TERRE HAUTE —
Now might be too late for giving Christmas presents, but the book “Trophies and Tears: The Story of Evansville and the Aces” is a fascinating read for longtime Indiana basketball fans, particularly those older than 40.
Written by award-winning Kyle Keiderling of Henderson, Nev., and released in hardcover format in mid-December, the 480-page “Trophies and Tears” documents the rich tradition of the University of Evansville men’s basketball program through recent interviews and research of old yearbooks and newspaper/scrapbook clippings.
The book contains many cheery moments — behind-the-scenes details of all five NCAA College Division (now known as Division II) championships won in the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s by the Purple Aces and their legendary coach Arad McCutchan — although some of those moments don’t seem so cheery from an Indiana State perspective when the Sycamores found themselves on the losing end of scores.
It also provides tear-jerking accounts of the events that led to and followed the DC-3 plane crash that killed 14 UE players, first-year coach Bobby Watson and 14 other persons Dec. 13, 1977, as the team tried to leave Dress Regional Airport for a game the next night at Middle Tennessee State. The flight lasted about 90 seconds amidst rainy, foggy conditions.
Among those who perished that night was 19-year-old freshman Mike Joyner, a former standout at Terre Haute South High School and a member of my 1977 graduating class. Among those interviewed for this book was Mike’s older brother, Robert Joyner of Terre Haute.
“Trophies and Tears” mentions the 1977 Aces’ final game being played against the Larry Bird-led ISU squad in Hulman Center on Dec. 10, three days before the tragedy. Evansville, which entered with a 1-2 record in its first season as an NCAA Division I program, lost to the highly regarded Sycamores 102-76 as Bird — then a junior — ripped the nets for 35 points.
Yours truly, almost one year before beginning my newspaper career with the Terre Haute Star, watched the action as a fan in the stands — cheering for the Sycamores but also hoping Joyner would make a good showing, which he did.
In the book, Keiderling boldfaces the name of each person who would be a crash victim on his first reference to him or her. I didn’t pick up on that at first, but I eventually figured it out.
Keiderling also sprinkles in specific details of the DC-3 plane involved in the crash throughout different parts of the book.
For example, at the end of the chapter about the 1965 through 1967 Evansville teams, he uses italics to point out that General Motors donated this DC-3 to the Michigan Technical University Development Fund on May 22, 1967. It was unrelated information to the rest of the chapter, but it was effective because of the time frame.
At the end of another section about the Aces’ mid-70s teams, he brings up Hawkeye Airlines of Ottumwa, Iowa, buying the plane Sept. 24, 1974, and eventually placing it into charter service.
Considering I knew in advance the fate of this plane, I found the occasional updates interesting.
Keiderling doesn’t get to the chapters about the crash, its cause and reactions of the victims’ families until late in the book because he wanted to illustrate in the early chapters how much basketball meant to the Evansville college and community. Some of Evansville’s greatest players reflected on those eras; only Jerry Sloan declined to be interviewed for this book, the author said.
If you’re old enough to remember, Sloan had agreed to accept the Aces’ head-coaching job after McCutchan retired in early 1977 only to renege soon afterward, making it available for Watson. Sloan, an Evansville standout in the mid-1960s, went on to post 1,221 regular-season coaching victories in the NBA.
Keiderling did a magnificent job of laying the groundwork in the early chapters. In Chapter 12, he describes the 1959-60 season that included the return of Ed Smallwood to the team. Those Aces — led by Smallwood — would repeat as NCAA College Division champions, defeating Chapman College of California 90-69 in the final contest.
I admit, I’m a little too young to know much about Smallwood’s career (at least before reading the book). But descriptions from those who played with Smallwood — as the only African-American player on the team, he was refused service by certain restaurants — made me want to Google “Ed Smallwood” and learn more about him. I discovered he died in 2002.
Speaking of descriptions, there are some of a graphic nature when Keiderling gets to when the first responders arrived at the crash scene and started finding bodies. It’s rather gruesome, but what can you expect from a tragedy as horrific as this?
“Trophies and Tears,” published by Morning Star Books, sells for $29.95. One way to order online and receive a discount (for a limited time) is by going to www.trophiesandtearsbook.com. It’s also available at www.barnesandnoble.com.
Grab it before it becomes a movie, which I can see happening someday.
David Hughes can be reached after 4 p.m. by phone at 1-800-783-8742, Option 4, or at (812) 231-4224; by e-mail at email@example.com; or by fax at (812) 231-4321.