The Herald Bulletin

February 11, 2012

Jim Bailey: Plenty of sports celebrities have spoken in Anderson

By Jim Bailey
For The Herald Bulletin

— Those who like to hear about their favorite sports from the horse’s mouth have had plenty of opportunities over the years in Anderson.

Many of the sports celebs who have been on the dais were brought here by the old Downtown Coaches Club, which held monthly luncheons for many years. For the price of a membership, the Downtown Coaches regulars got the perspective of well-known names in football, basketball, baseball, track, golf and other sports.

Strangely — or perhaps not so much — even with names like Pete Rose, Bobby Knight, John Pont, Ara Parseghian and others speaking, the most popular programs over the years involved the local high school basketball coaches. That was the era of Hoosier Hysteria, of course, when high school basketball was the topic on everyone’s lips from the day of the sectional draw to the state finals. When the draw was held on the Wednesday before sectional play was to begin, the program was always on that day, and the coaches broke out the crying towels as they bemoaned the tournament route that had been charted for them.

Local heroes such as Joe Campbell and Carl Erskine had their turns. Erskine, who returned to his hometown after a stellar career with the Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers, has had many occasions to speak, not only to the Downtown Coaches but many other organizations as well.

One of the more popular guests was Tommy Mont, football coach at DePauw University after a stint at his alma mater, Maryland. He had a routine that kept audiences in stitches. Mont died this past New Year’s Day at 89.

Indiana University graduate and journeyman NFL cornerback Dave Whitsell, Purdue quarterback Mark Herrmann, Ball State athletic director Ray Louthen, Purdue football coach Alex Agase, Indiana University diving coach Hobie Billingsley and IU track coach Sam Bell were among other guest speakers of the Downtown Coaches. Purdue football coach Jack Mollenkopf once was scheduled to speak, but after he suffered a heart attack, quarterback coach Bob DeMoss took his place. National League President Warren Giles had a conflict and was replaced by his assistant, Dave Grote.

Giles did appear in Anderson once, holding a press conference at the Babe Ruth World Series as a guest of Erskine. Other big names to appear at various places in Anderson included IU football coach Lee Corso, who proved even then he belonged in broadcasting; baseball base-stealing phenom Lou Brock; Anderson High School graduate and Cincinnati Bengals defensive lineman Ken Johnson; Indiana High School Athletic Association commissioner Phil Eskew; and Purdue basketball coach Gene Keady.

The Downtown Coaches Club is no longer in business, for several reasons. The main one is the escalating expense of bringing in prime speakers.

But the prevalence of TV sports reporting still lets fans get it firsthand from their favorite figures in the world of sports.

Jim Bailey’s reflections on Anderson’s past appear on Sunday. His regular column appears on Wednesday. He can be reached by email at jameshenrybailey @earthlink.net.