TERRE HAUTE — Do dreams ever come true?
Does an athlete ever not only live up to his buildup but exceed it by enormous amounts?
It may not happen very often now, when athletes are written about and recruited from the time they are in elementary school. But it certainly happened in the 1970s, when Indiana State University and Terre Haute got to know Larry Bird and were able to introduce him to the rest of the world.
ISU may have been the first school to recruit Bird at Springs Valley High School, even though it took a second attempt to get him to come. And even when he arrived — after being an Indiana All-Star selection and an Indiana University recruit for a very short time — there weren’t a lot of people who appreciated the significance of his arrival.
“I don’t think anybody realized (how good Bird would become),” said former teammate Rick Williams, “no matter what they say now.”
There were one or two who may have, however.
One was Gordon Stauffer, Indiana State’s head coach from 1967 through 1975.
“We were following him as a freshman and sophomore,” said Stauffer. “We really got our foot in the door. I used to take (my wife) Norma with me when I went to look at players, but I’d never tell her which one I was looking at, to see if she could pick him out. The night we went to see Larry, she turned to me after about a minute and said, ‘He’s the one, isn’t he?’”
Bird was just 6-foot-3 then, however, and not exactly muscular. Bill Hodges remembers seeing Bird play for the first time when the Springs Valley star was a junior.
“We were recruiting a kid named Curt Gilstrap from Orleans, and they were playing Springs Valley,” said Hodges, an assistant coach at Tennessee Tech at the time. “Larry was a 6-3 wing, and he was really good, but even at Tennessee Tech you’ve got to have a bigger kid than that. But then he grew four inches during the summer.”