News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Opinion Columns

November 2, 2013

MARK BENNETT: Brad Fenton and friends set dominos in motion to make Larry Bird statue a reality

TERRE HAUTE — The idea has been out there for awhile, floating.

Locals in the 1980s, ’90s and 2000s would say, “They need to put up a statue of Larry Bird. I mean, one of the all-time greatest basketball players played right here in Terre Haute at Indiana State University.”

The identity of “they” seldom gets clarified in such declarations. “They” — a nebulous cluster of apparently powerful people, at least in the eyes of coffeeshop debaters — never seem to materialize.

Yet, in this case, “they” did.

In November 2003, in a tunnel leading to the upper concourse of Breslin Center on the Michigan State University campus in East Lansing, Magic Johnson — of all people — validated the notion that Terre Haute and ISU should honor his longtime rival, Larry Bird, in bronze. The four schools that participated in that historic 1979 NCAA Final Four — champion Michigan State, runner-up ISU, DePaul and Penn — had placed their current teams in a reunion tourney in the Spartans’ home arena. Just a few weeks earlier, MSU had unveiled a striking, 12-foot-tall, bronze statue of Johnson right outside the Breslin Center entrance.

I asked Johnson if Bird’s alma mater should do the same thing outside Hulman Center.

“Without a doubt,” Magic said, quickly. “I’m really shocked that he doesn’t have one already. I mean, you’re never gonna get that much excitement [at Indiana State] and how it felt to go to the Final Four. The college basketball Player of the Year, one of the greatest four or five players that have ever played, and he played at your school. I mean, come on, he should have two or three statues.”

His words ran in the Tribune-Star, and a few months later, they bubbled up again. On Feb. 29, 2004, ISU retired Bird’s No. 33 jersey, along with that of another former Sycamore great, Duane Kleuh’s No. 54, in a ceremony at Hulman Center. In a news conference afterward, I relayed Johnson’s comment and asked if Bird liked the idea. In classic Larry Bird deadpan style, he said, “I don’t want a statue. Magic’s got more statues than Saddam Hussein.”

(Just two weeks earlier, the Los Angeles Lakers had erected another Magic statue at the Staples Center in L.A.)

So, given Larry’s reserved nature, any effort to create a lasting monument to his exploits as a Sycamore would have to win Mr. Bird’s heart. “They” would need to be a grassroots collection of people, folks with whom Larry could identify.

It took a few years, but “they” emerged. “They” turned out to be ISU student Brad Fenton and six of his young friends, a marvelously industrious bunch of guys who decided to turn the concept into reality.

The idea came to Fenton in 2006. A Notre Dame football fan, he had trekked to East Lansing to watch the Fighting Irish play the Spartans. While walking across the MSU campus, he saw the Magic statue. The Sycamore passion quickly kicked in for Fenton, whose mother was an ISU student during the Bird years and whose dad avidly followed Bird into his Boston Celtics career. Fenton figured Bird deserved a statue, too. A bigger statue.

Back in Terre Haute, Fenton sought out local sculptor Bill Wolfe, who shared Fenton’s motivation.

“The first person that listened to anything I had to say was Bill Wolfe,” Fenton, now 28, recalled by telephone last week from Indianapolis, where he lives and works as a branch manager of a bank.

The idea brewed for a few years. Fenton and six friends from Terre Haute and ISU — Matt Foster, Geoff Haynes, Ryan Royer, Zack Hurst, Nick Ferrell and Luke Jones — eventually formed the Larry Legend Foundation. With a goal of raising $135,000 for a 13-foot-tall statue, sculpted by Wolfe, and perpetual scholarship in Bird’s honor, they eventually surveyed students and locals about the plan. “Almost every single person I talked to was for it,” Fenton said.

“Once I saw people’s reaction, I said, ‘We can make this happen,’” Fenton added. “But now that it’s actually happening, I can’t believe it’s actually happening.”

