Community spirit lifts Crawford County hoops

Community spirit lifts Crawford County hoops

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Community spirit lifts Crawford County hoops

Rows of homemade lawn signs run perpendicular to Indiana State Road 66 less than two miles from Crawford County High School in Marengo. “We back the Pack,” and “Wolfpack power,” among other notes of support, are handwritten in orange and brown marker, rocking back and forth with the wind as cars race by.

Crawford County celebrates after defeating top-ranked Providence in the Class 2A Sectional 46 championship game. Mar. 4, 2017

Crawford County celebrates after defeating top-ranked Providence in the Class 2A Sectional 46 championship game. Mar. 4, 2017

As the campus nears, signs of school spirit become even more evident. Decorative posters and tissue paper hang from the surrounding fences, and chain-link cups depict messages alongside the football field, which overlooks a lot full of parked cars covered in window paint.

Inside Ron Ferguson Gymnasium, banners are draped from the overhang as Crawford County’s boys basketball team wraps up practice. Coach Levi Carmichael looks on, joking with players as they attempt game-winners near the half-court line. Above him, a sign reads: “Semi-state bound.”

A basketball-crazed community, Crawford County waited 15 years for a sectional championship and more than 21 for a regional title, but by way of this season’s historical run, the wait is over in Marengo. The Wolfpack will vie for its first semi-state crown at 6 p.m. Saturday in Richmond, and Carmichael said the community has played a part in the team’s success.

“When it comes to basketball, it’s definitely still one of those old-school communities,” Carmichael said. “When you show up at regional and the first game is already packed out because your fans are already there occupying spots, you know it means something.

“I’ve had several different meetings in two years that weren’t necessarily about basketball, but the conversation turned before I left about, ‘When are we going to win another sectional?’ And I love that. … It’s not pressure. This still means something. Sectionals are still a big deal here.”

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The passion surrounding the Crawford County program, Carmichael said, was a selling point for the 34-year-old two years ago prior to accepting the head coaching position. The match has proved successful thus far.

A protégé of area standouts Joe Hinton and Jim Shannon, Carmichael is now 38-14 in his stint with the Wolfpack, and according to him, there’s no questioning the outside support. Local businesses have offered up donations for hotel and travel costs, and 700 regional championship shirts sold out in less than two hours Wednesday morning.

“They may only have $100 in their pocket, but they say, ‘Here’s $50 – get what you need,’” Carmichael said. “They go out of their way. They’re just so supportive. It’s a throwback to yesteryear. It’s special.”

Saturday’s semi-state appearance is Crawford County’s third all-time. Carmichael was in middle school when the Wolfpack last advanced to semi-state in 1995. Years later, the coach had a hand in eliminating host Crawford County in the regional semifinals during his playing days at Eastern Greene in 2001.

Crawford County fans celebrate after the Wolfpack wins the Class 2A Sectional 46 championship game. Mar. 4, 2017

Crawford County fans celebrate after the Wolfpack wins the Class 2A Sectional 46 championship game. Mar. 4, 2017

“This is the irony in this whole situation,” Carmichael said. “ … As soon as we won sectional, I think everyone reminded me that I owed Crawford County a regional.”

Crawford County, now 21-6 on the year and winner of 12 straight, is set to clash with Heritage Christian (17-9) Saturday for a spot in the Class 2A state championship next weekend. The Wolfpack, per Carmichael, advanced this far by committee.

Adam Beasley leads the team in scoring at 10.8 points per game, and five others – Brent Smith (8.1), Josh Thomas (7.8), Matt Dearborn (7.4), Gavin Coleman (6.9) and Tyrell Nickelson (6.0) – average at least six. After beginning the season at .500, Crawford County is 17-2 in its past 19 games.

“Once we all came together, we knew we had a good chance to win,” Smith said. “(The fans) deserve it. When we were 4-4 back in December, they were here with us then. It’s always been a basketball community.”

Carmichael said his veterans took matters into their own hands after dropping three straight games in December. The senior initiative, he added, has “snow-balled” into the program’s latest postseason tear. Nickelson, one of five fourth-year players in addition to Smith, said the constant support helped spur the run.

“They’ve been coming out here and filling up the stands for the last 15 years – even the years we weren’t winning many games and didn’t have a chance at winning sectional,” Nickelson said.

Behind the seniors’ efforts, the community’s sectional and regional championship drought is in the past, and it’s no secret along Indiana State Road 66 – Marengo is semi-state bound.

“They’re doing things the right way, on and off the floor, and being a good example,” Carmichael said, “and I think the community really appreciates that.”

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