Forty years ago, a team of young men brought Brown County together with basketball.
On Saturday, Jan. 30, they’ll be back in the stands to watch the Brown County High School boys basketball team play Indian Creek.
The 1976 Eagles who took the school’s first and only regional championship battled big schools with deep benches.
No classes divided the small schools from the large ones. When a school the size of Brown County made it to semistate, it was against near-impossible odds.
The 1977 BCHS yearbook shows a gym packed to bursting with fans who came for a pep rally after the regional win Every game in that postseason climb was hard-fought.
In a time before 3-point shots, the Eagles took the sectional championship against Columbus East 101-97.
At regionals, they won the championship against Franklin Central in overtime with a last-minute shot by Brian Bowden, 72-70. In Game 1, they overcame Center Grove, 68-66.
Even though the Eagles’ flight ended in the first game of semistate with a 75-64 loss to Perry Meridian, the 1976 team captured the hearts and hopes of an entire community and gave everyone something to cheer for.
Pride of BC
Mike Lewis remembers teacher Emily Eads telling him she was grateful for what he and his teammates did for Brown County.“It was a moment in her life where people she had nothing in common with, all of a sudden, she did,” he said.
“We all knew it was just fun — it was just a game,” Lewis said. “But it was a reason to be kind of proud and to be together.”
Among six pages of yearbook pictures devoted to this team is a shot of class valedictorian Keith White, a cape flowing behind him. He would run around “putting spells” on other teams, Lewis said.
The yearbook mentions then-Brown Circuit Judge David Woods as a cheerleader, though there is no picture. That photo can be seen today hanging in his Brown County Planning Commission office, Woods cheering his heart out in the blue-and-yellow bowler hat.
Some of those bowlers are still in Nancy Manning’s athletic department office at Brown County High School.
She and her husband, 1976 team member Gary Manning, were dating then. Her mother held onto the bowlers and vests that the pep squad wore.
Manning’s mother even kept the tapes she recorded of the radio broadcasts from the regional wins.
As the Eagles advanced, the excitement and support bled through county lines. When the team and fans caravanned to semistate, they were cheered all the way up State Road 135.
“There were signs all up the highway, I mean, clear into the Center Grove area and on up: ‘Good luck, Eagles,’” Manning said.
“The excitement and support we had from the county, town and everybody was just phenomenal,” coach Joe Davis said.
Mike Porter remembers coming back with his teammates from the regional win against Franklin, seeing the miles of headlights stretched out behind the buses as they made their way west on State Road 46. It was amazing “just that there was that many people behind us, who cared about what we were doing,” he said.
One memory that gets frequent mention is the celebratory burning of outhouses in the junction of state roads 135 and 46 in town.
No one asked was certain where the outhouses came from, but Davis remembered it taking place after more than one game.
“If we’d won any more games, someone might have been without a privy,” he said.
“They were just unbelievable, those three weeks we had at tournament time, on top of the season that we had,” Davis said.
In a lifetime
“I knew that at the time, that it was probably one of the most special times of my life, in the accomplishment that we had,” Gary Manning said about competing in semistate.“And I know that still, today, it holds a special place in my heart and everyone else’s heart.”
“I feel like those guys are my brothers,” Porter said.
Manning said he’s still in close contact with Bowden, who was his best friend growing up. Though Porter, Manning and others still live in the area, others have moved out of state.
Whenever the teammates are together, the time between melts away, Porter said.
“You just go on like you’ve never been away from ‘em.”
It was the camaraderie through the wins — not simply the wins — that made it some of the best times of his life, too, Porter said.
“All those tournament games were just a solid team effort on everybody’s part,” Davis said.
“We did more than anybody expected us to.”