ISU will unveil a bronze statue of Bird on Saturday morning, as part of a weekend celebrating the legacy left by Bird and his teammates in the 1976-79 era. Lots of dominos had to fall, right in line, to make that possible. Fenton and his friends set those dominos in motion. They formally launched the Larry Legend Foundation in September 2009, debuted the Larry

LegendFoundation.com website, and started the fundraising with sales of “Everybody Loves a Legend” T-shirts at ISU basketball games. They enlisted the ISU Foundation as a steward of the fundraising effort, which led to a generous contribution from an anonymous donor a couple years later. An initial disagreement over the choice of a sculptor was ironed out, the funds were secured to craft an even taller statue (15 feet, at $153,000), and Wolfe began creating the art piece in 2012.

“It was a long journey, but I wouldn’t have wanted it to turn out any other way. I’m glad Bill’s doing it,” Fenton said. The assistance and expertise of the ISU Foundation proved essential. “When we realized it was bigger than us, that’s when we handed it to the ISU Foundation,” Fenton explained.

Still, the fact that ISU students and local young people initiated the drive captured Bird’s interest.

“It was the total impetus behind it,” said Phil Ness, the ISU Foundation associate vice president of development for athletics. “It’s what got Larry excited about it. I think Larry was really touched that a group of kids, who were born after he graduated, were the ones who got this going. I don’t think it could’ve happened without them.”

Fenton was born in 1985, six years after Bird and the Sycamores stunned America by rolling into the NCAA Final against Michigan State with a perfect 33-0 record and a No. 1 ranking in the polls. In the years since that season, ISU suffered through a 17-year stretch of sub-.500 seasons, seven coaching changes, and some hard feelings, for various reasons, among basketball alums.

Fenton and the Larry Legend Foundation crew focused on the goal, not past baggage. “Those guys didn’t know any better, and so they just went out and did it,” Ness said, with admiration.

“They” just went out and did it, despite the odds. No wonder “they” impressed Larry.

Mark Bennett can be reached at 812-231-4377 or mark.bennett@tribstar.com.

1
Text Only | Photo Reprints
Opinion Columns
  • RONN MOTT: Black Dog

    We had some excitement around our house the other day and it was not the good kind.
    There was a small dog, black in color with a spiked collar on his neck, and he was the spitting image of a small Doberman. I don’t know if they have miniature Dobermans but this dog could have been a mixed breed that came out looking like a Doberman although smaller.

    July 8, 2014

  • MS. TAKES: Great music is made during all generations

    Number Two son tells us that his 20-year-old son has been listening to “Big Band” music with apparent enjoyment. As if that wasn’t enough of a surprise, I was talking with a young girl, barely out of her teens and she told us that she really wasn’t into rap. She said, “It isn’t really music, it’s just talk.”

    July 7, 2014

  • RONN MOTT: Learning more about Jefferson

    During this Fourth of July weekend, I’ll be reading John Meacham’s biography of Thomas Jefferson.

    July 4, 2014

  • Ronn Mott.jpg RONN MOTT: The Men Who Made the Country

    The Fourth of July is the day we celebrate our independence from Great Britain. It reminds me of something David Ben-Gurion would say, at a much later date, about British rule: “If you have to have a master, the British are about as good at it as anybody.” Of course, we really don’t need a master.

    July 3, 2014 1 Photo

  • Ronn Mott.jpg RONN MOTT: Cats

    Looking at the situation as a whole, the adopted cats, plus one, seem to be doing OK. The boys, Magic and Mellow, like to roam occasionally, which causes some consternation when they are gone for a long time.

    July 1, 2014 1 Photo

  • LIZ CIANCONE: Oldtime fans will never give up on the Cubbies

    My Best Friend claims to be the world’s oldest living Cubs fan. I am willing to take him at his word, but surely there is some long-lived fan out there in the right field bleachers who would dispute his claim.

    June 30, 2014

  • Ronn Mott.jpg RONN MOTT: These are tough times to be an opossum

    Who killed the opossum before man and the automobile? The automobile and mankind have started an evolutionary run on how the opossum continues his bloodline.

