BOONE: Waynetown Basketball: Return of success

Jim Capehart recalled that he had four coaches in his four year career. (1949-1953) They were Vern Piety, freshman, Jim Ruby, sophomore, Henry Sommer, junior, and Cliff Davis, senior. Cliff Davis returned to coaching and coached at Waynetown for five years. The Gladiators ended up at 36-61 under Davis. After several other coaches tried to turn the Waynetown fortunes around, Tom Bowerman, the dean of Montgomery County coaches moved from Alamo to Waynetown and coached for five years. Bowerman coached the Glads for five years, going 12-8 in 1961-62, 10-9 in 1962-63 and 11-7 in 1963-64 before tailing off to 7-12 in 1964-65 and 4-16 in 1965-66. He then turned the coaching reins over to his assistant, Fred Johnson, a Linden Bulldog star of the 60s. They won their third and last Sectional championship in 1969-70 under former Linden great, Fred Johnson. Johnson guided the Gladiators to an 8-12 record that year as the Glads defeated Crawfordsville 74-69 to take the sectional. Waynetown was the last county school to win a sectional. Fred Johnson had some great memories about his years at Waynetown. He recalls. “I stepped into being a head coach at 24 and “green” after being Tom Bowerman’s assistant for only one year. The one player I remember the first year was Clark Sennett. He was the hardest working player I had while at Waynetown. Obviously, the 69-70 season was the most enjoyable, but at the same time the most frustrating season I had. I have always felt that we should have done much better that year. We failed in the stretch many games losing five or six in the last few minutes. The tide turned following an injury to Lloyd Finch after Christmas. We had to move Kim Suiters from guard to forward and inserted Gary Sarver into the guard position. This gave us a much quicker player at the guard position and Suiters scoring jumped from about 6.5 points a game to about 16. We were better offensively and much better defensively. Mike Springer, Jeff Springer, and Steve Proctor remained solid at the other positions. Having played on a championship team at Linden in 1960, I found that being a coach on a sectional winning team was much more rewarding. I could relate to the feelings of 12 individuals who were experiencing the first-time euphoria of being a tournament champion,” he said. “It is hard to believe that next year (2020) it will be 50 years since we won the sectional. Reliving that week with people over the years still brings back a great feeling. We met Rossville (5 DI players) in the Regional and were soundly defeated. I felt all week that we were satisfied winning the sectional and that made any preparation very difficult. My final year with the varsity was good in that we got Don Pittman back after losing him to mono for virtually all of his junior year. He was our leading scorer almost every game. (Pittman was the leading scorer that year with 338 points including 38 against Darlington.) I have always felt that one of the keys to winning that sectional was that we could never schedule Crawfordsville except for one “C” team game in my five years at Waynetown; that gave me as a coach and my players some extra motivation in our preparation. My only regret with becoming a head coach at a young age is that I was not disciplined enough or regimented enough with the practices. I know that I can’t change time, but I wish that I could have spent my three years as assistant coach under Bill Springer who was my high school coach my senior year at Linden prior to being a head coach. I was much better prepared. (Johnson’s JV team at Jennings County under Springer was 51-9) However, I would not trade the relationships I developed with those Waynetown players for anything. I still remain good friends with all of them today,” Johnson added. Here is a report of the 1970 sectional: The 1970 sectional was a toss-up. Only Linden (12-7) and Waveland (11-9) entered the tourney with winning records. Darlington was the county power that year, but they had been moved to Lebanon with their record of 21-0. Waynetown was 8-11, Crawfordsville was 9-11, but had played a much tougher schedule than the county schools, so they were installed as the favorite. Ladoga was 5-14, New Ross was 3-16, New Market was 3-16 and Coal Creek was 9-12. The Journal Review noted that Crawfordsville was the favorite because of their schedule and Linden and Waveland were serious threats. Coal Creek was considered the dark horse and nobody even mentioned Waynetown. Hold everything. Everyone forgot to consider that the Gladiators had eight seniors who had been playing together since 6th grade. (Steve Proctor, Jeff Springer, Mike Springer, Bob Utterback, Kim Suitors, Wayne Rush, Lloyd Finch, and Gary Sarver) and had lost four games by a total of 12 points. Jeff Springer had scored 344 points, and Kim Suitors had scored 245 points for an average of 12.9 per game. Waynetown beat New Market in the opening game and New Ross in the afternoon game on Saturday setting the stage for the showdown with Crawfordsville. It was a close game all the way and when Jeff Springer fouled out with only seconds to go in the third quarter, the Waynetown fortunes looked dim. However, in the last quarter, Kim Suitors stepped up and scored 17 of his 26 points. In today’s game, the sportswriters would call him the “closer.” Suitors had already blistered New Ross for 33 points in the afternoon semifinal to go along with his 16 against New Market in the opening game giving him 75 points which was a high for the tournament. Suitors would close out the game by hitting six straight free throws, sending the Gladiators to their first fire engine ride and bonfire since 1945. Springer and Suitors were named to the All-Sectional team, but they would be the first to tell you that the 1970 sectional belonged to eight unselfish seniors, a young coach who looked like one of his players and even ran wind sprints with them at the end of practice, and a spirited cheering section who didn’t sit down the whole game. It was truly Hoosier basketball at its best. Kim Suitors has great memories about the championship and the 1969-70 season. He simply observed that it was for great for Waynetown and that they had always wanted to beat Crawfordsville. He remembered the taunting of the Crawfordsville students and that they threw pennies at the Waynetown players as they went into the locker room. He also remembered with great fondness playing with his senior teammates. He recalled that Jeff Springer was the enforcer and was responsible for several bench-clearing events. He said that Mike Springer was the floor leader and was like a coach on the floor and that Gary Sarver was one of the toughest defensive players he ever saw. He remembers Steve Proctor as a rugged rebounder and a great teammate. He also had high praise for Wayne Rush, Bob Utterback and Lloyd Finch, noting that they were simply great guys and good teammates. When he got to Coach Fred Johnson, he said, “tough, but fair.” He wouldn’t let anybody get away with anything and was very demanding. Like all the other members of the team, Kim remembered the ride on the fire truck, the bonfire and the crowd at the restaurant after the game. Bill Boone is a local sports historian who contributes to the Journal Review.