At halftime of Saturday’s home boys basketball game vs. Oldenburg Academy, the Eastern Hancock Athletic Hall of Fame will enshrine its two newest members: the 2002-03 boys basketball team and 1972 graduate David Smith.
2002-03 boys basketball team
Kevin Wright remembers his freshman season vividly. There he was, a 14-year-old going up against 18-year-old near-men. The 1999-00 Eastern Hancock boys basketball team finished 4-16 in what was coach Aaron Spaulding’s first — and worst, at least by record — year at the helm. Wright, Spaulding and the rest of the Royals lost 12 of their games by double digits, including a 48-point defeat to Cambridge City Lincoln and a 49-point loss to New Palestine.
“We struggled quite a bit, particularly in that first year when me and Derek Harmon were 130 pounds and handling the ball against full court presses all game,” said Wright, who along with Harmon wound up being four-year starters. “I can specifically remember getting beat by New Pal by 40 points that year. That really was motivation for us to work and get better and to never let that happen again.
“Three years later, we were beating teams by similar scores. We got an opportunity to really learn about not only high school-level competition, but the competitive nature of our group and the classes around us. We could have rolled over, but we used it as motivation to come back and fight again.”
From the ashes of 4-16, EH went 8-13 the next season before finishing 16-7 in 2001-02, blowing a late lead in the sectional finals to host Batesville.
Before they could find retribution for the Batesville loss on the basketball court, many of the Royals found success on the gridiron as Eastern Hancock captured its second straight sectional title.
Due to the football success, Spaulding only had eight practices to get his group ready for its opener, a late November trek to Centerville. Spaulding, who doubles as the Royals’ athletic director these days, knew he had a tight-knit squad — the same core was back for the fourth straight year after playing together in AAU and middle school ball.
But that 2002-03 group, molded by the poundings they took as wide-eyed and feeble freshman, had morphed into a collection of unrelenting competitors.
“First of all, it was a really unselfish team. Everybody’s goal every night was to win the basketball game. They got along well. The second thing is they were one of the few teams…some teams when you get a lead, they relax a little bit. With that team, it was like a shark smelling blood in the water. That’s kind of hard to instill in a kid. They beat some teams really, really bad,” said Spaulding, now in his 15th season as coach. “We led by 21 at half against a good Centerville team. We won by 26, but they still came into the locker room throwing stuff because they felt like they didn’t put Centerville away. They really wanted to take it to teams.”
EH did indeed take it to teams, finishing with a 12.3-point average margin of victory, the largest of Spaulding’s tenure. The 2002-03 squad also averaged 71.1 points, scoring 80 or more six times and 90 or more three times.
The offensive fireworks came from the team’s extrasensory tendencies on defense.
“We really liked to force turnovers and bring our defense into our offense. We really got comfortable with each other and knew where the other person would be on offense and defense,” Wright said. “I think that — coupled with the fact that we had guys that were really good at anticipating plays, really knew the game of basketball and could anticipate moves of the other team — that helped us with traps that weren’t necessarily designed. It helped us with help defense and recovery.”
The Royals finished the regular season 15-5 and earned a share of the White River Athletic Conference title.
In its run through sectional, Eastern Hancock ousted North Decatur 68-52 and exacted revenge on Batesville 49-40 before topping rival Knightstown 75-60 in the championship game.
Wright and his teammates had their eyes on a greater calling, though.
“I remember the locker room and us not being satisfied with our first sectional win, our second sectional win or winning a sectional title. That was something we expected to do,” Wright said. “It was fun to be a part of because we were a family and went through it and thought it was going to be something special. We spent time in the moment and enjoyed the run.”
The regional was held at Speedway, the same place where, in a February 2002 regular-season matchup, the Royals upset the eventual 2001-2002 2A state champion Sparkplugs in their own building.
In a morning regional semifinal match vs. Scecina, EH was held to its lowest scoring output of the season but held on to win 40-37.
“It was an offensive struggle,” said Wright, whose Royals shot 12-of-45 (27 percent) from the floor and 12-of-23 (52 percent) from the foul line. “That showed more than anything else that we were fighters. Our offense wasn’t flowing, but we won a low-scoring game.”
Eastern Hancock garnered a regional championship later that day with a 52-47 victory over Covington, which doubled as the school’s first regional crown since the 1985 football team claimed the Class A state championship.
“After we won, the support from the community, the police escort home and the pep rally at the gym…just the ‘Hoosiers’ feel of small-town Indiana basketball was great,” Wright said.
The Royals fell short of a state championship, losing 77-69 to Forest Park at semistate, but are still held in high esteem — hence the group’s induction into the EH Athletic Hall of Fame Saturday night.
“It was a fun team, one you really enjoyed being around. They’re still good to be around,” Spaulding said. “Those seniors were freshmen for my first year. We took our lumps starting two freshmen and playing several others. That group we had for a long time, usually you don’t coach the same group for four years.”
Growing up on a farm, David Smith was ingrained with routine and work ethic. When he wasn’t rising early and attending school, he was rising early and working the fields. Athletics was embedded in that routine, too, though Smith didn’t need drive or determination to excel in sport.
“I see kids today, it’s just totally different,” Smith said. “They play video games. We didn’t have that then. What else was there to do besides play sports?”
Smith was the definition of an athlete — it’s why he was one of the few Eastern Hancock athletes to letter in four varsity sports in a single school year (Smith did it twice), and it’s why he will be inducted into the EH Hall of Fame Saturday night.
The 1972 EH graduate set passing records on the football team, was an all-sectional basketball player, won the Greenfield American Legion Award in baseball and set a conference and school record in track.
“I enjoyed the competition of sports. It’s shaped what I do, even today,” said Smith, now a general manager of Smith Implements. “I still use a lot of sports analogies in business.”
Smith, who first attended Indiana State before transferring to play basketball at Anderson University, has a few distinct memories of his high school athletic career.
On the football field, Smith was a two-year starter as quarterback. He used his accurate throwing arm to guide Eastern Hancock to its first Big Blue River Conference championship in 1971 with an 8-1 record. Smith set single game and single season passing records, but deflected credit to the “gifted” athletes around him.
“We had a couple games that our offense was just totally passing,” Smith said. “Our coach told me, ‘You throw it until you throw an incompletion, then we’ll think about running.’”
Smith’s first love was basketball, but said track would’ve been his best sport had he concentrated on it solely. He established a conference record in the 880-yard run, claiming a conference crown in that event and the pole vault. Smith’s mark of 2:00.30 in the 880 set in 1972 remains EH’s longest-standing track record.
Now a resident of Decatur County, Smith is looking forward to coming back to Charlottesville and reliving a bit of his past that was born on the farm.
“I didn’t need a lot of motivation,” Smith said. “Sports were the only outlet we had at that point in time.”
Smith and his wife, Susan, have three children and four grandchildren.