    June 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • RONN MOTT: These are tough times to be an opossum

    Who killed the opossum before man and the automobile? The automobile and mankind have started an evolutionary run on how the opossum continues his bloodline.

    June 27, 2014

  • Ronn Mott.jpg RONN MOTT: Teamwork

    Teamwork. You remember the drill. In the movie “Hoosiers,” the coach demanded four passes before anything else happened on the court. The idea of teamwork is you work toward a victory by making sure your self-interest doesn’t come before the team.

    June 26, 2014 1 Photo

  • Ronn Mott.jpg RONN MOTT: World Cup

    I remember in junior high school, in physical education class, we were told to meet outside. The track and baseball diamond were in back of the school. We were met with a small, dimpled ball and the teacher told us it was soccer. It is played all over the world and you can use your head, your body and your feet, but not your hands. I decided then it was not a game for me.

    June 24, 2014 1 Photo

  • MS. TAKES: Words no one wants to hear: ‘At your age’

    The other evening, a friend limped into the dining room. Judging from the grimace, she was in some degree of pain, so I asked if she had fallen.

    June 23, 2014

  • RONN MOTT: Great effort brings rewards

    I want to tip my hat to young David Fuson who has become the spokesperson for the family business.

    June 20, 2014

  • RONN MOTT: Iraq, again

    Mohammad, the prophet of Islam, lifted into Heaven on a rock, on a hill, in Jerusalem. The binding of military might and strategies, and a religion that was meant for everyone, began to fall apart at that time in history.

    June 19, 2014

  • Ronn Mott.jpg RONN MOTT: The Stanley Cup

    I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy, a proud American who wants to see the USA win just about everything — except the Stanley Cup.

    June 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • LIZ CIANCONE: Son has a knack for rescuing lost birds

    I think the excitement of last week is over — for now. It all began when Number One son opened the door to a storage area and found a small bird, very much alive. Because my family likes to talk in a soothing voice to all animals, Number One assured the little guy that he was not to worry. “I’ll take you back outside so you can find your family.” Oddly enough, the little bird calmed down and sat quietly in our son’s hand until he put it down outside.

    June 17, 2014

  • tsBennett MARK BENNETT: Dad-to-dad advice

    Giving unsolicited advice is like offering somebody else your toothbrush, because it’s worked so well for you.

    June 14, 2014 1 Photo

  • RONN MOTT: Looking back on yet another birthday

    I have a birthday this week. And, I suppose that like some of you, I tend to look back over the lifespan to reflect on how it has been going.

    June 13, 2014

  • Ronn Mott.jpg RONN MOTT: The Tony Awards

    The opening of the Tony Awards saw Hugh Jackman hopping down Broadway, into the theatre, down the aisle, a big leap onto the stage, then back stage and back out to start the show … all the time hopping like the Wolverine that he is.

    June 12, 2014 1 Photo

  • Ronn Mott.jpg RONN MOTT: An American Soldier

    The cover of Time magazine this past week had a picture of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, and emblazoned under the picture were the words, “WAS HE WORTH IT?” And the answer is … YES!

    June 10, 2014 1 Photo

  • Liz Ciancone.jpg LIZ CIANCONE: Dental gains came with far less pain

    Sometimes I wonder if the “good old days” were all they are cracked up to be. I’ll give you the “old” but the jury is still out on “good.”

    June 9, 2014 1 Photo

  • MARK BENNETT: The road ahead

    An invisible force shield — just like those found in comic books — formed a barrier between us and the edge of that road.

    June 7, 2014

  • LEE HAMILTON: Why I still have faith in Congress

    It’s depressing to read poll after poll highlighting Americans’ utter disdain for Congress.

    June 7, 2014

  • RONN MOTT: Radio Movement

    It seems as if the radio market is living up to the show business reputation of the only thing constant is change.

    June 5, 2014

  • Ronn Mott.jpg RONN MOTT: The Stench of the VA

    The Veterans Administration medical service has been an ill-run situation for American veterans for years. It goes back to Richard Nixon’s inability to get anything done, to John Kennedy permitting the use of Agent Orange to get rid of the foliage in Vietnam.

