OBITUARY FOR GENE F. CONARD, HOWARD COUNTY SPORTS HOF CLASS OF 2007

Gene Conard

Gene F. Conard, Kokomo, died peacefully at St. Joseph Hospital, Kokomo, on March 22, 2015. Born in Elwood, IN. on Sept. 5, 1929, Gene was the son of John and Eva Conard. His parents and a brother, George, preceded him in death. Survivors include his special lady of over 50 years, Melda Prather of Kokomo.

Gene grew up in Elwood and graduated from Elwood High School before joining the U.S. Air Force. He served four years, much of his time being spent in England.

Upon his return to the states, he began his journalism career in 1958 at the Elwood Call-Leader before moving on to the sports department of the Kokomo Tribune. He later wrote sports for newspapers in Hamilton, Ohio, Frankfort, Crawfordsville and Noblesville before returning to Kokomo to work for The Sports Page, a weekly newspaper. He later wrote sports for the Tipton Tribune and Kokomo Tribune. While at the Kokomo Tribune in the 1960s, Conard covered a wide variety of major sporting events including the 1967 MLB World Series, the Indiana Pacers run of ABA championships and the career of local professional bowler Don Johnson.

While Gene had no children of his own, he spent nearly 60 years happily writing of kids’ sports exploits. Armed with a writing style lovingly embraced by his readers, Indiana’s best-dressed sportswriter covered a variety of youth sports. Among his favorite beats were the Kids Fishing Clinic and the Haynes-Apperson Kids Track Meet in Kokomo and most recently, Tri-Central High School sporting events. He especially enjoyed reporting the Lady Trojans three consecutive IHSAA Class A state basketball championships and the magical birth of the school’s football program that included a state title in 2013. Gene considered himself fortunate to be able to follow his passion for writing sports his entire adult life.

Despite being a long-suffering fan of the Chicago Cubs, Gene nonetheless maintained an immense love of baseball at all levels. He managed the Kokomo Highlanders semi-pro team from 1965-87, never suffering a losing season while winning seven state championships. Over the years, Gene remained close to his former players.

He has frequently been honored for his writing and/or coaching, most recently in 2007 with induction into the Howard County Sports Hall of Fame. He’s also had inductions from the Kokomo Bowling Association, Indiana Wrestling Coaches Association and Indiana Semi-Pro Baseball organization.

Given the opportunity today, Gene would thank his friends as well as staff members of Great Lakes Caring who spent considerable time assisting him in his final months.

A celebration of life funeral service will be at 1:00PM, Saturday, March 28, 2015, at Dunnichay Funeral Home in Elwood.  Visitation will be Saturday from 11:00 AM to 1:00 PM at the funeral home.  Interment will follow at the Elwood Cemetery with full Military honors conducted by the US Air Force Honor Guard.  In lieu of flowers, donations in Gene’s name may be made to the Howard County Sports Hall of Fame, P.O. Box 749, Kokomo, IN., 46903-0749.

WE LOST A GREAT ONE SUNDAY: REMEMBERING GENE CONARD

Gene Conard

THE DEAN’S LIST BY DEAN HOCKNEY

A few tears came to my eyes as I watched the last of the NCAA basketball games Sunday night. No, not because my Hoosiers lost or Butler fell. It was because the sports scene in Central Indiana lost a good friend. I got a few tears as I read an email saying legendary sports writer, coach and friend Gene Conard had passed away.

For anyone who ever read a Gene Conard bylined story, you knew you were getting more than a game story. You were getting a novella – a piece of art in the form of words. He told more than the game story – his words took you to the venue. He had a way to tell the story without an overabundance of stats.

An Elwood native, Gino earned his first byline in the Call-Leader in 1958. Sports and the athletes it produced became more than a job, it was his life. And he touched thousands of them – including mine. I first met Gino while he was publishing The Sports Page in the 1980s. He hired me for the summer, and I still have that first story I wrote for him – a preview of the American Legion Post 6 baseball team. Through the years, we sat through dozens of games together – and I loved every minute of it.

When I first served as manager of the Greentown Post 317 Legion squad, one of the first calls I received was from the manager of the Kokomo Highlanders semi-pro team – a guy by the name of Gene Conard. If you were his friend, you were a friend for life and he would always offer assistance. When our Greentown team nearly knocked off Post 6 in a sectional game in Lafayette (we lost in extra innings), Gene happened to be covering the game for the Kokomo Tribune. After the game, he sat and talked to me about the growth of our program – encouraging me to keep at it.

I am sure a lot will be said of Gene over the course of the next week. Here is how his induction plaque reads at the Howard County Sports Hall of Fame (class of 2007):

A contributor to the Howard County sports community for 40-plus years, Gene Conard is known as a successful baseball coach and award-winning journalist.

Conard managed the Kokomo Highlanders semi-pro baseball team from 1965-87 — never suffering a losing season while winning seven state championships. In 2007, he was inducted into the Indiana Semi-Pro Baseball Hall of Fame.

Conard has been a sportswriter for nearly 50 years, working for daily newspapers in Elwood, Kokomo, Frankfort, Crawfordsville, Noblesville and Tipton and for two weekly publications in Kokomo. While at the Kokomo Tribune, he covered a variety of major sporting events, including the 1967 World Series, the Pro Bowling Tour and the Indiana Pacers’ run of ABA titles. His versatility showed when his piece on the death of Bobby Kennedy was judged Column of the Year.

The Elwood native has also been inducted into the Indiana High School Wrestling Coaches Hall of Fame and the Kokomo Bowling Association Hall of Fame.

