NEW CASTLE, Ind. – They speak for the living, and for the dead.
They are from Florida and Alabama and places all over Indiana, telling tales from all over the 20th century. They are in New Castle on Thursday night, at the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame, where once a year the Hall of Fame shuts down publicly at 5 p.m. and opens back up for private business. It is the Hall’s annual nomination night, and fathers have come to nominate daughters. Sisters nominate brothers. Grandsons nominate grandfathers.
It is an avalanche of emotion, grown men and women milling nervously in the lobby until it is their time to talk, and some of them are crying as they exit the committee room where they have just made their plea for another’s immortality. They have come from all over America for this one night, this one shot.
This is a story of devotion. This is a story of loyalty and love.
This is a story of basketball in Indiana.
Doug Pearcy is in tears.
He figures he has spent close to 100 hours preparing for his two-minute presentation, and his two minutes have just ended, and all of it is coming out now. It is a mixture of pride and relief and regret, the sudden end to a process he never saw coming. It began with an accidental find in a closet in Martinsville and led him to public libraries and microfiche terminals and games he never knew about.
This search for his father’s career took Doug Pearcy to Martinsville High in the late 1930s, and then to George Pearcy’s time at Indiana State under the legendary Glenn Curtis, and to the 1951 sectional his father won while coaching Linton. And it took Doug Pearcy to a house rigged with a trip-wire grenade in World War II Germany, to an explosion that left George Pearcy with a Purple Heart, a Bronze Star and shrapnel he carried onto the basketball court for 37 games with the Detroit Falcons of the old Basketball Association of America.
“Give me a minute,” Doug Pearcy is saying outside the Hall of Fame.
This started almost a year ago when Doug was going through a closet for something else, something he can’t remember now, something that has been obliterated from his memory by the discovery of that scrapbook his mom started when she was in high school, dating the all-state center at Martinsville High School: George Pearcy. It was around the same time that another former player from Martinsville, eventual Butler scoring machine Tom Bowman, was inducted into the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame. Reading about his father in that scrapbook, and reading about Bowman and the rest of the Hall’s class of 2016 in the newspaper, Doug Pearcy decided to nominate his father.
“I was able to relive my father’s childhood,” Doug Pearcy is telling me outside the Hall, where an executive committee member has just congratulated him on putting together the most detailed presentation – a notebook of more than 100 pages – the committee has ever seen.
George Pearcy died in 1992. It was a heart attack nobody saw coming, not even Doug, and Doug had seen his dad just one day earlier.
“I told him I loved him,” Doug Pearcy says, and now the tears are coming harder, and when he’s able to speak again he’s telling me something that leaves me in chills.
“He died 25 years ago today.”
* * *
Ray Satterfield doesn’t need notes. He could talk for hours about his teammate at Ball State from 1961-63, Ed Butler, and for a minute there I think he’s about to do it with me.
We’re sitting outside the Hall of Fame meeting room, where presenters like Satterfield will speak up for candidates like Ed Butler, and Satterfield is leaning into me, resting his left elbow on my right knee, telling me all about his guy. If charisma matters, Butler is a shoo-in for the Hall because his presenter is Ray Satterfield, and Satterfield is magnetic. To me, he is talking up Butler and occasionally himself, but in a teasing way that says not to take him too seriously.
Satterfield, who played at Shortridge, is telling me about the time he and Butler led the Ball State freshman team to victory against the Ball State varsity, before freshmen were eligible. He is telling me how good Butler was in that game, and he leans into me even more – his elbow still on my knee – and cocks his head as he says: “I got 16 that day.”
I’m peeking at the piece of paper on Satterfield’s lap, a paper with no facts, just single-word prompts he will carry into his presentation. One word jumps out at me:
I ask Satterfield: Are you planning to lie in there?
He’s throwing back that head of his and squealing in laughter.
“Gregg!” he says. “No! I’m reminding myself just to give the facts. I really get excited talking about Ed. He was a student-athlete back when that meant something. He’d quote Shakespeare to us, and he carried a Bible in his bookbag.”
Now I’m cocking my head at Satterfield. A Bible? In his bookbag? Facts, I’m telling Ray Satterfield. Just give facts.
“He never cussed until he joined our fraternity!” Satterfield says, and now he’s squealing again, and I will tell you the truth: I have no idea if Ed Butler belongs in this Hall of Fame, but there has to be one somewhere for Ray Satterfield.
* * *
Ed Beckner is in a purple T-shirt, and he’s not the only one. A dozen or more people have descended on New Castle in the purple of old Arlington High, in shirts emblazoned in white with the form of Arlington star Larry Parks and the words “Hall of Fame candidate.”
Parks was a double-double machine in the 1950s at Arlington High, which merged with other Rush County schools in 1968 to form Rushville Consolidated High School, but this story isn’t about Parks’ candidacy. Really, it is not. Nor is it about the candidacy of Martinsville’s George Pearcy or South Bend Adams’ Ed Butler. Hall of Fame leadership will consider 259 candidates for 12 spots on the men’s side, and 104 candidates for 11 spots on the women’s side, and it will announce the 2017 class in a few months. I have read the bios of scores of candidates. They are all special.
But so are the men and women, mothers and fathers and children and cousins and strangers, who come to New Castle to speak on their behalf. On this night there are 36 presentations, most delivered by one person but some, such as the case of Larry Parks, delivered by a show of strength that includes a dozen men and women in purple T-shirts standing behind Park’s grandson, Kyle Parks.
Kyle Parks is the voice of this contingent and he gets to go first of the 36 because he has come the farthest, an even 1,000 miles from Clearwater, Fla., even if, technically, he didn’t come to Indiana for this moment. No, the world spins in strange ways, and Kyle Parks is here only because of Hurricane Irma, which sent millions of Floridians somewhere else. Kyle Parks fled for Indiana, to bunk with family. His aunt, Teresa Long, was supposed to nominate Larry Parks – her father – but Irma kept Aunt Teresa from getting here, so Kyle Parks stayed a few extra days to make the presentation himself.
“I’m not sure how it went,” Kyle is telling me afterward, his wife standing nearby with their baby in her arms, all of us surrounded by adults in purple T-shirts.
Ed Beckner is the reason they’re here, and he didn’t even know Larry Parks. Not when Parks was playing for Arlington, anyway. Not personally. He knew of Larry Parks, don’t be ridiculous. Everyone in Rush County knew of Larry Parks, and that includes Ed Beckner, who was in middle school when Parks was a high school senior.
“Growing up,” Beckner says, “he was my hero.”
A story in the newspaper a few years back about the latest Hall of Fame class got Ed Beckner to wondering: Is Larry Parks in the Hall? Ed found his answer – no – and contacted Parks’ family for permission to mount a campaign on behalf of Larry, who died in 2000 of prostate cancer. They have come three years in a row, and when I ask Ed if this is an emotional journey he makes every year from his home in Huntington, where he is a pharmacist, he nods.
“It is for me,” he says, answering the question one way before wiping his eyes and answering it another.