When the news came by mail, Sandy Herre cried.
Meridith Sanders Barone had no idea that the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame had a Silver Anniversary team for women’s basketball.
Saturday night, the two Hoosier Conference rivals from Benton Central and West Lafayette, respectively, will be honored in Indianapolis. Among the other 1988 basketball greats to be saluted are Clinton Central graduate Stephanie McQuinn, Purdue basketball All-American MaChelle Joseph and Boilermaker two-sport standout Donna Gill.
“They were tears of joy, but it was just a culmination of a lot of feelings,” said Herre, a teacher at Benton Central. “It was never expected but greatly touched my heart. I wouldn’t be who I am today and who I was back then if it wasn’t for God blessing me and blessing my life.”
Barone, a Human Resource Leader for General Electric who resides in West Chester, Ohio, wasn’t expecting a phone call from Jan Conner, Herre’s former coach and Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame member.
“Being here in Ohio, I hadn’t stayed plugged in,” she said. “I’m so excited. I asked some of my friends and they told me what an honor it was.”
Not only were Herre and Sanders teammates on the 18-and-under AAU national championship team, the Hoosierettes, they have something else in common. Their fathers played big roles in their desire to play basketball.
Dave Sanders played for Tony Hinkle at Butler University and is a member of the Bulldogs’ Hall of Fame. He saw Meridith’s potential when she was in junior high, and along with his son, gave her lessons in toughness while playing basketball in the driveway.
Barone remembers those games.
“He always supported me and taught me new things,” said Barone, who is coaching her three children in basketball this spring. “I was on the receiving end of a few elbows growing up.”
Her father believes Meridith’s memory is a bit faulty.
“I think she exaggerates a little bit,” Dave Sanders said. “We made her earn what she got, and I think it helped her out later. Meridith knew if she won something playing against us, she really won it. When she played later in the games at the high school or AAU, she was an aggressive player.”
Herre remembers trying to play basketball with her brothers, who are 10 and 12 years older, on the family farm but finding the regulation ball and height of the basket a problem. One day, after a basketball went off her head, her father decided it was time 4-year-old Sandy had a basketball goal of her own
“I was hooked from that day forward,” Herre said.
In fifth grade, Herre made the Fowler Bulldogs girls basketball team and scored all of her team’s points, 22 she recalls, in her first game.
“My mom was concerned I was being selfish and my dad said, ‘No, she’s just worked that hard. She has the potential to be really, really good,’ ” Herre recalls. “After the game, our principal, Mr. Rex Russell, was so proud of me, and he said, ‘Can I get you a Coke and popcorn?’ “
Seventh grade was the pivotal year for both players. Sanders developed a passion for basketball playing for coach Jerry Weida.
“We always stayed after practice and worked on moves and all kinds of fundamentals,” Barone said. “That’s when I saw that if I really put the time in that it paid off.”
About the same time, Herre met Conner for the first time at the Lady Bison basketball camp.
“I got my eyes opened wide,” Herre said. “I remember it as clear as it was just that day. We had to come into the gym through a basketball hoop that was like a rim. What was impressionable to us was that if we could get our bodies through that, there’s no reason why we can’t sink a basketball through it.
“She would make posters: ‘Are you going to be a Lady Bison All-Star?’ The first day I went, I was the camper of the day, and we got a basketball. When my dad came to pick me up, he and mom were concerned I took a basketball. I explained to them that I was the camper of the day. To me, that was like giving me gold. From then on, all I could think about was being a Lady Bison and being a Lady Bison All-Star.”
Flash forward six years. Herre’s Lady Bison are taking on Sanders’ Red Devils in the morning game of the Benton Central Regional.
“I remember Sandy being a real competitor on the court, great ball handling and very feisty,” Barone said. “As with all of Jan Conner’s key players, she was a leader and always prepared to make you change your game.”
Herre remembers something better — a victory over West Lafayette that propelled Benton Central further down the tournament path that ended in Market Square Arena and a Final Four loss to Noblesville during the single-class era.
“I feel like I had a fairy tale story,” Herre said. “When I led the team out in Market Square Arena to warm up, it was in front of 14,126 screaming fans. The floor shook. You could feel the rumble from the floor. Those are memories you can never take away.”
Sanders would go on to make the Indiana All-Star team and earn a basketball scholarship from New Mexico State. Herre received a scholarship from the University of Indianapolis and is a member of the school’s Hall of Fame.
“I really feel like I was born at the right time for girls sports,” Herre said. “Here at Benton Central, the Lady Bison were on the cutting edge. We had a pioneer in girls sports and a Hall of Famer herself.”
Herre is the sixth player under Conner at Benton Central to be selected to the Silver Anniversary team, joining Margaret McGinnis (2003), JoAnn Brouillette (2004), Leslie Seehafer and Diane Windler (2006) and Karen Deno (2010).
Barone’s former teammate at West Lafayette, Sheryl Miller, was also honored in 2010.