A quarter-century ago, Sam Alford spearheaded a successful effort to land the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame in New Castle.
He’s been a tireless worker for the hall ever since.
A longtime board member and a 2002 inductee, Alford will begin a more high-profile role July 1 when he begins a two-year term as the hall’s executive vice president. Then in 2015, he will begin a two-year term as president.
For Alford, a Sweetwater Lake resident and legendary high school basketball coach, the new title won’t necessarily bring about new responsibilities. He’ll continue doing what he’s done for 25 years: advocating for the hall.
“I’m very honored,” said Alford, a 1964 Franklin College graduate and the father of former Indiana University basketball star Steve Alford. “It’s a great honor for me, but more than that, I have a special feeling for the Hall of Fame.
“And if I can help in any way, shape or form, I’m willing to do so.”
Actually, he already does.
Alford, a retired varsity coach who tallied 452 wins and only 242 losses during a career highlighted by a 20-year stretch at New Castle, has served on the hall’s board of directors for the past six years. He has been anything but a figurehead.
Chairman of the marketing committee, Alford, 70, has been the hall’s most prolific fundraiser in recent years. He solicits advertisements for pamphlets and brochures and oversees an annual golf outing near his hometown of Washington, Ind., that has almost quadrupled in popularity since he began running it a few years ago.
The golf fundraiser is an especially critical event for the hall, a sprawling 14,000-square-foot museum that is operated, seven days a week, almost exclusively by volunteers. The hall employs only three full-time staffers, including executive director Chris May, who marvels at Alford’s selfless volunteer spirit and efforts.
“He’s more or less single-handedly run a golf outing that has just
grown by leaps and bounds,” May said. “In three years, it’s grown by 400 percent. Using some of his connections, and of course his family name, he’s got a lot of acquaintances in southern Indiana, and he’s just totally turned that thing upside down and grown it like nobody could have envisioned.”
An iconic figure in Hoosier Hysteria, Alford’s affinity for the hall is understandable. Apart from its location in New Castle, where he coached both his sons, Steve and Sean, Alford has a deep appreciation for the state’s unique basketball tradition. And nothing preserves its essence as majestically as the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame.
Relocated from Indianapolis to New Castle in 1988, the hall is a shrine to Indiana’s hoops history. Interactive exhibits, memorabilia and countless displays are all part of a collection that pays homage to the state’s most well-known teams, players and coaches, from Fuzzy Vandiver to Larry Bird; from George Crowe to Oscar Robertson; from Griz Wagner to Ray Crowe; and from the Franklin Wonder Five to the 1954 Milan Miracle to the great Crispus Attucks teams of the 1950s.
The hall captures it all.
“Anyone that has an interest in Indiana high school basketball, the hall is a special place,” said Alford, whose son, Steve, is a 2009 inductee and the new men’s coach at UCLA. “Outside of the Naismith (Memorial Hall of Fame), which I’ve been to, this is about as nice as it gets.”
Thanks in no small measure, May insists, because of Alford’s selfless contributions.
“There are a lot of guys with big names and famous careers that don’t even give consideration to giving back in the ways, and the numerous ways, that Sam has,” May said. “It would be easy for him to say, ‘My son’s the head coach at UCLA, we’re great people, and I’m going to call in favors based on my name.’ He’s the exact opposite.
“He works harder than I would say 99 percent of anybody else associated with this (volunteer) group, and I think he really, genuinely lives by the mantra so many coaches say, ‘Give back to the game.’ Those aren’t words, those are actions, and that’s how he lives his life and what he’s helping us accomplish.”
Winner of 17 sectionals, six regionals and one semistate title during a coaching career that included stops at Monroe City, South Knox and Martinsville, as well as New Castle, Alford is one of three Franklin College graduates who will begin serving terms as hall officers next month. The others are Steve Witty, a Center Grove High School graduate who will serve a two-year term as secretary, and Carol Tumey, a retired coach and athletics administrator at Center Grove, who will be vice president of the south region.
For his part, Alford — whose wife, Sharan, also is an active member — is simply glad to be part of a small but dedicated group that performs a huge service for what he and his spouse regard as one of the best facilities of its kind in the nation.
“We put a lot of time into it now, with golf outings, selling ads for the brochures and things,” he said. “A big part is that it is completely run by volunteers out of Henry County. They’ve done just an unbelievable job through the years. Some of them have been working there since ’88, when it came there.
“I’ve been pretty active in it. It’s something that I enjoy.”