News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Rub of the Green

June 19, 2010

Rub of the Green: Gerstmeyer Tech’s reknown Les Brown made his mark in plethora of sports

TERRE HAUTE — Les Brown never had a middle name, not even a middle initial. What he did have was an abundance of athletic ability that he utilized to earn letters in five different sports during his senior year at Gerstmeyer Technical High School.

In that 1944-45 school year, Brown played basketball, baseball, and golf. He also ran cross country and participated in track and field with the long jump his specialty.

Teaming with athletes such as Gene Verostko, Elmer Leslie, Carl Leslie, Paul Miller, Pearl Miller, Lew John, Veon Morgan and Harold Couger, the Black Cats of Gerstmeyer won sectional and regional titles in the IHSAA State Basketball Tournament. Brown remembers, “We beat a tough Linton team to win the regional tourney. They were led by Max Woolsey who later would star in basketball and football at Indiana State.”

Gerstmeyer would go on to lose a close game to Jasper in the semi-state round of the tournament. Brown remembers, “We played in the Indiana University Fieldhouse. We had never seen such a huge place and for some strange reason our coach, Howard Sharpe, did not allow us to practice there even though we were allowed to do so. I don’t know why.

“In later years when I would bump into Coach Sharpe, he would ask me if I remembered the free throws I missed in that game. I should have said, remember who made most of our points in that game. The answer was Elmer Leslie and I, but I didn’t say anything.”

After high school, Les also played basketball for John Wooden at Indiana State. Les indicated, “What is vivid in my memory are the three and four hour practices we endured. It included non-stop drills and scrimmages. Everyone was in shape if you played for Coach Wooden.”

During baseball season, Brown could be found firing strikes for his Gerstmeyer team. He remembers one game against Garfield when he struck out 17 batters. He concluded, “We lost the game by one run”.

Players on the Garfield team that day included Pete Varda, Dick Nicoson, Stu Chestnut, Gordon Neff, and Benny Kiburis among others. While attending Indiana State, Les also placed third in the Indiana Collegiate Conference Meet in the long jump.

Brown added, “I ran cross country not because I liked the sport, but because coach Howard Sharpe insisted that if you wanted to play basketball, you were required to go out for cross country.”

In high school track, Brown’s specialty was the long jump. He twice qualified for Indiana state finals and finished third in the state his senior year, jumping 20 to 21 feet.

Les went on to pitch for Indiana State in 1946. By 1947 he got a “try out” with Philadelphia baseball team which led to a contract with the Phillies. He was sent to their Appleton farm club where he posted a record of eight wins against eight losses.

Later when pitching for Salina, Kan., Les got the opportunity to pitch against an up-and-coming young ball player whose name was Mickey Mantle. Brown recalls that he faced Mantle four times that day recording one strikeout and getting Mickey to either fly out or ground out on three occasions. In other words, Mantle was 0-for-4.

Brown, who was experiencing arm and shoulder problems was sent to Lima, Ohio, where he won a couple of games before being told he was being sent to Grand Forks, N.D., a move he turned down. He was then released by the Phillies and underwent more physical problems with his arm and shoulder.

It wasn’t long before Les got a call from the Greensville, S.C. ball club. He signed a contract and went to spring training in Florida with the Greenville team. After a short stint with the ball club who wanted him to go to Baton Rogue, La. and with a chronic arm ailment, Brown bought a ticket and headed home to Terre Haute.

Shortly thereafter, Les ran into an old friend, Tom Sunkel, who was the manager of Paris Lakers baseball team who offered Brown a contract, which he signed. Six months later, still experiencing arm and shoulder pain, Les Brown was through with professional baseball.

Benita Woodard met Les Brown back in 1955. By 1958 they were man and wife. A more perfect match couldn’t have been imagined. Benita was a gifted surgical nurse at Union Hospital where she assisted Dr. Enderle and Dr. Lynch among others. Benita worked at her chosen profession until she retired in 1999.

Les would work in the automotive business at Ranes O’Daniel and later go to work in the office of Wabash Fibre Box, a position he held until he retired.

They are the parents of Libby Busard and Tim Brown. Libby followed in her mom’s footsteps. She is a nurse and is currently employed by Anthem. Her husband, Lyman Busard, is a graduate of Rose-Hulman where he was a member of the basketball team. He is employed by Eli Lilly. He, too, is an excellent golfer.

Lyman and Libby are the parents of two children, Karley and Kyle. Karley has just graduated from Center Grove High School and has entered nurse’s training at IU-South Bend. Kyle was a member of Center Grove’s volleyball team, which won a state championship, and he is now a member of the U.S. Navy.

Benita and Les’s son, Tim, was a member of North Vigo’s baseball team that finished runner-up in the Indiana High School championship. Tim is employed by Duke Energy, whereas his wife, Sheryl, is a teacher at North Vermillion.

Les credits Charley Callahan with instilling him with a renewed interest in golf. It didn’t take long before Les was hitting the golf ball with accuracy and authority as evidenced by rounds of 68 at both Rea Park and Forest Park in Brazil, and 70 at Elks Fort Harrison Country Club. Along the way Les also managed a pair of holes-in-ones as he played two or three times each week.

Now at 83 years of age, Les Brown can look back on the years he has spent in athletic endeavors with pride, but perhaps more importantly, he can be proud to know that his peers regard him as one of the nicest individuals you will ever meet anywhere.

Les Brown is truly a genial, self-effacing gentleman who has made his mark in a plethora of sports. The old saying, “Nice guys finish last” would never apply to Les Brown.

• • •

• Bob Mathias won gold medals in the decathlon in both the 1948 and 1952 Olympics. During that time he was generally recognized as the “World’s Greatest Athlete.”

I watched him being interviewed once when he said, “I’m going to learn to break 90 at golf if it’s the last thing I ever do. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever undertaken.”

• With these hot, humid days, golfers should keep pouring the water down.  In Arizona, golfers are warned to drink water on every hole. Terre Haute is not Arizona, but it can sometimes feel like it.

• Don “Chick” Alumbaugh, greenskeeper at Rea Park is assisted by Ken Bosc and Bob Smith. In the pro shop are Stephanie Meyer, Scott Whitenburg, and Skip McVey. Golf course employees work hard to insure golfers enjoy their rounds.

• Rea Park boasts one of the city’s most popular “hunts” which regularly attracts 40 or more players, some of whom are: Pro David Kennedy, Jerry Snodgrass, Ernie Tom Horrall, Ross Creasey, Jim Horrall, John Sedwick, Brad Miley, Jim Homburg, Dave James and Russ Campbell. Also Tom Nicoson, Dick Stockburger, Blayd Horrall, Jim Jenkins and Jerry Seeling.

Hunt times are weekdays at 8 a.m. except Wednesdays at 11 a.m. and Saturday and Sunday at 9 a.m.

• • •

TIP OF THE WEEK: When you’ve got a tournament won, play safe. There is no good reason to hit a heroic shot.

Pity poor Robert Garrigus who flittered away a three-shot lead on the final hole of the St. Jude Classic last Sunday. How about a five-iron off the tee?

You’ve got to feel sorry for a guy who has thrown away a spot in The Masters, a place in the Tournament of Champions along with a bunch of prize money. Perhaps getting a real smart caddy would be helpful, as long as you pay attention to him!

Keep your head down and your shoestrings tied. We’ll be back.

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