BY DEAN HOCKNEY
KOKOMO, Ind. – For the second time in six years, the Howard County Sports Hall of Fame called a member of the Bell family to inform them of their induction into the local organization. While Greg Bell earned his in 2012 as the longtime voice of the Kokomo Wildkats on the radio, his son Matt earned a berth for becoming the face of the Kats during a stellar four-year career on the courts of basketball and tennis.
Last Saturday evening, Greg Bell served as emcee during the 15th annual induction ceremony of the Howard County Sports HOF, where he was able to help induct his son Matt and the rest of the class of 2017: John Bingaman, Mike Blackburn, Dan Dunn, Tom Hilligoss, Dick Sanburn Jr. and Jenna Tarkington-Mumaw.
For Matt, having his father introduce him at the Hall of Fame banquet was a dream come true. He had attended Wildkat basketball games his whole life, and would listen to his dad call the Kats games on WIOU when they were on the road. In fact, the only thing he wanted to do was be a Kat.
“My dream, for as long as I could remember, was to play basketball for the Kokomo Wildkats in Memorial Gym,” said the younger Bell. “For me, the mecca of basketball is Memorial Gym. I would follow my dad’s games and follow him to the gym. I got to watch and play with some great players because of that before I ever became a Wildkat.”
While dressed in the red and blue, Bell scored 988 career points – and only an ankle injury kept him from joining the prestigious 1,000 Point Club. He hit 80-percent of his free throws as a Wildkat and better than 40-pecent of his 3-pointers. He was also a prolific tennis player at Kokomo, finishing with a 58-13 record.
He credits former Kokomo head coach Mike Wade with preparing him to play NCAA Division I basketball at the United States Military Academy at West Point – better known as Army.
“He was an outstanding coach and really connected with the kids and developed us into young men. At some point during my junior year, he asked me if I wanted to play Division I basketball. I told him it was my dream and he said he would coach me like that. He then held me accountable and made me take ownership of the team. At Army, I played for Jim Crews, and I was more prepared to play as a freshman than anyone else in my class because of Mike Wade.”
At West Point, Bell was a three-time team captain and Most Valuable Player while also being named an All-Patriot League second team performer. He graduated with 1,353 career points. While on active duty as an Army officer, Bell played on the United States Armed Forces squad in the World Military Basketball Championships.
Bell said he was blessed to have his dad broadcast every high school basketball game in which he played.
“He is the best play-by-play announcer I have ever heard on any level,” said the younger Bell of his dad. “I saw him getting up at four or five a.m. to get ready for a game. And I learned from that. And I also can never think of a time that he would not go out and play catch or shoot hoops with us.”
Champion of the links
John Bingaman arrived in Kokomo and decades as an educator, athletic director and coach in the Kokomo School Corporation. But he is best known as the longtime AD of the Haworth Huskies and the state champion golf coach of the Kokomo Wildkats.
It was on the golf course where he made the significant impact. Bingaman amassed a 228-83 lifetime record and led Haworth to a state runners-up finish in 1983. He then guided the Wildkats to a pair of state championships in 1985 and 1986. The 1986 Kats shot a 36-hole score of 607, which was 23 strokes better than the ’85 team and second-best in IHSAA state finals history.
“People would ask how I did it,” recalled Bingaman. “I told them (it is like) finding the best horse to race, hang on real tight and keep pointing in the right direction and he will take you places you have never been.”
During his tenure, Bingaman was named conference coach of the year six times, won four Olympic and two North Central Conference championships and led 13 squads to the IHSAA state golf finals. He was inducted into the Indiana High School Golf Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 1994.
The doctor of athletics
Dr. Mike Blackburn is considered the father of the modern look of the Northwestern High School athletic program after serving as athletic director from 1978-2005. Under his guidance, Tiger athletics grew to encompass all 20 IHSAA sanctioned sports.
“I want to thank the hall of fame committee; it is great to be here,” said Blackburn.
After retiring from Northwestern, Blackburn became involved on a full-time basis with the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association, first as the national organization’s associate executive director and in 2016 as the executive director. Under his guidance, the NIAAA is training athletic directors to reach higher levels.
“Howard County is blessed with a special love for high school sports,” said Blackburn. “We have nearly eight million kids who participate in interscholastic sports nationwide. I don’t know that many of them have experience that we have here. It is not that way everywhere in the United States. Howard County does it well and I am very proud to be a part of it.”
