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Opinion

BOONE: History of Coal Creek Basketball: Part II

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Wingate was even more successful, winning the County basketball title in 1932 when they beat New Richmond and again in 1935 and 1936.  The gold and blue had won sectionals in 1917, 1918, 1922, 1925, and 1931.  As all Hoosier basketball fans know, Wingate became the first repeat winner of the IHSAA State Championship by outclassing the entire field in 1913 and 1914.

Earl Pattengale coached everything but track in the first three years at CCC.  You will see his picture in the annuals as coach of junior high basketball, freshman basketball, junior varsity basketball and varsity basketball.  He also coached varsity baseball. Coach Pattengale and the Bearcats were hampered the first year by the lack of home facilities and played their home games at Richland Twp., the Crawfordsville Armory, and the Darlington Armory.  Jim Hunter was a member of that first team.  He remembers that they even had to practice at the Crawfordsville Armory, Richland Twp. and sometimes Linden.  When they practiced at Crawfordsville, it was in the evening and they carpooled.  The other places were used when the other teams were finished.  This continued even into the first few weeks of the second season until the new gymnasium was finished. 

Mike Spencer related an interesting story about how some of the other schools viewed the Quonset style facility. 
He said, “The Linden folks referred to our school as a cow barn or hog house and made fun of our school all the time.  However, when Bill Springer came to Linden and they had some good teams, he wanted to practice there because Linden played some of their home games there to accommodate the crowds. That did not set well with the town of Linden.” 

As with all consolidations, Coal Creek had some growing pains as the older fans would count and see how many New Richmond players were on the floor and how many Wingate players.  At first, the Wingate fans even sat on one end and the New Richmond fans sat on the other.  The kids got along fine after a while, but the old timers never let it go.

It took the Bearcats a few years to really get rolling.  They were competitive, but didn’t win any big prizes until the early 60s.  From 1963, with the arrival of Roger Newnum, who was one of the members of the first class to go all four years at CCC, the Bearcats really took off and were prominent in County athletics from 1963 to consolidation in 1971.  Newnum started it off with a County Championship with his 8th grade basketball team in 1963.  He then proceeded to win baseball crowns in 1963, 1964, and 1965.  He was the assistant coach to Pat McDowell when the Bearcats won the County Basketball tourney in 1965.

Don Hopper was a member of the CCC champs in 1965.  He recalled that the 1965 Montgomery County basketball tourney was quintessential tourney ball: it was snowing.  It was a typical Indiana blizzard at tourney time.  Many of the players lived in the country and had to ride tractors to get to town and meet the bus. Coal Creek coach Pat McDowell decided to have a bus from Wingate and a bus from New Richmond.  The Wingate bus was able to get to the gym on time, but the New Richmond bus was snowed in — the roads were closed.

Stan Whitehead was one of the players from New Richmond.  He remembers it well. 

He said, “Seven or eight players were sitting in Bob Thayer’s bus at Bob’s Service Station in New Richmond because all the roads from New Richmond to Crawfordsville were impassable.  Some of our Dads were on the bus with us listening to the radio broadcast of the first game of the semifinals (New Ross vs. Darlington).  The radio announcer said, ‘The Coal Creek team has just arrived.’  But most of the team were still sitting on the bus in New Richmond.” 

The Wingate bus had arrived safely at the Crawfordsville gym carrying four players, Tom McCormick, Chuck McKnight, Larry Lidester, Ray Potter and Don Hopper.  Tom McCormick related a story that could only happen in rural Indiana at tourney time.  Ray spent the night with Tom that Friday night after CCC had beaten Waveland (probably because they knew the snow was coming).  Tom’s family lived two or three miles outside of Wingate.  Tom’s older brother, Rodney, took them on one of their tractors to Wingate.  On the way, they hit a snowdrift and Tom and Ray were knocked off the tractor.  They got back on the tractor and made it to Wingate in time to get on the bus.  Stan remembers that the bus from New Richmond got to Crawfordsville’s gym just as the Bearcats’ Wingate players went to the dressing room.  The New Richmond bus had the uniforms.  He said, “We got there just in time to dress, run some two line layups and play Ladoga.”

Pat McDowell was the well-liked coach that year.  To motivate his players, he told them that if they won one game, he would walk to school from his home in New Richmond and if they won two games, he would walk to school the next day. Then he said that if they won the tourney, he would walk from Crawfordsville to New Richmond.
Don Hopper recalled that, “Those of us on that team would have done anything for our coach and we responded to his challenge.”

To make a long story short, Larry Lidester sank two free throws with 52 seconds left in the game to give the Bearcats a 46-45 lead over the Darlington Indians.  Tom Oppy added another free throw to make the final score 47-45 and the Bearcats celebrated their first Montgomery County basketball championship. Coach McDowell was true to his word and started the long walk home after church on Sunday. The 15 mile walk was done in the remnants of the blizzard as he followed 231 to Linden and headed west to New Richmond where he was met by cheering fans and players.     

Roger Newnum was a good assistant coach and provided coffee and a sandwich as Pat made the long walk from Crawfordsville to New Richmond the day after the tourney.

Newnum was also the assistant coach under Phil Miller when the Bearcats won the Sectional in 1966.  Miller who played for his father, the legendary ”Indian Ed” Miller on the 1944 Darlington basketball team, had a record of 56-35 during his four years at Coal Creek Central.

CCC won their only sectional basketball crown in 1966 when they recorded the best record in their 18 year history at 20-6 under Coach Phil Miller; he was son of the legendary coach of the Darlington Indians, Indian Ed Miller, for whom the Darlington teams were named.  Indian Ed Miller was a Wabash College star in the early 1900s.  The Bearcats lost in the final game of the County to New Market 74-72 after beating Waveland 85-64 and Ladoga 73-60 in the opening rounds.  Spurred by that loss and led by Chuck  McKnight, Lee Fouts, and Larry Lidester, the Cats bounced back and ran away with the Sectional, defeating Crawfordsville 91-79, Ladoga 73-60, and New Ross in the final game 80-71.

The Bearcats beat Turkey Run in the Regional at Covington before losing to the Bainbridge Pointers in the final game.  Mike Spencer remembers the game:

“One thing I remember about the regional is that CCC played the first game and won in overtime.  That evening, I remember that some of the CCC boys had just about lost their legs. It was one of the best games I ever watched. Steele was incredible. He went on to play for Adolph Rupp at Kentucky. “ 

The Pointers were led that year by Larry Steele who would finish his basketball career playing for the Portland Trailblazers in the NBA, helping them win an NBA title in 1977. 
The Bearcats were in the final game of the County four times in the last days before consolidation, getting there in 1966, 1967, 1968, and 1970.  They won it all again in 1967 under Phil Miller when they posted a 13-9 record.

Mike Spencer recalls that it took 10 years for Coal Creek to even win a sectional game; they finally beat Alamo in the 1963 sectional.  They had won the keg in 1962 by beating New Market, but lost it the next week to Waveland.

Bill Boone is a local sports historian who contributes to the Journal Review.

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