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Swinging for more than just bleachers

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Steve Alford, Sam Alford, retired New Castle High School Principal Don Geozeff and Trojan alum Troy Burgess gather together during Saturday’s golf outing to benefit improvements for New Castle Fieldhouse.
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Former New Castle boys head basketball Coach Sam Alford gestures during Saturday’s golf outing to raise funds for fieldhouse improvements. Alford said 147 people played in the event.

By DARREL RADFORD - dradford@thecouriertimes.com

Steve Alford is getting ready to start a new collegiate coaching adventure out west. Troy Burgess has his Pioneer High School football off to a fast 3-0 start. Joe Nadaline is in his 27th year teaching with Anderson Community Schools.

Those are just a few of many New Castle alumni success stories found at Henry County Memorial Park Golf Course Saturday, all of which had one largest and finest link – the Fieldhouse.

The event, designed to raise money for puchasing new temporary bleachers at the Fieldhouse and also make other improvements, drew 147 people, about half of whom were former players.

“It was a very good turnout,” former Coach Sam Alford, a key organizer of the event, said. “I think everybody had a great day. I saw Brett Pfeffer who played for me. I hadn’t seen Brett since he graduated in 1978.”

Sam’s son, Steve Alford, made the long trip home from the western part of the country, where he’s getting ready for his first year as coach at the University of Nevada.

“The Reno-Tahoe area is beautiful,” Alford said, “back in the high desert like we were in New Mexico. The Sierras and that part of the country is just breath-taking. It’s also a league we’ve had success in and enjoyed while we were there. To have my son back on staff, to get one of my dearest friends, Craig Neal, back on staff, that’s a lot of fun. We’ve only been out there four months, but we’re having a lot of fun. We have a very inexperienced team but a team that’s fun and I think a team that will grow.”

Todd Thalls was once playing at the same time as Steve on the Fieldhouse floor. He was a senior and Steve was a sixth grader.

Thalls, who was Sam Alford’s first player named all-North Central Conference, remembered his senior year how “little Stevie Alford,” a would be shooting at the other end of the floor during practice. 

“He shot from all over the court and very rarely missed,” Thalls said. “I thought to myself at the time ‘we’re in a rebuilding mode, we could use him right now.’”

Thalls echoed sentiments of many concerning his love for the Fieldhouse and his desire that it once again be regarded as the world’s largest and finest.

“One of the biggest thrills in my sports life was my first game running out of the Fieldhouse tunnel,” Thalls said. “The bleachers were packed then and you felt like you were just walking on air. The crowd was electric. It was a magical experience.”

And to the naysayers who believe getting back to number one in seating capacity, a status now held by Seymour, is silly, Thalls said Saturday’s event was about more than just bleachers.

“The tournament wasn’t just for the seats,” Thalls said. “The tournament was to raise money for the improvement of the Fieldhouse, which encompasses many different things. I’m told the portable bleachers can be used for other sports also.”

Burgess, who did play at the same time as Alford, said he still gets up every weekend morning and checks how New Castle did the night before.

“It’s a very special place,” he said. “We have a lot of great memories and received a lot of opportunities there. I was fortunate to play on some pretty good basketball teams with some pretty good players.”

Burgess is head coach and athletic director at Pioneer, a school located about 20 miles north of Lafayette. Last year, his Evansville Central team lost in 4 OTs during the state Class 4A football championship game.

Nadaline, who played on New Castle’s 1984 Indiana final four team, also considered himself fortunate to have experiences in the fieldhouse.

“We grew up here at a time the team was really, really good,” Nadaline said. “The stands were packed every night for two years when Steve was there and when we played after that. I’ve been really, really lucky because I got to do that. Then I go to Anderson and got to coach in the Wigwam for 17 years. So I got the best of both worlds.”

Efforts like Saturdays figure to prevent New Castle Fieldhouse from suffering the same fate as Anderson’s Wigwam, which no longer hosts high school games and was once in danger of being torn down.

“There is a possibility it could be opened again in the next couple of years, using it for different things,” Nadaline said. “Different events besides basketball, but also host a few games now and then. It’s still in pretty good shape. They put a new roof on it, so it’s not gotten any worse.”

Meanwhile in New Castle, a place soon to be once again home of the world’s largest and high school gymnasium, no new “game plan” for using the fieldhouse is needed. The 147 people who attended Saturday’s golf outing are determined it will remain a hotbed of basketball – and future success stories – for new generations to come.