By David Hughes
TERRE HAUTE — I probably shouldn’t mention this mischievous moment from my past, but I will anyway.
During the 1978-79 Indiana State men’s basketball season, when Terre Haute became center of the sports universe, I was an ISU sophomore who sat in the student section at home games. Ridiculously rowdy, I often engaged in good-natured, heated conversations with visiting players and coaches.
Back then, students got in free by showing their ISU identification cards. Considering the Sycamores had Larry Bird, an undefeated season and a top-three ranking in the national polls, you can imagine how many students wanted to see NCAA history live and in person.
As the wins piled up, hundreds of us started lining up outside Hulman Center hours before ushers would unlock the entrance doors. After the doors opened, students would flash their IDs and run like escaped convicts toward the steps that led to the student section. After finding an open seat, they’d throw their coat on the seat next to them to save it for a buddy who was probably following close behind.
It was a crazy scene that you had to see to believe.
Eventually, I grew tired of standing out in the cold and snow for hours. I also disliked having to play roller derby (without skates) to outmuscle fellow students for a second-row seat.
So I devised a plan, with help from an equally mischievous friend named Kenny Myers, whom I’d known since we were kids in 1971.
Alternating roles from game to game, Kenny or I would sneak in through the unguarded ramp door on the north side of Hulman Center 30-45 minutes before the entrance doors would open while the other would stay in line outside. Once inside, he or I would hide in the stall of a men’s restroom. One time, I nervously propped my feet up to avoid being noticed when I heard someone enter the room.
One minute before the entrance doors were scheduled to open, the person in the restroom would quietly head toward the student section and claim a second-row seat while placing a coat on the seat next to him. That way, the other person would be guaranteed a good seat, regardless of how much chaos ensued upstairs.
Our plan worked perfectly twice.
The third time, however, I tiptoed into the student section a little too early and got told to leave. Forced to the back of the pack outside, I yelled up to Kenny seconds before the doors opened that I messed up the plan and it was up to him to save our seats.
On short notice, Kenny did his job. Once again, we were able to watch Bird and his teammates up close while verbally abusing another hapless opponent.
I I I
I recalled this story to cheer me up, because Kenny Myers died of cancer last week. Funeral services were Monday. He was 50.
Although Kenny remained passionate over the years about ISU sports, as well as University of Michigan football and the local high school teams, he was best known for coaching and organizing the Wabash Valley’s No. 1 men’s slowpitch softball team. For years, it was known as McMillan Sporting Goods. After the store closed in 1993, the team’s primary sponsor became the Ballyhoo Tavern.
When I think of Terre Haute adult softball over the last 20-25 years, the first two people I think of are John Benton and Kenny Myers because of their tireless dedication to the sport.
Longtime McMillan’s and Ballyhoo teammate Cyle Watts, who lives in Brazil, described Kenny as a fierce competitor who knew how to lure the Valley’s top players to their team.
“Kenny didn’t like to lose,” Watts said. “He had an eye for talent and he was very good at putting people where they needed to be in the lineup. He usually had some horses.”
Watts said key players who helped the team for 10-plus years include Doug Elliott, Steve Elmlinger, Chris Patterson, Scott Burris, Tom Kirchner, Travis Mason, Jason Thomas, Bryan Engelbrecht, Darrin Cronkhite, Rick Bagnoche, Jeff Lauritzen, Ken Mattick and Danny Stephens.
You might recognize a few former ISU athletes among those names.
“Overall, he did a great job of keeping the same core of guys around for years,” Watts mentioned.
To Kenny, maintaining chemistry and friendship among teammates was just as important as talent.
“We all still care a heck of a lot about each other,” Watts said. “You could tell that at Kenny’s funeral.”
Kenny’s most significant success came in 1996 when the Ballyhoo captured the ASA Class B state championship and tied for 33rd place out of 117 teams in the ASA nationals at Marietta, Ga. Another year, his team won the prestigious Strawberry Festival in Crawfordsville.
Watts said he and Kenny estimated last year that McMillan’s/Ballyhoo won roughly 75 percent of its games in tournaments and leagues combined.
Although Kenny left this world way too soon, his memory can live on for future generations of softball players. After talking to some of his close friends Monday, we’d like the city of Terre Haute to consider naming the softball field at Spencer F. Ball Park after Kenny Myers.
That field hasn’t been used for baseball in quite some time, so naming it after Kenny seems appropriate.
“I can’t think of a more deserving individual than Kenny Myers,” Benton said of the field possibly being renamed.
“He devoted much time and effort to slowpitch softball in Terre Haute. It would be a fitting testimony to his support of the game.”
Rest in peace, Kenny.
And if it’s not too much trouble, save me a seat.
David Hughes can be reached by phone after 4 p.m. by calling 1-800-783-8742, Option 4, or at (812) 231-4224; by e-mail at email@example.com; or by fax at (812) 231-4321.