By Mike Lunsford
TERRE HAUTE — No matter how many bills or how much junk mail I get, I’m one of those folks who anticipates going to the mailbox like Carter opening Tut’s tomb. I’ve always enjoyed getting mail; there’s a feeling of connectedness one gets when he sees his name on a letter from somewhere in the outside world. It makes little difference that what I most often get isn’t worth the postage it took to send it, even at the bulk rate.
I didn’t write many Sidelines this year; writing another column in this newspaper, having a three-sport son who often had us on the road, and sorting through bushels of papers to grade at school seemed to keep me from churning out much quantity, but despite that I still received a lot of mail in response to Sidelines this season.
As usual, I want to share a little of it before I shut down my basketball mode until fall.
By far the most mail I received this winter came in response to “As usual, I’m doing my Christmas shopping early,” a review of the latest DVD version of “Hoosiers;” it appeared in the Tribune-Star in mid-December.
My enthusiasm for the film may a bit excessive, but Brent Compton’s passion for it dwarfs my devotion. He wrote to me the day the column appeared and said, “I’m a big fan of the movie as well. I am currently working with the “Hoosiers” reunion committee on the 20th anniversary celebration this summer in Knightstown.”
Brent works at Pacesetters Sports, and interestingly he’s the guy in charge of designing and making the retro-Huskers uniforms that will be used in the all-star basketball game that is to be played in the Knightstown gym on Friday, June 9. By the way, if you think Jimmy and Ollie may be getting a little too rusty by now to suit up, reasonable substitutes in the likes of Greg Oden and Chase Haltom have already committed to play in the contest. There’s a girls’ game planned too.
Compton wanted me to know that there’s a parade, a dinner and auction, a golf outing, and all kinds of other things planned for June 3-11 at Knightstown. If you want a rundown on the schedule, go to www.thehoosiergym.com to get the full story or talk to Brent; he is understandably fired up about this thing.
Another faithful reader, Bob McCammon, wrote in response to the “Hoosiers” review too. He says his son coaches fifth and sixth grade basketball at Shelburn and shows his team the film at the beginning of every season. Bob teaches an enrichment class at Sullivan Junior High, and he’s used the movie for several years in his classroom. He was six years old when the real Huskers-Milan’s Indians-won the state championship in 1954 and “grew up loving Indiana basketball.”
A real blast from the past came in the mail from Angie Bartlow Keller’s letter about that story. I taught Angie “way back” in 1987 (those were her words). “Hoosiers” was released during her senior year. Angie said my columns “take her back” to the covered bridges and maple fairs and the woods of Parke County. Maybe she’ll come back for a homecoming basketball game; I’m not getting any younger you know.
One last letter to mention about the column came from Jarrett Hagy, another devotee to the film who says that “Hoosiers” is going to be shown in the old but refurbished Knightstown gym in one of the only 35 millimeter “versions in existence” on Sunday, June 4 at 7 p.m.. I agree Jarrett, it will be “great.”
I always wanted to do a column about Howard Mathas, long-time coach at Bridgeton, Rosedale, Dana, Glenn, and Wiley high schools, but he was just a little too modest to let me do it. In November I wrote, “It’s time to seize the day boys,” a tribute to Mathas not long after he passed at 87. But even before that column appeared, Parker Eaton, who played for Mathas as a Rosedale Hotshot, sent me a letter suggesting I write about the coach he said was the kind of man I’d have wanted my own son to play for.
Mathas was a good guy, something that Ray Andrew wanted to reinforce in his letter, which came within a few days of the story going to print. He said that Mathas was his seventh-grade coach. In those days-if I’m doing my math correctly, it would have been about 1946-many varsity coaches took on all levels of coaching at the school at the same time. He said that Mathas was tough, but fair.
I got a nice letter from Brad Clapp in response to my story about the team outfits that high school basketball players wear before their games. I know that team apparel may be a touchy subject for some folks-I had one objection raised by a particularly disgruntled junior high coach who seemed to think it silly-but I feel the fans in the stands appreciate coaches who have eyes for details and for doing things properly. Coaches are teachers, and teaching kids how to handle themselves in public, and, yes, even tie a tie and to pull their pants up is part of the job. It doesn’t have much to do with whether they play hard or not.
Well, I could go on here, but I wanted to mention two other letters before I end Sidelines for a while. The first came from Ann Delp Schermann, one of my all-time favorite basketball players. Ann now lives in rural Illinois, but 14 years ago she and her sister, Amy, played for me. Ann was, to be polite here, not dainty. Stepping in front of her was like hugging a chainsaw; she was tough, and she was a winner. We exchanged e-mails after her letter, and I found out that her daughter, Sierra, who is now nine, plays basketball in a winter league, but plans to play football next fall. Like mother, like daughter.
Finally, I got a gem of a letter from Andy Amey. As you probably know, I don’t really work at the newspaper, so I only see Andy a few times a year. I wrote another one of my old high school nickname pieces in January called “It doesn’t take much for me to name names.” Andy thought maybe I should take a look at some of the names across the border in Illinois, as did another letter writer, Jim Blome, from Casey. Jim sent me a fantastic list of names; more about him and that list next fall.
Andy wrote, “the team I always had a foreboding about covering was the Arcola Purple Riders. I always pictured a bunch of guys like Attila the Hun riding across the fields in long flowing robes.” Personally, I love Andy’s column, but the guy should be writing screenplays.
Thanks to all of you for your letters; I wish I could have relayed a few more to readers in this space. That’s the end of the story, the end of the column, and the end of the year. I would say I’ll see you in the fall, but look for my column, “The Off Season,” a little more regularly on the front page as we head toward summer.
If you want to contact Mike Lunsford, you can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or write to him c/o The Tribune-Star, PO Box 149, Terre Haute, IN, 47808.