One Small Town, One Crazy Coach
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2014 AAUP Public and Secondary School Library Selection

Connect with the author and book: Mike Roos on Twitter Mike Roos's website One Small Town, One Crazy Coach on Facebook Related video: Ireland Spuds 40th Anniversary Video

In the summer of 1962, the peripatetic and irrepressible Pete Gill was hired on a whim to coach basketball at tiny Ireland High School. There he would accomplish, against enormous odds, one of the great small-town feats in Indiana basketball history. With no starters taller than 5'10", few wins were predicted for the Spuds. Yet, after inflicting brutal preseason conditioning, employing a variety of unconventional motivational tactics, and overcoming fierce opposition, Gill molded the Spuds into a winning team that brought home the town's first and only sectional and regional titles. Relying on narrative strategies of creative nonfiction rather than strict historical rendering, Mike Roos brings to life a colorful and varied cast of characters and provides a compelling account of their struggles, wide-ranging emotions, and triumphs throughout the season.



Publié par
Date de parution 17 septembre 2013
Nombre de lectures 0
EAN13 9780253010353
Langue English

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One Small Town, One Crazy Coach is a piece of Indiana basketball history that reawakens memories of the glory days of high school teams in Southern Indiana.
- CHRIS MAY , Executive Director, Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame
Fifty years ago the term Hoosier Hysteria had a truly special meaning and a band of Spuds solidified it. In short, Mike Roos s work about this unique team and special time is a must read! Any true Hoosier will be taken to a better place!
- JERRY REYNOLDS , Director of Player Personnel and Broadcaster for NBA Sacramento Kings
For anyone who grew up in this basketball crazy state One Small Town, One Crazy Coach is a must read. Mike Roos takes us on a wonderful trip back to when Hoosier Basketball was the ONLY game in town not just a story about High School Hoops but an inside look at that glorious era when Indiana Boys basketball meant everything to an entire community.
- MIKE BLAKE , NBC Sports Commentator
Many of the schools Ireland High School played in 1962-1963 disappeared in the consolidation rush of the 1970s. Mike Roos grew up in this world ( the golden age of Indiana high school basketball ), his father was the principal of Ireland High School during its trip to the promised land, and he knows basketball inside and out. I can t imagine anyone more qualified than Mr. Roos to bring Indiana high school basketball history to life-especially in this the 50th anniversary year. His is indeed an original-and valuable-work.
- DON DAIKER , Emeritus Professor of English, Miami University, Oxford
Mike Roos has captured for basketball fans and general readers alike the essence of what Indiana basketball and small-town life was all about in the 1960s. Along the way, there s lots of string music that will send readers right back to a bygone golden era of Hoosier Hysteria.
- JOE DEAN , Color Commentator for SEC basketball
A great tribute to Coach Pete Gill and the 1963 Ireland Spuds. It is a message of faith as a crazy coach leads an underdog team to high achievements against all odds. This book is a true picture of what small-town basketball was like in southern Indiana in 1963, and the power of small-town spirit.
- DON BUSE , Former ABA and NBA All Star, Indiana Pacers
Mike Roos cleverly articulates the trials and tribulations faced by all small-town Indiana basketball coaches during an era of Hoosier Hysteria when against all odds, little-known high schools became legendary in defeating those larger schools that routinely dominated the game. Relive one such unpredictable quest orchestrated by Pete Gill s motivational style and executed by the 1963 Ireland Spud players who believed in their coach.
- JACK BUTCHER , Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame
Mike Roos s One Small Town, One Crazy Coach is a wonderful addition to the literature of the only game that matters in the Hoosier state. Fans of Hoosiers and John Feinstein s A Season on the Brink will discover not simply a tale of Davids taking on Goliaths but a tribute to the villages and hamlets of the Midwest, many of whose home high schools disappeared thanks to public-school consolidation in the 1970s. The minute Ireland s gentle giant principal, Jim Roos-the author s father-hires the raw, impassioned Pete Gill to lead the Spuds, readers also know they re meeting one of the all-time characters in coaching-a man with a peculiar mixture of discipline and impulse, and one given to spectacle. The iconic moment Gill tosses his trousers into the stands captures the sheer exhilaration of victory-a rightful reminder that winning is as much about giddy absurdity as sentimental triumph.
- KIRK CURNUTT , author of Breathing Out the Ghost, winner of the 2008 Best Books of Indiana Award for Best Novel
Memories of 50 years ago After reading the book, Pete [Gill] was crazier than I imagined.
- JIM JONES , Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame Coach
One Small Town, One Crazy Coach is an outstanding book that reflects the true passion of high school basketball in Indiana and its impact on a community. This story is a clear expression of a coach and his team s unwavering belief in accomplishing something special. You ll thoroughly enjoy following the 1963
Ireland Spuds as they chase their piece of Indiana Basketball History.
- MICHAEL LEWIS , Assistant Coach, Butler University


The Ireland Spuds and the 1963 Indiana High School Basketball Season
Mike Roos
This book is a publication of
Quarry Books
an imprint of
Indiana University Press
Indiana University Press
Office of Scholarly Publishing
Herman B Wells Library 350
1320 East 10th Street
Bloomington, Indiana 47405 USA
Telephone orders 800-842-6796
Fax orders 812-855-7931
2013 by Michael Roos
All rights reserved
No part of this book may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying and recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. The Association of American University Presses Resolution on Permissions constitutes the only exception to this prohibition.
The paper used in this publication meets the minimum requirements of the American National Standard for Information Sciences-Permanence of Paper for Printed Library Materials, ANSI Z39.48-1992.
Manufactured in the United States of America
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Roos, Mike.
One small town, one crazy coach : the Ireland Spuds and the 1963 Indiana high school basketball season / Mike Roos.
pages cm.
ISBN 978-0-253-01028-5 (pb : alk. paper) - ISBN 978-0-253-01035-3 (ebook) 1. Basketball-Indiana-History. 2. High school sports-Indiana-History. I. Title.
GV885.72.I6R66 2013.
1 2 3 4 5 18 17 16 15 14 13
Jim and Betty Roos,
Pete Gill, Red Keusch,
and all the Ireland Spuds of 1963
Thine was the prophet s vision, thine
The exaltation, the divine
Insanity of noble minds,
That never falters nor abates,
But labors and endures and waits,
Till all that it foresees it finds
Or what it can not find creates.
-Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Keramos
In 49 states it s just basketball . But this is Indiana!
1 Gloomsday
2 No Irish in Ireland
3 Neither a Drunkard Nor a Bank Robber
4 Baptisms
5 Turkey Run and the White Horse Tavern
6 A Wop and a Wimp and a Moon
7 Too Much Is Not Enough
8 Life under the Knife
9 Ice Man
10 Your Blood, Your Sweat, Your Tears
11 Drill, Baby, Drill!
12 Soap and Towel and Wings of Fire
13 Highway 61 Revisited
14 The Buy In
15 Devil in Blue Jeans
16 Coal for Christmas
17 I d Like to Teach the World to Sing
18 Of Jeeps and Giants
19 The Dude
20 Preliminaries
21 Walk Like a Man
22 The Prophet s Vision
23 Divine Insanity
24 Keep Your Pants On
25 The Axe Just Fell
26 Fame
27 Small Potatoes
28 Invasion of the Little Green Men
This book has been a ten-year a labor of love-or fifty years, if you care to go back to the beginning. My father was in his second year as principal of Ireland High School, and I an eleven-year-old fifth grader, when the Ireland Spuds made the Sweet Sixteen of Indiana High School basketball in 1963. I was present for most of the games involved and regarded these people as my heroes and source of inspiration, a flame that has never died. In 2003, I attended the fortieth anniversary celebration of the Spuds accomplishment and recognized that this was a story someone needed to preserve and share with the world. My only regret is that it took me so long to hear the calling.
However, the book is neither a memoir of my own experiences (which would not be very interesting) nor a straight historical account of a magical season. In setting this story down for posterity, I wanted as much as possible to recreate as vividly as possible those long-lost times, which will never return, and the extraordinary people involved, and so I decided to employ some of the techniques of fiction in bringing the story to life. While all the significant events in this book are factual and true, at times I have reimagined moments and conversations in order for the characters to breathe more freely and appear to live on the page. In all of these recreations, I have made every effort to stay true to the spirit of the events and the personalities involved. I hope my methods not only make for a more enjoyable reading experience but also enable you to feel more powerfully the emotions of the characters.
Those emotions were indeed powerful, as anyone who went through the experience can attest. Why so? And why is this story worth the telling? There are several reasons. It s true, the Spuds did not win the state championship as did Milan in 1954, the only truly small school ever to accomplish the feat while the Indiana state tournament was still a winner-take-all one-class tournament. But let s not forget that the Milan accomplishment was no fluke. In 1954, the Milan squad was making its second consecutive appearance in the Final Four, with most of the same players who were there the year before. Milan demonstrated its greatness as a team by having to go through the Indianapolis Semi-State and defeating big school powerhouses like a young Oscar Robertson s Indianapolis Attucks team. In 1954, both Bobby Plump and Ray Craft made the Indiana All-State Team, and both went on to play four years and star at Butler University. Plump set Butler scoring records and became one of the NCAA s all-time best free throw shooters. In short, the Milan team did not overachieve. It was a worthy state champion and deserves all the glory it has received in Indiana basketball lore.
But I would argue that the odds against what the Ireland Spuds accomplished in 1963 were much greater than those against Milan in 1954. First, the population of the town of Ireland was less than half that of Milan and the school enrollment roughly half. Milan s path through the Versailles Sectional and the Rushville Regional was probably much less challenging than the path facing the Spuds, since the Indians did not have to overcome any large-school powerhouses before reaching the Sweet Sixteen. In contrast, year in and year out, Ireland had to face the dominance of Jasper, Huntingburg, and Springs Valley, large schools that together had won more than two-thirds of all the local Sectionals in which Ireland competed. In addition, the Huntingburg Regional then hosted winners from the Washington and Vincennes Sectionals, most commonly the host schools, both of which were large enrollment juggernauts of long standing.
