By David Hughes
If I can survive one more day, I will celebrate my 30th anniversary of Tribune-Star employment Saturday.
It seems like weeks ago that an Indiana State classmate of mine, Sherry Hinton, led me around the old Terre Haute Star newsroom on Wabash Avenue. She introduced me to staff members Gladys Seltzer, Liz Ciancone, J. Blaine Akers, Nelson Kinnett, Mike Russell, Dick Tuttle, George Wardell, Ray Cronin, Bill Mabin and Dave Cox, to name a few, on my first day Nov. 1, 1978.
Originally hired by Star editor-in-chief Lawrence Sawyer, I worked part-time as an obituary writer and fill-in police reporter my first few years in the business. After the labor strikes of 1980, I switched departments and became a part-time sports reporter.
Still a college student through most of the 1980s — I tried to make that a full-time job, but it didn’t pay enough — I finally earned full-time status at the Tribune-Star in May 1988. By that point, the morning Star and afternoon Tribune had merged into the one morning newspaper we all know and love today.
Over the decades, I’ve covered countless fun games, races and other forms of competition. But there were a few I wish could have gone smoother — such as the June 1996 night that I witnessed my first race at the Terre Haute Action Track.
Soggy track conditions from recent rain showers forced so many delays that the 30-lap T.H.A.T. Classic didn’t end until 2:46 a.m. That’s when 25-year-old Tony Stewart took the checkered flag.
It was a chilly night and I didn’t own a recording device, so I was scribbling notes with cold, numb hands. Midway through my post-race interview with the winner, Stewart asked — perhaps half-jokingly, perhaps not — “Can’t you write any faster?”
“Can’t you be any taller?” was the first reply that entered my mind. But I remained professional and politely told Mr. Stewart that my hands were cold and I didn’t want to be there at 3 a.m. any more than he did.
The most tragic event I covered was the April 8, 1995, high school baseball game between North Vermillion and Rockville for the Banks of the Wabash Classic championship at Riverton Parke.
On a rainy Saturday afternoon, Rockville was leading 4-3 and batting with the bases loaded in the bottom of the fourth inning when a lightning bolt flashed from the dreary sky. As startled spectators looked up, they saw North Vermillion left fielder Kirk Gentrup lying motionless on the field.
Gentrup, 16, was rushed by ambulance to Vermillion County Hospital in Clinton and pronounced dead.
There I was, expecting to write a run-of-the-mill baseball game story, and instead I was hurrying to finish a front-page death story for the Sunday paper.
I’ll never forget that horrible day.
Now let’s get to the fun stuff that I mentioned earlier, shall we?
Being the numbers nut that I am, I ranked my top 10 favorite covered events or interviews from the past 30 years:
10. South boys in state finals — On March 23, 1991, Terre Haute South played in the IHSAA state finals for boys basketball during the pre-class era.
Coached by Pat Rady and led by senior Brian Evans, the Braves lost to No. 4-ranked Brebeuf 52-39 in the semifinals inside Indianapolis’ Hoosier Dome.
9. Indianapolis-Denver AFC playoff game — On Jan. 9, 2005, the Indianapolis Colts clobbered the Denver Broncos 49-24 in the wild-card round of the AFC playoffs inside Indianapolis’ RCA Dome.
Reggie Wayne caught 10 passes for 221 yards, Peyton Manning threw for 457 yards and four touchdowns and ran for one TD and the Colts couldn’t have looked better.
Too bad they lost at New England one week later.
8. Indianapolis-Pittsburgh AFC playoff game — On Jan. 15, 2006, Indianapolis cornerback Nick Harper scooped up a Jerome Bettis fumble near the Colts’ goal line and set his sights on sprinting the length of the field for a go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter of a wild AFC second-round playoff game.
But Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger made the tackle on Harper and Mike Vanderjagt later missed a 46-yard field goal that would have forced overtime, allowing the Steelers to escape the RCA Dome with a 21-18 victory.
It’s no secret that I’m a Colts fan, so this wasn’t the finish I had in mind and interviewing happy Pittsburgh players in their lockerroom wasn’t the column idea I had in mind. But helping cover (with Tom James) an NFL playoff game so exciting that it will be talked about for decades was truly an honor.
