By Rick Hinton
The Edgewood Elementary School, 1408 Epler Ave., had its beginnings in the fall of 1914, opening as a four-room schoolhouse to accommodate Grades 1 through 8. Over the years that changed as the small neighborhood grew. By 1939 the school also grew, adding eight more classrooms and a cafeteria as part of a WPA project. Even that was not enough, and an overflow was desperately needed. In 1949 the James Whitcomb Riley School was built just a stone’s throw away during a restructure of the school system: it was used for Grades 1 and 2, with its larger parent Edgewood Elementary, by 1953, limited to Grades 3 through 6. Life rolled on as it does with new schools built in the area and the tall gothic building became utilized as a meeting place for local organizations and community affairs. The building closed for good in the spring of 1980, razed later that same year.
There is a passion about the Edgewood School and neighborhood community for those who grew up on the adjoining streets and spent their childhood within the classrooms of the then rural school. There is also a truckload of memories of a time when things were simpler and the pace of life considerably slower. Many of those memories of the Edgewood School involved an Indiana passion – basketball!
On July 23, the Perry Township/Southport Historical Society hosted an inaugural event, paying tribute to childhood hoops and a school that played an important role in their lives – The Edgewood *Epler* Kautsky Basketball Hall of Fame.
Inductees in the Hall of Fame are divided into three distinct groups:
- Those who attended Edgewood Elementary. (Louie Dampier and Pat Williams are inaugural inductees)
- Members of the neighborhood grocery owner Frank Kautsky’s semi-pro basketball team in the 1930s. This was Indiana’s first pro team and a precursor to the establishment of the present-day NBA. (Inductees Frank Kautsky, Paul “Pete” Bailey and Oral Hildenbrand)
- All the great basketball legends who played the 10 outside goals at the school. You did not have to be from the Southside. In the 50s, 60s and 70s these goals were considered the “Mecca” of basketball during the spring and summer months. (Current inductees are George McGinnis and Steve Downing)
Six to eight names will be added to the roster every year. Rumor has it that John Wooden from the Kautsky era, and former head coach of UCLA, may just be one of them.
Southside mover and shaker, Ted Lobdell (featured in a series of articles for The Southside Times in 2018) and Barry Hix did the legwork by speaking with contractors, the designing of a plaque and forming a group to decide who the first inductees would be. The Hall of Fame was the brainchild of local writer Fred Shonk, who took over the evening’s emcee duties. Trophies were presented to inductees in attendance or family members if they were not. There were smiles and applause as the recipients accepted their reward and thanked the crowd. Pat Williams was passionate about how the school, basketball and those he developed friendships with had shaped his young life. He could have spoken all night! That’s what memories will do to you.
“I can say without a doubt that I was truly fortunate enough to grow up ‘Edgewood’ style,” Lobdell proclaimed. “When I see, hear, feel and speak of the memories to others, the emotional feelings are priceless!”
Hix also attended Edgewood Elementary, graduating from Southport High School (the old building, now the Perry Education building). Basketball certainly factored into his early years. “The number of guys that played in the gym and out on the courts from 1920 until 1980 has to be a staggering figure, “ he declared. “Probably in the neighborhood of thousands!”
And … there are the little things that turn into big memories. Danny Stamm, an Edgewood alumnus who lives within a couple of blocks of where the school once stood, remembers the “Mickey Manhole.” “It was a manhole cover outside of the main court … about 35 feet from the net,” he recalled. “Not too many people could hit that shot … I couldn’t. Those that did yelled out MICKEY MANTLE! I don’t remember where that came from or from who.” Stamm, along with Lobdell and Hix, have initiated the erection of a memorial goal erected upon the site of the former school. Hopefully it will be completed in a couple of months.
“All those playing basketball for so many years in that two-block area … it was one special time,” Hix reflected.
Maybe, just maybe, on one of those summer evenings you might be treated to the stir of echoes of boisterous laughter and taunting, the dribble of a ball against the pavement and the swoosh of a net as the ghosts of our childhood never really go away.