By Craig Pearson
TERRE HAUTE — Vigo County is home to just four IHSAA state championships in team sports. Most recently, Terre Haute South won girls titles in basketball (2002) and tennis (2001).
For the other two, Vigo County sports fans have to go back to the early 1970s. Terre Haute North won the baseball championship in 1974, and coach Bill Welch and the Patriots boys cross country team held off two-time defending champ Southport for the 1972 state title.
“You young men have broken the jinx of always a bridesmaid and never a bride,” North athletic director Woody Roloff told the team days later at a pep rally, according to a report in the Terre Haute Star.
Welch, now 88 years old and perhaps the biggest fan of the current Patriots, said this to the community back in 1972: “We don’t care what’s happened in the past. We’ve brought a state championship to North.”
While North isn’t likely to add to the county’s state title count today, both the boys and girls teams have realistic shots at receiving medals among the top five teams.
The Terre Haute North programs have been back in the state finals many times this decade: the boys are making their seventh apperance today, and the girls are making their sixth consecutive appearance.
The Columbus North boys team showed its dominance by winning the toughest semistate in Indiana last weekend at Carmel, and the defending champion Carmel girls team will be tough for anyone to unseat.
For the North girls team, which features four standout freshmen and two quality seniors this year, its highest finish in the state meet is 16th.
“We’re just trying to make the podium,” coach Mike Dason said. “It might be one of our goals in the future to win a state championship.”
The boys obviously have a higher standard to meet. The Patriots were in third place in 1973 and 1974 and seventh in 1976. As good as Columbus North is this season, equaling those third-place finishes would be a huge success for the Patriots. A repeat of the 2008 seventh-place finish would be disappointing, North’s runners said earlier this week.
Coach Lon McDonald, who will be back next year with a senior-dominated team, isn’t ready to hand over the hardware to Columbus North just yet.
“You can’t count Carmel out, I don’t think you count us out,” McDonald said, also mentioning the other top contenders from Indianapolis North Central, Chesterton and Noblesville.
Welch, who can only recall missing one state finals meet in the past 40 years or so due to a schedule conflict during his tenure at Rose-Hulman, follows the cross country results all around the state on the Internet.
“I think you’re going to find that there’s going to be at least seven teams that are battling pretty good. It’s probably six teams battling for second place,” said Welch, who retired at Rose-Hulman in 2004 and has enjoyed watching many big NCAA and high school meets in Terre Haute.
Welch has enjoyed seeing the Terre Haute runners take an active role in the city’s recent prominence in U.S. distance running due to the Gibson course, which is here thanks to the vision and work of former Terre Haute North standout runner Greg Gibson, Larry Bird, ISU coaches John McNichols and John Gartland and Welch.
“The two teams from North are among the leaders in the state which hasn’t happened since the seventies and early eighties,” Welch wrote in an e-mail. “Vigo County finally can be counted again as a runner’s area for high school athletes.”
In a column by the late Carl Jones after the 1972 win, Welch and his staff was commended for having “rolled up their sleeves to make themselves a cross country team and a darned good one too.”
McDonald and Dason — aided by assistant coaches Kenny Depasse for the boys, Dr. Mike Urban, Tom Dever and Jeff Andrew for the girls — deserve similar praise today.
Craig Pearson can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (812) 231-4357