When Terre Haute North and Terre Haute South opened in 1971, each had the task of creating a new tradition for themselves.
In South's case, it took on the different legacy of Wiley High School, the oldest in Terre Haute, and Honey Creek, once a township school that was super-sized in the first round of Vigo County consolidation in 1961 when it absorbed Blackhawk, Pimento, Prairie Creek and Riley.
North, as I'm sure those on north side will not hesitate to remind anyone, won the first state titles of the two schools. However, South has won the most recent pair of state titles as the schools are appropriately knotted at two-all in that department.
The two schools are remarkably close once you factor in all-time semistate, regional and sectional titles in all sports. However, South has the slight edge. The Braves just slip by the Patriots 361-359 in that department.
The point of adding that all up isn't to give one school bragging rights over another — they've both been successful. It's to illustrate the point that both schools have had athletic success to build school spirit over the years. This week's High School Of The Week — South — certainly has plenty of athletes and teams that it could rally around.
"We have state titles in athletics and academics and we've recognized the successes of former students through the Hall of Distinction. We have Hall of Fame coaches in several sports and fans who have attended games for 49 years — all are part of the South tradition," said current South assistant athletic director and long-time teacher Dave Heath, who is a member of South's Hall Of Distinction.
South social studies teacher Jim Mann, who is active in several athletic endeavors, said that athletics runs through the heart of the school. Many activities that aren't directly sports-related have their orbit revolving around sports.
"Athletics have always been important at South. How does that influence the daily run of things at South and which organizations keep South support going? South's extra-curricular opportunities have always been significant," Mann said. "When you watch a varsity football game, for example, you see the marching band, cheerleaders, Junior ROTC, Pathfinders, students in the stands (X-Factor/now called the Tribe), yearbook students taking photos, and student volunteers selling concessions or taking up donations at Bob Clements Field. Athletics is a significant part of the South community."
South takes their pride seriously. Just ask baseball coach and South graduate Kyle Kraemer.
"'South belonging' is demonstrated by the colors that you wear — primarily red and black. It wasn't until last year that I owned a blue pair of gym shorts and I would never consider wearing them to a South event," Kraemer said.
South's first principal was E.V. Halt, and though he left the position in 1980, he would have an influence on the Braves' athletic fortunes later as Honey Creek's middle school girls basketball coach — the one who molded many of the 2002 players who gave the Braves the state girls basketball championship that season.
However, South had success long before that. The 1973 football team went undefeated with a 10-0 record, while giving up just 2.8 points per game. The IHSAA had its first football playoff in 1973, but the Braves did not make the field in what was just a 12-team field back then.
The late 1970s were a golden era for the Braves in several sports. The boys basketball team went to the state finals three seasons in a row, falling in heartbreaking fashion in 1978 and 1979. Football was 30-9 from 1977-80. Three of South's six all-time individual state champions earned honors in this period — high jumper Kevin McLaughlin and girls swimmers Lynn Fischer and Toni Berray.
South has had consistency in several sports over the years as well. Its tennis programs for both genders have been particularly dominant — winning 51 sectionals, 44 regionals, 14 semistates and one state title between them. Twelve different sports at South have won double-digit sectional titles.
"Perhaps, because of tradition and the attention it draws, athletics seem to be a rallying point for the student body, particularly when the school is enjoying a successful season. I've observed kids who don't normally seem to be too interested in school activities get excited when a basketball or football team is enjoying a successful season," Heath said.
South hit another golden age in the early 2000s when it won its first two state titles.
Girls tennis had been knocking at the door, and knocked it down with a 5-0 win over Anderson Highland in 2001. Coached by Bill Blankenbaker, Lauren Clary, Kristen Clary, Helen Hildebrand and the doubles teams of Amberlee Jackson-Katie Knepper and Michelle Favila-Laura Hodge were the winners in the match.
One year later, Clary was a part of another iconic South team — the 2002 girls basketball champions. Coached by Alan Maroska, the Braves went 24-2 and dropped South Bend Clay 63-42 in the Class 4A state championship game.
Along with Clary's seven assists, Reicina Russell had 31 points, 15 rebounds and seven blocks in the title showdown. Melanie Boeglin had 10 points.
The most historic part of the title? Those 2002 Braves wiped out the long-time hex that dogged Terre Haute as the city had been the largest in the state without a basketball title of its own.
"Every year at state tournament time we'd have to listen to people who reminded us that Terre Haute was the largest city in the state without a basketball championship. It was nice to put that to bed," Heath said.
South's tradition also lies in the many individual greats that have won the black and red. Among those who haven't already been named, athletes like Jackson Bertoli, Cam Cameron, Danny Etling, Brian Evans, Mike Joyner, David Lewis, Maynard Lewis, Tony McGee, Jake Odum, Pam Owens, A.J. Reed, Kristen Seaton, Cara Stuckey, Kevin Thompson are just a few who had success at a high level. That doesn't count coaches like Bob Clements, Pat Rady and many others.
Success has not been monopolized by either side of Terre Haute. The South side has had plenty of reason to have pride.