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Coach looking out for No. 700

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Photographs of the 1965-66 Frankfort boys basketball team might someday be worth more than the paper they’re printed on.

The Hot Dogs’ coaching staff was, in order of influence, head coach Phil Buck, assistant Bob Heady and some dark-haired kid fresh out of Ball State University.

“I was just a grunt helping out with the JV and varsity teams,” remembered Lawrence North coach Jack Keefer. “But we played some wonderful teams in those days because Frankfort was in the North Central Conference.”

Frankfort would leave the NCC in 1967 to help found the Sagamore Conference.

As for the grunt, he’s now a silver-haired, glasses-wearing 70-year-old grandfather still going strong in his 38th season on Indianapolis’ northeast-side.

Tonight’s home game against Center Grove is a chance for Keefer to notch career win No. 700 in a career that has produced four state championships.

His current total combined with those of Buck (495 victories) and Heady (379) — both retired from coaching — comes out to be an eye-opening 1,573 wins.

That’s a lot of berated game officials.

“We thought we were going to get No. 700 last week, but Mitchell beat us. No consideration at all,” Keefer said and laughed, referring to North Central coach Doug Mitchell, whose Panthers rallied for a 56-52 victory.

“You look at (700), and there aren’t any milestones anymore. It’s just something that’s there. We’ve lost two in a row now, so we want a win.”

The Wildcats’ 49-36 win at Center Grove last season snapped a three-game losing streak to the Trojans.

Tonight’s Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference rematch takes place in front of Keefer’s 1989 state championship squad, which will be honored between the junior varsity and varsity games.

Keefer later presided over the LN dynasty between 2003-06 in which Greg Oden, Mike Conley and Co. won 82 of 86 games and three consecutive Class 4A state titles.

The first title team, though, remains special.

“It was a true tournament then. An exciting time,” Keefer said of the Wildcats team spearheaded by the talents of 7-foot junior center Eric Montross and senior guard Todd Leary.

“People from all over the state coming to Indianapolis with their letter jackets on and staying for all three games. That season our team just really stepped it up in the postseason.”

Yet for all the good times he’s savored, Keefer’s coaching linage is incomplete without mention of his greatest heartbreak in the sport.

On March 12, 1999, second-ranked Lawrence North was engaged in a heated Class 4A regional battle against No. 1 Bloomington South at Columbus North’s Stearman Center when Keefer’s big man, 7-foot John Stewart, collapsed late in the third quarter.

Stewart was rushed to a nearby hospital, but attempts to revive him were unsuccessful. He was later pronounced dead. Stewart, it was discovered, died of a congenital form of idiopathic hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM).

Asked if Stewart’s death changed him in any way, Keefer paused.

“I’m sure it did,” Keefer said softly. “I’m not sure I know how, but I’m sure it did.”

Keefer, who currently occupies the sixth rung on Indiana’s career wins ladder among boys coaches, figures he still has a few good seasons remaining.

“Most of my buddies go down to Florida. I can’t stand Florida. I can stay about a week,” he said. “My youngest son (Jake) is a sophomore on our JV team, so I’ll probably see him through. And there is an eighth-grader who is pretty special.”

So like a coach. Always looking ahead even when Jack Keefer’s impressive credentials are pleading with him to reflect.

Tonight he gets to do both.

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