He was previously inducted into the National Association of Sports and Physical Education Presidential Hall of Fame and the Northwestern High School Hall of Fame.
The king of horseshoes
For many Americans, horseshoes is a recreational sport that takes place at cookouts or when camping. But not for Dan Dunn, who is considered the best horseshoe pitcher to ever play in Howard County. The 1958 Kokomo High School graduate has won tournaments at every level of play – from world championships to local titles.
“I have played my whole life, but really got serious in the last 10 years,” said Dunn. “I get up and pitch every morning and a lot of evenings.”
Dunn’s accomplishments include a pair of world championships at the 2014 National Horseshoe Pitchers Association Team World Tournament (Class A) and the 2017 NHPA World Horseshoe Tournaments (Elder A1 Division). He has five top 10 world championship finishes.
Just how good is he? At the time of his induction, he was ranked third in the nation in the Elders Division with a 79.18 ringer percentage.
On the national stage, Dunn was crowned the 2007 national champion (Senior Division) at the National Senior Olympic Games in Louisville, Kentucky.
Champion in track and football
Many consider Tom Hilligoss to be one of the best multi-sport athletes to ever play at Kokomo High School. A standout on the basketball court, he was also an all-state football performer and a state champion in track and field.
“I had a great opportunity to play high school sports in Howard County when it was a community thing, especially basketball and football,” recalled Hilligoss. “People talked about it everywhere. Kautz Field and Memorial Gym were packed for every game. They had drawings for tickets in basketball. It was amazing.”
On the football field, he was a starting offensive and defensive end for the Wildkats, which were ranked No. 2 in the state his senior year. His junior season, the Kats were undefeated and earned a mythical state championship nod. He earned several All-State first team accolades his senior season and played for Indiana University on a football scholarship.
On the basketball court, Hilligoss earned All-North Central Conference third team honors his senior season. During his final two seasons, Hilligoss led the Kats to a 38-15 record.
His most recognized achievement was winning the IHSAA shot put state championship with a throw of 56 feet, 11 3/4 inches during his junior year of 1964 – he also won the North Central Conference meet, Kokomo Relays, IHSAA sectional and IHSAA regional that season.
More than a shoe salesman
Long before the internet, athletes had to call or walk-in to a store to get a pair of shoes, a new basketball or a baseball bat. For five decades, Dick Sanburn Jr. owned a business synonymous with the sporting goods industry in the Midwest – Dick Sanburn Sporting Goods. The business was started by his father and continued until Junior’s retirement – and they were known for superior customer service and going the extra mile.
“This is a great honor, and I want to say that the Sanburn’s love Kokomo,” exclaimed Sanburn.
Looking back, he said the industry has changed drastically – and now with online shopping, small stores like his just do not exist.
“You could get Chuck Taylor Converse for $7.95 and you had four choices – high or low, black or white. Now they are 150 bucks a pair,” he said. “Riddell helmets were $29.95. Baseball bats were $10.95. And uniforms have change so much. We were proud to sell those items and we considered our customers like family. We did whatever we could to make people happy – I would drive where needed to get a size.”
Sanburn, while known for selling shoes, was also an athlete. He played baseball at both Kokomo High School and Ball State University. He then went on to catch for 17 years for Punchy’s Radiator – one of the top fastpitch softball teams in the state.
The queen of somersaults
Howard County is not known for producing top-level gymnasts, and that is what makes Jenna Tarkington-Mumaw’s story so amazing. The Northwestern High School graduate rewrote the Tigers record book and is one of the best athletes to ever grace the school’s hallways.
The 2003 graduate finished her career with six IHSAA medals and was the 2002 floor exercise state champion and the 2003 all-around state runner-up. She reached the state finals 18 times while winning 17 Mid-Indiana Conference, 16 sectional and nine regional titles.
“I got my start in gymnastics when I was two-and-a-half,” she said. “Mom enrolled me at that time and I started competing at age six. I was ready to quit in eighth-grade, but Western coach Margie Lea talked me into competing in high school even though they were our rival. That is the kind of person she is.”
Mumaw continued her career at Ball State, where she was a two-time Mid-American Conference champion on the vault. She still holds the school record with a 9.9 on the beam and is second with a 9.95 on the vault.
In 2003, she earned USAG Level 9 Eastern Senior C national championships on the beam, floor and all-around.
Howard County Sports HOF contributed to this story