Not only was Ireland more handicapped by the size of its enrollment than was Milan, but it also faced a far greater handicap in the quality and size of its players. The tallest starter for the Spuds in the tournament was Pat Schitter at five feet ten inches. Forwards Dennis Red Keusch and Ron Klem were five-nine and five-seven, respectively. Their tandem of guards, Dave Small and Joe Lents, were both listed at five-eight. Small and Lents were fine players, but they were not All-Staters of the caliber of Bobby Plump and Ray Craft. The rest of the Spuds would have struggled to make most other squads. As a consequence, the Spuds were smaller than every team they faced, and naturally their height deficit only increased the farther they got in the tournament. Though no official statistics exist, it is unlikely that any other team as vertically impaired as Ireland ever advanced so far in the state tournament. Milan s talented players, on the other hand, possessed better-than-average height, with several players over six feet. Milan never had to be intimidated by the height of its opponents the way Ireland did.
Then there are the two coaches. Both Marvin Wood of Milan and Pete Gill of Ireland replaced highly popular predecessors in the coaching position. And both believed in a disciplined style of play. But there the similarities end. Marvin Wood was by all accounts a fine upstanding citizen, still in his twenties when he took the Milan job. Though he faced some initial opposition from townsfolk who still supported former coach Herman Snort Grinstead, Wood soon won over the town with his team s success. Pete Gill, on the other hand, came to Ireland out of a checkered and somewhat mysterious past, which had shown little promise of greatness. Principal Jim Roos (my father), a very straight arrow if there ever was one, followed a pure gut instinct in hiring Pete to replace the highly successful Jerome Dimp Stenftenagel, doing so without even checking references. Before coming to Ireland, Pete s coaching career consisted of one year as head coach at Burnside, Kentucky, before moving to Indiana for a year as an assistant at Roanoke, then two years as head coach at Switz City, and one year at Turkey Run. At that point, his high school coaching record was a modest 66-48, with no postseason tournament wins to show for his efforts. The best he could say was that he hadn t been fired from any of these jobs, perhaps because he left before his employers had the chance.
Yet there was no questioning the man s passion for and knowledge of basketball. Everyone who knew Pete Gill, whether they loved or hated him, agreed he was an unforgettable character. Jim Roos took one of the wildest chances of his lifetime in hiring him, although he soon recognized that his hands would be full throughout the year trying to keep under control public relations disasters resulting from Pete s highly unconventional antics. In sum, few people looking at Pete Gill s record and his personality would have predicted a high degree of success, even without the other obstacles the Spuds faced.
And then there are the special personalities of the Spuds players. It is no slight against the extraordinary talents of the Milan players to say that the Spuds players each had fascinating stories, filled with their own unique and sizable obstacles. As I interviewed them individually, I recognized that each of them carried a book s worth of material, and they all contributed heroically to the 1962-63 team s success. I only hope I ve captured enough of the highlights here for you to measure their heroism. And I do not use the word heroism lightly.
I assume that the Milan story, as much through the movie Hoosiers as through accounts of the actual team, is familiar to just about every reader likely to pick up this book. And that special team s story and the golden period of Indiana basketball, the 1950s, has been preserved in the film, although more than a little fancifully, and in Greg Guffey s fine book The Greatest Basketball Story Ever Told. But the 1960s also represented a golden age as well, the last decade before consolidation changed forever the tenor of Indiana basketball by wiping out the vast majority of little high schools, which had been competing alongside the big schools every year in the wide-open state tournament known as Hoosier Hysteria. Even though the single-class tournament continued through 1996, it was never the same again after consolidation took away the main identity of so many small communities throughout the state. By 1970, not only was Ireland gone, but also most of its opponents were as well, including Holland, Spurgeon, Otwell, Birdseye, Richland, Lynnville, Loogootee St. John s, Washington Catholic, Chrisney, and Winslow. Ferdinand absorbed Birdseye to become Forest Park. Even Huntingburg lost its school name when it absorbed Holland and became Southridge. Of the small town schools, only Dubois has managed to keep most of its old identity, though it is now known as Northeast Dubois High School, no doubt because of its location in the most isolated part of the county. For better or worse, the world of 1963 was far different from the one we inhabit today. This book is an attempt to preserve, in some small way, a time and place that is long gone and will never return.
I could not have completed this project without the assistance of a great many people. First, I wish to thank the University of Cincinnati and my colleagues at Blue Ash College for granting me the two academic leaves that provided the time necessary for travel, research, interviews, and writing. The foundation of the book is the scores of interviews I conducted over an eighteen-month period, and I wish to thank the following people for being so generous with their time in tolerating my many questions: Henrietta Allen, John Allen, Ken Breitweiser, Jerry Canterbury, Joe Dean, Jim Eck, Pete Gill, Gary Grider, Connie Leinenbach Himsel, Delbert (Junie) Himsel, Tommy Hohler, Dennis (Red) Keusch, Ann Mehne Klem, Ron Klem, Kenny Leinenbach, Levi Leinenbach, Stan Leinenbach, Joe Lents, Sonny Lents, Bill Linette, Vince Mundy, Doug Padgett, Gary Rasche, Arnie Renner, Betty Roos, Jim Roos, Bob Sakel, Pat Schitter, John Schwenk, Father Carl Shetler, Alma Small, Bill Small, Dave Small, Herman Small Jr., Sam Small, Sheryl Eskew Small, Allen Voelkel, Pete Wehr, Morris Weidenbenner, and Anthony Wigand. It saddens me greatly that Pete Gill, Red Keusch, Levi Leinenbach, Father Carl Shetler, Alma Small, and Pete Wehr have not survived to see the final publication of this book. I will never forget the hours I shared with them, the memories, the warmth, the laughter, and the tears. We all feel their loss. In addition, I wish to thank my editors at Indiana University Press, Linda Oblack, her assistant, Sarah Jacobi, Angela Burton, and copyeditor Eric Levy, for their able guidance in seeing this project to fruition. Kirk Curnutt, of the Ernest Hemingway Society, also provided sound advice. Finally, I owe much gratitude to Don Daiker, Elizabeth Loyd-Kimbrel, Philip Luther, Jim and Betty Roos, Dave and Sheryl Small, and Minsun Kim, all of whom have read early versions of the manuscript and provided invaluable commentary and much appreciated words of encouragement. This book could not have been completed in this form without all of them.
On the morning of Saturday, June 16, 1962, the sun rose over southern Indiana like an orange Rawlings basketball, but by midday it had morphed into an angry yellow seed hanging hot and sour over the tiny hamlet of Ireland, where the mood was decidedly glum. Coach Jerome Dimp Stenftenagel, beloved by nearly everyone in and around the village of some four hundred souls, had tendered his resignation at the end of the school year, following six consecutive winning seasons. In the last three, he had amassed a total of 59 wins against only six losses and had gone undefeated in the Patoka Valley Conference. These were easily the three winningest seasons in Ireland High School history, which stretched back to 1915.
Unfortunately, like every Ireland coach who had come before him, Dimp had never won a Sectional, had never gotten past the first round of the storied free-for-all Indiana state tournament. And like all but one Ireland coach before him, he had never beaten Jasper, the Spuds big and reviled neighbor to the east. And now nearly everyone in Ireland recognized that 1962 had been Dimp s best chance- their best chance-maybe for a long time, because that tall and talented starting front line of Dave Baer, Ronnie Vonderheide, and Bill Small had graduated and was gone, and the replacements-most at least a head shorter than Baer, Vonderheide, and Small-were not promising. The golden era was finished.
So who could be surprised that Dimp was gone now too-heading north, way north, north of Indianapolis even, to Lapel, to start over again as a coach? He knew what lay ahead in Ireland, and he wasn t about to beat a dead horse. And what clear-thinking person could blame him? Nevertheless, his departure was a bitter pill for the townsfolk to swallow. How could they ever replace him? And what could even the best basketball coach do with the bunch of likable runts of limited talent who would now make up the Ireland Spuds of 1963?
Just before two o clock, Pete Wehr and Alf Leinenbach were sitting wearily in the shade of the awning outside Alf s Tire and Auto Service garage near the center of town. Business was sluggish, the town almost comatose in the heat.
We ain t never gonna win now Dimp s gone, Pete said. Ain t never gonna beat Jasper. Least of all this year, with what little we got comin back. Alf wiped some grease onto his overalls and spit into the oil-stained gravel, yet said nothing. Only did it the once, you know.
I know, Wehr, I know, Alf sighed. 1940. He had heard the story many more times than he could count.
Me, Max, Art and the boys. Four left-handers. Yessiree. Weren t nobody could defend us. Beat the living crap out of Jasper, we did. Wasn t even close, 55-39. That was a dang lot of points in them days.
Forget about it, Wehr. It s gone. Leave it alone.
Pete rambled on. Then we lost the final to Petersburg. Of course, it was the Petersburg gym that year, so they had the home court. Dang Gil Hodges and them refs. We was up 17-13 with just two minutes to play. Alf Leinenbach groaned, as Pete Wehr paused briefly and then continued as the emotion built. Then Hodges fouled Charlie twiced, took the ball away twiced, and the refs wouldn t call no foul, even though a blind man could see they was both a foul. He was their boy, Hodges. On his way to the big time. That was it. They couldn t call no kind of foul on him, not their boy. Two buckets and we was on the short end. Final score: 20-19. That was it. That there was our best shot.
Alf groaned in disgust. Will you shut the heck up about 1940, Wehr? I ve heard that crap about all I can stand. This here year, 1962, was our best shot, and we couldn t do it. If this year s bunch couldn t do it, I don t see how nobody can.