My friend and fellow journalist Josh Sigler posted on Facebook, “Gene Conard had more talent in his left pinkie that I have in my entire being.” Ol’ Gino would argue that, but Josh is not far off – Gene Conard could flat out write. I know I am not the only one who will say Gino was a mentor and friend. Not by a long shot. But I sure am glad I can say it. He will be missed.

Until next time, remember to keep the man and ship in sports – and I’ll see you at the game.

Dean Hockney is the publisher of the Sports Journal of Central Indiana and sports editor of the Kokomo Herald. You can follow him on Twitter (@Sports_Journal) for the latest in local sports news and game reports.

DEAN’S LIST: THERE IS NO ROOM FOR RABBIT EARS BY IHSAA GAME OFFICIALS

IHSAA

DEAN’S LIST BY DEAN HOCKNEY

In the world of social media, “JK” means “just kidding.” But the Kokomo Wildkats found out that in the world of sectional basketball, “JK” means J.K. Weider – an IHSAA official who appears to have rabbit ears bigger than the Kokomo Jackrabbits logo.

In Kokomo’s sectional opener Friday night, the Kats were in a hot battle with sectional favorite McCutcheon. With 17 seconds left, Kokomo trailed 59-51 when Jordan Matthews was fouled, sending the Kats record-breaking free throw shooter to the line with two shots. Kokomo head coach Matt Moore, unhappy with a previous call, said something to Weider and drew his first technical foul of the season. Then, 3.9 real-time seconds later, Moore drew a second tech – while walking away from the official in a loud gym – and an ejection signal from Weider. McCutcheon went to the free throw line, hit all four shots and got the ball. In a sense, the game was over.

“I thought our guys were getting bullied on some calls,” Moore said after the game. “He got me (with a tech). I said, ‘That’s garbage,’ and he got me again.”

Those two technical fouls, which resulted in an automatic ejection, means Moore will also be suspended for one game by the IHSAA. Since the Kats lost the game, that suspension will carry-over to the season opener against Western next November in Memorial Gym.

But Weider was not done. After the technical foul shots, he got an earful from a Kokomo fan sitting on the front row. The official did not seem to like that and called for school administrators to come over. With a pair of Lafayette police officers in tow, a Lafayette Jeff administrator arrived and the fan was asked to leave the Marion Crawley Athletic Center.

For anyone who reads my column on a regular basis, you know how much I preach good sportsmanship. So you might be surprised that I am calling out this official and defending Coach Moore. And here is why. I have sat within earshot of Coach Moore for a majority of the season and have walked into his practices unannounced many times; I have NEVER heard a curse word come from his mouth.

Never!

Swearing gets a lot of coach’s technical fouls, not saying a call is garbage. When Coach Moore says he did not swear at the official, I believe him. So why in the world did Weider throw out the coach in a critical situation during a sectional game? Moore was by no means demonstrative in his actions – and I guarantee this was not a situation in which he wanted a tech. He was not yelling and screaming, waving his arms or stomping his foot. I went back and watched the footage, and I still cannot figure out why this official called a tech. You can’t hear what Moore said, but I am not sure Weider could either due to the crowd. For the record, this is the same official who called a technical foul on Marion coach James Blackmon in the opening round of the sectional.

As for the fan; he did not get out of his seat. In fact, Weider is seen turning around and addressing the fan while the fan was sitting. Seconds later, he calls for assistance. To me, it almost looked as if the official was baiting the fan. Why turn and address him? From what I understand, the fan was not out of line.

I asked the IHSAA for a copy of the officials report concerning the ejection to learn why Weider thought it was necessary for Moore to leave the premises. IHSAA administrators replied via email, “We don’t share the unsporting behavior reports.” I have to wonder what they are hiding. Why wouldn’t they release the report to the public? What is Weider’s justification for tossing a coach in a close sectional game?

There is an unwritten rule that an official should not give a coach a quick second technical foul; let another official give it.

  • In December 2014, Kathy Jenkins wrote a guide on technical fouls for the National Federation of State High School Associations, saying, “When you give a T, walk away. Make them earn the second one.”
  • The Texas Association of Sports Officials posted, “Once you issue the Technical, MOVE AWAY to the center court. You don’t want to be the catalyst for a second technical by standing there and goading or baiting him into the next technical, which is an automatic ejection. This is unacceptable behavior by the official.”
  • As for officials dealing with spectators, the IHSAA Officials Handbook states, “Don’t talk to the fans. This only encourages them to talk to you, and you may very well wish you had not encouraged them. Try not to have ‘rabbit ears!’ Even if you do hear comments made by fans, you must learn to ignore them and not let them influence you.”

Weider failed on all parts. While it is within his rights to call two technical fouls and have game administrators deal with fans, my observance was that this was not the right time or correct call for either. To me, he took the technical foul and made it personal to him. And in the process, he cost the Kats any chance for a miracle victory while sending Coach Moore to the locker room for the final 17 seconds and the entire 2015-2016 season opening game. I am not saying Kokomo lost because of him, but Weider sure altered the end of a great sectional contest.

The IHSAA needs to look at this – and I hope they reconsider the suspension. The crew at the Lafayette sectional whistled four technical fouls in the tourney – with Weider calling three of them. The game is for the student-athletes, not the official’s ego. The official should never be the bigger part of the game. It is a shame the way the game ended. It would be a shame if another coach has to deal with this official in tournament play. And it is a shame that Coach Moore will have to miss opening night next season.

Until next time, remember to keep the man and ship in sports – and I’ll see you at the game.

Dean Hockney is the publisher of the Sports Journal of Central Indiana and sports editor of the Kokomo Herald. You can follow him on Twitter (@Sports_Journal) for the latest in local sports news and game reports.