LAPEL — For close to two weeks, three poster-sized sheets of paper were taped onto the south wall of the Lapel High School gymnasium.
Those read 4, 9 and 9, representing Bulldogs’ boys basketball coach Jimmie Howell’s career win total.
With Lapel having lost three straight home games during the holiday break and hosting Alexandria on Jan. 2 in a Madison County Tournament consolation-bracket game, the numbers on the makeshift win-o-meter were becoming an eyesore to Bulldog players and partisans.
The Bulldogs went out and dismantled the Tigers 58-35, and not a minute after the final horn blared, two female Lapel students did the same to the numbers on the wall. At the same time, dozens of proud fans were holding up yellow sheets of paper that read “500.”
“I’ve just coached a lot of years, that’s all it means,” said Howell in his office (he is also the school’s athletic director), as several assistants and family members dropped by and an unopened gift was sitting on his desk.
Howell has been at it 31 years to be exact, nine at Lapel, his alma mater. His other stops were Mt. Vernon, Muncie South and Brownsburg.
The obvious highlight of Howell’s career was the 2005 state Class 1A championship his Bulldogs captured in his first year as Lapel’s coach. He also led Mt. Vernon to two regional titles (1987, 1991) in the single-class era. Those remain the only regional championships in the history of the MV boys program.
“I just look at all the players, the kids I’ve had throughout the years, and the way they’ve affected my life and I have hopefully affected theirs,” Howell said. “Obviously, I couldn’t do it without my family, my parents and my wife, as good of a coach’s wife as you’ll find, who’s allowed me to coach all these years.”
Howell is the 26th boys hoops coach in Indiana to get to 500 wins, and one of eight still active. He captured his 400th at Lapel’s Doghouse almost seven years ago against Sheridan and reached 500 in the school’s new gym.
Senior Tanner Watkins scored 23 points, including three 3-pointers, to pace Lapel to Howell’s milestone. Junior Mitchell Richardson added 10 points. Senior starting forward Drew Norton left the game in the second quarter with an ankle injury after scoring six points.
Lapel (5-5) struggled early on, trailing 12-10 after a quarter, but it built a 25-18 lead at halftime and one of 42-29 through three.
Howell earned No. 500 on his fourth try; his 499th also was against Alexandria on Dec. 21. He surmised it might take some time to bag the next one, because Lapel faced defending state champs Guerin Catholic (3A) and Park Tudor (2A, ranked No. 1), as well as 4A Anderson in the first round of the county, all in a row.
The Bulldogs dropped all three. Guerin beat them at the buzzer and Lapel, located northwest of Pendleton in Madison County, led Park Tudor late before falling.
“I think the kids put pressure on themselves and I think that allowed them to play as well as they did during that three-game stretch,” Howell said. “I think it ended up being positive and that gave us confidence.”
How about going for, perhaps 600?
“I always take it one year at a time,” Howell said.