Saturday, December 4, 2021
North Pole Visitors
2021 Snowflake Princess Morgan McKinney, daughter of Mike and Elizabeth McKinney, visits Joy the reindeer and her handler, “Courtney Kringle”, outside the Porter Center before last night’s holiday parade. Look for more parade pictures in tomorrow’s edition. | photo by ANNA TUNGATE
Local Court Brought Kids from Community Together
A windmill in the distance harkens back to a time when Howard Street was at the edge of Shelbyville.
by KRISTIAAN RAWLINGS
In an era of economic and racial disparity, Graham’s court was a great equalizer.
Although seldom used now, the full basketball court remains on a hill southeast of the Van Ave. and Howard Street intersection, with a nearby windmill one of the few other remnants in an area once considered the edge of Shelbyville.
“There are a lot of stories there, and to my recollection, they’re all good stories,” Forrest Theobald, SHS Class of 1960, said.
1954: The all-Black Booker T. Washington Elementary school, constructed in 1870 and long dilapidated, had been closed just five years, and only after the state legislature made it illegal to segregate public school students based on “race, creed or color.”
Times were tough for many in the community, regardless of race.
“Some white people weren’t accepted, especially those who lived around Pike Street. They were discriminated against. I know because they hung around us at school,” Jack McDuffey, a former Booker T. student, said.
McDuffey, a stand-out athlete who graduated at 16 years old and immediately went into military service, remembers only being allowed in the back door at his mother’s place of employment, a restaurant downtown Shelbyville.
Meanwhile, Kermit and Esther Graham were pouring asphalt for a 90-foot long tennis court behind their home, 415 Van Ave. But with young children Jim, Peggy (Cliadakis) and Tom at home, basketball soon took priority.
Theobald and Tom Graham were shooting around on the new court when four boys - three Black, one white - pulled up in a vehicle on Howard Street and traversed the field.
“They (Bob Cowherd, Ron Mitchell and Don and Steve Brown) stopped just short of the fence, looked at us - two runts out there - and yelled, ‘Hey, can we come and play?’” Theobald recalls. “And Tom said, ‘Yeah, sure.’”
A tradition, which lasted nearly a decade, had been unwittingly born.
“We were there every day in the summer,” Theobald said.
“If you kept winning, you kept playing,” Jack Krebs, an eventual Butler University stand-out athlete in three sports, said.
A motley crew of young people from every walk of life and skill level were soon rotating between Graham’s court, the A&W and a swimming hole. Black children were not regularly allowed to swim in Porter Pool until the late 1950s; they instead went to Little Blue River behind the fairgrounds’ race track. But at times nearly every player on Graham’s court was Black.
“My parents never batted an eye,” Tom Graham said.
And the games, which predated basketball camps and travel leagues, attracted NCAA Division I athletes.
“There was no coaching at Grahams. No motion offense and sometimes very little defense. If the guy bringing the ball upcourt didn’t fire up a shot the guy who caught the first pass did,” Stan Sutton, SHS Class of 1956 and later sports editor at the Bloomington Herald-Times, wrote in 2006. “The best chance of shooting was to be a good rebounder.”
There were only two rules, Charles “Chuck” Thompson, son of long-time SHS teacher “Boots” Thompson and teammate of McDuffey, Krebs and Gary Long on the conference-winning SHS team of 1957, said. “There were not to be any fights out there, and the second was to monitor your language.”
Little else besides basketball mattered then in Indiana, a state with “bad roads and no television,” as Graham put it. “The average attendance in the NBA in the early 1950s was less than the average attendance of Shelbyville High School (games in Paul Cross gym),” he said.
A town’s pride was in its high school basketball team, and when a smaller school beat a bigger school, the celebratory memories lasted decades
But despite the game’s popularity, courts were hard to find. The “girls gym” at SHS had smaller-than-regulation goals and Paul Cross Gym was off-limits except to the school basketball teams.
“The only other time that court was used was for graduation,” Theobald said. “Otherwise, you didn’t get on the court, and you certainly didn’t walk on it with street shoes.”
“Barnes terrorized anyone who even thought about stepping onto Paul Cross Gym’s floor in street shoes,” Graham said.
The lone exception, Theobald noted, was for a sectional pep rally, when Coach Frank Barnes, who led the 1947 SHS state championship team, superstitiously walked students diagonally across the court.
In spite of those inhibitions, local young kids developed a love for the game. Principal Vaughn Drake and teacher Carter Bramwell arrived at Addison Township school in the early 1950s and took over the elementary squad. Fundamentals were taught as Addison often played older teams.
Graham’s first organized basketball game, as a third-grader with Addison Township, was against Shelby Township, coached by a young Gene Sexton. Shelby won the game, 42-5. Graham scored three. The other two points for Addison? “A Shelby player hit the wrong basket,” Graham said.
