More than just Pacers: Bankers Life a hub of activity

Editor’s note: In the third of a series, IHSAA Boys Basketball State Tournament Director Kevin Horrigan provides a behind-the-scenes look at the tourney, which will celebrate its 105th annual edition Saturday in Indianapolis.

Bankers Life is like a mini city. It is closed only a couple of times each year. You may wonder how they can hold so many events and always have things ready for whoever is coming in next.

More years than not, there is an event the Friday night before the Saturday all-day, four-game championship run. It might be a concert, a Pacers game, a WWE event, a dinner/gala event, a hockey game. Whatever it is, I am so impressed with their ability to turn things around and have everything ready for me when I arrive on game day at 7 a.m.

Even if the event didn’t get done until way past midnight, it is always clean and ready to go. They might be putting the finishing touches on the place when I arrive, but we have never had to delay the start of the tournament.

In between sessions of the state tournament, it is more of the same. Typically, the morning session is done between 2:30 to 3:30 p.m., and the doors for the evening session open to the public at 5 p.m. The place looks like an ant colony as workers and cleaners come in from everywhere and begin the cleaning and resetting process for the evening session. It is really something to see.

My hats off to Rick Fuson, Tom Rutledge, Harry James, Doug Weitkamp, John Ball and all of the other wonderful people at Bankers Life who take such good care of us while we are using the building.

That is not to say that there aren’t some unusual things that can and do happen each year. While this didn’t take place during the state finals, I’m told that a few years ago while the circus was in town, tornadoes were in the area and striking Indianapolis.

To show you how versatile Bankers Life is, it quickly became the evacuation center for the circus and its animals. You see, there is an underground area to Bankers Life. To paraphrase the Bible, they came marching two-by-two down the ramp and stayed until the all-clear was given.

I sure am glad I was not on custodial duty that day.

One year, the coach of one of the teams brought his wife on the bus. She was very ill with cancer, and he did not want her to have to stand in line and work her way down to her lower level seat. I put one of my assistants on it, and he commandeered a golf cart, drove her through the tunnels of the arena and had her within three feet of her seat.

After the game, he did the exact same thing only in reverse. I didn’t ask him where he got the golf cart or who he may have had to bribe to get the mission accomplished.

The team won, and the coach was very happy. But he told us afterwards as he thanked us for everything, that he was most relieved that we were able to take care of his wife. One month later, he let us know that she had passed away but had been still talking about her golf cart ride at Bankers Life.

Except for inside the bathrooms, it is true that there are cameras everywhere at Bankers Life. Here is a story to prove it:

A few years back during the 2A championship game, several calls in a row went against one of the teams. I guess this one fan near midcourt had finally had it with the referees, and after one call, he stood up (along with most everyone else) and removed his cap and threw it on the floor in the direction of the referee.

Watching that cap sail through the air and eventually land on the floor was one of those slow-motion moments you hear people describe. However, before the cap hit the floor, there already was chatter over the radios we all carry, and security officials were descending on the section from where the cap had been thrown.

As security moved ever closer, the voice on the other end said, “Keep going…keep going…stop…now move to the right…six seats over, man with the green jacket.” Of course he denied it, but as I told him, he had hat-head and he was on camera. I told him he would be escorted out and would be shown the film of him throwing his cap onto the floor. He begrudgingly admitted it and asked, “Can I at least have my cap back?”

Coming Friday: Beating the clock, and waiting on the band.