Pete Wehr bent to pick up a small stone and tossed it into the center of Highway 56. It s hotter than blazes out here, Alf.
It s boilin all right.
But we beat Jasper, didn t we, now, Alf? And that s a dang sight more than any other team can say.
Alf lifted his right foot and its dirty work boot off the ground. How would you like this boot in your mouth, Wehr?
The only bunch of Spuds to ever do it, Pete went on. Beat a Cabby O Neill team, that is. That danged Irishman. That s saying something. You gotta admit.
I don t give a hoot what you did, Wehr. You didn t win no Sectional and no team from this godforsaken town ain t never won no Sectional, and if you don t at least win a Sectional it don t really mean nothin now, does it? Alf slouched back into his wooden folding chair. Jesus Lord, there ain t nothin I want more before I die. He raised his eyes to the blinding sun. Just onced, Lord, just onced before they bury me back yonder in St. Mary s cemetery, I want to see some Ireland boys cut down the nets and bring home the Sectional trophy. Just onced.
Pete Wehr curled his lip and frowned. Forget it, Alf. Ain t gonna happen this year or likely never, but sure as heck not this here year. Back in 40, now, boy oh boy, we was so close we could smell it, and Gil Hodges and them refs stole it from us. Ain t no doubt about it. Plumb stole it from us.
Alf took off his dirty cap and slapped Pete across his bald head with it. In the name of Bobby Plump, I said shut your dang pie hole, you old coot!
Alf was prepared to take a couple more swats at Pete s head when a most bizarre-looking vehicle just then rolled past, moving at a ponderously slow pace. With Alf s hat paused in midair, the two men studied the automobile as it trolled by, a battered and dirty, two-toned cream and green 59 Chevrolet Impala wagon chugging east and spewing blue smoke across Highway 56, the road that bisected the town of Ireland on its way to Jasper.
Good Golly Miss Molly, if that ain t the ugliest machine on four wheels I ever seen! Pete declared.
Chevy should ve quit for sure when they made the 57, Alf said. The 59-now that was never nothing but a big mistake.
Well, whoever the owner is of that vehicle sure ain t taking care of it.
Why the heck should he? Alf spit again into the gravel.
What s that license plate? UE? What county s that? Never seen that one before.
Probably way up north somewheres, Alf said. Just passing through.
So why s he driving so dang slow? Pete coughed, waving his arm through the cloud of exhaust smoke. Move along, fella! Take that heap to the dump!
While the 59 Impala was surely one of the ugliest automobiles Chevrolet had ever produced, with slits and projectiles and bullet points along the front grill and two huge taillights shaped like the eyes of a hungover being from a distant planet, this one, with its acrid exhaust, bald tires caked in dried mud, two missing hubcaps, large dents and scrapes on the front and side, and several pieces of chrome missing, seemed even more likely to arouse fear, loathing, and suspicion.
Then abruptly, as the demented auto was about to pass Leinenbach s Cafe a short distance down the road, it made a sharp turn to the right, into the lot in front of the restaurant, where it came to a halt. The car door complained loudly as it opened, and out stepped a wiry, pug-nosed man with a fair-haired crew-cut and a narrow black necktie dangling loose at the open collar of a short-sleeved white shirt, half out of wrinkled black trousers. The man flicked away a cigarette and stretched himself lazily, then tucked his shirttail back inside his pants. With his flattened nose pointing up into the hot air, he took note of the other sleepy businesses huddled around the town s main intersection: Bartley s Feed Mill, Wigand s Grocery, Eskew s Barbering and TV Repair Shop, the Shamrock Cafe, and Alf s competitor, D-T Auto. He had a boxer s profile and a protruding lower lip, and he moved in a studied manner, like an old-school Hollywood street cat-Jimmy Cagney or Edward G. Robinson or maybe Charlie Chaplin.
Beside him, in the center of the small parking lot, a brick planter overflowed with impassioned red and white petunias in full bloom. The man bent slightly to pinch off one of the blossoms with his fingers, lifted it to his nose to check the fragrance, thought momentarily about sticking it into his shirt pocket, but then flicked it casually into the air and watched it float gently to the ground.
He glanced at his watch and turned quickly to open the cafe door and step into the dark interior of the tavern. Inside he was met with a refreshing cavelike coolness, and when his eyes adjusted to the dimness, he found a few Saturday afternoon patrons staring at him from a long row of stools. Between bottles of liquor in the center of a shelf behind the bar, a Rawlings basketball glowed like a tabernacle in the center of an altar. Alf Leinenbach s cousin Amos Leinenbach, known as Ame among the townsfolk, was proprietor of the place, which he had made reasonably known and reasonably prosperous owing to its hallowed fried chicken recipe, a carefully guarded secret, conveniently provided by Ame s jolly mother when he opened the joint in 1949. As usual, Ame tended bar, and, along with his sullen flock of patrons, he was studying the mysterious stranger and his one unpolished black shoe placed aggressively at the top of the three stairs just inside the doorway. The fellow, who appeared to be in his early thirties, looked tough enough to hold his own in a boxing ring, slightly smaller than average in height yet clearly trim and fit. After a brief pause, he swaggered up to the bar, breaking the silence with a gruff and jarring nasally voice, a blend of an off-key tenor saxophone and a chainsaw. Anybody here could give a man directions?
He was greeted with silence. If the men had seemed interested in the stranger at first, now they seemed to find their frosted mugs of beer more intriguing. The stately, plump bulk of Amos Leinenbach stood before the bar mirror, drying a schooner with a towel.
Just whereabouts you want to go? he asked.
Well, now, said the stranger, placing his palms on the bar, I m looking for a man name of Jim Roos. I believe he s principal of your high school, is he not?
That s correct, said Ame, tossing the towel into a heap in the corner. I know Jim. A fine young fellow, fine as you ll ever want to meet. Been here one year and straightened some things out that needed straightening. Jim Roos is the kind of man who wants no crooked sticks, if you know what I mean. I have a lot of respect for him. So what do you want with him?
The stranger lifted his chin a little higher. I ve got me an appointment with him is all.
Huh! A voice huffed from the dark end of the bar. Jim Roos don t hang with your type, mister.
The stranger grinned. You don t say. Well, I do have me an appointment with him is all I can say.
And who are you? said the man at the far end. His right eye was bandaged with a mess of cotton gauze held in place by a rubber band encircling a head of unruly gray hair. What s your game?
Easy, Stevie, Ame said, raising his hand.
The stranger rested his elbows on the bar and thrust his boxer s face forward. Mister, he said firmly and proudly, my name is Pete Gill. I m a fighting Irishman is what I am. In a town called Ireland, if it s worthy of the name, I would think folks would be kinda partial to such a man as me, at least show a little respect.
We ain t none of us Irish, the one-eyed man at the end said.
Pete Gill bowed his head and chuckled. Then what, may I ask, are you doing in a town called Ireland?
Our German ancestors run the lazy Irish outta here a long, long time ago, before any of us was born, declared another man from the middle of the group.
Tell him, Leo! the one-eyed man called Stevie said.
That so?
Amos Leinenbach leaned over the bar and stared into Pete Gill s eyes. So don t think you re gonna win any friends here, Mr. Pete Gill, just because you say you re Irish. That s all these boys are saying. We all come from hardworking German stock. About all we have in common with the Irish is we like our beer.
Here s to that, Leo said, raising his schooner.
Yes, I can see how hardworking you all are, Pete Gill said, his eyes scanning the men resting comfortably on the row of barstools. Well, that don t matter anyhow. You are what you are, and I am what I am. You asked me what my game was, so I ll tell you. My game is basketball.
The room became quiet. Ame stared pointedly at Pete Gill and leaned back. Zat so? Well, now, young fella, basketball s the game of just about everybody around here, including Jim Roos. In fact, it s just about the only game in town, except for a little duck hunting. That and maybe some baseball on a hot summer s day.
What did the Cards do last night, Ame? one of the men asked.
Beat the Giants, 5-2.
That s three in a row. Who pitched? Leo asked.
Dodgers lost. Puts the Cards six and a half back now, said Stevie.
What about the Reds? asked Pete Gill.
Mister, they was crushed by the Phillies, 13-8, said Leo. They re a game back of the Cards now in fifth.
It s a tough league, said Pete.
Say that again, Leo replied. Any one of five teams can win it.
Unlike that other league, said Ame.
Damn Yankees! Stevie snorted. Why can t nobody knock them off their high horse?
Kinda like them jerks up the road, ain t they? Ame said, followed by another dead pause.
Pete Gill broke the silence. You mean the Jasper Wildcats.
Someone coughed angrily. Mister, we don t utter them words in here, Leo said.
What? Jasper ? Pete Gill laughed. Huh! I ain t afraid of no Jasper. I don t like em, but I ain t afraid of em. You fellas sure do hate Jasper, though, don tcha? Really want to kick their butt, don tcha?
Well, we give em what for in the Great Egg War, didn t we, boys? Leo said.
The Great Egg War! Pete Gill laughed. Don t believe I read about that one in the history books.
Sunday after the Sectional just this past March, Leo said. A bunch of their kids come to town and start throwin raw eggs everywheres, but they didn t know what they was in for!
I heard an Ireland boy started it, another man said. Threw an egg at one of their cheerleaders after the game.
One-eyed Stevie slammed his fist on the bar, splashing beer out of several schooners. I don t give a damn! he cried. There was no call for them to bring carloads of eggs here and bombs away on us after they beat us like that in the Sectional. Who do they think they are?
They say there weren t no more eggs in any supermarket that day, Leo said.
Yeah, but they weren t thinking, those boys, Ame chimed in. Because our boys had all the ammo they could ever want, what with all the chicken farms around here. So, naturally, our kids chased them right back outta here with their tails between their legs.
Yeah, and a whole lotta egg on their faces! Stevie said.
And everything else! Leo added. Everyone laughed raucously but then quickly fell back into silence.