Graham’s court became the default place for fellowship and skill development. Krebs used to ride his Schwinn from his parents’ grocery store/home across from the high school to Van Ave. One time, he tossed his bike into a “gully” and ran for the court. The games lasted late into the night on the lighted court, so Krebs caught a ride home. When he returned a couple of days later, he found the gully - including his bicycle - had been filled in with dirt.
“It wasn’t a real good bike, anyway,” Krebs said.
As the kids grew, the competition stiffened. Gary Long, eventual captain for the Indiana University basketball team; Jerry Bass, Morristown native and IU player; Dan Thurston, Ball State University player; Mitchell, stand-out for Tulane University; and Jim and Jack Tindall, Indiana Central, now University of Indianapolis, graced the court. So did the likes of high school star basketball players Phil Lackey, Lonnie Walker and Dave Spannbauer.
Sometimes everyone on the court was a college basketball player. Crowds gathered on summer evenings, sitting on the wooden fence or the grass, and Dwight Long, Gary’s father, watched from a chair in his pickup parked alongside the court.
“The rest of us showed up hoping for a cheap thrill such as hitting a jumper over an IU defender,” Sutton wrote.
Thompson attributes hours at Graham’s as the reason for the Golden Bears’ 1957 co-conference championship. “That probably would not have been possible if we hadn’t spent two or three summers playing basketball almost every night.”
But that season ended with a heart-breaking two-point loss to archrival Columbus.
“Gary Long said, ‘If that’s the worst thing that ever happened to us in our lives, then we’ve had a good life,” Thompson said, before adding, “Well, he didn’t say it right after the game. He said that several years later.”
As the years passed, city parks added basketball amenities and the original group moved on. By the time Esther Graham died in 1987 and Kermit - who owned Shelby Motors Inc. with his brother, Kenneth, for many years - died in 1994, the court was overgrown.
One potential buyer wanted to develop houses on the property, but Tom Graham and Cliadakis - Jim Graham had passed away - decided to sell to Mark and Robin Williams, who promised to update the old farmhouse.
“They kept the 24 acres unspoiled and made a lot of improvements that fit the character of the place, including carving a half-moon on the door of the ‘Eleanor Roosevelt,’ as they were called in the day: the outhouse in the barnyard,” Graham said.
Mark Williams resurfaced the courts and installed new goals. “He wanted to put lights out there, too, but he passed away (in 2005) before any of that could happen,” Robin said.
She eventually remarried, to Nolan Barger, who plans to resurface the courts, which their children sometimes use, again next year.
But it was always about more than just basketball. When Theobald returned to Shelbyville with a junk car in the early 1960s, he asked Kermit Graham for help. Graham had two used cars in stock, one of which happened to have once belonged to Theobald’s father.
“Dad took really good care of his cars, so I wanted that one, but I didn’t have any money,” Theobald said. “Kermit said, ‘Don’t worry about it right now. When you get out of (college), you can start paying me back.’ And that’s what we did. That was part of the relationship that came out of Tom’s basketball court.”
Michael “Mick” McDuffey, Jack’s brother and frequent player on Graham’s court who died in 2020, would have agreed. When interviewed by Graham for “Getting Open: The Unknown Story of Bill Garrett and the Integration of College Basketball” book, McDuffey fondly recalled days at the court.
At one point in the interview, Graham apologized for having once been so unaware of race relations in the community.
“My attempt to apologize caused an awkward silence,” Graham recalled. “What, after all, could he say? Surely not, ‘That’s okay.’”
Instead, McDuffey simply smiled and said, “You know, your mother was the sweetest lady. When we were playing basketball on hot days, she would bring us a pitcher of ice water, and say, ‘You boys must be thirsty.’”
That consideration for others remains in the Graham family. Tom’s daughter, Rachel Cody, co-authored the Garrett book with him and is now working on a book about race relations in Portland, Ore. Both Tom and Rachel are Harvard University graduates. Tom’s son, Ian, (both father and son are attorneys) wrote a book called “Unbillable Hours” about his work successfully overturning the wrongful conviction and double-life sentence of a gifted Hispanic teenager named Mario Rocha, which also was the subject of an award-winning documentary.
“I always wanted my children to have that viewpoint (of justice and equity),” Graham, who recently finished an appointment by the Obama administration serving as the US Member of the World Trade Organization’s Appellate Body, said.
As the nation simultaneously celebrates and wrestles with its past, former Graham’s court players seem to have come to terms with the yesteryears of their childhoods.
“I have good memories of where I was born and raised,” Jack McDuffey said. “Shelbyville’s my home.”
A celebration of life will be held for Jason Chenoweth today at Shelbyville Community Church, 2 p.m. The service will be live-streamed on the church’s Facebook page.
Yesterday, the state reported 70 new positive coronavirus cases from the previous day in Shelby County, and 62 new tests. The number of deaths for Shelby County remained increased by 1, to 130. The State lists the fully vaccinated number for Shelby County at 21,882, an increase of 32 from the previous day.
