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Indy Fever

Memorial Day is one of those holidays that ‘gets to me.’ Coming from a family with a military background and reflecting upon my own time in the service makes this well-deserved time of remembrance something I find very moving.

But as the calendar evoked last week’s annual tribute, my reflections about the military became shared with events emanating from Indianapolis. During my 17-year tenure on the staff of Little League Baseball, 14 of them served as the organization’s Central Region Director and the Indiana capital city served as sort of a ‘second home.’

During the mid-1980s, Indianapolis Mayor William Hudnut embarked on a revitalization plan to reshape the city from “India-NO-place” to “India-SHOW-place.” The centerpiece of his plan was to make Indianapolis the amateur sports capital of the United States. He held meetings to convince several amateur organizations to relocate, including the NCAA. One of his most successful (or infamous, if you lived in Baltimore) was the relocation of the Baltimore Colts in 1984.

At the height of this activity, Little League Baseball met with Hudnut to explore the potential of creating a Central Regional Headquarters in the city. Heavyweights were engaged in these negotiations, and as Central Region Director, I was along for the ride. The Regional Headquarters became a reality, creating both a highlight and, ultimately, an end to my tenure with the organization, but that is a whole other story too detailed to include on these pages.

But Indianapolis was a thriving, fun place to be. Sports were booming, the Colts, the Pacers, the hotbed for high school and college basketball, chairs hanging from the flagpoles of residential homes in tribute to Indiana University coach Bobby Knight’s infamous chair-throwing incident, and an opportunity to attend the premier showing of the movie Hoosiers in 1986.

Above all, Indianapolis has long been known as the home of the Indianapolis 500. I know little about racing but was thrilled to receive an invitation to attend the race years ago. At the time, it wasn’t on my bucket list, but once there, it has captivated my attention ever since.

Looking back, we were a bit spoiled as we had seats about 20 yards from the start/finish line, fifteen rows from the track. The experience was awe-inspiring. Three hundred thousand celebrating fans in one spot made for some interesting sights, especially in the infield. The pageantry was spectacular, and to this day, I still make it a point to tune in and take it all in. The National Anthem, singing of Back Home Again in Indiana, the anticipated call of ‘drivers, start your engines’ all set the stage. But when those eleven rows of 33 cars go roaring past you, the sound is deafening, making the hair on your arms stand at attention.

With rain pouring down at this year’s Indy, causing a four-hour delay, I had time to complete yard work before settling in front of the TV for my annual memorable flashback.

The day before and after the big race, my sports attention was once again in Indy for the NBA playoffs. A fan of the Boston Celtics since childhood, the boys in green were taking on the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference Finals. The importance of basketball in Indiana was on full display. The fans were loud and the games intense as the Celtics twice rallied from big second-half deficits to complete a 4-0 series sweep and head to the NBA Finals, which begin this Thursday.

Sports notoriety has long been an Indianapolis staple. But the bright lights of attention have shown even brighter with the arrival of Caitlin Clark to Circle City. Unless you’ve been pulling a Rip Van Winkle, Clark’s transformation as college basketball’s most heralded player to a targeted rookie in the WNBA has made daily headlines.

It’s akin to a fairy tale. A small-town Midwest girl grows up with basketball talent, achieving milestones along the way. She chooses to attend college two hours from home, leads her team to two NCAA Final Fours, is selected as the player of the year, and becomes the number one pick of the WNBA draft by the Midwest team closest to her home, the Indiana Fever.

But paraphrasing Dorothy’s comments in The Wizard of Oz, Clark is not in Kansas (in this case, Iowa) anymore! She is now performing on the biggest stage in women’s basketball, and the shots she is taking are not only coming from opponents on the court. She’s become a target of bigoted social media hate-mongers. Some suggest that the fame and accomplishments coming her way are only because she is white and straight as if that is something bad.

Despite her talents, Clark is a rookie facing a new challenge, but Fever fans are glad she’s in town.

LeBron James, known for saying many things, chimed in on Clark.

“The thing I love she’s bringing to the sport; more people want to watch, more people want to tune in. Caitlin Clark is the reason why a lot of great things are going to happen for the WNBA.”

Fever teammates are well aware of the talents the golden egg in their midst brings to their team.

“She’s a great passer,” Fever center Temi Fagbenle told the media. “I’ve only seen a few of those kind of point guards, who just know. She sees the play before it’s happened.”

Sports-wise, I developed a case of Indiana fever decades ago. Now Clark and her Fever teammates are inflecting others!