By JOSH SIGLER
Saturday was a homecoming for Greg Bell on many fronts.
Bell captured the cherished moments of local athletics for 27 years as the voice of Howard County sports on WIOU radio before moving to Kentucky in recent years.
A lesser know fact about Bell is that with Dean Hockney, he helped spearhead a movement to create a Howard County Sports Hall of Fame 10 years ago, serving as a member on the original board of directors, a group which inducted the inaugural class of legends Jimmy Rayl, Jim Ligon, Tom Underwood, Pat Underwood, Rut Walter and Don Johnson in 2003.
His ongoing battle with cancer was a factor in him missing last year’s induction ceremony, the first hall of fame banquet he was unable to attend.
Saturday night inside the Kokomo Civic Center’s Automotive Museum, Bell’s career came full circle as he was honored as the hall’s 2012 recipient of the Distinguished Service Award, standing alongside the six members of the 10th hall of fame class.
“I just have so much respect for this organization and job that the board of directors do, because they spend a lot of time and take their job seriously about coming up with a great class each and every year,” Bell said. “Each year you think ‘Gosh, you can’t come up with a better class than last year’s class.’ And, every year, here they come and it’s an even better class. This means so much to me. It really does.
“After I left [Kokomo] I realized how much I missed it. I cover high school sports in Kentucky now and it’s not the same. It really isn’t. People love their sports here. The atmosphere at games [here] is just incredible. It’s just not the same in Kentucky. I really do miss covering Howard County sports.”
Bell and Hockney took a moment to reflect on what the Hall of Fame has grown into since 2003. Both were proud to have been a part of getting it off the ground, but more so were thankful for the community support the initiative has received.
“To do it this long is just phenomenal,” Hockney said. “You’d think at some point you’d have everyone inducted that you think should be inducted. But, when you look at some of these names [in the 2012 class], they’ve all done remarkable things in Howard County athletics. We’ve inducted 60 people now, and it just seems to get better and better.”
The 2012 class features a diverse group of athletes and coaches who, like those before them, have left an indelible mark on the Howard County athletics landscape, including Tia Davis, Crissy Klein, George Phares, Chris Boneham, Leon Troyer and Brian Hogan.
Each grabbed the attention of the audience in their own way during their induction speeches, receiving warm ovations, laughs, and the occasional tear as they recalled what the community has meant to them.
Davis starred on Kokomo’s girls basketball teams in the late 1990s, scoring 1,056 career points as he Lady Kats teams compiled an 81-19 record and grabbed three regional titles.
She went on to scored 1,099 points in her collegiate career at Toledo, earning All-Mid-American Conference First Team honors as a senior. She conveyed her feelings of gratitude for those who helped her developed into the player and person she became. At the top of that list is her mother Claudette Davis.
“My mom is my rock,” Tia said, fighting back tears. “She put her ambitions on hold to make sure I reached mine.
“This is where it all started for me,” Tia continued. “This is where I picked up a basketball for the first time. All of the coaches I had to teach me the game of basketball — this was the grassroots of it all. To all my coaches and those who [influenced] my life by teaching me this game, I just want to thank them for all the hard work and passion for the game that they taught me.”
Klein was a four-time state qualifier in golf at Northwestern High School who went on to star on the course at Notre Dame. She later played in the U.S. Open and earned the title of Class A PGA Professional.
“This is really exciting,” Klein said of her induction. “I never expected something like this to happen to me. I’ve played golf my whole life, and this is really a great honor to be part of. I have learned quite a bit from my experiences in golf. Every day on the golf course there’s something new, and always having the support of the community of Howard County has meant so much to me.”
A native of Shelbyville, Phares compiled a 537-321 record as the baseball coach at Taylor High School, where he led the Titans to the Class 2A state championship in 2000. He was also Taylor’s girls golf coach for 24 seasons, leading three teams to the state finals.
“I look back and think about all the people I’ve had the opportunity to be associated with here in Howard County, and a lot of them have meant a lot to me,” Phares said. “I’m sure many of them don’t even know how much they’ve impacted me, because I was always the type of person who would listen to what they had to say and implemented it into my program. I doubt many of them were ever aware of it.”
Boneham led Haworth High School’s 1982 boys swimming team to a state title and earned four individual state championships before moving on to Indiana University, where he was a two-time Big Ten champion in the pool.
He credited two coaches, Haworth’s Mal Cofield (a 2008 Hall of Fame inductee) and IU’s Doc Counsilman, for helping him reach his potential as an athlete and person.
“I’m only the second swimmer to be inducted, and I’m just so proud,” said Boneham, who now works in the pharmaceutical business in Raleigh, N.C. “It’s great to be back and see all of these old people and remember the good times. I draw on my experiences [in Kokomo] quite a bit. Athletics has given me a lot. Not just the success, but everything involved with it and all the people I met. The success and adversity experienced in sports is vital because it teaches you so much beyond the realm of athletics. There are so many lessons you can learn throughout your life.”
The pride of Greentown, Troyer was a cornerstone on Eastern High School’s football teams in the early 1960’s, squads which won 37 straight games beginning in 1961. He went on to play fullback at Purdue, where he played alongside legends like Bob Griese and Leroy Keyes. He was a member of the Boilermakers squad which defeated USC 14-13 in the Rose Bowl following the 1966 season.
“I didn’t realize how big of an honor this is until I got here [Saturday], to be honest,” Troyer said. “I really feel like this is an honor for Greentown because when I played football, the town was all there at each game. We were a pretty close-knit place, and they have to be part of this honor for me.”
The sharpshooter from Kokomo High School was a member of Basil Mawbey’s basketball teams of the late 1980s. Hogan helped lead the Kats to a 24-3 record and a regional title in 1988 before earning a nod to the Indiana All-Star team.
Hogan went on to play collegiately at Florida, where he graduated as the program’s all-time leader in made 3-pointers with 120.
Like Boneham, Hogan was grateful for his experiences as a youth in the City of Firsts.
“I’m proud to come back and bring my family and show them a little bit of the history of athletics in Kokomo,” said Hogan, who is now an attorney in Orlando, Fla. “These are some great people to be inducted with. It’s a positive experience to have a background in athletics when adversity comes. You think about those tough moments on the court – whether it be at the Wigwam or at home in Memorial Gym – it’s helped me deal with both the adversity and good times in life.”