I saw my first Indiana boys basketball state championship game sitting on the couch and eating Jiffy Pop popcorn with my mom, dad, and grandpa. It was the 1961 televised game between the Kokomo Wildcats, led by Goose Ligon, and the Indianapolis Manual Redskins led by twins Dick and Tom VanArsdale. Kokomo won in overtime 68-66. I didn’t know anyone from Manual, but I remember crying when they lost.
I saw the championship games in person at Hinkle Fieldhouse from 1967 to 1970. My ticket each year was at the 10-second line, but in the very top row under the window on the east side of the Fieldhouse. And, I loved it. I saw some great games, great teams and great individuals:
Bob Ford of Evansville North leading his team to a title with 27 points in the game vs. Lafayette Jeff.
Oscar Evans of Indianapolis Shortridge hitting a last-second shot to defeat Marion in the afternoon game, only to lose the championship that night to Gary Roosevelt.
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Indianapolis Washington, with George McGinnis and Steve Downing, in the first of a string of three undefeated teams in a row to win the state championship.
East Chicago Roosevelt, likewise undefeated, but most folks probably remember Carmel’s Dave Shepherd scoring 40 points in this championship game in a losing effort.
Between 1978 and 1991, I was a worker at several, but not all, sectionals, regionals, semistates and some state finals. In 1992, I became the assistant tournament director, and for the past 22 years, I have had the best seat in the house as the tournament director.
I have my good friend and long-time mentor, Howard Catt (retired athletics director at Indianapolis Tech High School), along with the IHSAA to thank for giving me this tremendous opportunity all those many years ago.
During this time, I have been able to witness a lot of history, like the move of the tournament from Market Square Arena to the Hoosier Dome/RCA Dome and finally to Conseco/Bankers Life Fieldhouse; the end of the single-class tournament and the transition to the current four-class tournament, as well as the slam-dunk and 3-point contests, and the short-lived Tournament of Champions.
I have seen the three-peat of Lawrence North coached by Jack Keefer during the Mike Conley and Greg Oden years. I have had to find seats for seven Indiana Pacers who came to a Lawrence North championship game to see possible future teammates or opponents.
There was Ft. Wayne Harding winning it all in 2001 and then finishing runner-up in 2002, 2005, 2006 and 2008 — talk about tough luck!
And, of course, the fabulous Zeller brothers (Luke, Tyler, Cody) of the Washington Hatchets, who between them won four state championships. One of those took place when Luke Zeller hit a last-second, just-past-half-court prayer that was nothing but net to give Washington the 2005 overtime win against Plymouth.
Speaking of last-second shots, I won’t forget the 3-pointer at the buzzer by Ben Davis’s Jeff Poisel to give his team the 1996 double-overtime championship against New Albany, nor Gordon Hayward’s 2008 rebound put-back of a missed shot as the buzzer sounded to give Brownsburg the 40-39 win in 2008 against Marion.
Besides those already mentioned, it was nice being able to work with and see some great players up close and personal, such as Deshaun Thomas, Brody Boyd, Eric Gordon, Chris Thomas, Zach Randolph, Bryce Drew, E’Twaun Moore, Yogi Ferrell, Jason Gardner, Damon Frierson, Jared Jeffries, Kevin Ault and Gary Harris to name a few.
You never know who you will see at the Fieldhouse — college coaches from all over the country, the governor, senators, members of Congress, mayors, singers, actors, several of the cast of the movie “Hoosiers,” and, of course, Larry Bird and many past and present Indiana Pacers.
Speaking of the Pacers, it was pretty easy for me to see why Reggie Miller was as good as he was and rightfully is called “Mr. Clutch.” During the week leading up to the state championship game, each high school team is allowed a one-hour practice session on the Bankers Life floor. The days and times of practice are dependent on the Pacers, concerts, and other events schedules.
But one thing I can tell you is that if the Pacers were in town, Reggie Miller was working out. I don’t just mean with the team at their practice session. I mean on his own, or maybe with a person to rebound for him.
As an example, on game days Miller would come in at 5 p.m. and shoot every type of shot imaginable at both ends of the floor, including free throws. At 6 p.m., he would go back to the Pacers locker room, refresh, change clothes and come back out for his team shoot around.
Then they would go back to the locker room for coach’s pre-game talk, return to the floor for the pre-game warm-up routine, and then play a game. The man was like the Energizer Bunny!