7. Indiana-Orlando NBA playoff game — On June 2, 1995, back when I cared more about the Indiana Pacers than I do now, I watched them pummel the Shaquille O’Neal-led Orlando Magic 123-96 in Game 6 of the NBA Eastern Conference finals inside Market Square Arena.
Reggie Miller fired in 36 points for the Pacers that night, although they ended up losing Game 7 at Orlando.
6. Interviewing 1979 NCAA finalists — In 1999, I did a nostalgia series on the 1978-79 Indiana State men’s basketball team that finished 33-1 and lost to Michigan State in the famous NCAA championship game.
I was able to interview almost all of the Sycamores from that team, including then-Indiana Pacers coach Larry Bird over the phone.
Assigned to conclude the series with a feature on Bird for the sports section and a recap of the ’78-79 season for the front page of the news section, I used a connection with Fox Sports to get a one-on-one, in-person interview with Magic Johnson inside Market Square Arena.
That means I’ve interviewed Bird, Magic and Michael Jordan at various times in my career.
Hey, maybe this is a fun job.
5. North Vermillion, South win girls state titles — On March 2, 2002, North Vermillion (Class A) and Terre Haute South (Class 4A) each won the state championship in girls basketball inside Indianapolis’ Conseco Fieldhouse.
In the morning, North Vermillion — coached by Ken Gentrup — slipped past No. 2-ranked Hebron 45-42. At night, the Alan Maroska-coached Braves routed South Bend Riley 63-42 as Reicina Russell posted 31 points, 15 rebounds and seven blocked shots.
That was a loooong Saturday for me and Andy Amey, but worth every second.
4. Ray-Keene title fight — On Oct. 8, 1994, 12 rounds of brutal, knock-down, drag-out, legalized war ended with Kenny Keene of Idaho winning a controversial majority decision over Terre Haute’s Terry Ray inside Hulman Center.
At stake was Keene’s World Boxing Federation cruiserweight championship, which CBS cared enough about that it televised the matchup live across the country on a Saturday afternoon.
Knowing in advance that I’d be seated next to the ring, I decided to buy a new white shirt from Bachrach’s the night before the bout.
In one of the middle rounds, blood splattered toward ringside spectators and, naturally, a few drops landed on my new shirt. Believe it or not, I had no idea who it came from because both fighters were bleeding so badly.
3. ISU beats IU in men’s basketball — On Nov. 29, 2000, senior Michael Menser sank a 3-pointer with 0.5 seconds left, enabling Indiana State to edge Indiana University 59-58 in men’s basketball inside Hulman Center.
Menser had hit another 3 with nine seconds remaining to pull the Sycamores within 57-56. This was the second straight year that ISU had beaten the Hoosiers.
When the final buzzer sounded, I had to restrain myself from running on the court to celebrate with ISU students.
2. Interviewing Harmon Killebrew — On Aug. 9, 2000, I felt privileged to meet my childhood hero for the first time and write a column about him being in Terre Haute.
With little advance fanfare, Baseball Hall of Famer Harmon “Killer” Killebrew — serving as national spokesperson for VistaCare — came to be honored at a private dinner and visit health-care patients at Wabash Valley hospitals and nursing homes during his two-day stay.
As I wrote back then, learning he was a better person than he was an athlete certainly made my long wait worthwhile.
1. Indianapolis-New England AFC championship game — On Jan. 21, 2007, Tom James and I covered the greatest comeback in NFL conference championship history.
Trailing the New England Patriots 21-6 at halftime of the AFC championship game on a Sunday night inside the RCA Dome, the Indianapolis Colts rallied to win 38-34 and earn a trip to the Super Bowl. When Joseph Addai ran for the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter, ushers were dancing and high-fiving fans in the crowd.
Don’t tell anybody, but even I accepted a high-five from a delirious Colts fan near the pressbox door.
After the game, I raced down to the Colts’ lockerroom to interview Jeff Saturday and Dan Klecko for my column, which needed to be finished in about 15 minutes to beat deadline.
As you might guess, those 15 minutes went incredibly fast.
So did the last 30 years.
David Hughes can be reached by phone at 1-800-783-8742, Option 4, or at (812) 231-4224; by fax at (812) 231-4321; or by e-mail at email@example.com.