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November 3, 2013

The Bird Years: Small-town beginnings

Larry Legend's evolution began on French Lick courts

FRENCH LICK — Larry Bird is not the only small-town Hoosier basketball success story.

But his rise to legendary status makes his the biggest.

Bird’s ascension to stardom at Indiana State is the essence of what March Madness is today. He may have come out of nowhere in the minds of basketball fans around the nation, but those native to Southern Indiana’s Orange County and the surrounding area — and really any pride-filled Hoosier small town — would disagree.

While he is better known for thriving under pressure in his NCAA championship battle with Magic Johnson of Michigan State, or the Eastern Conference and NBA Finals showdowns of his pro years, Bird learned to excel on that stage while playing for rabid fans of the Springs Valley Blackhawks in French Lick.

Area filled with talent

Hardwood battles with larger rivals such as Washington and Jasper or tradition-rich Loogootee blended in with county rivals Orleans and Paoli each season. The challenging caliber of play in the area was evident as Bird improved year-to-year.

Facing talent like Orleans’ 6-foot-7 Curt Gillstrap and Milltown’s Dave Smith, both of whom earned scholarships to play for Louisville, Bird went from one of Springs Valley’s key players to the Blackhawks’ star who outshone Gillstrap in head-to-head battles as a senior.

And talented basketball players were also in Bird’s own family. Three years older than Larry, brother Mark Bird was known as a great shooter at Springs Valley. The oldest of the six Bird children, Mike, also played for coach Jim Jones, who would later coach Terre Haute North Vigo’s Patriots.

“That really provided him a tremendous amount of competition. He was very competitive, really had a will to win,” Jones said. “Those things just began with the brothers and carried on right through his career.”

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SPT 071314 RYAN SABO CATCH.jpg

Got it: A hard-hit ball bounces off the glove of Rex third baseman #15 Ryan Sabo during game action against Quincy. Sabo regained control of the ball and threw out the batter on the play. Quincy third base coach gets an up-close view.

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    July 13, 2014 11 Photos

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    Phegley is a third-time All-Star in the International League, while Marshall, Ill., native Derek Eitel was named to his first Triple-A All-Star game. The Rose-Hulman graduate and right-handed relief pitcher for the Reno Aces has put up impressive numbers in the Pacific Coast League. Eitel has a 2.70 earned-run average with 60 strikeouts in 46 2/3 innings for the Diamondbacks’ top minor-league team.

    July 13, 2014 1 Photo

  • SPT 071214 RYAN SABO.jpg Gems cut Rex hold on first place to 1/2 game

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    July 13, 2014 3 Photos

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    July 12, 2014

  • SPT071114  LL BB team.jpg Bradley’s stellar pitching helps TH North win District 4 title

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    July 11, 2014 3 Photos

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SPT 071214 RYAN SABO.jpg

Tribune-Star/Bob Poynter Fetch and fire: Rex third baseman #15 Ryan Sabo looks to first base after fielding a line drive down the baseline during game action against Quincy. Sabo got the runner for an out.

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