Terre Haute welcomed its three Olympic champions back home Saturday morning with the announcement that construction will soon begin on The Gold Medal Plaza at 12 Points Park.

Clyde Lovellette, Greg Bell and Terry Dischinger were guests of honor at a breakfast at the Holiday Inn where the announcement was made, and the three Gold Medal winners — Lovellette for basketball in 1952, Bell for track and field in 1956, Dischinger for basketball in 1960 — enjoyed each other’s company and paid heartfelt tribute to their city.

Or, as Mayor Kevin Burke quipped, “Welcome to the Garfield High School reunion.”

Lovellette and Bell were fellow Garfield graduates in 1948 and Dischinger, who grew up in the same block as Lovellette, graduated in 1958. The new plaza honoring their exploits will be just a block from their former school.

It’s a project that began to take shape more than a year ago, when plans were being made for Lovellette to be the honored guest at the annual draw for the Pizza Hut Wabash Valley Classic boys basketball tournament.

The City of Terre Haute and Union Hospital are its primary sponsors, with Pizza Hut and MillerWhite as secondary sponsors; First Financial Bank sponsored the breakfast.

It’s a project, many indicated Saturday, that was long overdue — but in another way, one that came in the nick of time.

“It’s a honor to see Terry and Greg and these people,” Lovellette said during his remarks. “A lot of times you get awarded and you’re gone.”

The three Olympic champions were very much alive Saturday morning, introduced in order by Gary Fears of Wabash Valley Pizza Hut, Inc.

Lovellette, Fears pointed out, led the Purple Eagles to three Wabash Valley Tournament titles, a perfect regular-season record during the 1946-47 season (when Garfield was upset by Shelbyville at the state finals) and was an Indiana All-Star; was a three-time All-American at Kansas, where he led the nation in scoring as the Jayhawks won the national championship in 1952; and played for three National Basketball Association championship teams. He is the only player to have led the nation in scoring for an NCAA championship team, and the first player to have won NCAA, Olympic and NBA championships.

Emotional throughout his short talk, the big man recalled that his college coach, “Phog” Allen, recruited him by saying that the Jayhawks could win a national championship and that Lovellette could make the Olympic team, and revealed that for a long time he felt like “a black sheep” back in Indiana because people thought he should have played for one of his own state’s college teams.

Bell, who was drafted into the U.S. Army after graduating from Garfield, lightened the mood considerably — he accused Lovellette of being a potential culprit behind his only school suspension involving a missing textbook — but added some poignant moments as well.

“Most of my family is here, and some of my old long-time family from Garfield,” he said to begin his remarks. “From the back of the bus to the podium.”

Bell, who was the European armed forces long jump champion in 1950, was encouraged to attend Indiana University by Dr. William Bannon and was undefeated in his event as a collegian, won the Big Ten Medal in 1958 and was the captain of the U.S. team in a dual track and field meet against the U.S.S.R. in 1959. His long jump record at Indiana — 26 feet, 7 inches — wasn’t broken for 35 years, Fears pointed out.

He drew a parallel between his high school track career and Lovellette’s basketball seasons at Garfield. Lovellette and his teammates suffered their heart-breaking loss to Shelbyville, and Bell lost the state long jump championship in 1948 by four inches to an athlete named by Russ Smith, on Smith’s last jump.

Years later, Bell saw Smith’s name on the entry list for a meet. “Russ Smith beat me by four inches in 1948,” Bell said. “I beat Russ Smith by four feet in 1955 — and I was not a gracious winner.”

Bell took particular delight in recalling an English teacher from Garfield who had said that “there’s no way a colored child can earn anything better than a C in English — and in her class that was true.”

Still the director of dental services at a hospital in Logansport, Bell noted that he was an A student in English composition and English literature at Indiana, and read two of his own poems — one written to commemorate Saturday’s occasion and the other, titled “I Believe in You,” written earlier as a tribute to Bannon.

“I hope I never stop learning,” Bell said

Dischinger, voted Vigo County’s all-time greatest athlete by the Tribune-Star several years ago, may also have gained inspiration from falling short in high school events. Thanks to rival schools in the city and in the Big Ten, the Olympics proved to be his only basketball championship.

A member of the 1955 Babe Ruth League World Series baseball champions, Dischinger earned 11 varsity letters at Garfield and was an all-stater in football and track as well as an Indiana All-Star in basketball who was named the game’s outstanding player — 23 points, 10 rebounds — in the game the Indiana stars played at Kentucky that year.

He was also the second-leading scorer in Big Ten basketball as a sophomore when he was invited to try out for the Olympic team, and as a 19-year-old was the 1960 team’s best defensive player as the U.S. — whose team also included Oscar Robertson, Jerry West, Walt Bellamy, Darrell Imhoff, Jerry Lucas and others — cruised to its championship.

“I love you, Terre Haute,” Dischinger said to begin his remarks Saturday. “I feel very privileged to have grown up in this town. I thank my mom and dad for giving me the character I had … and my relationship with God.”

Dischinger, who finished his three seasons at Purdue with career averages of 28.3 points and 13.7 rebounds per game and who won Rookie of the Year honors in an NBA career interrupted by two years of service during the Vietnam war, introduced his family in attendance, praised his longtime best friend Bob Kehrt who “made me the competitor I was,” and shared memories of what it was like being a youngster in Terre Haute during the 1950s.

His Olympic experience at Rome always seemed surreal to him, Dischinger said, but echoed what Bell had said earlier about standing on the podium with the National Anthem playing.

“You realize that you are from the greatest country in the world, and second place is so far behind us,” Dischinger said.

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