Well, now, that s a good story, said Pete Gill after a while. I can relate. Yes, sir, I can relate. You see, I hate Jasper too. Had a grudge against em ever since they beat my New Albany team in the Semi-State in 1948 when I was a junior. I wanted to get back at em so bad the next year I could taste it, and then Jeffersonville beat us in the Sectional, which never should ve happened. And that was when Jasper went on and won the State.
With our boy, Dimp, Stevie said from the dark end.
I know that, Pete Gill said. I know Dimp Stenftenagel was on that Jasper team, and then he was your coach. And not a bad coach at that.
Huh! The best this town s ever gonna have, Stevie said. And now we lost him.
Well, sir, Pete Gill said, I believe the good Lord has a reason for everything. Yes, Dimp, is gone, but he will be replaced. The question is, with who? That s the $64,000 question, now, isn t it? And let me tell you, boys, that s just what I m here for.
Meaning what?
Meaning I come to town to help you people smash hell outta the Jasper Wildcats. And I don t mean with eggs! We ll do it on the basketball court, the righteous field of battle. We ll stuff a damn basketball right down their throats!
Stevie slammed his empty schooner onto the bar. Bullcrap!
Pete Gill took a step toward the far end of the bar. You want to make a wager on that, sir? Huh? I ll wager you any thing you want. I happen to know this town is in search of a new basketball coach, and that s what I m here to talk to Jim Roos about.
Ha ha! came Stevie s abrupt response.
Pete Gill advanced another step. Last week I sent Jim Roos my letter of application, and now I m here to be interviewed for the job.
What a load of horse manure, said Stevie. Others at the bar too were shaking their heads in disbelief.
I guess you ll be talking to my brother Levi then, Ame said.
How s that? Pete Gill asked. My appointment is with Jim Roos, the principal, is all I know.
My brother, Levi Leinenbach, is the township trustee, Ame said firmly. He hires and fires all the school people. He ll have something to say about who the next basketball coach is.
Well, I ll be happy to talk to anybody I need to, Pete Gill said. I reckon Jim Roos ll see to that.
I reckon he will.
Stevie rose slowly from his stool at the dark end of the bar and walked unsteadily through the gloom until he came within a foot of Pete Gill s nose, where he stopped and let his one good eye drift slowly from the tip of Pete s head to the dull black shoes on his feet. Then he sneered contemptuously. Mister whatever your name is-
Pete Gill.
Well, you re nobody to me. Even with one eye, I can see a guy like you can t even carry Dimp Stenftenagel s jockstrap.
Pete Gill did not flinch. He clenched his fist and cocked his head to one side. Well, now, mister, he said slowly, I believe you re blind in both your eyes. I played against Dimp in 1948. His team beat mine, it s true. But I m proud to say I surely held my own. I always hold my own, as a matter of fact, in every situation. And I swear on my life we would ve taken down that Jasper team in 49 if we d had our crack at em. We had the better team. I know it like I know my own heartbeat.
Yeah, and I can see what I see, Stevie sneered. Dimp s worth ten of you.
Pete s square jaw tightened, and he spoke between his teeth. Mister, I hope I get a chance to see you eat those words. Dimp was a fine player, I grant you that. And he s not a half-bad coach. But if this town gives me a chance, I ll show you what a real basketball coach is, yes, I will. Pete looked at the clock above the bar. Now if you ll excuse me, I m running a little late. I was supposed to be at Jim Roos s place at two o clock and it s almost half past. If somebody will just provide me directions, I ll leave you fellas to your beverages and be on my way.
Tell him where to go, Ame. Stevie grinned slyly and returned to his stool.
Ame chuckled and put both his meaty hands on the basketball behind the bar, then, turning and facing the center of the room, slowly and reverently raised it above his head, like a priest at high mass, as all eyes in the tavern watched.
Then he handed the ball to Pete. This is the body of our Lord. Take it and eat it. He handed the ball to Pete Gill and let out a loud roar of laughter, which the others echoed. Basketball, you might say, is our religion, Mr. Pete Gill. We live by it and we die by it. You see, we not only lost a dang fine coach this year, but we lost our best boys too. We know what lies ahead of us, and it ain t too pretty. So you come in here talking basketball, you better mean every word you say.
Pete Gill bounced the ball twice on the floor, smacked it authoritatively between his hands, and placed it on the bar. I don t blaspheme against the Lord, he said. But basketball is in my soul and in my blood, no man s more than mine.
As he spoke, Ame filled up a frosted glass schooner with beer, then raised it with both hands over his head like a chalice, as all eyes once again watched. When he lowered the schooner, he put it on the altar of the bar and slid it toward Pete Gill. This is our blood. Take it and drink it.
But Pete Gill slid the schooner back toward Ame. Thank you, sir, but I m not a drinking man.
Ame stared incredulously. You do any duck hunting, Mr. Pete Gill? he asked.
Duck hunting? Pete Gill look puzzled. No, sir, I don t. Not that I have anything against it. But I took a few potshots at Commie Mig fighters in the Korean War.
I don t care about that. Ame took a long gulp from the schooner and then turned his back to the stranger to begin rearranging the liquor bottles on the shelf. To get to Jim Roos s house, he said without looking, go on down this road about half a mile east, take a left at the first gravel road you come to, then take the first right. Jim s house is the second on the left, the last one before the cornfield. It s a new house. A ranch with a carport. Red brick, white siding. Can t miss it.
Pete Gill silently gazed at Ame s back for a moment. You wouldn t be spinning me a yarn now, would you, Mr. Leinenbach? Is that your name?
You can take my word, Ame said, still not looking up.
And stick it where the sun don t shine! Stevie laughed again.
Pete looked down the bar at the hardened eyes staring back at him. Then he looked at Ame, who turned again to face him.
I m telling you straight, Mr. Gill. Take it or leave it. Good luck with your job interview. Ame extended his hand.
Pete Gill accepted it and returned a firm handshake. Well, now, thank you very much, Mr. Leinenbach, but there s just one thing I want to make clear.
What s that?
I don t believe in luck. Luck, I always say, is where opportunity and preparation meet. This is my opportunity, and I m prepared to meet it. Pete Gill nodded to the row of heads along the bar, and then he walked out through the door, back to his battered car.
At the dark end, Stevie picked up an empty cardboard box lying on the floor and hurled it as hard as he could at the door as it closed. Nobody! he spat and stamped on the linoleum floor. If that man s a basketball coach, I m a dancing bear!
Ame tossed a towel at Stevie. Hey, you one-eyed midget! I don t care what you are. Would you please not spit on my floor?
He ain t no Dimp Stenftenagel, you can see that plain as the sorry nose on his face, said Leo.
A man should lock up his wife and daughters and all his valuables with a fella like that running loose, said Stevie.
Call up Jim, Ame, Leo said. Warn him what s coming!
Aw, Jim ll be all right, Ame said. I ain t worried about him. Ame held the schooner of beer in front of him pensively. I kinda like this Gill fella, he said. Seems like a guy who ain t gonna take nothing from nobody.
You don t think Jim and Levi ll hire a fella like that? Leo asked. You see the look in his eye? Like he s half crazy.
Ame stared through the window into the hot day outside as Pete Gill drove his cream and green contraption away. Maybe a little crazy is what we need around here. We had our Mr. Nice Guy, and Mr. Nice Guy never beat his alma mater down the road, and he never won no Sectional, and now Mr. Nice Guy s gone. Maybe what we need is to howl at the moon. Know what I mean? Nice ain t got us nowhere. Let s show some fang for a change.
Hell, Ame! Leo said with astonishment. You drinking or serving?
No Irish in Ireland
In the heat of this Saturday afternoon, the first of what Betty Roos decided would be a long hot summer in purgatory if not downright hell, she knew the day would be one of those that would drag her to the end of her wits. Wrapped tightly in the crook of her left arm, her nine-month-old baby boy, Scott, wriggled inside a freshly full diaper, while in the desperate grip of her right hand, the chubby paw of Eric, her three-year-old with Down syndrome and a wickedly contrary attitude, struggled to break free. Betty was now in the process of dragging Eric furiously out of the bathroom, where he had just gotten into the storage cabinet beneath the sink and spilled Ajax in powdery streams across the tiled floor. She had found him sitting in it, with both hands caked in gritty white paste, just as he was about to lick them clean. Having narrowly averted disaster, she left the bathroom mess for later. Now, she had to let go of Eric just long enough to yank the bathroom door closed, but it was more than enough time for him to waddle away out of reach toward the living room, with a devilish giggle.
On the verge of tears, she fairly screamed, Jim! but to no avail. Feeding off his mother s stress, Scott answered now with his own wail into Betty s ear. Hearing no answer from her husband, she let out an extended sigh of exasperation and cried, Where is he when I need him? Then she headed toward the bedroom with Scott, where she hoped to change his dirty diaper quickly and possibly prevent Eric from creating some other sort of catastrophe. Half of every day seemed to be spent changing diapers, since not only Scott but Eric too, arrested as he was in development, was still in diapers and had only recently learned to walk. Although Betty had been coaching him daily for almost two years, his finally crossing the threshold of bipedalism turned out to be more of a curse for her than a blessing. Betty told people that dealing with Eric and Scott was like raising a set of devilish twins, only worse. Now Scott was nearly ready to start walking, and then she could only imagine how frantic life would become. She could be thankful at least that Mike, ten, and Pat, seven, were reasonably independent. But at the age of thirty-two, with four kids needing to be fed and clothed and nursed and coached, she was already feeling very very old.
Living in the tiny town of Ireland only made matters worse, in her mind, though Jim spent a lot of energy trying to convince her otherwise. She hadn t really wanted Jim to take the job, only a year before. It was his first as principal, after ten years of teaching and coaching, broken up, not so pleasantly, by a stint in a sand-and-gravel pit. To Betty, it was all a sand-and-gravel pit, and Ireland was at the marly bottom of the pit.
