I’m normally pretty punctual. Despite having to slip into the back pew at church on the occasionally tardy Sunday morning, I’m not in the habit of paying late fees on bills, standing at the back of any buffet lines, or being the last guy in the neighborhood to mow grass. As a matter of fact, I’m often the first employee to pull into the parking lot every morning.
But reading the sports section last week was as depressing as could be for me: Not only did Tom Reck, Craig Pearson, and Andy Amey beat the pants off me in their efforts to get columns in the newspaper about the latest installment of the Pizza Hut Wabash Valley Classic, those fine and very capable souls also managed to scoop me on much of what I too had recorded in that little reporter’s notebook of mine.
But “no blood, no foul,” as we used to say in my pick-up game days; I still have plenty of observations from my time at the Classic, so I had better get started…
• All dressed up and someplace to go — I was pleased to see two entrants at the PHWVC brought their mascots along for the ride. As far as I could tell, of the 16 teams in the field, only Shakamak and Sullivan have a mascot, although a number of fans took it upon themselves to dress the part in support of their teams. The Lakers have a smartly outfitted student in Native American dress; the Golden Arrows are represented by a leather and tights-clad archer worthy of Errol Flynn.
• Perchance to Dream — I’m no rumor monger, but I keep my ear to the ground when I go to the Classic. I was rewarded with a whopper too, one, that according to tournament director Gary Fears, has no basis in fact. The story is that in the not-so-distant future, the Classic will expand to 32 teams. One 16-team tourney will take place at Terre Haute South; another 16-team field will play it out at North with the winners squaring off at one or the other gyms.
Gary wants everyone to know that although it is an “intriguing idea,” it’s not going to happen. “I don’t think we could get 16 more schools to commit to us”, he says. Oh, despite the standing-room-only crowds at this year’s tournament, the Classic isn’t moving to Hulman Center either. High school basketball is played in “gyms”; gyms are supposed to be crowded and hot, so this year’s tournament was perfect.
• Houston, we have a problem — Call it weather related, but South’s staff had a difficult time getting the temperature in the Braves’ gym adjusted during the Classic. The huge crowds may have contributed to the global warming in the gym, but it was a bit odd to see every door in the building open in January in an attempt to cool it off. Some fans took it upon themselves to dress accordingly… a number of folks were spotted in shorts and tank tops by the second day of the tournament, including a few in this humble reporter’s opinion that merited reviving the stocks as proper punishment for improper public attire. There are people who can wear shorts, and then there are some who should NEVER wear shorts…
• Lose one; win the big one — It’s been widely reported on television and by at least two Tribune-Star sportswriters, but one of the best human interest stories to come out of this year’s Classic was delivered when Linton’s coach, Darren Clayton, asked his girlfriend, Kim Frederick, to marry him just moments after his Miners had lost to Turkey Run on Saturday. Clayton definitely did it the right way with ring and roses on hand.
Not only did Kim say “yes,” Clayton’s team then went out and got its first win of the year two days later. “These kids are so important to me,” Clayton said of his team, “that I wanted to make them a part of this. They’re like a second family to me.”
• A pleasant problem — In what had to be the most pleasant problem a tournament director can have, Fears was faced with a dilemma as the evening wore on in Day 2 of the Classic: He had more people wanting in the gym than he had seats. I noticed that the crowds at this year’s tournament arrived early and stayed late. It can almost always be counted on that many fans will leave the gym after their favorite team has played, but this was the least fluid group I have ever seen at the PHWVC — people stayed in their seats and watched the games, game after game.
Fears confirmed that attendance records were broken, starting on Day 1 with the 10 a.m. game that pitted Shakamak against Turkey Run.
• This is “IT” — I usually spend the bulk of my time at the tournament at one end of the gym sitting in a nice comfortable chair, but on occasion I like to stand and gab with passersby. One of those transients, an older gent who should be able to recall, grabbed me by the arm at halftime of the South-Marshall semi-final game to let me know, “The old Valley wasn’t any better than this. This is it. This is the way it should be.”
• The Hymera Flash — I met Tom McClanahan for the first time at this year’s Classic. Well known locally for his work at WTWO, Tom was also a Hymera Shakamak who played in the old Valley in the mid-60’s. We spent a while chatting about old school nicknames — we agreed that it was Ashboro’s Shamrocks who could call themselves “Gym-less Wonders” — and he recalled his days facing Patricksburg and Rosedale on the hardwood. Okay, Tom: What was the nickname for Klondike High School? Get that one and we’re friends for life!
• I can’t believe I ate the whole thing — It appears as though seats weren’t the only things that were hard to find at this year’s Classic; Fears confirmed that one of his biggest challenges was keeping the faithful fans in pizza, particularly since the delivery vans (surely considered emergency vehicles) couldn’t find a place to park. Gary says that over 9,500 slices of pizza were consumed in four days at the tournament by the teams, hospitality room visitors, and fans. Keep in mind that all of the proceeds from the pizza sold during the Classic goes to the host school’s booster club.
• Old Friends and “Old School” — If there is one thing I most love about the Classic, it’s that it’s a reunion of sorts. I can’t possibly list all of the good people I spoke with over the course of the 21 games I was able to take in, but certainly seeing John Benton, Mike McCormick, Brian Miller, Chuck Culp, Brent Compton, Betty Harrison, Jeff Fisher, Bill Pastorius, Murray Melton, Doug Hawkins, the Roundtree boys, and so many others certainly made the Classic great fun for me.
I ran into Larry Adamson on Day 3. Larry, a local boy who “done good,” and who recently retired from the United States Golf Association, often sends late-night nostalgic basketball musings from his Tennessee home to a number of us e-mail junkies. In one portion of his last letter, which came on New Year’s Day, Larry was so impressed with the Classic that he said, “When I left each night, I felt I should stop by the ticket window and pay another fee as we all had gotten much more for our money than the price of a ticket.”
He summed up: “While I believe the class system that has been added to the program in Indiana has had a negative effect on the game, I still must say that the quality of play and the interest on the part of many is still alive. The patient is far from dead, or even in some locations, seriously ill. So before we say that ‘back in my day,’ maybe we need to stop and think.”
Now, weren’t Larry comments worth waiting for?
You can contact Mike Lunsford at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by regular mail c/o the Tribune-Star at PO Box 149, Terre Haute, IN 47808. His book, “The Off Season: The Newspaper Stories of Mike Lunsford” is available in several local stores, or can be ordered on-line by going to www.mikelunsford.com.