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Links to Fieldhouse drive effort for new bleachers

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New Castle alum Troy Burgess eyes a putt during Saturday’s fieldhouse golf outing at Memorial Park. Burgess is off to a fast start as the new football coach at Pioneer. An update will be featured soon in The Courier-Times.
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Steve Alford watches the result of his golf swing Saturday at Memorial Park during an outing to support purchase of new bleachers at the fieldhouse. An update on the beloved New Castle alum and his new coaching gig will be featured soon in The Courier-Times.
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From the 2000s to the 1960s, different generations of New Castle basketball excellence are represented here as Trojan alum Steven Bennett joins his dad, former Coach Steve Bennett, in chatting with late 1950s New Castle star player Ray Pavy as Bruce McCall, a pretty good player in his own right at Blue River Valley in the 1960s, looks on. All were part of a big crowd of participants Saturday in a golf tournament to raise funds for purchasing a new set of temporary bleachers at New Castle Fieldhouse.
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Sharan Alford and husband Sam provided some sweet special deliveries from Jack’s Donuts Saturday at Memorial Park Golf Course during an outing to support purchase of new temporary bleachers at the fieldhouse. The stories shared during the day by the vast array of alumni were no doubt just as sweet. As Ray Pavy put it “they’ll be telling stories better than you could ever write.”

By DARREL RADFORD - dradford@thecouriertimes.com

Note: This story is the first of a two part series.

Rebuild it and they will come.

From different decades and miles away, they came. A legendary Church Street Gym scoring machine was there. So were a pair of New Castle coaches and sharp-shooting sons. Two Mr. Basketballs, members of state finalist teams, a Trester award winner and his son mingled with the joy-filled crowd.

Some were generations apart in age, yet they all came together as one ties-that-bind team to restore honor for the place that honored them with so many opportunities.

The Fieldhouse Open Saturday at Memorial Park was a smashing success. The drive to raise funds for replacing temporary bleachers was nothing but net, thanks to the meticulous planning of former Coach Sam Alford and the enduring love so many former players have for their home town.

And when those temporary bleachers are purchased, seating capacity will be restored to 9,325 and New Castle can once again lay claim to having the “world’s largest and finest high school gymnasium.”

Earlier this year, word spread the temporary bleachers no longer existed that had once used big crowds when Kent Benson and Steve Alford played, as well as when single-class regional tournaments were held here.

Suddenly, the Fieldhouse seating capacity was reduced to 7,829, leaving the title of world’s largest to Seymour, where 8,228 seats are available.

As state media seized on the news, those headlines set determined New Castle alumni into action, including commemorative poster and yard-sign sales along with Saturday’s golf outing.

Tradition never graduates

Together, the sold-out line-up of alumni who played Saturday proved a point made by former Coach Steve Bennett. Indeed, “tradition never graduates.”

“It’s not the team necessarily, it’s the program,” Bennett said. “Each team is part of the program. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been gone 25 or 30 years, you are still a Trojan.”

That apparently goes for coaches, too.

It’s been nearly 25 years since Sam Alford roamed the sidelines as coach of the Trojans. But early Saturday morning, he wore the look of a man with a game plan at Memorial Park Golf Course.

“He works really hard on events like this,” said Larry Meyer, who was by Sam’s side for 11 years as his assistant. “I saw him here at 7 o’clock this morning.”

The respect Alford gets is almost as large as the Fieldhouse itself where his former players are concerned.

“Any time Coach Alford calls and wants us to come back to the city and do something, we’re all really happy to do that,” said Joe Nadaline, who played a key role on New Castle’s 1984 state finalist team.

A veritable who’s who of Trojans

The result Saturday was a veritable who’s who of New Castle basketball – including a beloved Trojan and member of the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame who never played a minute in the Fieldhouse.

“It fell down on me,” Indiana Hall of Fame member Ray Pavy said when asked what the New Castle Fieldhouse meant to him. “It was supposed to be ready for my senior year. That was a big disappointment.”