True, they needed the extra money badly, with the four kids and mounting medical bills for Eric, who nearly died the previous winter from whooping cough. But she would have preferred that they wait for an administrative opening at Washington, where Jim had been head football and baseball coach and assistant basketball coach.
Jim had worked hard during their three years at Washington, attending summer school at Indiana University to get his principal s license, with Betty pushing his ambitions at every turn. Not that he needed to be pushed. They both wanted a better life. Neither of them had had comfortable childhoods, to say the least, so their ambitions bound them together. Betty s father, Louie McDaniel, a strict grade school teacher in Dale, had allowed his children few pleasures. Not even permitted to go out for cheerleader at Dale High school, Betty latched onto star athlete Jim Roos when they were both fifteen, and she escaped into an early marriage, to which her rigidly Methodist parents strongly objected. What? To marry a motherless Catholic son of a jobless, shiftless, no-account alcoholic? She couldn t be serious. In part, it was an intense desire in both Betty and Jim to prove her parents wrong that made them determined to work so hard to better themselves. And it succeeded after all. Eventually, Betty s parents recognized how wrong they had been about Jim.
As the McDaniels grew to admit, few people were more self-disciplined than Jim Roos. Few worked as hard, and no one worked harder. True, he had been born with certain natural talents-striking good looks, a sharp mind, a winning smile, and an extraordinarily strong and powerful body-but he honed them well. Although he was only five feet nine, his legs were as thick and as solid as twin oaks, with arms to match. He was quick and agile and excelled at every sport in which Dale High School competed. As a result, when he graduated he received a full scholarship to play football at Evansville College. Betty took a job as secretary for a coal company, and, with much stronger emotional ties between them than they had with their parents, they married after Jim s freshman year at Evansville, at the tender age of nineteen.
At Evansville, Jim earned the respect of his coaches and teammates, playing offense and defense with an intensity matched by few others and fighting off a serious knee injury his junior year. Once he broke the leg of an official who stood in the way of his making a tackle. His senior year, he was one of the team s most dependable running backs. When he graduated, now the father of an infant son, Jim found work teaching social studies and coaching football at Tell City High School.
But though football was his best sport as a player, like most Indiana boys he loved basketball best. He wasn t tall enough to be a star basketball player, but he knew he could coach the sport if he was given the chance. As assistant basketball coach under Bob Brock at Tell City, Jim learned more than he had ever learned as a player under the laissez-faire Joe Glezen at Dale, especially about the importance of defense and fundamentals. His duties at Tell City also included coaching the local Catholic grade school basketball team, which gave him the opportunity to test what he was learning under Brock. Then when his team captured the 1955 Indiana catholic school state championship, Jim s confidence as a basketball coach soared.
But the rewards were mostly intangible, and after Pat was born in 1954, he had two young mouths to feed. He and Betty were both impatient for a more comfortable life, so in the fall of 1955 he took a manager s job with a gas company in distant Connersville. But that distance from his beloved southern Indiana was too great. He just could not settle in and feel at home in Connersville. Nine months later, they moved back to Tell City, where he took a job working for his brother-in-law, Guy Neil Ramsey, managing a sand-and-gravel pit across the river in Kentucky for two years. But Guy Neil s construction and real estate development business had yet to take off, so the money still wasn t great and the work couldn t compare to the excitement he felt when he was coaching and working with kids. In 1958, he applied for and got the job as assistant football coach at Washington, Indiana.
What appealed most to Jim about the Washington job was not that he would be working with his old Evansville College teammate Lemois Wires but that he would also be assistant basketball coach, at a school with a storied basketball past, including three state championships in 1930, 1941, and 1942. He also soon discovered that the Washington boys had no real love for the violence of football. Given that attitude, he decided that no matter how skillfully he coached, they were probably never going to have great football teams in Washington. When Lemois was fired as head football coach in 1960, the school board offered Jim the job. Unenthusiastically, he accepted, but only for a year, knowing that head basketball coach Stu Chestnut planned to vacate his job at the end of 1961. If he held steady, Jim figured this might be his big opportunity to move into a head basketball coaching job.
Meanwhile, Jim patiently and diligently continued his education during the summer at IU and finally obtained his principal s license. Eric had been born in 1959, and the first six months of his life were excruciating for the whole family. Doctors recognized immediately that something was not right with him, but it took months of tests to confirm that he had Down syndrome and was virtually blind in one eye, with a malformed pupil. Even though doctors advised caution, Betty got pregnant again in 1961. Now with three young children, including one with serious medical problems, and another on the way, the financial pressures on Jim were rapidly mounting.
At the end of the 1961 season, Stu Chestnut resigned as expected, and Jim applied for the head basketball job with high hopes. But at thirty-one, with no head basketball coaching experience at the high school level, he was not realistically ready to be hired at a school like Washington, trying as it was to regain its former basketball glory. Instead, the school board hired Steve Craney, an experienced head coach with a strong record at nearby Montgomery. For Jim, this was the first significant setback of his career.
With no real zeal to continue coaching football at Washington, Jim was only beginning to explore his options job-hunting in school administration when Levi Leinenbach, the Ireland township trustee, came calling. Levi had seen a feature article about him in the Washington newspaper, in which Jim mentioned that he had ambitions in school administration. It was a bold move by Levi, caught up as he was in small-town politics and wanting to distinguish himself from his predecessor and rival, Tommy Schitter, who had hired Dimp Stenftenagel. Levi had three children in the Ireland school system, so he genuinely cared about improving the quality of education as much as possible. In Jim he recognized all the traits he was looking for in a principal: a rock-solid work ethic, ambition, discipline, charisma, smarts, and personality. And as a full-blooded German, he was a man who would fit right in with a town full of Dutchmen. Here was a man who could restore some discipline to Ireland High School, which Levi felt had been lacking under Woody Buechler, the previous principal, who had also been hired by Tommy Schitter.
The drums of school consolidation were also beating all over Indiana, and many people rightly recognized that tiny high schools like Ireland were on the verge of extinction. As a proud Spud who had played basketball for IHS in the 1930s, Levi wanted to do all he could to prevent the closure of his beloved school. In his mind, the only hope was to make the Ireland school a high-quality place to get a diploma. A man like Jim Roos, he believed, could be the savior of Ireland High School.
Jim was astounded when Levi offered him the job, after only a brief interview. Betty, however, balked. The problem wasn t the money on the table. Levi was offering Jim a raise of about a hundred dollars a month, which could significantly ease some of their financial pressures. No, for Betty the real issue was the town itself. Tiny Ireland, without even a stoplight to slow people down on their way to Jasper, was just not the kind of place in which she had dreamed of raising her children. After all, as she pointed out, even Dale, with its two thousand citizens, was a thriving metropolis compared to Ireland s four hundred. The high school, with just over one hundred students, was one of the smallest in all of Indiana, even though it drew from most of the fertile family farms in the northwestern quadrant of Dubois County. The antiquated school building predated World War I and badly needed an upgrade.
And then there was the matter of that terrible deutsch dialect the people spoke. Every one of them-man, woman, and child-sounded as though they had just arrived on a boat from Germany. Betty did not want her children to speak like that. No, she wanted them to sound as though they came from somewhere respectable. She had dreams and ambitions for her children. For them, she wanted something much better than she believed Ireland could offer. How could they ever develop their true potential in such a place?
But Jim s powers of persuasion were considerable. Eventually, he got her to relent by pointing out first that they would only be five miles from the much more sophisticated center of Jasper and, more importantly, by promising her he would only remain at Ireland long enough to build a r sum that would enable him to move up to a principal s job at a bigger and better school. Eventually, if he kept at it, he even believed he could nab a superintendent s position someplace. In his own mind, regardless of Levi Leinenbach s quixotic dreams, Jim well knew that the days were numbered for Ireland High School, but he also knew that this could be an important step along the way for him to further his career in education.
And think of this, Betty, he said, wrapping his arms around her on the couch one summer s eve. Crazy as it sounds, everybody s German in Ireland.
That s the problem, she cried. You can tell it when the first words come out of their mouths. I don t want my children to sound like that.
Aw now, Betty. I m German. Do I talk like that?
No, but your family all did.
Exactly. So why should my kids?
You re different.
Don t be silly, honey. Our kids won t get that accent. We ll see to it they don t. I ll guarantee it. The fact is, I feel like I m home here. And we Germans know how to have some fun. Nothing wrong with having a little fun, is there? Betty rolled her eyes and looked out the picture window. I know how stressed out you ve been, worrying yourself over this and that. I want you to be able to enjoy yourself. Work hard, yes, but have a little fun every now and then! Jim smiled and kissed her softly on the side of her head.
Betty grabbed a pillow and swung it at him. Poo on you! I can relax, you stupid old Kraut, you! Jim laughed and squeezed her lovingly in his strong arms.
Thus, with less than a ringing endorsement but resignation in the face of Jim s relentless optimism, Betty agreed to let him take the Ireland job, and they moved in late August of 1961, staying in a rented house until they could build themselves a spanking new home with his salary of $7,500 a year. Resting on a double lot next to a large plot of farmland, their new home was certainly the finest they had ever had: a three-bedroom, two-bath ranch, with a TV den, a full unfinished basement, and a newfangled electric radiant heating system in the ceiling. Morris Weidenbenner, an excellent local contractor, built the home, and he and his family would be Betty and Jim s next-door neighbors. Morris and Jim soon became close friends.
Still, in spite of these positives, Betty s enthusiasm did not grow during her first year there. If anything, it decreased. Not that it was Ireland s fault. Betty s backbreaking life that summer would have been much the same no matter where they were. Dirty diapers were dirty diapers-in Ireland, Washington, Paris, or Rome.
Are we having fun yet? she frequently asked Jim sarcastically.
