Darlington High School had a long and storied basketball history. According to John “Butch” Dale, basketball was introduced at Darlington in 1906-07. Its story is similar to that of the other schools. Mr. Harry Wright, the principal at that time, mentioned to the boys the basic rules of the game. Interest was stirred up enough that the boys went out and bought a basketball and began playing a crude adaption of the game on a rough outdoor court. Trees were used as goals, and when they hit the body of the tree below the first limb, one point was tallied.
When the first actual basketball goals were erected a short time later, those eager schoolboys thought that it would be virtually impossible to throw the ball through the hoop. After hours and hours of practice, however, the determined gang discovered that putting the ball in the basket was not nearly as hard as it looked, and they were ready for their first interscholastic game. According to an account in the 1910 Darlington Yearbook, one player related:
“Our first game was with Bowers High School, and we came out victorious. Then we thought that we had a State Championship team. The next Friday, we played them in a return game, and that is where we met our Waterloo. This did not discourage us at all, and we began practicing all the harder for a game with Linden. Linden came over and thought that they would walk all over us…they did.”
These three games were played in the fall of 1906 on outdoor courts, and after that the cold Hoosier winter weather moved in and forced the team to drop the game in favor of schoolwork for a while. During the latter part of January, the boys decided that nothing was going to stop them from playing, and they managed to scrape up enough money to rent a local town building to play in.
“It was a great expense to get everything ready, but we got squared away, and the first game was with a team from Crawfordsville, which we defeated. This set the people crazy over the game. Our next game was with Lebanon, and the hall was filled to its fullest capacity, and the excitement ran high on the part of the rooters, because the D.H.S. team came out victorious.”
During the 1907-08 school year, the Darlington delegation decided that they needed a coach that could develop and bring out the talents of the players. The captain called up Big Bill Sprow, “one of the greatest basketball centers Wabash ever had,” and pleaded with him to become Darlington’s coach. Sprow accepted and, “was very eager to assist (us) because he was very poor and needed all the money he could possibly get.” Their new coach took the team in hand and began to work out the finer points of the game; he also told them to schedule games with teams that had a good reputation and not to play the “little minor teams that did not amount to anything.”
The team received encouragement from the teachers, students and residents of the town. The faculty “would make short talks to the student body to attend the game in a bunch and root for the home team, and cheer the players when they made a good play, and let them know that they were helping win the game by their loyal spirit.” The Darlington squad played every team that would play them, including Wabash College, which they defeated 25-14. Other opponents included Lafayette, Brazil, Indianapolis Shortridge, and DePauw, to name a few.
While Darlington High School can boast several two generation families that played basketball, there is only one family that had three generations of boys playing ball for the Indians (Named after early coach Indian Ed Miller, by the way). The Welievers contributed three generations of basketball players to the Darlington rosters. Harry “Hab” Weliever and his brother will played for the very first DHS teams from 1907-1910. The first year, the team had no coach; that’s when they played outside using trees for goals. The boys started renting a building downtown, and basketball soon captivated the citizens of Darlington.
Two of Harry Weliever’s sons played ball for DHS in the 30s; Richard “Dick” Weliever played on the 1934 an ’35 teams and Don played on the 1936, ’37 and ’38 teams. The third generation took over in the 50s when Dick’s oldest son, Charlie, played on the 1959 team. Don’s oldest son, Steve, played for the Indians in 1965, ’66 and ’67 and Stan played on the powerhouse fives of 1968, ’69, and ’70. A third son, Stu, played for North Montgomery in 1977, 1978, and19 79 after consolidation took place in 1970-71.
The Welievers have a fourth generation playing in the north unit as Ross Dyson plays on the eighth-grade team at Northridge. Ross is the son of Dana Weliever Dyson whose father is Bob Weliever, son of Dick who played for the Indians in 1934-35.
During the Bicentennial Basketball Tournament held at the old Crawfordsville gym in 1976, Harry served as the honorary captain for the Darlington squad, which finished as runner-up in the tourney. He also served as the designated free throw shooter, calmly sinking his first free throw at the age of 84.
The early Darlington coaches were some of the legends of Montgomery County basketball, beginning with Bill Sprow and Harter “Deac” Walters who were members of some of the early Wabash College Wonder Fives and “Indian Ed” Miller in whose honor the Darlington athletic teams were named after being called the Red Warriors in the early year
Bill Boone is a local sports historian who contributes to the Journal Review.