BY DEAN HOCKNEY
KOKOMO, Ind. – Kokomo has a long and proud history when it comes to the world of sports. Whether it is Tod Sloan dominating horse racing in the early 1900’s to standing room only crowds for Wildkat basketball in the 1950’s and ‘60’s to UCT earning a Cal Ripken World Series Final Four berth last year, the Howard County area is well known for producing first-class athletes and teams.
That said, it comes as no surprise that most Kokomoan’s are fans of athletics and enthusiastically cheer on their favorite teams and players – whether they have a direct tie or not. And that fan base includes a man who may be the biggest fan of all – the honorable mayor of the City of Kokomo, Greg Goodnight. Look around the stands at any number of sporting events around the City of Firsts and you might see Goodnight and his wife cheering for the local squads.
“Part of it is that (sports are) so contagious,” said Goodnight, who often rides his bike to games with wife Kelli. “The more you go and get familiar with the kids and the way they play, the more important it is to get it on the schedule to go back. We have all-sports tickets for Kokomo and friends of ours have kids who are active in Taylor sports so we try and get out there as much as possible. And of course, the fact that we have added collegiate athletics in Kokomo makes it important to support them.”
And when it comes to citizens saying there is nothing to do in Kokomo, he points right back to the athletic scene in Howard County.
“It is a great value when you look at the entertainment value of high school and college athletics in the area,” he said. “It is the best bang for your buck. We went to quite a few Kokomo boys varsity basketball games, including some away games, and a couple of Lady Kats games. And I have a niece who plays basketball for Logansport, so we will get out to some of those games as well. Sports are a great entertainment value.”
Goodnight admits he was not a gifted athlete coming up through the Kokomo school system. He dabbled in football at Maple Crest Middle School, but by the time he arrived at Haworth High School he knew his career was at an end.
“For football, I figured my time was better spent after my freshman year working and making a little extra money. I was about the smallest kid out there,” the mayor said with a laugh. “I was better off watching. And like I said, the more you are there, the more you want to be there.”
His support for athletics has never waned since that early discovery, even with the ultra-busy schedule of serving on the Kokomo Common Council or as mayor of the City of Firsts. And with the arrival of Cougar athletics at Indiana University Kokomo, Goodnight welcomed the newcomers with open arms. In fact, Goodnight said he was at the initial tailgate for IUK volleyball when it debuted at Northwestern High School in 2011. He was also instrumental in finding a new home for Cougar athletics at the new Cougar Gym, located behind Memorial Gymnasium in downtown Kokomo.
“That wasn’t the first place we thought of. We originally looked at the old Washington School gym,” said Goodnight. “It just couldn’t be converted into a college size basketball court. But we wanted to retrofit a gym and (Kokomo School Superintendent) Dr. Jeff Hauswald actually came up with the idea, I am just glad the city could assist.”
As mayor, Goodnight understands he might be the center of attention when he walks into a local athletic venue. He recalled one bike ride which took them past the Cougar Gym and Kelli ran in to watch a little of the volleyball game. He said he was afraid he would get caught up in a conversation and he wanted to get home, so he stayed outside. But on normal nights, that is not a problem – people are respectful of his away-from-the-office time.
“If (someone stops me), it is usually good,” he said. “If I am there I try not to get in anyone’s way. I am a fan and it is fun.”
Goodnight has the rare distinction of having four separate school corporations pulling students from within the city limits of Kokomo. Only Eastern resides outside of Kokomo, although they have Kokomo residents attend the Greentown school via open enrollment. Goodnight said few mayors have that many schools, and outside of Indianapolis, he said Noblesville comes to mind. The Noblesville mayor has three school systems and Goodnight said they have talked about the distinction – not only for athletics but the uniqueness in general. The Kokomo mayor said he has attended contests at all four school corporations.
“I am for all of the local teams – especially when they play other areas. It is a little difficult when it is two Howard County school’s playing each other,” said Goodnight. “We make it out the best we can.”
As he pointed to a poster of the Howard County Sports Hall of Fame, Goodnight stressed that the area is rich in athletic history, and he said he doesn’t foresee that changing anytime soon.
“There is a lot of success that has come from the area and I don’t see that as a diminishing area,” said Goodnight. “You talk about having five schools and a lot of that creates competition, and that is healthy. I love seeing Beachy or Thatcher come in and Kokomo flash on the television screen.”
The City of Firsts is a thriving sports region with a vocal cheerleader in the form of Mayor Greg Goodnight. He is a mayor, and fan, who understands the value that athletics bring to a city. But more importantly, he is a man who simply enjoys sitting in the bleachers watching Kokomo’s finest play hard and represent the name on the front of the jersey.