Indian Creek’s 1977-78 squad made school history

The 11th boys basketball season in Indian Creek history is remembered for numerous reasons.

Not only did the Braves of third-year coach Max Dean have an unpredictable schedule due to the worst blizzard in state history, but the 1977-78 squad became the school’s first sectional champion in any sport. Opened in the fall of 1967, Indian Creek was the consolidation of Morgantown, Nineveh and Trafalgar high schools.

History wasn’t on the Braves’ side entering the title game of the Greenwood Sectional. Their opponent, Franklin, had been crowned sectional champion 37 times between 1918 and 1977.

Nevertheless, Indian Creek prevailed in a thriller, 55-53, as junior sixth man Mark Wilkerson hit a shot in the lane with time expiring in overtime.

“Of course, I thought that I was going to take the shot, and I couldn’t come close to getting open,” said Gary Hamilton, who as a senior guard was Indian Creek’s leading scorer that season. “It was played up to get the best shot available, and they kind of forgot Mark a little bit.

“After that, we were the toast of the town.”

That will be the case again Saturday evening as Indian Creek honors the 40-year anniversary of the 1977-78 club during halftime of Saturday night’s home game against Oldenburg Academy.

Now 70 and residing in Greencastle, Dean began his coaching career as an assistant at Fountain Central, was head coach at Knox for two seasons and took over the Braves’ fortunes in the fall of 1975.

The third of his five seasons at Indian Creek proved the charm.

“We basically had a six-man rotation. To some degree it was easier because all the players were solid,” Dean said. “We weren’t big inside, but we had a lot of kids who could change positions.”

Hamilton, who averaged approximately 18 points per game, started in the backcourt with senior point guard J.D. Popplewell. Making up the Braves’ frontcourt were senior center Sam Harbin, junior forward Bernie Fulton and senior forward Jon Bradley.

A coal shortage in conjunction with the late-January blizzard forced regional competition to be pushed back in an attempt to conserve energy. The IHSAA granted sectional winners two exhibition games to prepare for the next level of the postseason.

The practice contests brought the Braves back down to earth but were good experiences overall.

“People in town are feeding us and Van Buren (now part of Northview High School) comes into our gym and beats us by about 20 points,” Hamilton said. “Then we played Avon at Hinkle Fieldhouse and we’re down something like 23-5 at the end of the first quarter.

“Max said, ‘Why don’t we get on our little school bus and go home and no one will know we were even here?’ We ended up coming back and winning that game.”

It wasn’t until April 1 when the Braves faced Shelbyville at the Columbus North Regional. Indian Creek acquitted itself well in the morning game but lost 50-47 to finish with a 16-8 record.

Sadly, Popplewell lost his battle with cancer in June 2003, a little more than a month short of his 43rd birthday. On Saturday he’ll be remembered by Dean, Hamilton and others for his part in what was an Indian Creek basketball season for the ages.

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Mike Beas is a sports writer for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at mbeas@dailyjournal.net.