Archive for December 27, 2011

McCROSKEY GETS HALL CALL

Mike McCroskey led the 1993 Kokomo Lady Wildkats to the IHSAA state championship. (Photo courtesy of the Sargasso)

BY DEAN HOCKNEY

Kokomo High School girls basketball state champion coach and 2008 Howard County Sports Hall of Fame inductee Mike McCroskey is a legend. And now the legend will join a class of 11 women and men who have made significant contributions to Indiana high school basketball as they will be welcomed as the 11th women’s induction class to Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame in New Castle.

Including players and head coaches who won IHSAA state championships, the class is comprised of successful Indiana high school coaches and players who attained individual and team success throughout the state tournament and participating in the Indiana-Kentucky All-Star series, all hallmarks of the rich Indiana high school basketball tradition. All have also left their marks with successful careers in college and in their respective lives off the court.

Joining McCroskey in the 2012 induction class of the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame are Shelly (Brand) Adlard, Evansville Reitz, 1981; Stan Benge, Ben Davis, 1972; Anita (Folk)  George, Warsaw, 1978; Linda Godby, Warren Central, 1986; Amy Lynn Hile, Fort Wayne Dwenger, 1983; Bob Kirkhoff, Cathedral, 1953; Audrey (Baines) Moore, Jeffersonville, 1976; Sue Parrish, Marion, 1963; and Judy Burns Powell,  Marion, 1981. The St. Vincent Health Silver Medal Award will go to Sharon Roberts, New Castle,  1961.

McCroskey led his alma mater Wildkats to back-to-back single-class girls basketball state championships in 1992 and 1993 and a state runner-up finish in 1994. In 27 years of coaching, his teams at Haworth (41 wins, 25 losses), Kokomo (227-82), Northwestern (78-36) and Carroll (68-33) high schools have won 414 games with his current Carroll team standing at 7-4 with three sectional titles in four seasons.

A 1968 Kokomo graduate, McCroskey returned to his hometown and earned his coaching stripes at Bon Air Middle School as a seventh grade coach before being named the coach of the Haworth Lady Huskies in 1980. His first Husky team finished with just a single win, but he followed that with winning seasons of 9-7, 15-3 and 19-3 and was named the first coach of the combined Kokomo and Haworth high schools. In his first year as the Lady Kats coach in 1984-1985, he led the squad to its second sectional title and first-ever regional championship.

As any Lady Wildkat fan knows, McCroskey saw his greatest success at Kokomo, where in 13 years of leading the Lady Kats, he compiled a girls basketball school record 227 wins for a .735 winning percentage. Along with the pair of state titles, his Lady Kats won 12 sectionals, seven regionals, four semi-states and were ranked No. 1 in the United States during the 1993 state title season. From 1990-1994 – during the height of the Lady Kats success – Kokomo was a sensational 117-10 under his guidance.

In addition to 17 overall sectional championships (one at Haworth, 12 at Kokomo, one at Northwestern and three at Carroll), seven regionals and four semi-states, he was named the 1992 and 1993 coach of the year by the Indiana Coaches of Girls Sports Association and by the Indiana Basketball Coaches Association. He coached the Indiana All-Star team against Kentucky in 1994 and coached five Indiana All-Star players – including 1993 All-Star and the all-time leading scorer in Kokomo High School basketball history (boys and girls) Tiffany Longworth. His other Indiana All-Star players include Mistina Oliver (1993), Cari Stover (1993), Debbie Benzinger (1994) and Tamie Stiner (1997). Longworth (1,936 career points), Benzinger (1,479), Oliver (1,174) and Stiner (1,007) all rank in the top ten of Lady Wildkats all-time leading scorers, with Longworth and Benzinger standing in the top two positions.

His squads made four appearances in the IHSAA girls basketball single-class Final Four and many still consider McCroskey the best coach Kokomo High School has ever seen in any sport. He took a program that won 88 games in 10 seasons to success beyond what anyone expected – he made it a championship program and the envy of the entire state.

The Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame’s Annual Women’s Awards Banquet will be held on April 28, 2012. The ceremony will take place at the Primo South Banquet and Conference Center which is located on the south side of Indianapolis. Tickets are still available for the event. Call the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame at 765-529-1891 for more information.

For more information on the entire 11th women's class of the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame, see the Dec. 27, 2011 edition of the Sports Journal.

RIVALRY HITS CENTURY MARK

Kokomo and Lafayette Jefferson tip-off for the 100th time in boys high school basketball.

BY DEAN HOCKNEY

LAFAYETTE – In what remains as one of the longest rivalry games in Indiana high school sports, Kokomo and Lafayette Jefferson squared off for the 100th time in 100 years last Saturday evening at the Crawley Athletic Center. And for the 54th time, the Wildkats came out on top of the Bronchos 62-59. But the outcome was not the story as these two teams battled each other in a series that began in Kokomo’s ninth year of playing basketball – the 1911-1912 season.

“It is good to see this rivalry and there have been a lot of battles through the years between Lafayette Jeff and Kokomo,” said Kokomo head coach Brian McCauley after his Kats won on the road. “I remember when Richie Hammel played and led them to the state finals (1992). I know in 1996 we came over here and squeaked one out (54-47) and then they went on to the Final Four.”

