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Nephew looks back at life of 1939 Mr. Basketball Crowe

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Seated in the residence hall bearing his surname, Brad Crowe spoke warmly and at length of the seven uncles and two aunts so instrumental in his upbringing.

Images of two of the uncles grace the rectangular plaque affixed to the brick entryway of Crowe Hall on the north fringes of the University of Indianapolis campus.

One is George Crowe, Indiana’s first Mr. Basketball in 1939. The other is older brother Ray Crowe, a sports pioneer in his own right, having coached the legendary mid-1950s Crispus Attucks High School basketball teams.

George is poised to release a two-handed set shot; crouched in a starter’s stance, Ray was an accomplished track athlete during his youth.

Ray Crowe was a Whiteland High School graduate. George Crowe graduated from Franklin High School. Their impact travels well beyond the borders of both Johnson County and Indiana.

A 10-letter athlete and 1973 Franklin Community High School graduate, Brad Crowe, 58, is a success in his own right as vice president of E-Coating Plus in New Castle.

Sadly, Crowe’s father, Russell, a Franklin factory worker and seventh of Morton and Tomann Crowe’s 10 children, died of heart attack at age 38 on Nov. 22, 1963, the same day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.

Brad Crowe was 8 years old.

“At 8 years old I had thought about being president. It was then I decided I wanted to be an astronaut instead,” Crowe said.

“But I was fortunate. I got to travel with my aunt, and we traveled everywhere. I knew where every uncle

lived and every aunt lived, so I literally had the benefit of enjoying them all. When my father died, I was so young that I just got to go be part of everybody’s family.”

Uncles Travis and Pete focused on work. Billy Crowe, the brood’s baby, worked as a probation officer for nearly four decades and was the family’s practical joker. Uncles Richard and Ray Crowe were employed by Crispus Attucks.

Then there was George Crowe, the fifth child. George simply kept quiet, minded his business and burrowed through societal barriers.

Receiving in excess of 20,000 votes more than the next All-State basketball selection as a senior in 1939, the Mr. Basketball award was created due to such discrepancy.

After serving in World War II, Crowe went on to play nine seasons at first base as a Major League Baseball player from 1952-61 for the Boston/Milwaukee Braves, Cincinnati Reds and St. Louis Cardinals. He hit 81 career home runs and made the National League All-Star Game in 1958.

Played at old Memorial Stadium in Baltimore, the NL lost, 4-3, to the American League.

Crowe didn’t see action in the game, which is somewhat understandable considering the top of manager Casey Stengel’s lineup card read: Willie Mays, Bob Skinner, Stan Musial, Henry Aaron and Ernie Banks.

Crowe as an African-American growing up in the 1930s witnessed prejudice daily. His immense athletic gifts could get him to a certain point in society’s eyes but no further.

“Being American of African descent, which is the terminology that I use, the reality in that era, it was tough. A lot of the talent and skill on the basketball court or on the track, it ended there,” Brad Crowe said.

“You couldn’t go on into the restaurant or the hotels, and that was tough on uncle George. Now he would comply. A very easygoing man. Understood the rules. Recognized them.”

With one noteworthy exception.

“The only time that I know of that uncle George literally said, ‘Not today’ ... he had been to war, did his time for America, came home back to Franklin and by now Franklin was segregated. He was at the movie theater with his wife and the usher wanted to usher him into the balcony. He said, ‘I just fought a war, I’ll sit anywhere I want. I’m not moving,’” Crowe said.

“The strength was the patience. You had this talent, you had the intellect to be able to move forward at a reasonable pace. But if you didn’t have the temperament, you could literally be stopped dead in your tracks. To be able to work your way through that emotionally, that was tough to do.”

The brothers Crowe were six years apart in age.

Ray passed away Dec. 20, 2003, at the age of 88. George fell short of 90 by only 63 days, dying Jan. 11, 2011.

On Oct. 6, 2012, not quite 21 months after George Crowe passed, the University of Indianapolis rededicated the former New Hall so that it would forever carry the Crowe name.

“They would have been pleased that their name was associated with academics. Uncle George has a baseball field named after him in Franklin. Uncle Ray over at Attucks obviously has all of his tributes and accolades. But to be here at the University of Indianapolis to have a dormitory on a college campus named for them I think would have brought them pride,” Brad Crowe said.

“And I know it would have brought my grandmother pride. No doubt about it.”

Tomann Crowe, who stood only “4-foot-8 or 4-foot-9”, according to Brad Crowe, was the family’s undisputed rock and among the main reasons the family has enjoyed success athletically and academically even as its branches lengthen.

“We all have that pride and that connection. My grandmother, who was a force in and of herself, ran a tight ship. It was respect. She did her job. She raised her kids. From early in the morning until late at night she cooked every single day. She cooked every single meal. The kids had chores, they had responsibilities, and they had to execute,” Brad Crowe said.

“The kids saw in my grandfather and in my grandmother this consistency. The sense of responsibility was instilled early to do what you were supposed to do.”

Every two years on the second Saturday of August, close to 100 family members congregate to reconnect while sharing stories new and old.

Brad Crowe says past gatherings have been in Franklin, New Castle and Indianapolis, but a park in Carmel is being sought for the upcoming 2014 version.

George Crowe won’t be present. His name, however, promises to heard frequently in the late-summer humidity by those who loved and admired him most.

“Uncle George was an awesome uncle. He lived in New York, lived in St. Louis ... he just was an incredible traveler. But he always came home at least two times a year. He would come home in a big four-wheel truck or he would come home in a four-wheel jeep. Every single visit he would take all the nieces and nephews for a ride in his jeep and give us all a silver dollar or a 50-cent piece. Every single time,” Brad Crowe said.

“After he retired, he moved up into the mountains of Long Eddy, New York. He would come home and tell us stories about fishing and hunting. He was just a nice, regular guy despite he had accomplished all these great things.”

Brad Crowe views his family name as a blessing because of the expectations that come with it. Noticing those five familiar letters inscribed on a building is merely one of many reminders.

“I come to campus periodically and see the hall and see my name up there. I actually always looked at it as a road map. This is what you do and this is how you do it,” Brad Crowe said.

“Every door has a key, and for my family and for many other young athletes of that era, the key to the door and getting it open was athletics. It gives you a sense of responsibility and gave you the opportunity to go to college. Financially, there was no way that my grandparents could have sent six kids to college back in those days.

“From that, my uncles as well as myself and my niece, we’ve taken that door and opened it and gone on to college. And then we used that to the catapult to other things.”

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