Be patient, honey, Jim kept telling her. Life will get better. You know it will. Keep your dobber up, as my grandmother always said.
Jim did enjoy life, but few people had the same sense of enjoyment he had. He loved hard work. It gave him immense satisfaction. And that may have been why no one, it seemed, could outwork Jim Roos. He plunged into his first principal s job with a relentless drive and energy that shook up students and teachers at Ireland High, who weren t used to this kind of intensity or these kinds of rigid rules. At first there was some resistance, but eventually Jim earned respect, because, as they came to see, he was always fair and always honest with everyone. And he had that German sense of fun, too.
The only real tension, though never stated or publicly acknowledged, was just a hint of something with Dimp Stenftenagel. Their relations during Jim s first year were cordial enough but never really warm. Jim respected Dimp s standing and didn t interfere with his coaching, but there were many ways in which he privately disagreed with Dimp s style, and it was not always easy to hold his tongue. He certainly would have loved the opportunity to coach the very talented players Dimp had under him in 1961-62. But he kept away from the gym for the most part and let Dimp do things his way. Jim focused his efforts on what went on in the classroom building and did all he could to foster a winning attitude there. This included a considerable amount of cheerleading in the weeks prior to the 1962 Sectional. The Spuds were entering the tournament with a 19-1 record, the best in the field, and he wanted everyone in the school and the town to believe they could actually win it for the first time in the school s history. Jim, however, was in for a shock, something he had not anticipated at all.
One day, just prior to the tournament, Dimp showed up at his office door.
Jim, what do you think you re doing?
Jim glanced up as he continued sorting through payroll statements for his teachers.
Hi, Dimp. I m checking payroll.
No, Jim, I mean going around telling kids we re going to win the Sectional.
Jim was genuinely puzzled and stared at Dimp in amazement. What could be wrong with that? I m trying to fire them up and get them to believe in themselves.
Dimp scraped the sole of his shoe on the threshold saddle and stared at the floor. I don t know, Jim, he paused. What if we lose?
Jim was stunned. Dimp, I don t think about losing, he responded in disbelief. All I want to think about is winning the Sectional.
Dimp turned and walked away, shaking his head and mumbling. I don t want those kids to be let down.
And, of course, the kids were let down. Ireland did lose to Jasper in the Sectional final, 59-51, a game Jim and, in fact, even many of Dimp s supporters felt that Ireland could have won. In retrospect, it was enough to convince Jim that Dimp really didn t believe or didn t want to believe that he could ever beat his alma mater, Jasper, where he d starred on the 1949 State Championship team.
You know, Betty, Dimp s a fine man, Jim later said to his wife, but I honestly think he d feel guilty if he ever beat Jasper.
Although Dimp retained the ardent support of most people in Ireland, there was a small contingent of locals, including Levi Leinenbach, who quietly agreed with Jim. But they mostly kept mum on the topic. After so many years of frustration in the Sectional, watching Jasper dominate year after year after year, most Ireland folk had come to accept that a great regular season was all they could really hope for. Beating Jasper and winning a Sectional was just too much to ask.
Not being a native of the town, Jim Roos didn t share such an attitude. He knew Ireland had the talent in 1962 to win, and, after the fact, he was convinced that Dimp s team had needed more conditioning, more defense, and more mental toughness. Dimp probably sensed Jim s unspoken discontent, and with the departure of his best talent, he had more than enough reason to move his family north to Lapel. For his part, Jim had mixed feelings about Dimp s leaving. Dimp was too nice a man not to like. But, when he allowed himself to think about it, Jim was excited to have the chance to find a coach more in keeping with his own personal philosophy. It didn t take him long to place ads in the Evansville Courier and Indianapolis Star newspapers. And then he waited for a messiah to come.
Neither a Drunkard Nor a Bank Robber
As Betty was putting the second pin in Scott s diaper and was about to go in search of Eric, she heard a loud, metallic knock at the front screen door and wondered if it was Eric trying to escape the confines of the house.
But Eric was sitting contentedly in his own wet diaper on the hardwood floor of the living room, holding his toy saxophone in one hand while quietly watching the pattern of sunbeams on the oak planks, fascinated by the play of light on the wood grain. When the figure of a man appeared knocking at the screen door, he instinctively stood up to stare at the dark outline of the stranger against the pale blue sky in the background. Then, raising his right hand to point at the man, he lifted the horn to his lips with his left hand to screech out a series of discordant notes.
Hey there, little buddy, the strange silhouette responded. Eric paused to gape, then blew on the sax again. Ha ha! Real good! the man exclaimed, then crouched and put his face next to the screen. How about you play me Summertime and the Livin Is Easy ? The man crooned the words Frank Sinatra style, in a surprisingly silky timbre compared to the rasp of his speaking voice, and Eric blurted another sour note in response. Yeah! That s it, in the key of E minor! The man grinned, and Eric grinned back.
Hearing this annoying new voice, Betty arrived at the door warily, with Scott sagging in one arm and the other reaching down for Eric. She eyed the man with suspicion. Door-to-door salesmen came through the area with disturbing frequency, selling housewares, vacuum cleaners, bibles, whatever. Only things she didn t want or need, it seemed. She had no time to listen to yet another sales pitch.
The man remained in a crouch at the door and looked up at her with a broad grin. Mrs. Roos, I presume?
Salesmen didn t normally know her name, she thought, and this man was too unkempt to be a salesman. He did have on a shirt and tie, but they were wrinkled in a way salesmen s normally were not. And he had no sign of merchandise or briefcase, just a folded sheet of paper in one hand. Yes, she said, stepping backward and dragging Eric with her. I m Mrs. Roos.
Pleased to meet you, ma am. My name is Pete Gill. He stood up, fully revealing his rumpled black pants and the perspiration stains in his white shirt. I have an appointment with your husband.
Appointment? She searched her thoughts. Oh! Maybe he did say something about that. Pete Gill stood there grinning like a scarecrow through the locked screen door, as she moved toward the kitchen and the rear of the house. If you ll just wait, I ll see if I can find him.
Jim was in the backyard, by the edge of the cornfield, playing catch with Mike. Where have you been? There s a stranger at the door.
Stranger? It must be Pete Gill! Jim tossed the ball back to Mike. You re doing great, bud, he said. Remember, no curveballs! You ll ruin your arm at your age!
Jim put his hand on Betty s arm and whispered as he brushed past, What does he look like?
Ssshhh! Jim put his finger to his lips and winked sympathetically, then hurried through the back door toward the living room.
Pete Gill?
Jim Roos! Jim unlocked the screen door and extended his hand as Pete stepped inside. My apologies for the lateness, Pete said. Had a little car trouble over there in Washington.
That s okay. These things happen. Is it okay now?
Oh, I guess. Just needed some water. Leaky radiator. Here s my r sum , Jim. Pete handed the folded sheet of paper to Jim, who laid it on the coffee table without a glance.
Make yourself comfortable on the couch there, Pete. Want something to drink? It s a hot one. Betty made some lemonade.
Yes, sir! A lemonade would surely hit the spot! Pete sat down on the long brown couch positioned against one wall of the spacious, still sparsely furnished living room.
You drove down from Turkey Run? Jim asked from the kitchen.
Yes, sir. Turkey Run. That s where we been, me and the wife and kids, the past year.
Jim emerged from the kitchen and handed Pete the tall glass of lemonade with beads of condensation running down the sides. I ve never been to Turkey Run, he said. Pete took a long drink, smacked his lips, and set the dripping glass on the wooden surface of the coffee table. Let me get you a coaster, Jim said with some alarm and rushed to the kitchen. Betty doesn t like rings on the furniture.
Sorry, Jim! I shoulda known better.
Jim returned with a tea towel. I don t know where Betty keeps the coasters, but this ll work. Jim placed the towel under the cup on the table, then pulled up a maple rocking chair, the only other furnishing in the room besides twin stereo cabinets flanking the large picture window. So teach me about Turkey Run.
Oh, it s nothing special, Jim. They got a new school right near the state park. Nice facilities and all, you know, almost anything you d want-except attitude. There s an attitude shortage in Turkey Run, Jim. I found that out in a hurry.
A positive attitude is about the most important thing in the world, Jim said. I firmly believe that.
You and me both, Jim. Turkey Run s got a bunch of whiners instead of winners. I want me a place that knows how to win.
Where are you from originally, Pete?
New Albany. Grew up there and graduated high school in 1949. Just between you and me, Jim, I ve worked up north, different places, and there s some there that like their basketball, but they can t beat southern Indiana folks for pure love of the game.
That s for sure.
Don t you just love it when a basketball team from down here gives it to one of those northern schools? Like Milan did to Muncie Central. Wasn t that the greatest thing?
Jim nodded. Best thing that ever happened to Indiana basketball! We owe a lot to Marvin Wood, Bobby Plump, Ray Craft, and the rest of that team.
You bet, Jim! Goes to show what a small school can do. Pete slapped his knee. So I ll be danged! Here we are, two southern Indiana boys! How about that?
The good Lord put me here, Jim said, and He knows where He can find me when it s my time to go.
Amen to that! Pete grinned, then turned serious. I had me an assistant coach up at Turkey Run wanted to slit my throat.
Jim s eyebrows lifted. What?
Yes, sir! Out to get me, Jim. John Moses was his name.
That s no good. A coach and his assistant have got to be on the same page.
He was after me every step of the way. Undercut me with the boys and the parents. Bad for discipline, you know?
Do you like a disciplined style of play, Pete?
Call me crazy, Jim, but I m a fundamentalist, Tony Hinkle style.
Jim grinned in approval. That s not crazy, Pete. That s the right way. The Butler way-humility, passion, unity-
Servanthood, and thankfulness! Pete completed the list. Yes sir! That list is imprinted in my brain. My boys work hard and play together, defend like the devil s own and take the good shot.
