of Basketball Celebration” dinner for alumni and guests that will follow the doubleheader.

According to the Rose-Hulman men’s basketball media guide, the first game played by the school occurred in the 1897-98 season. It was a 12-2 loss to the YMCA.

Over the past 100 years, the male Engineers have won 963 games and lost 962. They’ve qualified for the NCAA Division III tournament eight times (1977, 1978, 1981, 1982, 1989, 1996, 1997 and 1999).

Coaching 25 of those years was John Mutchner, who compiled a record of 341-291 from 1963 to 1988.

Now a land developer in Terre Haute, the 73-year-old Mutchner carries plenty of fond memories from his coaching days.

“We had 10 straight winning seasons at one stretch, running from 1974-75 to 1983-84,” Mutchner recalled Thursday. “I’ve always felt that at a place like Rose-Hulman, with all the academic pressure on the student-athletes and no [athletic] scholarships, if you had a winning season, it was a good year. We had a lot of seasons with 20 wins and 17, 18 wins.”

But victory totals aren’t his only basketball memory.

“I’m probably most proud of our players and what they’ve become,” Mutchner said. “Certainly, they didn’t become what they are and who they are because of me or being in the basketball program. But we hope that some place along the line, something rubbed off that helped them be a better citizen, a better employer, a better employee, a better father. You never know when you’re reaching somebody.

“I’m also very proud of the fact that everyone who played for me from 1971 to 1987, if they stayed in the program four years, had a chance to go to Europe. We made five trips to Europe.

“Not only that, we were the first American college or university team to ever play in the Soviet Union. And that was back when the hammer and sickle were still flying over the Kremlin. So it wasn’t easy. I worked on that every day for a year to get it done. I think that was very significant, even though we lost our bags on the trip and had to play in pick-up uniforms when we played in Moscow. That was quite an experience.

“We also played in Hawaii twice, the Bahamas twice. We played in Mexico. We played in Canada … We spent New Year’s Eve in London, I think, three different times.”

Current Rose men’s coach Jim Shaw has continued the traveling tradition over the past 14 seasons.

“It’s really part of Rose’s basketball history,” Mutchner emphasized. “I’m very pleased that Jim has kept that going.”

Mutchner started several other traditions — including use of the cannon, siren and bell — at home games inside the old Shook Fieldhouse, which was demolished to make room for a parking lot and walkway in the summer of 1997.

“When I came there, they were bringing in two or three hundred people a game and maybe not that many,” he said. “It just seemed like it was kind of a blah situation. So I started collecting noise-making devices … and by my second year, we had them going pretty much full blast.

“We had two big bells mounted on rubber-tired wagons. We had two police sirens wired in the ceiling of the fieldhouse. All that would go off and the team would run out on a red carpet [before the start of a game], then we’d shoot the cannon off and we would drop the ’Give ‘Em Hell’ banner from the ceiling. It was about 40 feet long. This became tradition. We did it exactly the same way every time and it was tuned to the school fight song… After a while, the atmosphere changed significantly and we started winning and we started getting better crowds.”

The legendary cannon — which caused me to almost jump out of my seat a few times in the 1990s — made its presence felt in more ways than one.

“One time, I remember distinctly, the thing going off and a guy walking in front of it,” Mutchner said. “He had a Coke in each hand. The thing went off and he just threw both Cokes about six feet in the air.”

Mutchner still enjoys attending home games in Hulbert Arena, located inside Rose’s Sports and Recreation Center, even without the cannon, siren and bell.

“It’s a much nicer building, but the old fieldhouse had a lot of charm,” he noted. “And the day they tore it down, it was still a great place to play basketball.”

One of Mutchner’s most memorable games in Shook Fieldhouse was a 71-57 loss to Wittenberg in front of a huge crowd in 1977.

“We played Wittenberg in the semifinal game of the NCAA [Division III] tournament,” he said. “We got beat and Wittenberg went on to win the national championship. I didn’t feel we played as well as we should have against them.”

Mutchner respectfully declined to name a most memorable player from his 25 years at the helm, saying there were too many outstanding players to name one. He did admit that 1970 graduate Don Ings, the school’s all-time leading scorer with 2,083 points, would be high on the list.

“I’m hesitant to say who was the best player we ever had,” Mutchner explained, “although Ings was an exceptional talent.”

More recently, 1999 to be exact, Rose-Hulman’s Bryan Egli was named the NCAA Division III National Men’s Basketball Player of the Year by Columbus Multimedia.

But Egli never hit 12 3-pointers in one game. Rose’s Mike Webster did accomplish that, however, in a 76-72 loss to Eureka on Dec. 13, 1986. At the time, Webster broke the national Division III record.

That performance provided another fond memory for Mutchner, who I’m sure will experience many more Saturday.



• Our pal Al — Former Indiana State football player and assistant coach Alvin Reynolds joined the staff of the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons this week.

During the past five seasons, Reynolds coached defensive backs for the Jacksonville Jaguars, which is what he’ll be doing for the Falcons and new head coach Mike Smith.

Reynolds previously coached DBs for the Denver Broncos, Carolina Panthers and Baltimore Ravens.



Suddenly a New York Giants fan, David Hughes can be reached by phone at 1-800-783-8742, Option 4, or at (812) 231-4224; by e-mail at david.hughes@tribstar.com; or by fax at (812) 231-4321.