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1964: Huntington Remembers the Vikes

Huntington North has won two girls basketball championships, and those two teams are obviously beloved by the community. But the next-most celebrated team is the 1964 Huntington High School boys basketball team. That group of Vikings made it to the state championship game, losing to Lafayette Jeff in the finals. They were coached by Bob Straight, who was probably the most revered person in Huntington. In 2004, the school and community was planning a large, 40th anniversary celebration of the team and its coach. At the Herald-Press, we decided to go all-out as well and put together a multi-story package, and we had a few months head start to build our materials. We wanted to do this one right. We took the team photo and ran it large on the front page, breaking out the names of each player, coach and manager, what position they were then, and what they were doing now. We used pictures of ticket stubs from the game. Coach Straight and his wife had saved telegrams from that time, and we selected some to highlight. A local woman had compiled a scrapbook from that season, so we did a story on her. Bob Hammel, the famous sportswriter from Huntington, was working for the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel that year, so we had him write a remembrance. John Harrell was a senior at Huntington High School in 1964 and had occasionally written for the Herald-Press. He also wrote a remembrance. I wrote the main story. I talked with Coach Straight, who had told his stories thousands of times in the 40 years since he led the team to Indianapolis. I talked to as many players as I could reach, including Mike Weaver, who was an Indiana ALl-Star and winner of the Tester Award that season. We didn’t break any new ground with the stories we had. The tales of 1964 are so well-known around town that even people who weren’t alive in 1964 could recite the narrative. But we did uncover a nugget here or there, and were comprehensive and varied in the remembrances. To me, the highlight of my story came at the end. As I talked to players, I asked them how that basketball experience had affected them in the years following. Nine of the 10 players went to college. All of them were successful in the fields they chose to follow, and a few became quite successful financially, and have used their success to fund a lasting scholarship in Coach Straight’s name. But beyond career success or wealth, each of the players I talked to commented on the life lessons that Bob Straight had instilled in them, from a strong work ethic to building a solid moral core toward family, faith and community. That, they said, was the lasting legacy of that 1964 team. They had a runner-up trophy and stories of on-court exploits, and would poke fun at all the strict rules that Coach Straight put in place for his players. But while they joked about them, they understood — probably more 40 years later than they did then — that those rules and lessons were just about basketball. They were about life, and that was what those players carried with them after high school. Our issue became one of those keepsake editions. We printed extra just because we knew people would want extra copies, and they did. ——— In 2014, there was a get-together to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the team’s accomplishment, but it was much more low-key. Bob Straight was not in the best of health, but players gathered and visited their coach. The next year, Huntington North High School renamed the court at North Arena “Bob Straight Court.” Many of the players returned for that event a well, and Coach Straight made an appearance for the honor. Bob Straight died in 2018, followed not long after by his wife, Jean. At the funerals, the players returned to Huntington to honor their coach one final time, and recall the stories everyone knew so well, but still enjoy hearing or telling. The Bob Straight Scholarship, so generously funded by the players and others, will ensure that the legacy of the 1964 team will live on for many more years.

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