The Herald Bulletin

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Local Columns

November 20, 2011

Scott Underwood: Event brings Wigwam back to life

ANDERSON, Ind. — Scott and Troy Lewis joked. Ron Hecklinski railed. Kojak Fuller shined. Gene and Johnny Wilson reminisced. And Norm Held cried.

Wednesday night in the Chief Anderson Room at the Anderson Public Library, the former Anderson High School basketball greats gathered to speak about the Wigwam and to autograph copies of The Herald Bulletin’s new coffee table book, “The Wigwam: 50 Years of Memories.”

About 150 Indians fans began lining up outside the doors of the conference room an hour before the 6:30 p.m. event to try to get one of the 14 remaining copies of the book. The fans were placated by news that The Herald Bulletin had committed to a second press run and that all who signed a waiting list would receive copies of the book before Christmas.

As the Lewises, Wilsons, Held and Hecklinski entered the room, the adoring crowd applauded. Fuller, the 1993 Mr. Basketball, arrived late. He had been at the hospital with one of his children, who was being tested for viral meningitis (the test later proved negative).

Fuller told the crowd of how the love he had felt from them as a high-schooler sustained him through dark times. He is now a committed community servant – and a captivating public speaker, the magnetism he exuded on the court showing through at the microphone.

Troy Lewis, the 1983 Mr. Basketball, and older brother Scott, a standout AHS player as well, addressed the crowd with sincerity and humor. Scott noted that when he accompanied Troy into the Chief Anderson Room, the crowd had cheered for his younger brother, then tried to figure out the identity of the other guy with him. Troy stepped to the microphone and said, “I hated playing in the Wigwam,” then let a spate of nervous laughter subside before explaining that he truly loved the place.

Johnny Wilson, Mr. Basketball in 1946 and the foundation of Anderson’s state championship that year, and brother Gene, who went on to play at Kansas State after starring for the Indians, reminisced about playing in the original Wigwam, which burned to the ground in 1958. As always, the Wilson brothers’ presence graced the event with integrity and class.

In his gravelly voice, Hecklinski, the recently retired Indians head coach, criticized the school board’s decision to close the Wigwam at the end of last school year. He looked forward to a day when it would be open again for basketball.

Held, who coached the Indians to four state championship games, was the earliest special guest to arrive at Wednesday’s event. He mingled easily with the fans, sharing common memories. Later, his speech was interrupted when he choked back tears.

It can bring both joy and pain to remember something wonderful that can never be fully recaptured. But we at The Herald Bulletin hope that our book about the Wigwam brings to life the stories of the people who made the historic 9,000-seat gym something truly special.

Editor Scott Underwood’s column appears Mondays. Contact him at or 640-4845.

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