News From Terre Haute, Indiana

November 9, 2013

Players, fans, coaches share stories of Bird's legacy

Howard Greninger
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Memories of Larry Bird’s basketball days at Indiana State University filled conversations on the upper concourse of Hulman Center on Friday, prior to the Larry Bird Scholarship Dinner.

The dinner was a fundraiser for the Larry Legend Scholarship Fund. The scholarship will cover tuition, housing and books to an in-state athlete who meets the NCAA scholarship guidelines. Any additional funds will benefit the men’s basketball program.

Bird played from 1976 to 1979. In Bird’s senior year, the Sycamores reached the NCAA championship game, losing to Michigan State 75-64 in Salt Lake City. ISU finished that season with a 33-1 record.

It was during the 1977-78 basketball season that a photo of then-ISU student Gary Bagnoche was taken as he watched Bird play in Hulman Center. The photo of students made the cover of ISU’s yearbook.

“I actually had Larry Bird sign both of the yearbooks, [1978 and 1979] at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix in 1981 or 1982,” Bagnoche said. “This was the first time I ever had anything signed. I didn’t have a felt-tip pen, but had a ball-point pen. I still have those yearbooks.

“Larry signed both of them, but it is so faded now that I was hoping I would get him to sign them again. But I did not bring them with me. Not to this, not now. This is about Larry,” Bagnoche said of the dinner that preceded a program to honor Bird.

“We have great memories of Larry and now we have another great memory with this dinner and his statue,” said Bagnoche, who graduated from ISU in 1981 and traveled from Tucson, Ariz., to participate in the Larry Bird Scholarship Dinner and program.

Four Bagnoche brothers attended ISU. Three of the brothers had returned from military service in the Vietnam War to attend ISU. The brothers never missed a game in the 1978-79 season, Bagnoche said.

His youngest brother, Rick Bagnoche, has a replica collection of all of Bird’s jerseys, but one jersey is original. It’s Bird’s No. 24 baseball uniform he wore in a doubleheader played at ISU. “I paid $350 for that jersey,” during a fundraiser, Rick Bagnoche said.

Not many people can say they wore the same jersey number as Larry Bird while playing for Indiana State.

Bird’s No. 33 was retired by ISU in 2004.

“I warmed that number up for somebody,” Steve Newton said with a chuckle about Bird.

Newton played basketball under coach Howard Sharpe at the former Gerstmeyer High School and for coach Duane Klueh at ISU, where Newton wore No. 33 from 1960 to 1963. (Klueh was basketball coach from 1955 to 1967.)

Newton served as men’s basketball coach at Murray State University from 1985 to 1991 and at the University of South Carolina from 1991 to 1993. He also served as an assistant under Ron Greene at the University of New Orleans, Mississippi State and Murray State. Greene later coached at ISU from 1985 to 1989. Greene was one of two coaches of Larry’s younger brother, Eddie Bird, who played at ISU from 1988 to 1991.

“I have a lot of fun with saying I wore No. 33. I coached for about 40 years. It gave me something to say and be proud of Indiana State and be proud of Larry Bird for what he has contributed to a great university,” said Newton, who now lives in Evansville.

“I was able to recruit a lot of players just saying I knew Bird,” Newton said. “I tried to recruit Bird from Springs Valley [High School] when I was an assistant at Mississippi State, but he had already committed to Indiana [University],” Newton said.

Newton visited with fellow ISU basketball player Ray Goddard, who played at ISU from 1959 to 1962. Newton tallied 1,302 career points, which ranked second in ISU history at that time. He led the nation in the 1961-1962 season in free-throw percentage at 91.2 percent. Goddard, a former men’s golf coach at ISU, is the head golf pro at Idle Creek Course in Terre Haute.

“Steve [Newton] was a great passer, because I shot every time he passed,” Goddard joked to Newton.

Tim and Marsha Jones of West Terre Haute also had fond memories of Bird.

“The maid of honor at our wedding was Mary Ann Clark, who is married to Tony Clark, who played basketball with Larry [Bird] in high school,” Tim Jones said.

Marsha Jones pulled out an original 1979 “Horrible Hanky” from her purse.

“Everybody had one of these and whenever they played,” she explained. “We would wave this in the stands.”

Tim Jones also had a Nov. 18, 1978, copy of the Spectator publication, signed by members of ISU’s team, including Bird and others, such as Alex Gilbert and Carl Nicks.

Butch Carson worked for Columbia Records in 1979 and followed Bird at home games. “I was ISU nuts then. I am still a basketball fanantic. The 1979 season was wow, what a year. I came to honor him,” he said of Bird.

Norm Isbell and his wife, Carol, had season tickets in 1979.

“We came to almost every game that he played in town. We followed him for his three years here,” then with the Boston Celtics and as coach for the Indiana Pacers, he said.

Frank Volkers is a long-time ISU fan and fan of Bird. Since 1972, Volkers has held the same seat number as a season-ticket holder at Hulman Center. It’s 106, Section C, seat Nos. 5 and 6.

“When Larry was here, you have take the whole inside of Hulman Center and turn it around 180 degrees as far as seats. After Larry left, they moved all the numbers around. I am in the same seat, but on the opposite side” of Hulman Center, Volkers said.

“I saw Bird play all three years and not miss any home games. I didn’t go to the first tournament game in his senior year, but I went to Cincinnati and Salt Lake City. I saw quite a bit of Larry.

“I came to support Indiana State and I always think Larry Bird is one of the best things that has happened. We’ve came to back up Larry and tell him how thankful we are.”

Just prior to the start of the scholarship dinner, Brad Fenton, who founded the Larry Legend Foundation to raise funds for a Bird statue, spoke of the efforts of students to get the statue concept in motion.

“Everyone in this room is here to honor Larry Bird tonight. They said tonight may never happen,” Fenton said of a statue of Bird that now rests in front of Hulman Center. The image of Bird taking a shot stands 17 feet, 1 1/8 inches from top to bottom when including a concrete base. The bronze statue itself is 15 feet tall.

Fenton said his effort began in 2006 when he saw the statue of Magic Johnson at Michigan State University.

“Seeing that statue, I admired it. At the same time I asked, why do we not have a statue of Larry in front of Hulman Center,” Fenton said. “At that point, we came back and started the Larry Legend Foundation. We went to the student expo at the ISU fountain and we talked to students about what we wanted to accomplish,” he said.

T-shirts were sold and a website was started to collect funds.

“The unexpected part was the support we received from all the students, teachers and anyone involved. Nobody had anything bad to say,” said Fenton. He later met sculptor Bill Wolfe and the two worked to get the statue finished.

Fenton recalled watching television as a young boy while Bird played for the Boston Celtics.

“I remember going to the Boston Connection [a hotel Bird formerly owned in Terre Haute] placing my hands inside of [an outline] of Larry’s hands, which were much larger,” he said.

Fenton said he also remembers shooting baskets at the Boston Connection. “As my internal shot clock went down to shoot, 3 -2 -1; I was always pretending to be Bird, not [Michael] Jordan, not Magic. Definitely not Magic,” he said.

“Larry, ISU is proud of you. Terre Haute is proud of you. You had, and will forever have, an impact on our community,” Fenton said.

Reporter Howard Greninger can be reached at 812-231-4204 or howard.greninger@tribstar.com.