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.