The best way to play, Jim affirmed. Not everybody sees it that way, though. You see too many of these teams just run up and down the court with no teamwork, no discipline at all. Give me a team that works the ball for the good shot-smart passes, hard-nosed defense, and good rebounding.
You couldn t describe my style any better, Jim!
Eric came waddling back into the room in a fresh diaper, still clutching the toy saxophone. Here s my little buddy again! Pete laughed.
I m sorry, Pete, Jim said, grabbing his son by the arm. Betty! Can you come and get Eric! No answer came, so Jim swept Eric into one arm and stood up. Let me see if I can get her to take him while we re doing this interview.
Wait a minute, Jim! Pete Gill objected. Don t do that. Give him to me. Him and me s buddies! Pete reached for Eric, saxophone and all, then set him on his knee, where he began bouncing him energetically. What s your name, little fella?
Eric, Jim replied. He s mongoloid.
I thought he was. But you know what? I bet he s smarter than you and me put together. Who knows what s going on inside that little head? How old is he? Eric was staring blankly at Pete, touching his cheeks and flattened nose with stubby little fingers.
He just turned three. We re still trying to get a handle on it.
My boy Joe s three too! Hey! This one s a strong one! He d make a good tackle! A fine musician, too. Do you play any Sinatra, little buddy? Ha ha!
Jim smiled. He likes music. He s all right. Betty worries about him.
Well, worrying-that s a woman s job, isn t it? Pete said reassuringly. My wife s the same.
Any other kids, Pete?
Pete s face brightened. I got a pretty little girl who s four-Ellen. I named my boy Joe, after Jo-Jo Dean, who I played with at New Albany.
Is that right? The Joe Dean?
The one and only. You know, my boy Joe was born April 7, 1959, on my thirtieth birthday. Can you believe that now? I knew it was going to happen. Are you a religious man, Jim?
Oh, yes, we re Catholic.
I m Church of God myself. My Uncle Will saved me from wicked ways when I was a boy. Meaner than snot, I was. I coulda turned out baaad, Jim, but Uncle Will grabbed me by the collar and showed me the way. When he talked, I could just tell it was the voice of God coming through him. And now I d walk through fire for him. Know what I mean?
I do. My mother did the same for me, and there was a priest in Tell City. If he asked me to stand on my head in the middle of the road, I d do it. I don t know how a person can live without belief in the man upstairs.
It s the same in basketball, Jim-a straight and narrow path. It s all about fundamentals first, second, and last. I learned that from Gordon Rainey.
Old Britches Rainey, Jim said. He had great success there at New Albany.
Yes, he did! Pete said. But I ll be damned if I know why they called him Britches. Ain t it funny? I played for him five years, and I was the one that got him that job, but I don t have a clue how he got that name. Maybe he lost his pants one time, ha ha!
What do you mean, you got him the job?
Here s how it was, Jim: when I was coming up through the grades and junior high in New Albany, Britches Rainey was my junior high coach, see, and I just thought he was the greatest coach ever in the world. I really did. Then, as I was moving up to high school, New Albany needed to hire a basketball coach, and we had won the junior high league and tournament under Rainey. This was in August of 59, see, and I was playing football my freshman year. After football practice I was walking down the hall. Superintendent Harry Davidson just happened to be there, and he looked at me and he said, Petey Gill, come on over here. I always followed orders, you know. He said, I want to ask you something. I say, Yes sir. What kind of a coach do you think Mr. Rainey is? he asked, and I say, What kind of coach do I think he is? That s right, Petey, he says. I want to know what kind of coach you think he is. I say, Well, now, Mr. Davidson, if you really want to know, I can t think of nobody nowhere any better. He says, Do you really think he s that good? And I say, Yes sir, I really think he s that good. He said, Okay, Petey, thank you very much. I just wanted to know. So Davidson went off and hired Rainey, and that s how old Britches became my coach for five straight years, and I captained his team my senior year. And I was right too. He had one helluva record there, Jim. Final Four twice!
I know it.
Can you believe it? He would have had another with my 49 team if we hadn t flopped in the Sectional, but he definitely should ve won it with that great team in 52. Frank Stemly, All-State, and Pinky Metzky and that bunch and Jim McGloughlin, All-State center. They were loaded and only lost one ball game. They had Muncie Central beat. Of course, that was after my time. But we had the talent to win it all too, you know!
These memories clearly animated Pete. He stood up and began bouncing on his toes with Eric still in his arms. But there you go now, Jim. That s where old Britches could ve used my advice. In 1952, he had him a twenty-point lead, but then he went to the four and one and he got beat. Ain t that amazing with the players he had? By God they got beat-by one damn point, Jim! I don t know how in the hell they did it. If I got a twenty-point lead, Jim, I m in the four and one, and there ain t nobody can outscore me in this offense. Eric blasted on his horn again to add emphasis. That s right, little buddy! Pete cried. Nobody can outscore old Pete!
In the awkwardness of the moment, embarrassed somewhat by Pete s emotional display, Jim reached down to pick up the r sum from the coffee table. He unfolded the sheet and found several brown spots, apparently coffee stains. As he looked over the list of coaching experience-the Navy; Burnside, Kentucky; Roanoke; Switz City; and Turkey Run-Pete kept talking. I still hold the record for most consecutive free throws at New Albany. Twelve straight. In the Sectional and Regional, junior year. First miss was against Jasper in the Semi-State, probably the most important one. I kicked myself for that one. Pete twirled Eric around through the air, raised him toward the ceiling, and plopped back down on the brown couch.
As the interview went on, and Pete talked interminably about various games of his high school career, another interviewer might have grown tired, but Jim found himself becoming increasingly engrossed in Pete s story. Pete s momentum seemed to build with each passing sentence.
It was 1948, my junior year, Pete said, with so much intensity that the year came alive in the room. We won the Sectional and then the Regional, and you know as well as me how brutal these tournaments are in Indiana. Jim nodded. But then we got beat in the Semi-State by that damned Jasper and Dimp Stenftenagel. And then they lost to Evansville Central in the nightcap. My senior year, the year Jasper won the whole shebang, we thought we were going all the way, but I ll be damned if we didn t get beat by lousy Jeffersonville in the first game of the Sectional. Can you believe it? And we could ve beat that Jasper team, Jim, I know it. I had my heart set on it and it got broke. I ain t over it yet. Pete paused and leaned his head forward over Eric. I was so damned mad, Jim. You wanna know how mad I was?
Pretty mad, I ll bet, Jim said.
I was so crazy mad, about a week later, I run off and started hitchhiking.
Is that right? Jim shook his head sympathetically.
I kid you not, Jim. I wrote a note to my mother and said, Dear Mother, I said, I m leaving. I m getting out of here. I can t stand it. And I left. Just like that. And so I m hitchhiking, Jim, and I get a ride in this beat-up old cargo truck with this guy from Sault St. Marie, Michigan. And fumes are coming up through the damn floorboard. And by the time I got up to Seymour, I ll be damned if I m not sicker than a dog. So I got out of there and puked my guts up all over the damned highway. By this time, Pete was leaning forward far enough that Jim wondered if he wasn t about to vomit over the top of Eric s head onto Betty s braided rug. But then, suddenly, Pete relaxed and slumped back into the couch.
Then what? Jim wanted more.
Oh, I went on back home. I thought we had the best team in the damned state, Jim. We d beaten Madison. I held Dee Monroe to the lowest he d ever been held in high school.
Jim took a deep breath and allowed himself to relax. Dee was some player, he said.
Hell if he wasn t! Mr. Basketball, 1949! All-State-scored thirty-six points in the title game against Jasper and still lost.
I remember it well.
Yes, sir, I held Dee Monroe to his lowest total, though I didn t know it till later. Bob Owens told me this: they always pick an All-State team, but this fella named Fox, who was a sportswriter in Indianapolis, wanted to pick an All-Defensive team for the state. So they asked players around the state who they thought the best defensive players were. They asked Bobby White at Jasper, Who s the best defensive player you played against? He said, Pete Gill. They asked Dee Monroe at Madison, and he said, Pete Gill. So I made that state All-Defensive team just because other players thought I was outstanding defensively. Skeeter Sykes out of Muncie Central made it.
That s quite an accomplishment, Jim said.
You bet it was, Pete said. But you know, I d trade it for a state title any day. I won t ever get over it, I don t think, losing to Jeffersonville. Hell, they got knocked out the very next game. We had the team, Jim. I was sick, literally, ha ha!
As the interview continued, Pete s wildly animated storytelling held Jim rapt. Passion for the game of basketball was Jim s weakness. As much as he prided himself in keeping a level head at all times, Jim was inexplicably drawn to those of an opposite sort of temperament-those who wore their emotions on their sleeves-who took the kinds of risks he would never have taken. And Pete Gill, he was beginning to recognize, was such a person. On the other hand, what did Pete have to show for himself as a coach? A winning record in the Navy, but what did that mean? And after that it was just a rapid succession of no-account high school jobs-a mediocre record and no Sectional trophies.
This was some kind of a character sitting in his living room, bouncing Jim s handicapped child on his knee, talking vomit and fundamentals in the same breath. Bad clothes, bad nose, bad teeth, and bad language. For all his talk of faith and fundamentals, Pete Gill was surely no follower of the straight and narrow the way Jim was. On the dining room table nearby lay evidence of Jim s only real vice: a pack-a-day cigarette habit. Jim had only started smoking in his late twenties, and his friends were very surprised when he did. Now Pete was eyeing the pack of Kents.
Might I maybe bum a cigarette off you, Jim?
Of course, Pete. Jim got up to retrieve the Kents.
I don t normally smoke these filtered cigarettes, Pete said. I m a Camel man. Pete stuck the filtered end into his mouth, where the cigarette dangled from his lower lip over the top of Eric s head. Got a light?
