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More Than Basketball

Jim Amidon — Because Wabash College has a reputation for hiring coaches who are as strong on ethics as they are with X’s and O’s, athletics will always play a critical role at the College.

Coaches like Rob Johnson, Gail Pebworth, Max Servies, Mac Petty, and Chris Creighton — to name only a handful — recruit young men who share their values and their love of sport. The former, in many ways, is even more important than the latter. Talent, of course, never hurts. But talented athletes without integrity have no place at Wabash College.

What got me thinking about all this was a very brief conversation I had with Bob Brock, who coached basketball here from 1953 to 1964. Coach Brock, pictured below, remains the only coach in Wabash’s storied basketball history to take teams to the NCAA playoffs in four consecutive seasons. His 1960-61 team is pictured below.

I went to Coach Brock’s house to take his picture, which will be used in a program at this weekend’s alumni basketball festivities. Wabash welcomes former players back to campus every year, but this Saturday is very different.

In addition to the normal alumni game, Wabash will celebrate the 25th anniversary of the 1982 National Championship team with a mini-reunion.

But before any of that gets started, many of Coach Brock’s former players — men either retired or nearing retirement — will return to Crawfordsville to honor their former coach.

Imagine that for a minute. Almost 50 years after they left Wabash, the players will return to say “thank you” to the man who coached them in basketball.

Imagine Bob Wedgeworth, for example, clearing his busy schedule to come from Syracuse, New York to be with his former teammates and the coach who meant so much to him when he was 20 years old. Wedgeworth is the president of ProLiteracy, which is the world’s largest non-governmental literacy organization, a position he’s held since his “retirement” as the dean of the Columbia University and University of Illinois library systems.

Think about Jim Cumming, another of Coach Brock’s players, returning to campus to say thanks to the coach who helped shape his values and ideals. Dr. Cumming is a pediatrician in Indianapolis, and is routinely listed as one of Indy’s “Top Docs” by Indianapolis Monthly.

And then there’s Bill Boone, longtime Crawfordsville High School teacher and coach, who has spent the early years of his retirement trying to track down old friends and teammates from his years at Wabash. He’s discovering that all of the men of the “Brock Era” have soared to amazing heights.

The list of remarkable men who were influenced by Coach Brock goes on and on, and includes names like Charlie Bowerman (former Vice President of Phillips Petroleum), Dr. Sherman Franz an award-winning psychiatrist), and Rusty Nichols (Hanover College President).

As Coach Brock and I recalled the men who are returning to campus this weekend, a smile crept over his face. He looked up and said with conviction, “I’m more proud of my players’ accomplishments in life than I am of anything we did in basketball.”

I know Coach Mac Petty shares the same pride in his former players, men like Pete Metzelaars, who is fresh off helping the Colts win the Super Bowl as an assistant coach, or Chris Denari, who is the television voice of the Indiana Pacers, or any number of the doctors, lawyers, and CEOs who’ve worn the Wabash uniform.

That’s the attitude that drives Wabash’s athletics program and always has. While winning games does matter, teaching young men how to compete to the best of their ability, to be leaders, and to live lives of worth and value are the most important aspects of sports at Wabash.

All of which merits a grand celebration.