    June 3, 2014 1 Photo

  • LIZ CIANCONE: Programs from past can still be the best

    I was playing with the channel selector the other evening and lucked upon my Best Friend’s favorite movie. We sat up until all hours until the credits for “Twelve O’clock High” signaled that it was all over.

    June 2, 2014

  • MARK BENNETT: Generational ‘Catch 22’

    Baby Boomers’ long run of cultural dominance gradually gives way to America’s 22-year-olds

    May 31, 2014

  • RONN MOTT: The dangers of a melting shelf

    According to the scientists who study and know about these things, the west Antarctic ice sheet is melting faster than expected, and the resulting rise in sea levels will change the globe in all parts of the world.

    May 30, 2014

  • RONN MOTT: Not too short to kill

    The young man who went on a 10-minute rampage killing six people and wounding others was pathologically upset with his situation in life. He was deeply depressed by the fact he had been rejected by some of the women at a local college, UC Santa Barbara, in California.

    May 29, 2014

  • RONN MOTT: Decoration Day 2014

    As I understand the history of Memorial Day, it began in upper New York State and the ladies of various churches putting flowers on the graves of fallen Civil War soldiers.

    May 27, 2014

  • Ronn Mott.jpg RONN MOTT: Ethics

    Somehow or other, in the days when I was a student, I never had a class in ethics. Since I started being interested in history at an early age, I remember something Aristotle, the Greek philosopher, said. (He was a tutor to Alexander the Great.) Not quoting verbatim, he said greed always gets in the way of good ethics.

    May 22, 2014 1 Photo

Latest News
TribStar.com Poll
AP Video
Raw: Rocket Explodes Over Israeli Wedding Police: Prostitute Accused in Overdose Death Weaver Reprises Ripley Role for 'Alien' Game Raw: World's Tallest Water Slide Opens Thursday Raw: Brazil Fans Cry After World Cup Loss Day After: Brazil Reeling in WC Loss Sterling Testifies in Los Angeles Clippers Trial Track Owners Fight to End Greyhound Racing Raw: Stampede in Rio During World Cup Mississippi River Flooding Likely to Slow Down Raw: 10-year Sentence for Ex-New Orleans Mayor Raw: Palestinians Clash With Israeli Forces Obama Talks Economy, Slams Republicans Tornadoes Kill Four in Central New York Germany Crushes Brazil in 7-1 Win at World Cup Raw: Obama Shoots Pool in Denver Raw: Panic in Tel Aviv As Siren Warns of Attack Cleveland Picked to Host 2016 GOP Convention Wisconsin Cop Ready to Roll...On Skateboard Former NFL Player 'Excited' Deal Almost Done
NDN Video
Elephant Pool Party at The Oregon Zoo Must-See! Berry and Fallon Form Human Hamster Wheel Pilot buys pizzas for travelers delayed by storm Klose nets record, Germany rout Brazil 7-1 'Purrmanently Sad Cat' Looks Adorably Sad All the Time Pharrell 'humbled' by success of mega-hit 'Happy' Day After: Brazil Reeling in WC Loss Jennifer Lawrence Facepalms Emma Watson Athletes Bare All for ESPN Magazine's Body Issue Raw: Brazil Fans Leaving Stadium Before Half Andi Dorfman Walks Out During the Rose Ceremony 5 Firework Fails for July 4th Justin Bieber Catches Tom Hanks Getting Down, Showing ‘How We Do It Big shoes to fill for Brazil ahead of Germany clash Man's 'Potato Salad' Plea Takes Off on Kickstarter Joan Rivers Storms Out of Interview Watch: A turtle and dog play ball Yikes! This Jet is Way Too Close Late-Night Highlight: Ben Falcone Screwed Up His Proposal To Melissa McCarthy Jenny and Sherri Talk "View" Departure
Parade
Magazine

Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.
  • -

     

    March 12, 2010

activity