SMALL TOWN EXCITEMENT

I was born and raised in a small town in Indiana, a one-stoplight town where EVERYone knows EVERYone else.  As I was growing up, I struggled with this, because there was no privacy, everyone had opinions about yourself, and there was so much gossip.  I was glad to get away.

Fifteen years later when I was chatting with an old friend who had stayed, he told me what a comfort it is to him to be in a place where everyone knows his history and who he is.  I had never seen it from his viewpoint before.

The biggest excitement the town had in those days was in 1979.  Indiana is known for its intense love of basketball, and our town is no exception.  In those days (oh, for the Good Old Days), Indiana had “single class” basketball.

Today, large high school teams from big cities compete with other large high school teams, while the smaller schools compete with other small teams of their own “class.”  But this didn’t come about in Indiana history until 1998, and so when I was younger, all schools competed against each other.  And in 1979, my hometown went to the State Finals.

Let me say that again (insert screaming hysteria here):  WE WENT TO THE STATE FINALS!!!

I was in college at the time, but was able to come home for spring break just in time for the excitement.  Our team won the Semi-Finals right on the buzzer; it was one of those Movie Moments where the teams were tied for overtime, and the score kept bouncing back and forth between both teams.  The other team was ahead, the countdown was coming, and our player threw the ball from the middle of the court as a last attempt at the basket.  The ball went in, but everyone was screaming so loudly the buzzer couldn’t be heard, and we all had to hold-our- breath-while-screaming-at-the-same-time until we saw the final score on the scoreboard:  that basket scored the last and winning point for our team!  It’s worth listening to the radio announcer as he reports the last 8 seconds here.

The day we won the Semi-Finals, each and every one of us was a celebrity just for being from that town.  On the 1 ½ hour drive home, people stood along the highway waving in the dark, and one town even had people standing on an overpass with a huge banner of best wishes.

The following week, the town had a parade every day. And just in case you think we were being a bit over-the-top, I will validate its importance by telling you that the town was overrun with reporters, and we were even mentioned in magazines such as Sports Illustrated.

It seemed there were enough tickets for the Big Event for most everyone in town, which created jokes such as “Will the last person out of __ turn out the lights?”  Many people cancelled their US Postal Service mail for that day, so that the mail lady wouldn’t have to work (she had a son who was on the team).

Well, we lost, of course.  Our guys were scared so spitless they lost the very first game.  But that will never lessen our happy memories.

All this is to say that my town probably hasn’t seen that much excitement…until now….unless it was in 1988 when a young girl was brutally murdered less than a mile from my parents’ farm, and the murderer was never found.  It’s one of those things you always wonder about, with sadness and a bit of fear, but you don’t talk about it much, because of the same.

Thomas Crowell became intrigued about this unsolved murder when he visited our town, and he decided to write a book about it, which came out for sale just in time for Christmas.  This book, called The Passerby, is written as a fictional account with a made-up town and made-up characters, but it is very real.  So real that townspeople can read it and know who is who is who.

And he names who he believes to be the murderer.

And the presumed murderer still lives in town.

Can you imagine the stir this has caused?  People reading the book, figuring out all the characters and finding themselves here and there?  People pointing fingers at the nervous man named as the suspect, and other people angry at those who would accuse him without cause?  Needless to say, things are really humming!

This week, the Indiana State Police re-opened this cold case.

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