To demonstrate the budding relationship between the small town of Medora and its unlikely connection to a new semi-pro basketball team, the observer might have noticed something funky about the Southern Indiana Timberjacks’ home jerseys Sunday night.
The front of the numbered uniforms read “Hornets,” which is not the name of this team, but the name of Medora High School’s sports teams.
There were a couple of good and rare reasons for that.
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As the squad in the new four-team Hoosier Hardwood Basketball Association played its first home game against the Pendleton Legends, the 100 fans in the small gym treated them like the adopted sons they are.
Good plays by the Timberjacks were cheered. Good shots were applauded. Good hustle was appreciated.
Alas, the final score was not. As in the song, “Boom, Boom, Out Go the Lights” by the Pat Travers Band, Pendleton shot the lights out. Raining three-pointers, the Legends won easily 126-95.
And also, an incident occurred out of sight that could corrupt that good feeling. While playing, some Timberjacks living in town had their apartment burglarized and discovered that after the final buzzer. As stated on a Jackson County Sheriff’s Department incident report, another also said he had money stolen from his locker.
Some hospitality there. What a sour note that can poison a connection for good. Here the players chose out of friendliness to represent the high school they are temporarily calling home and some creep seizes the moment to shaft them.
For players, who hail from Michigan, California and other points in Indiana, who never heard of 700-person Medora until they opened a map and pointed, the evening mostly was of good value.
Fans participated in a halftime three-point shooting contest, bought 50-50 raffle tickets, seemingly ubiquitous at every sporting event, and whether this league goes or not, those in attendance can say they were there at the beginning.
And they didn’t have to buck traffic or a parking problem since most could walk from their homes to the gym in the tiny town.
As for the jersey thing, the Timberjacks were supposed to be wearing basketball jerseys reading “Timberjacks.” Only the uniforms did not arrive in time for Saturday night’s season opener or Sunday’s game.
“A league problem,” general manager Joey Sichting said.
Or a seamstress problem perhaps.
The players were offered the choice of wearing their Timberjack T-shirts — in purple and yellow, or whatever the Los Angeles Lakers call their team colors — or those representing the high school players.
Mark Morin is both Timberjacks and Hornets coach, and until the Hornets’ season ended last Friday night in sectional play, practices followed one after the other in the same gym.
“We decided we wanted to wear the Medora jerseys,” Timberjacks center Tommie McCune said. “Medora has been so welcoming to us.”
So it was a reciprocal gesture.
This is minor league basketball akin to minor league baseball, a level where the players are talented but not coveted at the top tier of their sport, where players love what they do and want to keep doing it. There is not much money in minor league ball, and that includes on the management side.
The man on the announcer’s microphone Sunday was Sichting. General manager is a fancy title linked to player personnel. At this level, it is a go-everything job.
“I have a staff of one — me,” Sichting said.
Once upon a time, a fan paying his way into an arena for a ballgame expected nothing more than fair play between teams battling for victory. Over the years, things changed, and the evening turned into what is called “an entertainment experience.” That means kids are supposed to have a good time whether they follow the action or not, and it is best if a fan can walk away with a souvenir he won.
At halftime, fans of any age could trundle out of the stands, pay $1 (or $5 for six tries) to attempt three-point shots. A made shot won the shooter a two-liter bottle of soda.
The 50-50 deal is a random drawing of tickets with half the total pot going to a fan and half kept by the team.
If Pendleton competed in the halftime shooting, the Legends might have bankrupted the team on Day 1. But the biggest winner was local farmer Dale Shoemaker, who raises corn and soybeans, and in his spare time, apparently practices long-range shots.
Shoemaker not only left carrying two large bottles of Coca-Cola but won the split-the-pot. When it was announced his share was $75, he generously donated it back.
“I just want to help the school,” Shoemaker said. “I come to the Medora High School games.”
The school has opened its arms and gym to the team and the league, co-founded by partners Kent Benson, former Indiana University star and pro player, and Bob Petty.
“I think it’s a good thing,” Medora Community School Corp. Superintendent Roger Bane said of the connection to the players.
And it was all feel-good until some snake ripped them off.