In this time of year when nets are cut and trophies won, sometimes the impact coaches and players have on each other is taken for granted. Not here.
Thirty-five years ago today, Coach Mac Petty guided the Little Giants to the last of 19 consecutive victories en route to the 1982 NCAA Division III national championship, the singular team accomplishment in Wabash athletics history.
In the end the game wasn’t close. The Little Giants shot 59 percent from the field, grabbed nine more rebounds than Potsdam State, and collected 24 assists on 29 buckets. Teddy Parker hit a jumper with 10:48 to go in the first half – his only field goal of the game – and gave Wabash a lead it did not relinquish. Pete Metzelaars netted 45 points (still a DIII championship game record) and the Little Giants cruised to the national championship with an 83-62 win.
Recently, I asked Coach Petty what it was like to lead a team to a moment that, when it mattered most, every one of his guys delivered.
“It’s hard to put it into words,” he said. “It was like a dream. It just happens.”
That dream was built with hard work, practice, and time spent together forging a bond, that when tested, would not be broken. Championships don’t happen by accident.
Coaches are measured by victories, or championships won, especially in March. Petty’s 541 wins and that national title secure his championship legacy. However, the impact on his players is measured differently.
Bob Knowling ’77 was a standout football and basketball player at Wabash, and was a rising senior when Petty was named the head coach in 1976. They spent one season together in 1976-77, and it turned out to be a memorable one for Knowling.
“I bought into you and your vision totally when you arrived in Crawfordsville and it was an easy decision for me to choose between football and basketball,” he wrote to Petty in an e-mail prior to the 1982 team’s 35-year reunion in January. “Even being a three-year starter on the football team, my love of basketball and the opportunity to play for you was exciting. While we won more games than any of my previous three years, the lessons I learned from you are what I remember most. Thank you for investing in me and for pushing me. It made a difference. Know that you influenced hundreds of young men to be great, including that championship team.”
Forty years later, Petty’s impact still resonates with Knowling.
“I played on numerous teams and played multiple sports,” he said, “yet when people ask me who I played for I only mention one name: Coach Petty.”