Russell Eugene Rogers was born in 1927 in the only place in the world that he could have been born — Scottsburg.
Or at least that’s the way it seems now, but most certainly, the way it should have been. Some people, it seems, were born just to do certain things, and Gene Rogers is one of those people.
Gene’s parents, Russ and Myrtle Rogers, owned a Dodge and Plymouth agency in Scottsburg. Growing up, Gene spent a lot of time at the business and a lot of time learning about Scottsburg.
Gene had a tough competitiveness about him, and even though he was only 5 feet, 6 inches tall, he developed a deep love for basketball, which placed him on the Scottsburg High School basketball team.
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In 1944, Gene’s junior year, the Warriors won the Madison Sectional, and 71 years later, he takes pride in remembering the final score of the championship game — 30-24 against Dupont. Gene’s coach that year was Ralph “Whiskey” Feeler, a legendary coach at Scottsburg. Gene says he heard the reason Feeler was called Whiskey had to do with when the coach was a kid.
“I heard he collected empty whiskey bottles and then sold them, but I suppose he may have indulged a little, too,” he said with a grin.
Gene loved Scottsburg High School, and it loved him, as he was voted the most promising boy of the future. In 1945, after he graduated, Gene enlisted in the United States Navy and served 13 months active duty. He then returned to Scottsburg, enrolled at Hanover College, just 20 miles from Scottsburg, of course.
After Gene graduated from Hanover in 1950, he married the girl he’d had his eyes on for a few years, Vada Kenney.
“The first time I saw her was at the tennis court,” he said. “I liked her legs.”
After graduating from Hanover, he first worked at his dad’s business, and then in 1952 he got a job with the Scottsburg school district, where he stayed until 1993 and where he loved every single day. He spent 15 years as the Scottsburg Junior High principal. Another 10 years were spent as an assistant varsity basketball coach under Charley Meyer during some of the greatest years of the storied program in the 1950s.
In the 1960s, Gene did something at a Scottsburg game that no adult had ever done before, an act that would eventually lead him to the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame.
During a Scottsburg home game, Gene felt the crowd needed roused up, so he left his seat and went out on the floor and urged the crowd to get fired up. The student cheering section cheered wildly, the adults stood and cheered like never before, and Scottsburg won the game.
At the next game, when the Warriors struggled on the court, some adults looked to Gene again to get things turned around. And, of course, Gene went back out on the floor. After that, at least once a game, Gene started going out on the floor and leading the Scottsburg fans in cheers for the Warriors. The opposing team’s fans didn’t know what to think. Sometimes, they booed Gene, who never seemed to hear them.
Once the act started, and the Scottsburg faithful expected it, Gene decided he needed his own uniform. So Gene asked a lady in Scottsburg, Doris Prewitt, who sewed a lot for her family, to make him an outfit. She then made Gene an outfit he wore for more than 20 years to Scottsburg basketball games. One pants leg was gold, the other purple, one side of his shirt was purple and the other gold, and Gene loved it.
By now, Gene’s act had come full circle, as the Scottsburg masses began to chant his name, “Rogers, Rogers,” before he would leave his seat to go on the floor. Gene developed his own cheer and stunt while on the floor, which always occurred at the end of the third quarter and drove Scottsburg fans to a frenzy.
Gene would stand facing the crowd and yell, “Give me one big fight,” the crowd would yell, “Fight.” He would then yell, “Give me two big fight,” and the crowd would yell, “Fight, fight.” Gene would respond with, “Give me three big fight,” and the crowd would scream, “Fight, fight, fight.” And then, Gene would take off, running in a big circle with the entire gym watching him. At the end of the circle, Gene would jump in a mid-air splits and touch his toes, and the Scottsburg fans would go delirious. Gene would then run off the floor back into the bleachers as fans high-fived him and encouragingly patted his back.
Even at away games, fans found his act entertaining. In the 1980s, when the Scottsburg girls basketball team rose to statewide prominence and a state championship in 1989, Gene, now in his 60s, also was becoming a statewide figure. During the Final Four in Indianapolis, others started taking notice of the impact Gene’s cheer had on the crowd. With three trips to the girls basketball Final Four from 1986 to 1989, Gene started to become the talk of Indianapolis every February.
When the director of the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame asked Gene if he could have his uniform, Gene thought he was joking.
“I didn’t know what to think, but eventually, he persuaded me he wanted to display the outfit at the Hall of Fame,” he said. “So I gave it to him, and it’s still on display there. A lot of people have told me they’ve seen it, and that’s really something.”
Gene quickly replaced the uniform and kept his place on the court for the next 20 years, performing his act up until his early 80s. And every time he did it, the Scottsburg crowd would go wild.
Gene’s pride of being a Scottsburg Warrior has gotten stronger each year of his life and even more meaningful to the community. At a Scottsburg home game last season, Gene was sitting on the first row of bleachers under the goal closest to the Scottsburg pep band. When the band started playing the Scottsburg school song, Gene stood and started clapping his hands to the beat of the school song, and then he started walking toward the band while he continued to clap his hands.
When he reached the band, he stopped, shook his fist in the air encouragingly and proudly and then he pointed at the band members, thanking anyone that made eye contact with him. He then marched a few feet over to the student cheer block, where the students waved at him and many shouted, “Rogers.” He waved back and shook his fist in the air again as the students screamed wildly, and then he strolled on past them.
It was the perfect moment with Mr. Scottsburg thanking everyone he could see for being a Scottsburg fan.
Mike Barrett is a local resident with an interest in history. Send comments to [email protected].