Pavy was referring to the steel beams collapsing when the Fieldhouse was under construction in the late 1950s. The first game played there was Nov. 22, 1959 – about six months after Pavy graduated.

When it was completed, however, teams that played here fortified the foundation with tradition that promises to stand the test of time.

“I never got to play in it, but it was a great place to watch,” Pavy said. “We were lucky enough to see it packed to the rafters in some great games. You sit back and think about all the great games you saw there. I remember when Steve was playing, they took it to the big kids from Marion and just dominated them.

“You don’t realize how good they were at the time,” Pavy continued. “We were just lucky. Lucky to see Steve play, lucky to see Kent (Benson) play.”

That’s why so many alumni came Saturday, because they, too, felt ‘lucky.” They want to put the Fieldhouse back in a “world’s largest and finest” position for the next Steve, the next Kent, the next champion.

Steve Alford

When told there are some who think the effort to purchase extra bleachers is foolish because there will never again be a need for 9,325 seats at the fieldhouse, Alford’s response was as straight and true as one of his free throws.

Naysayers have predicted the glory years, where the Fieldhouse was filled to overflowing, will never return, given the advent of class basketball and the wide variety of choices people have to spend their entertainment dollars on today. Another Mr. or Miss Basketball coming through New Castle High School would be a long shot, they say.

“You don’t know that,” Alford said. “They probably said that 35 years ago, too. There’s a lot of boys and girls out there who are working awfully hard just like I did when I was a fifth or sixth grader with dreams of filling the Fieldhouse. The argument there is there are a lot of other gyms in the state of Indiana and across the country that are half our size and they don’t fill those either.

“That’s what makes our community special,” Alford continued. “Part of our heritage and part of who we are as a community is the Fieldhouse. We take pride in that. Those of us who played, whether we played in front of sell-outs or in front of a Fieldhouse that was half full, we played in the largest and finest Fieldhouse in the world and we want to keep it that way.”

For Alford, it was love at first sight where the fieldhouse was concerned.

“We were in Martinsville where I had a lot of friends and loved that area,” Steve recalled from his elementary school days. “It was 15 minutes from Bloomington. But the first place Dad took me in New Castle was the Fieldhouse and I was hooked. I knew that’s where I wanted to play. It’s just a very, very special place. To come back here and play a small part with all the other alumni to assist an update it is exciting.”

Steve Bennett

Thirty years after Steve Alford filled the Fieldhouse stands as well as Trojan and state record books, another coaches’ son took the floor – Steven Bennett.

While Bennett didn’t have the type of success or experience Alford enjoyed, he did have the same joy of playing in the Fieldhouse.

“To me, growing up as a kid and my dad being the coach for so many years, it means everything,” Bennett said when asked what the Fieldhouse meant to him. “It’s where I grew up, it’s where I met some of my best friends, it’s where I made so many memories, put so much work and hours in. It’s just a special place.”

Like Alford, Bennett went on to play for a prominent and successful state college at Butler. He didn’t have the playing time or record-setting performances Steve did, but it was an experience he cherishes just like the Fieldhouse.

He was part of three Butler NCAA tournament appearances, including a  Sweet 16 appearance.

“It was challenging,” Bennett said. “It made me better as a player and as a person, coming back from so many injuries. This is a lesson I continue to learn. No matter what your role is in a team effort, you’ve got to come in there and you’ve got to do your job to the best of your ability, whether that’s 30 seconds or 30 minutes of a game. It was a good lesson in attitude.”

And that kind of attitude seemed to resonate on every hole at Saturday’s event.

“The team comes first,” Steven continued. “You’ve got to put the goals of the team above yourself. When you’re part of something bigger than yourself, it’s really special and you make a lot of good memories.”

Everyone Saturday was determined more memories will be made here for years to come in what will soon be the world’s largest and finest high school gymnasium once again.

NEXT: An update on where Trojan basketball stars of the past are now.