HOOSIER NEWS: Northern Indiana’s Goshen Hospital is currently experiencing its highest surge in COVID-19 patients since November of last year. According to a release from the hospital, 41 patients are currently hospitalized with COVID, 35 of whom are unvaccinated. That’s the highest number of COVID patients so far this year. The hospital says the recent surge has interfered with scheduling for surgeries, screenings and other procedures. (Indiana Public Radio)
This Week in Shelby County" works by George L. Stubbs Sr. are owned by the Shelby County Historical Society (Grover Center) and used with permission.
THIS DAY IN SHELBY COUNTY HISTORY
News around Shelbyville and the surrounding area as reported on or about this date in history. Selections are curated from the Shelby County Public Library Genealogy Department.
20 YEARS AGO: 2001
A Shelbyville man arrived home from a two-week trip to discover that someone had been staying in his home. The man reported someone had been sleeping in his bed, and opening his cabinets and his mail. Blankets were nailed over windows in three rooms. There were no suspects.
MetroXmit Co., the firm providing Shelby County’s fiber optics connection to the world, filed for reorganization under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code. Company officials said it would not affect future fiber optic service in Shelby County. The goal was to have Shelbyville Central school buildings, Major Hospital and the Shelby County Public Library connected by fiber optics by March 2002.
30 YEARS AGO: 1991
The planning committee met to organize the 1992 SCUFFY drive. Committee members were Tom Crouch, Geri Ciciura, Charlene Rosenfeld, Sharon Kiefer, Steve Moberly, Alan Snow, Denny Ramsey, Elizabeth Harlamert, Kay Mason, Jeff King, Angela Gill, Rachael Passwater, Rita Mohr, Tim Crouch, Bob Claxton, Bob Britton and Greg Wertz.
40 YEARS AGO: 1981
Workers dug a hole for the base of the new radio tower for the Shelby County Sheriff’s Department near the County Garage.
Fifteen vehicles had been stolen in Shelbyville over the previous two months, a surge compared to the 18 stolen between January and September.
The Shelbyville First Church of the Nazarene presented a Distinguished Service Award to Dr. and Mrs. Kenneth Jewell in appreciation for their outstanding service for 16 years. Mrs. Dale Ramsey, president of the Nazarene World Missionary Society, presented the award.
50 YEARS AGO: 1971
The new National Guard Armory and Army Aviation Support facility adjacent to I-74 was dedicated. Mayor Ralph VanNatta participated in a ribbon-cutting ceremony. Acquisition of land for the site had been made possible by a fund drive conducted by the Chamber of Commerce.
60 YEARS AGO: 1961
Fathers and sons participating in the monthly “Liniment League” repaired toys, which would be distributed to underprivileged children.
For the first time in the 15-year history of the Junior Division of Five-Acre Corn Club competition in Shelby County, top honors were taken by girls. Sisters Betty Jo and Jo Ann Isley tied for first place. Betty Jo was a freshman at Waldron and Jo Ann was a junior at Shelbyville.
70 YEARS AGO: 1951
A 69-year-old Shelbyville man was struck by a car on Colescott St. Investigating officers said the man had been drinking and planned to go to sleep in the middle of the street. He was transported to the hospital, where he was listed in “fair” condition.
Porter Carpet Sweeper Company, 212 Elizabeth St., reported workers were manufacturing 800 sweepers daily. It was the second largest among only four carpet sweeper markers in the U.S. Enos Porter, donor of the local swimming pool, had started the business in the early 1920s. The factory had 54 employees and used four floors, three for production and one for storage. Sweepers were sent to Sears & Roebuck, L.S. Ayres and other retailers. The company had also turned out 50,000 toy sweepers for Christmas over the summer.
80 YEARS AGO: 1941
Omer Howery, 54, was stopped twice for speeding by the same officer in Pleasant View within a few minutes.
Flames that threatened to spread into the Ritz Theater were contained in a residential apartment on the second floor of the building on E. Broadway.
City Council members said measures would be taken to prevent kids from leaving their bicycles parked on the sidewalk in front of theatres.
90 YEARS AGO: 1931
E.A. Swain was appointed receiver for the Blanchard-Hamilton Furniture Company.
100 YEARS AGO: 1921
Only 5 out of 302 dairy cattle tested in Shelby County showed traces of tuberculosis. The cattle were sent to Indianapolis. If possible, they would be slaughtered for food, local officials said.
A man on a bicycle was struck by a vehicle in the Rural King parking lot. The bicyclist received stitches on his forehead and a CT scan.
Thefts were reported in the 1400 block of S. Harrison St., 1000 block of N. Riley Highway and first block of McKinley St., Shelbyville.
Rebecca (Hoban) Sangwin, 40, of Aurelia, Iowa, formerly of Waldron, passed away Wednesday, December 1, 2021, in Rochester, Minnesota. Services will be announced by Freeman Family Funeral Homes and Crematory, Carmony-Ewing Chapel, 819 S. Harrison St. in Shelbyville. Online condolences may be shared with Rebecca’s family at www.freemanfamilyfuneralhomes.com.