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I got Indiana in a nutshell

Aug 5, 2013 - By Randy Tucker

The conversation started with sports, but it went a lot of other places.

As a tag-along at a classical education conference last month I had some time to kill in Fort Wayne, Ind. It was only our third trip through the Hoosier State, and some preliminary scouting on the Internet didn't promise anything too exciting in the "City of Churches."

I dropped Sue off each morning and picked her up for lunch and later at the end of the day, but the time in between was all mine. After hitting the three used bookstores in town there wasn't much else to do during the day.

I noticed a sign in the motel lobby welcoming players from a half-dozen surrounding states. My assumption was a high school or American Legion baseball tournament, but that idea vanished on a morning elevator trip.

I found myself in one of the cars surrounded by a couple of high school kids my height, a few more a bit shorter and one kid that stood about 6-7. It was evident that the Hoosier State was living up to its monicker.

A clerk at the front desk told me a basketball tournament was being held at Spiess Field House just a couple of miles from the motel. I found my way there. It was Indiana in a nutshell.

Spiess Field House was built by local athletic apparel business owner Tom Spiess. He was a huge Indiana University fan. He took an abandoned warehouse and turned it into a massive basketball arena, complete with six full courts.

Pandemonium awaited once inside the door. I stopped at the information center, introduced myself and began asking questions. Denny Parks, a former point guard for Central Michigan University was running the desk that afternoon.

He gave me a brief history of the tournament then introduced me to Jim Goorman, the founder of the event.

Goorman is a fixture in Class B Michigan High school basketball, winning five titles in eight championship appearances for Western Michigan Christian.

"There are three levels of competition," Goorman said. "Highly skilled, good, and average."

He said 167 teams were playing in the tournament that week, with additional games on the six courts at the Sports One complex and two more at St. Francis University.

The formal name of the tournament is the American Youth Basketball Tour. The Fort Wayne tourney was the culmination of regional tournaments across the region.

I spent the afternoon sitting in the bleachers, speaking with fathers and coaches, and enjoying a bewildering variety of basketball skill.

Teams from small towns reminiscent of the Hickory Huskers in the basketball classic "Hoosiers" dotted the courts along with flashy inner-city teams from the mean streets of Toledo and Indianapolis.

The first team I watched was a high school team from Hopkins, Mich. A father who took time away from several hundred acres of corn described his community as a "wide spot" in the road with a couple of churches, a couple of bars, one grocery store and some implement dealerships.

The Hopkins team was young but very fundamental. Their key player stood just shy of 6-3 but had all the moves you'd expect from someone whose father obviously idealized Larry Bird and Kevin McHale.

The next game I watched was a lopsided affair with a team of high school all-stars from Toledo routing a very overmatched opponent.

A black man built like an outside linebacker was watching the game wearing a t-shirt that read "Tucker Boys." I introduced myself as a Tucker, and our conversation took off. He was a teacher and coach at a high school in Toledo but was just a fan this week, watching his son and nephew play for Toledo Hoop Smart.

I noticed another father who resembled former Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Rosie Greer.

He introduced himself and told me about a non-profit organization he manages called Building Tomorrow's Generation. The organization's catch phrase was "Making the Village Mentality a Reality."

Chris Adams was a full-time construction worker but spent his free time working with schools plagued by dropouts, detention and gangs.

He was also the father of Olympic high jump silver medalist Erik Kynard, whose leap of 7-8 just narrowly missed the gold medal last summer in London.

In one of those "small world" moments, I mentioned Trevor Barry, a teammate of my son Brian on the Dickinson State University track team and a 7-6 high jumper himself for the Bahamas. Chris knew him, and we both laughed at the idea of us knowing someone in common.

Our conversation wasn't entirely about sports. Adams elaborated on his view of the Trayvon Martin incident.

"It just takes attention away from what really matters. The day Martin was killed, 10 young black men the same age were gunned down by each other in Chicago," Adams said. "All this hype just disguises the real problem, and no one wants to hear about it."

I gave the duo some cash to feed the team after the day's games, knowing from my own experience in taking a dozen boys to summer tournaments that teenagers can eat through a wallet in seconds.

As I started to leave I stopped for a moment at a vantage point that let me see five of the six courts simultaneously.

I could almost hear Jimmy Chitwood telling Coach Dale and the Huskers, "I'll make it."

A fabulous afternoon.

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Editor's note: Staff writer Randy Tucker is a retired educator and coach who farms north of Riverton.

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