The only Indiana All-Star basketball player to represent Whiteland High School never played against the premier players from Kentucky.
Jay McClain didn’t even get to hang out with his All-Star teammates until all parties involved were in their late-60s.
McClain graduated from Whiteland in the spring of 1944. Due to America’s involvement in World War II, the annual Indiana-Kentucky series found itself on hiatus for a second consecutive summer.
Fifty years would pass before McClain’s basketball accomplishments finally earned their rightful amount of spotlight.
One of 14 men to be honored as an Indiana All-Star a half-century after the fact, McClain stood at midcourt at Market Square Arena the night of June 25, 1994, and let the applause rain down.
Not quite eight years later, McClain passed away April 1, 2002, at the age of 76.
So who was Jay McClain?
He was a rugged 6-foot, 200-pound forward who averaged 14.2 points a game as a senior to lead the Warriors deeper into postseason than any Whiteland player before or since.
The 1943-44 Warriors of coach Herman Smith won the sectional for the first time in the program’s history, then took home the nets from the Shelbyville Regional.
Whiteland improved its record to 27-2 with a 46-37 defeat of Waynetown at the Anderson Semistate the following week, but fell short against the host Indians in the championship game, 40-21.
The Warriors weren’t simply elite. Led by McClain, the team’s lone senior, they were Elite Eight.
Consider this took place in the old single-class format in a season in which 778 boys basketball programs entered sectional play and the legend grows even larger.
Whiteland’s population in those days was 403 residents — approximately one-tenth of what it is today. For a small-town high school to accomplish what the 1944 Warriors did flirted with being Milanesque in nature a full decade before the Milan Miracle.
The kid who wore jersey No. 3 led the way.
Love is blind (date)
Carolyn McClain remembers with amazing clarity the day she met her future husband on a blind date.
“It was at Nick’s Candy Kitchen in Franklin. I was sitting there waiting for him and a friend came in and asked who my blind date was with, and I told her Jay McClain,” Carolyn, 84, said.
“My friend said she knew him, but that was all she said. I guess I didn’t ask enough.”
In walked McClain wearing a leather bomber jacket. According to Carolyn he would dress much nicer for the couple’s second date, which eventually led to more dates and, ultimately, an engagement.
Carolyn, who graduated from Union High School in 1948, received an engagement ring as a present. The couple married on Oct. 22, 1949.
Jay McClain by then already had spent two years in Japan as an Army private. The couple would become permanent fixtures of Johnson County, raising their three children — daughter, Marsha, 64, and sons Michael, 61, and Mark, 51 — here.
Marsha and Michael would graduate from Greenwood High School. Michael, like his late father, is a Whiteland alum.
Jay McClain would work as a driver for R.O. Barber Trucking before retiring in 1984.
An IU basketball fan to the end
Ardent supporters of the Indiana University men’s basketball program, Jay and Carolyn made it to as many games as possible until Jay’s health began to decline.
Those they couldn’t attend became can’t-miss television at home.
“Jay just idolized Bobby Knight. He even got to meet coach Knight once at a ballgame. Coach is a lot bigger in person than I thought he would be,” Carolyn said.
“If the games on TV would get real tense, he would walk down the hall and then hollar back and ask what happened.”
After 18 months of driving to Martinsville for dialysis appointments, Jay McClain would spend his final days and nights in the comfort of the family’s residence.
In a script even Hollywood couldn’t concoct, he passed away after watching the Hoosiers lose to Maryland, 64-52, in the 2002 national championship game.
“It was right after the game. One of the boys said, ‘Dad just couldn’t stand to watch IU lose, so he’s out of here,’ “ Carolyn said, laughing. “Was it fitting? Thinking back, it was. But we knew it was coming eventually.”
Carolyn McClain’s family tree now includes nine grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.
Her late husband, quiet by nature, lived to see all nine grandchildren as well as earn his rightful place as an Indiana All-Star.
“Oh, he was delighted,” Carolyn said of that special summer of ‘94 in which a 68-year-old man earned one more night as a teenager. “Jay wasn’t much to express himself, but you could tell he was proud to be out there.”
Men of honor
Here are the 14 men who were honored as 1944 Indiana All-Stars 50 years after their high school eligibility expired: Zygmund “Ziggy” Belzowski, LaPorte; Vince Boryla, East Chicago Washington;
Donald L. Caldwell, Thorntown; Gene Faris, Campbellsburg; Bill Gosewehr, Frankfort; Bob Macy, Converse; Jay McClain, Whiteland; Charles McMillan, New Castle; Murray Mendenhall Jr., Fort Wayne Central; Paul “Pete” Mount, Lebanon; Mel Payton, Martinsville; Gene Schmidt, Evansville Bosse; Norm Sloan, Lawrence Central; Gene Turner, Kokomo