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Hancock History: 3 athletic facilities at EH carry namesakes

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Today’s ‘Hancock History Highlights’ is the first in a series over the coming months that will uncover the personalities behind the names on area fields and facilities in each of the county’s four school corporations. First up, Eastern Hancock:

At Eastern Hancock you will find there are three athletic facilities that are namesakes. While the school has other things that are named after former teachers, etc, for the purpose of this article we are only exploring the athletic facilities (as this is a sports history column!). 

Edward E. Knarr Athletic Field

When the Royal football team sets foot on their local gridiron, or the Royal runners race around their home track, they are competing on what is known as the Edward E. Knarr Athletic Field.

Mr. Knarr was a principal at Eastern Hancock Jr.-Sr. High School, and he was the man in charge when my family moved from the Greenfield-Central School district in 1979 as I started seventh grade. I remember Mr. Knarr as a firm disciplinarian who you didn’t want to cross. He kept strict order in the school and had a very defined idea about what could be done and could not be done at EH. For example, our cheerleaders were not allowed to do that “We got Spirit” chant — because Mr. Knarr felt it was unsportsmanlike. I won’t say that Mr. Knarr was a warm and fuzzy kind of guy — he wasn’t.  But, I do know that he knew every student at school by name, knew who their friends were, and probably knew their parents too. One benefit of a small school!

However, behind that “stern demeanor” was a heart of gold combined with passion and caring for his students. Mary Scott Gibble related that one time she got the dreaded “knock at the classroom door.” Her name was called, and there she saw — Mr. Knarr! “To put it simply, we were afraid of him … he looked mean! My heart jumped to my throat. What in the world did I do wrong?” Mary asked.

Mr. Knarr took Mary down to the Social Studies office where he sat her down, and as he took the seat across from her he folded his hands. “He looked me in the eye and gently proceeded to tell me that my cousin had been involved in a car accident that morning on the way to school. He reached across the table for my hand and told me she didn’t survive. He patted my hand without saying another word, as what he told me sunk in. I was in shock — not only that my cousin had perished, but that mean Mr. Knarr could be so very kind. I’ve never forgotten that day and the role he played in my ability to deal with tragedy.”

In looking for information about Mr. Knarr, I ran across a website entitled, “I loved to teach.” In reading this article dated March 18, 2010 by John Rhoades — I found out some very interesting stuff about Mr. Knarr that I didn’t know:

Mr. Rhoades had been a teacher at Charlottesville High School, which had recently consolidated with Wilkinson High School in 1967 to form the Eastern Hancock School district. He had left the district in the spring of that year, but stated that “he loved that place and its inhabitants.” He described his co-worker: “Mr. Ed Knarr, perhaps the fairest man of power I ever knew, had become principal” (Mr. Knarr started at Charlottesville in 1960 as the science teacher and assistant basketball coach).

Now in the early days of school consolidations, this was a bitter pill to swallow because schools were losing their individual identity. And the consolidation of the Charlottesville Eagles and the Wilkinson Bulldogs was no different. According to Mr. Rhoades, the consolidation of EH was extremely bitter, and when it came time to pick who would be the principal of the new consolidated district and ultimately a consolidated high school, the indomitable team of teacher sisters, Victoria and Ethel Harlan of Wilkinson, had nearly convinced Mr. Knarr that “the only hope for an end to the nasty political nature of this consolidation was to bring in someone from the outside and definitely not to hire a man from one of the two schools.”

Mr. Rhoades correctly commented that “an outsider would flounder and be cremated and useless before his first year was over.” He felt that Mr. Knarr would be perfect for the job because he would know all of the enemies; his wife’s parents were influential natives; and “Ed was all backbone (and nose — behind his back he was known as ‘Nose Knarr’). He was short of stature, but his skin was tough.” Of course, this was exactly what the school needed.

In three years time, the new consolidated Eastern Hancock Jr.-Sr. High School building opened in 1970 with Ed Knarr at the helm.

Mr. Knarr would see 21 classes graduate through Eastern Hancock, but he would die on Sunday, May 7, 1989, of a heart attack at the age of 52. The class of 1989 would not receive their diplomas from their principal — instead Mike Hanna, the Vice Principal, would do the honors with each graduate having a black ribbon pinned to their gown.

Mr. Hanna would describe Mr. Knarr as a “workaholic” who was at the school for 60-plus hours a week. He stated that he “learned something new from him every day” and “school was his life and his hobby.” Former Superintendent, Keith Davis (1976-1985) stated “He was my main man. He was a dependable and consistent administrator. There was nothing wishy-washy about him. He knew the community and they trusted him. He knew what was right for the Eastern Hancock Community.”

Of course as a former basketball coach, Mr. Knarr loved athletics. He was frequently seen at many of EH’s athletic events. This included the 1985 Class A State Football Championship that was held at the Hoosier Dome. It was commented that with two minutes left on the clock, Mr. Knarr was holding up an Eastern Hancock State Championship T-Shirt, walking up and down the sidelines with it as the crowd went wild. He had them printed up before the game and only when the Royals were pretty much assured of a win — did he reveal the shirts.