Jim pulled his lighter out of his pants pocket and lit Pete s cigarette, then decided he might as well have one too. Together the two men sat smoking, filling the living room air with ringlets of tobacco smoke. What would Ireland folk, especially fans of Dimp Stenftenagel, think if he hired this guy? They d probably say I was nuts, Jim thought.
Jim looked down at the r sum again. You ve moved around a lot, haven t you, Pete?
Pete shrugged. I suppose I have. But you know how it goes. Just trying to find the right place for the family.
Of course. Having had five different jobs in the ten years since he had graduated from college, Jim could hardly criticize Pete s job shifting.
But look at my coaching record in the Navy, Jim-104 wins, only 19 losses. Pretty good, huh? Won the league championship too. Then I had winning teams at Switz City, and I won six of my last seven games this year at Turkey Run. I can coach, Jim. Don t doubt that for a minute.
If only Pete had some southern Indiana experience, someplace that wasn t beyond Jim s worldview. The talk turned to Ireland s prospects, and Jim went through the players Ireland had returning. Some people don t agree with me, Jim said, but in spite of what we lost from this year s team and our lack of size, I still believe we can win the Sectional next year. Then he raised his forefinger and added, With the right coaching. There hasn t been enough conditioning here and emphasis on the fundamentals.
We can take care of that easily enough! Pete nodded thoughtfully. But I got to ask you this, Jim, after my experience at Turkey Run: what about the assistant coach? Is he applying for this job?
That s Roy Allen. No, Roy s not applying. We talked about it, and he doesn t want it. Roy s a fine man. He was head coach here two different times in the past, but he s been assistant under Dimp the last five years, and he s content with that. Roy knows the game, and he s a team player, a good teacher and a good man to have beside you on the bench.
Pete looked happy. That s good to hear, Jim, real good.
We ve got two good guards coming back-Dave Small and Joe Lents-and a bunch of boys like Red Keusch who ll work their tail off for you. So, in my mind, there s no reason Ireland can t win the Sectional this year.
Why stop there, Jim? If what you say is true.
What do you mean?
I mean, why stop at winning the Sectional? Why not win the Regional? And the Semi-State! Why not go all the way, Jim, like Milan?
Jim laughed. Well, I m trying to be a little realistic.
Hell, Jim, don t hold back. Let s go crazy and ride it all the way to the hilt. All the way or no way is what I say!
Jim was taken aback, not only by Pete s passionate optimism but also at how emotional he was feeling. It reminded him of the way he felt when Gunnar Wyman took the Tell City team to the Final Four in 1961. Gunnar had that kind of crazy effect on people too. But now Gunnar was departing southern Indiana for Hammond. Could Pete Gill be another Gunnar Wyman? That s really crazy, he told himself. Once again, he had to try hard to temper his rising emotions.
You ve got to understand, Pete, I ve got more people to interview. This, however, was not exactly the truth. Among the small number of applications Jim had received, no one but Pete had any head coaching experience, and no one on paper had generated any enthusiasm in his mind. At this point, he hadn t been moved to contact any of them to schedule an interview. In fact, Pete had only garnered this interview because he so aggressively insisted on it over the phone.
I mean it, Jim, Pete said. Be crazy! All the way or no way! Pete loosened his tie and leaped up from the couch once more, with Eric still giggling in his arms. Now he was pacing around the ovals of the braided rug like a wildcat. But I understand. You got other people to interview. I applied other places too. I called about the Tell City job.
Jim jerked. To replace Gunnar Wyman? Really?
Yes, sir, Pete said. I called that superintendent there-what s his name, Diddley or Duddley.
Swadley, Jim said, with a chuckle. Grady Swadley.
That s the guy. I give him a call and I told old Dudley Do-Right I was interested in the coaching job he had there. He said, kinda suspicious, you know, he said, Are you as good as Gunnar Wyman? And I said, Well, I like to think I m better, but I know I m just as good. And this Bo Diddley fella, he said, Well, I doubt that. And I could tell by his voice he wasn t no more interested in me than a damned dog, so I said to him, Mr. Swindler, I don t know where I ll end up next year, but I ll tell you one thing. Whatever team I have is gonna end up in the Semifinals. At the very least! And we may just go all the way! And Swindler said, That s a pretty tall order, sir. And I said, Mr. Piddley-poo, I hope you re still around, cause that s exactly what s gonna happen. And I meant it! My team s gonna go all the way!
It was fairly outrageous. Through his Tell City connections, Jim had gotten to know Gunnar Wyman personally and was among those who regarded him as a wizard, as fine a coach as there was, though also a man of colorful and, in some minds, questionable character. Maybe the comparison wasn t so outrageous.
I also just interviewed for the Greensburg job, Pete went on. The superintendent there is a fellow named Melvin Hedge, and he stopped by to see me personally up at my home. There was a knock on my door one day, and there was this guy, Melvin Hedge. He said he had been to New Albany and had talked to Butch Keller and was checking on me. He said he had it between two guys, me and Marvin Wood s brother, John.
Marvin Wood? Jim said, incredulous.
Marvin Wood, Pete nodded. The Milan coach himself. Except it was his brother, John Wood, you see. He had the inside track because he had gone to school under Melvin Hedge. So that s what happened there. I didn t get that job either. And then I saw your ad in the paper, and, well, here I am. Ready to go all the way!
Jim prided himself on being a good judge of people, but this guy was jamming his radar. He needed a second opinion. Listen, Pete, he said. How about I take you over to meet Levi Leinenbach, the township trustee?
Oh, I know him. That s that Ame fellow s brother, right?
Right. He s the one to make the final decision who to hire. Officially I just make a recommendation. He needs to be included in the interview. Again, this was not entirely true. Levi had placed his complete trust in Jim to make the decision.
Well, what are we waiting for, Jim? Pete swung Eric up to the ceiling. Whoopee! Pete hollered, and Eric laughed, dropping the saxophone to the braided rug.
Betty! Jim called.
His wife appeared haggardly at the back door, a clothespin clutched between her lips. What? In her living room were two men and a handicapped child, all three of whom looked giddy, electrified with a joy that was beyond her. She had seen something like this look on Jim s face the day he found out he had a football scholarship to Evansville, and the day they were married, and again when Tell City hired him for his first coaching job.
Jim took Eric out of Pete s hands and carried him through the dining room to the back door. I m taking Pete over to see Levi. He handed Eric to her.
You ve got to be kidding, she whispered.
I like him, Jim replied in a low voice.
Betty shook her head. Please don t be late for supper.
He planted a kiss on her cheek and returned to the living room, as Pete helped himself to another cigarette from Jim s pack. I ll drive, Jim, Pete said.
Through the picture window, Jim had his first look at Pete s dilapidated 59 Chevy wagon. Levi Leinenbach was a man who carefully maintained his vehicles. No, no, I ll drive, Pete.
Are you sure?
I insist.
So they drove a mile to the other side of the town in Jim s clean white 1960 Chevy sedan. There, in Levi s tiny living room, Pete held court for another two hours, as the three men talked basketball and whatever other random topics passed through Pete s skull. In a short while, Pete had Levi laughing as hard as Jim was. The chatter could have lingered forever, but soon it was suppertime, and Jim needed to get home. I ll be in touch, he said in the driveway, then waved goodbye as Pete Gill drove off in a cloud of blue smoke.
Later, after supper, Jim could not sit still and returned to Levi s house to get his reaction. So what did you think?
By God, he got me believing, Jim, Levi responded. It s the damnedest thing. He seems to know the game right enough.
I m not worried about that, Jim said. He gets me carried away same as you. So why do I feel like I m rolling the dice here? What makes me afraid?
I don t know, Jim. What s there to be afraid of? If the man ain t a drunkard nor a bank robber, I say hire him.
Jim laughed. Maybe I better check his references.
All right, you do that, Levi said.
But a week passed, a week in which Jim s emotions were still in turmoil, and yet he still hadn t called up any of Pete s references. Why? He d been busy with various things, but this was a priority, wasn t it? Was he perhaps afraid one of the references would talk him out of hiring Pete Gill? His emotions were winning the war against rationality. To Jim Roos, competitive sports, and basketball above all, were mostly about passionate desire-a desire as strong as a man s love for a beautiful woman. Reason had its place, but in the final analysis, it was passion that made winners. And Pete Gill, as Jim well recognized, was passion at its rawest and most unadulterated form. He could hardly allow reason to interfere with such a decision.
He was sitting in his living room one evening the following week, lost in these emotions, when the phone rang. It was a collect call from Pete Gill, the operator said. Will you accept the charges?
Of course, Jim said without hesitation.
Pete s voice fairly jumped through the line. What s your decision, Jim?
Well, Pete, I haven t made one yet. We need a little more time. There was a pause on the other end.
Well, you see, the reason I m calling, Jim, I ve been offered the job over at Dugger.
Dugger? It was a small town not far from Switz City. I didn t know you applied there.
Oh yes. Now, Jim, I m not trying to maneuver you or anything, see. I d really prefer the Ireland job. But I just can t leave them hanging on this Dugger job. If you don t plan to hire me, I m gonna have to take that job. You understand?
Jim s mind tumbled. All right, Pete, let me talk to Levi, and I ll get back to you. He hung up, upset with himself for not checking the references. Now he was in a box. All he had was Pete s sloppily typed r sum and his gut instincts. Maybe the Dugger story was a ploy.
He called Levi, not telling him about the references, and Levi never asked. He seemed as emotional as Jim. Don t let him get away, Jim.
Am I crazy, Levi? Jim was desperately trying to remain rational. Do we want a high class gentleman who ll be a pillar of the community? Or do we want a guy who s going to win basketball games?
By God, Jim, I feel like we d be crazy not to hire him. I say if he ain t a drunkard nor a bank robber, get him on the phone and offer him the job.
And so they hired Pete Gill, without any references. Within a week, Pete signed a contract to teach junior high social studies and physical education and coach basketball and baseball-the only sports offered at Ireland High School at the time-for a salary of $6,500.

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