On Saturday, Lapel will honor its Hall of Fame former coach Jimmie Howell before tip-off of the varsity boys basketball game against Frankton. In honor of his coaching accomplishments and dedication to the Lapel community, the basketball court will be renamed to “Jimmie Howell Court.”
There will be a reception in the school commons immediately following the game.
Howell ranks 14th on Indiana’s all-time wins list with 625 victories over 40 years on the sidelines for boys teams, and he won an additional 43 games as a girls coach. During his 16 full seasons — and four games in his final campaign — at Lapel, he won 263 games, three sectional titles and two state championships.
But Howell’s win I’ll remember most came Jan. 8, 2016, and if you were there, it would be hard to forget that night.
It was the evening of the 2016 Madison County tournament championship as the Bulldogs hosted defending champion Liberty Christian.
There was so much about that game that was memorable. There was Jon Ross Richardson scoring 22 points for Lapel and Ronny Williams scoring 19 for the Lions. There was Tristan Carpenter losing a tooth in a collision with Franklin Nunn battling for a loose ball. And there was nonstop action for all 32 minutes from one end of the court to another between two teams that would hoist Madison County on their collective shoulders a few months later when they each won state championships.
But the moment I remember most from that night came immediately after the buzzer sounded. The always dignified coach was overcome by emotion as tears of joy welled up in his eyes. He knew how important that tournament — which Lapel had never won — was to his community, which is where the emotions came from.
He is such an icon — a giant, really — of the town of Lapel. Even after his departure from coaching the Bulldogs, he still shows up at Lapel sporting events. Most recently I saw him walking with Macy Beeson at the state golf finals earlier this fall.
It’s also hard to talk about Jimmie and Lapel basketball without mentioning Friday’s opponent — the school’s heated rival.
For four straight years, from 2015 through 2018, either Frankton or Lapel won their sectional championship, and they had to beat each other to advance to regional. For the first three of those seasons, one or the other went to the state finals. The Bulldogs won the state title in 2016, and the Eagles won it all the following year.
Sadly, the two have not met in the postseason since and won’t for at least the next two seasons with Frankton’s ascendancy to Class 3A.
It is one of the best rivalries anywhere but especially in this area. During his time with Lapel, Howell was 19-11 versus the Eagles, and while there were a handful of one-sided meetings in the series, most were exciting and close games and all were highly anticipated events.
I can not think of a more fitting way to honor the man inducted into the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame in 2018 than by permanently inscribing his name on the court where he stalked the sideline so successfully.
And it could not have come on a more perfect night, with Lapel playing Frankton.
At a pep rally following the 2016 state finals win over Howe, Howell pointed to his players and told the fans — presumably the entire town — who had packed into the gymnasium that evening, “This is what you can accomplish when no one cares who gets the credit.”
Take some credit Saturday, coach. You deserve this.