Mr. Knarr’s funeral was held in the high school gym in order to hold the crowds. Soon after the funeral it was decided that some sort of memorial needed to be made in his honor, and it was decided that the football and track field would be the best place. Money was raised from a variety of donors — including EH families and even other school corporations. A flag pole, a stone monument with landscaping was erected at the southeastern corner of the field, and the renamed field was dedicated at a home football game in the fall of 1990.

Elzey Field

The intramural and sport field behind the Eastern Hancock Elementary is named after an Eastern Hancock fourth grade teacher, Barry Elzey.

I asked former students what they remembered about Mr. Elzey. Most of the comments were that he was a great teacher, and that they loved him. Rhonda Cook stated that she remembered that they had a late lunch in fourth grade, and when it came time for milk break — Mr. Elzey told his students it was OK if they wanted to bring a snack to eat along with their milk because he knew they would get hungry. Kathy Williams Wheelock mentioned that a couple of times he even brought in homemade brownies and cookies for the entire class to eat.

However, it is former teacher Barbara Knox who described Elzey best as a teacher: “He knew everything about Indiana history. He loved his students. He was a great fourth grade teacher.”

Mr. Elzey came to Eastern Hancock after serving his first years at Kennard Elementary school. When that small community was hit by a tornado in 1973, it was Mr. Elzey who reportedly saved two boys from the school’s gym area. In 1974, Mr. Elzey would come to Charlottesville Elementary school, and would move into the new Eastern Hancock Elementary when it was built in 1979. Miss Knox remembers that the teachers had to move some of their things into the new building over the weekend and it started to snow (it was January). Mr. Elzey made sure that everyone got out to their cars safely.

Barry Elzey was also involved in Optimist Club in Knightstown where he directed and managed the baseball, softball, flag football, basketball, and soccer programs. Under his leadership the Knightstown Little League program became one of the most respected and copied in the state. At Eastern Hancock, he helped out with numerous athletic programs. He was the timer/scorekeeper for HS football and basketball. He was the official starter for the track and field meets, and he helped run numerous intramural after-school activities.

On September 14, 1989, Mr. Elzey came to school as normal and was standing in the hallway to his classroom when he suffered a massive heart attack at 7:30 a.m. Miss Knox stated that even in that most desperate hour — his thoughts went to his students. “He kept repeating, ‘Don’t let the kids see me like this.’” All of the elementary students were kept on their busses while the ambulance came to take him to the hospital so none of his students saw their teacher — per his wishes. Sadly, he would not survive. He was only 40 years old.

Miss Knox stated that they did many things to commemorate Mr. Elzey that year – especially with his class. They dedicated the yearbook to him, and the fourth grade hallway was renamed “Elzey’s Celestial Hall.” However, in the spring it was decided to dedicate the intramural field in his honor, and a small wooden sign was placed outside to dedicate “Elzey Field” — to a “Friend of Youth.” Eventually, many years later a more permanent stone marker was installed with money raised by the community.

The Taylor Memorial Walking Path

There is a walking and fitness trail that winds around the Eastern Hancock buildings. This walking trail was dedicated to an Eastern Hancock Elementary teacher, Mike Taylor.

Mike Taylor came to Eastern Hancock in 1975. He had taught school for six years at IPS, and when he came to EHE he eventually taught third, fourth and fifth grades. He started out at the Wilkinson School in 1975, and was also involved in the move to the new elementary building in 1979.

Mr. Taylor was described by most as quiet, but highly respected. Mark Vail, Eastern Hancock Elementary’s Physical Education teacher stated that “Mike enjoyed seeing his students not only succeed, but got a special thrill watching them enjoy learning.”

Mike was an avid runner. He competed in several mini and full marathons including the Boston Marathon and the New York Marathon. Therefore, it was unexpected when Mr. Taylor died of a heart attack on July 8, 2006. He was 61, and he had taught at Eastern Hancock for 37 years.

Since Mr. Taylor was such an avid runner, Mr. Vail coordinated the idea of creating a walking trail in Mr. Taylor’s honor. The school hosted the first annual Mike’s Memorial 5K run/walk on April 21, 2007. The proceeds from this event went to develop a walking/fitness trail on the school’s campus in order to encourage heart health. By 2009, the run had raised $7,000 and a memorial stone was placed in memory of Mike Taylor with the plans to pave the walking trail once funds could be raised to do that.

Now next time, when you attend a football game or track meet at Eastern Hancock — you will know the story of Ed Knarr, whose name the field bears. If your children go to Eastern Hancock and they participate in “Field Day” activities at the end of the year — you are doing so on “Elzey Field” named for a “friend of youth” and great fourth grade teacher, Barry Elzey. And, if you want to get some exercise — and maintain that heart health — take a few laps around the “Taylor Memorial Walk” and know the quiet strength and dedication of Mike Taylor.

Brigette Cook Jones is the President of the Hancock County Historical Society. Contact her at hancockhistory@live.com or call the HCHS at (317) 462-7780.

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