Should there ever be a hall of fame honoring individuals inducted into the most sports halls of fame, it might be worth inviting Carol Tumey to the ribbon-cutting.
Honored by Franklin College, her alma mater, in 2000 and the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame in 2011, the former Center Grove High School coach, teacher and administrator in eight days becomes part of a third.
Tumey, who for 35 years served as the Trojans’ girls track and field coach, will be one of 11 people inducted into the Indiana Track and Field Hall of Fame on Jan. 31.
This latest honor, like those before it, is special to Tumey in ways only she can fully appreciate.
“Here’s my take on this. For me it is about kids,” Tumey said. “There was a spirit of competition at Center Grove that just belied all of my expectations.”
In 40 years at Center Grove (1963-2003), Tumey applied her mentoring touch in an effort to positively impact those she coached.
At the time of Tumey’s arrival in August 1963, Center Grove was a small rural school with about 650 students — or slightly less than one-fourth of what it is today.
Newly married to her husband, Dale, she started a girls basketball program at the high school — with support from then-principal Melvin Vandermeer. Her 1968-69 team finished the season undefeated a whole seven years before the IHSAA first recognized girls basketball as a sanctioned varsity sport.
During various stages of her Center Grove tenure, Tumey would coach four girls sports: basketball, cross-country, volleyball, and track and field.
Girls track and field is where she remained the longest, guiding the Trojans’ fortunes for 35 seasons (1965-99).
Standing front and center during the sport’s infancy in Indiana meant witnessing events and scenarios completely foreign to most of today’s high school coaches.
Tumey recalls her athletes running — and occasionally, sliding — atop cinder surfaces, forerunner of the current all-weather ovals.
She remembers with clarity the unforgiving steel bars used during high-jump and pole-vault competitions; hurdles made of wood; and how events such as the 80-yard hurdles and softball throw (1974-79 for both) fell by the wayside years ago.
“I feel like coaching the sprints came easier for me, and we had a lot of success in the high jump and long jump,” Tumey said. “I think I was probably a better track coach because I did it longer and had more time to have more professional development.”
Tumey’s girls track program achieved many top 10 team finishes at the IHSAA state finals. The Trojans also won eight sectional and three regional titles on her watch.
In 1980, she was selected as National Girls Track Coach of the Year.
While at Center Grove, Tumey also served as intramurals director and from 1972-2003 was assistant athletics director.
It’s virtually impossible to pinpoint Tumey’s legacy given the ground she broke as a girls sports pioneer while at Center Grove.
“Carol has an excellent presence at Center Grove, in Johnson County and throughout the state of Indiana. Her influence continues to be felt,” Center Grove athletics director Jon Zwitt said. “She was one of the pioneers in women’s athletics and got Center Grove on the map in those sports.”
Tumey was ahead of her time and right on time.
Now, she’s expected to somehow incorporate 35 years of track and field memories, friendships and influences and mold them into a three-minute acceptance speech.
Talk about running on cinders without the benefit of cleated footwear.
But, again, Tumey has done this before. To her, this latest honor is about the hundreds of girls she coached at Center Grove and their willingness to maximize their efforts during practices and meets.
It’s about a supportive school administration and a husband who for a half-century now has been Carol Tumey’s most ardent supporter.
“My husband has been unbelievable. We ate many meals in the bleachers or at the competition site,” Tumey said. “From the athletes I expected hard work, and I expected competitive spirit. I am comfortable with what I did, and as we progressed as a program, I worked even harder.
“I loved the kids at Center Grove and am still close to many of them, male and female.”