McCauley said he was disappointed when the Bronchos chose to leave the North Central Conference and break up what was then a spirited conference rivalry. Jeff left the NCC in the spring of 2003 and joined the Hoosier Crossroads Conference in an effort to save travel expenses and travel time.

“I liked it when Jeff was in the conference – it is a school very similar to Kokomo and the conference demographics,” said McCauley, a former Wildkat player who competed against Jeff when it was still in the NCC. “It was tough to see them get out of the conference. They have a lot of tradition and it is a true rivalry – we are only up eight games. That is what a true rivalry is – when two teams are that close and battle on the floor every time.”

Lafayette Jeff had a strong tie to the North Central Conference, having won 10 basketball titles – its first coming in 1935. They shared the conference title in its final year of play with Kokomo and New Castle. But now, thanks to the end of single-class basketball in Indiana – the Kokomo versus Lafayette Jefferson rivalry has turned from a conference rivalry to a tournament rivalry. Since the start of multi-class basketball, Kokomo and Jeff have squared off six times, with each team winning three contests. The Kats knocked Jeff out of the sectional last year, 68-51.

“Lafayette Jeff is a big sectional rival and there is a very good chance we could face Jeff and Marion later on this year,” said McCauley, whose Kats are ranked No. 5 in Class 4A. “It is going to be tough. I think you can throw rankings out the door. They don’t give you any points when you walk in the gym. What it does do is add a target to your back, which you don’t need in this rivalry.”

As for the 100th meeting between the two teams, Jeff jumped out to an early eight point lead, but the Kats battled and grabbed an 18-16 lead after one quarter – a lead they would not relinquish. Indiana All-Star candidate D.J. Balentine led Kokomo with 24 points, 14 of which came in the first quarter after Jeff started hot. He also had a team-high six assists. LaBradford Sebree added 15 points and Tayler Persons tossed in 12 points – all in the second half.

Rashad Richardson had 23 points and 13 rebounds for Lafayette – and McCauley noted that they will have to play better defense on the Jefferson star if they meet again in March. Until then, McCauley is happy with the way the rivalry series is progressing as the Kats have won five out of the last six meetings after Lafayette had won nine out of 14.

“Since I have arrived at Kokomo, we have been able to turn the tide a little and get some wins after they won a few in a row,” he said. “That is a nice feeling.”

WILDKAT NATION MOURNS PASSING OF COACH DUNN

JESSE DUNN, 1935-2011

NOTE FROM THE PUBLISHER: Jesse Dunn was a true fan of all Howard County student-athletes, and particularly his beloved Kokomo Wildkats. He passed away Friday evening while listening to the Kokomo Wildkats battle Muncie Central on the radio. His smiling face and storytelling of past Wildkat glory will truly be missed. He had a heart of gold that - without a doubt - bled Red and Blue and the Lady Wildkat bench won’t be the same without him. Rest in peace, Jesse – it is nice knowing you will now watch over us from a much better place. Go Kats!

Jesse W. Dunn, 76, Kokomo, died at 8:54 p.m., Friday, Dec. 9, 2011, at Waterford Place Health Campus, while listening to a Kokomo-Muncie High School basketball game on the radio. He was born May 29, 1935, in Kokomo, the son of Jesse E. and Veneda (Ball) Dunn. On June 22, 1957, he married Norma J. Sparks at the Union Street Friends Church, and she survives.

Jesse was a 1953 graduate of Kokomo High School and worked for 41 years at Kokomo Gas & Fuel Co. He was the company’s General Supervisor of Construction when he retired in May of 1997. He enjoyed his work and loved the people with whom he worked. At his retirement, the Jesse W. Dunn Total Effort Scholarship for KHS seniors was established with the Community Foundation by friends and family.

He had a strong faith and all who knew him saw this lived out on a daily basis. He was a member of Oakbrook Community Church and participated in Huddle and The Great Banquet.

Jesse’s love for family and friends was followed only by his love of sports. He saw his first Kokomo High School basketball game at the age of 10 and was an avid fan ever after. He was seen as a fixture at most local sporting events. From 1966 through 1983, he only missed two events involving his two sons and daughter. According to many Kokomo fans, Jesse bled red and blue.

Jesse served as league vice president for Northside Little League in the middle 1960s. From 1967 through 1971, he coached and served as manager at UCT Little League for the Murray-Davis Aces. He was a volunteer assistant girls’ basketball coach at KHS for 15 years and until his death. He was part of the Lady Wildkats coaching staff when the team won the 2003 IHSAA Class 4A state championship with an undefeated record.

Surviving, in addition to his wife, Norma, are two sons, Michael J. Dunn (Ruth) of Kokomo, and Timothy A. Dunn (Abby) of Arvada, Col.; one daughter, Karen S Blackburn (Timothy) of Syracuse, Ind.; three grandchildren, Andrew Jones (Natalie), Kara Blackburn and Tanner Blackburn; one great-granddaughter, Carson Jones.

A Celebration of Life Service will be held at 7 p.m., Thursday, Dec. 15, 2011, at Kokomo’s famed Memorial Gymnasium, with Pastor Karl Stoneking officiating. In keeping with Jesse’s wishes, cremation will follow with private burial of the cremains. Friends may call from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 14, at Shirley & Stout Funeral Home & Crematory, Lincoln Road Chapel.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Jesse W. Dunn Total Effort Scholarship Fund in care of the Community Foundation. Envelopes will be available at the service.