Fans of New Castle High School sports may recognize John Harp as a person who does the broadcasts of Trojan football and basketball games.
After 25 years on the air, Harp gave up the microphone after joining broadcast partner Lorenzo Pettiford in bringing the by-play-play of the Trojans’ game against NorthWood in this year’s New Castle Regional in March to listeners on local radio station WLTI-AM 1550 on the dial.
But Harp is not done with local sports, as he has accepted a position as junior varsity head coach of the New Castle High School girls basketball team starting in the 2021-22 campaign.
How well Harp does in his new position remains to be seen, but that is not the focus of this story. Instead, this article is a celebration of Harp’s 25-year career broadcasting New Castle High School sports.
Like all stories, there is a beginning. Harp grew up in New Castle, attended local schools, and played Little League Baseball and Babe Ruth League Baseball. He also played basketball in junior high school.
Harp, a 1968 graduate of Walter P. Chrysler Memorial High School (the official name of NCHS back then), played tennis and golf in high school, but not basketball.
“I was cut in tryouts for the Trojan junior varsity team, the Colts as they were called back then, as a sophomore,” Harp remarked. “That team was really good with guys like Doug Ferguson, George Barber, Eddie Higham, and John Hall on it. That B-team went 19-1, losing only to Lafayette Jeff.”
Those four players were juniors on the Trojan varsity team in 1966-67 that finished 25-3 and made the IHSAA Final Four.
“I have an interesting memory from that season,” Harp noted. “I went up to Lafayette that season and was there for our only conference loss. I was also on the high school speech team and we had a speech meet at Lafayette the next day, so I had to come all the way back to New Castle and then turn around and head back to Lafayette a few hours later for the speech meet.”
One thing in which Harp excelled in high school was bowling, which was not an IHSAA-sanctioned sport back then and still isn’t.
“Those bowling leagues at the Rose Bowl were really big back then,” Harp exclaimed. “They were sponsored by the local Coca-Cola Bottling Company and the standings were published every week in The Courier-Times.”
One also could say that Harp’s broadcasting career began in high school. In addition to speech and debate, Harp made announcements over the high school’s in-house station WYSN (Your School News).
After high school graduation, Harp attended Ball State University and graduated with a degree in elementary education. But Harp didn’t abandon his involvement with broadcasting.
“I took some radio & TV classes at Ball State,” Harp said. “I never did get on the air, but I did a lot of background work for the broadcasts, much of it used by those who did the play-by-play of the Ball State games.”
After graduating from Ball State in 1972, Harp returned to his hometown and took a position teaching sixth grade at Hernly Elementary School on C Ave. A few years later, he assumed the same position at Greenstreet Elementary School.
Harp taught here in New Castle from 1972-80. Also during this time, his coaching and broadcasting careers commenced.
“Eddie Higham and I were hired to coach the two New Castle seventh-grade boys basketball teams,” Harp said. “Also, the local radio station, which was called WCTW at the time, was looking for a broadcasting partner for Joe Puttman to do the Trojan games, and I was hired for that position.”
Harp commented briefly about those days.
“I came in at the end of the Cecil Tague era and at the beginning of the Sam Alford era of Trojan basketball. I got to see Steve Alford play as a freshman before his career really took off. The Trojans also had some good football teams, including one that reached the playoffs and another that beat Richmond for the first time since 1950.”
The professional bowling bug then bit Harp, as he resigned from his teaching and coaching positions, plus his gig with the radio station, to pursue his fortune on the PBA tour.
“It was something I felt I really need to try,” Harp remarked. “I wasn’t getting any younger, and if ever I was going to do it, the time was then. At least I don’t have to ask myself ‘what if’ questions.”
Harp talked briefly about those two years of his life.
“You have freedom,” Harp said, “but you also have to pay for all of your travel and living expenses out of your own pocket. Unless you’re one of the top one-half of one percent of the earnings winners, you’re probably not doing to make it on the tour as a permanent career, so I decided to come back to New Castle.”
Teaching jobs in New Castle were quite hard to find back then. But Harp had a lot of contacts in the community, so he was able to land a position in the shipping department at Allegheny Steel on Ind. 38 West, and held that position for several years.
Harp left that position to return to the family insurance business, and was there until the firm merged with a few other insurance agencies. Later, Harp got a position as a route salesman, delivering RC Cola, 7-Up, and Sunkist products to retail stores in east central Indiana.
It was during this time that Harp got back on the air as a sports broadcaster.
“I had known Steve Auten going back to our days as students at Riley Elementary,” Harp said. “Although he was two grades behind me, we were in Little League and Babe Ruth League together. He was doing the Trojan broadcasts back then and needed a new partner to replace Benjy. Through some connections I had, I applied for and got the position as his broadcast partner.”
This was back in 2005, and Auten and Harp were broadcast partners for Trojan sports on the radio for several years until health issues prompted Auten to relinquish the microphone. Auten, unfortunately, passed away a couple of years ago.
“Steve and I were a natural fit,” Harp said. “He would do the play-by-play for football and boys basketball while I would do the color commentary. The roles were reversed for girls basketball games. We played off each other very well.”
The Auten and Harp team at one time also covered the other Henry County high school teams after New Castle had been eliminated from an IHSAA tournament.
“We were down at Knightstown for their semi-state football come-from-behind win against Perry Central,” Harp noted, “and were in the RCA Dome for their state championship game against Sheridan. We covered Tri girls basketball several times in the sectional and regional and the Blue River boys in the regional.”
Being a sports radio broadcaster is not as easy as it may seem.
“It’s not a matter of just showing up and talking at a game,” Harp said of his former position. “Many people don’t realize the hours of preparation we put in before a game, and it usually starts on a Monday before a broadcast on Friday or Saturday night. We can’t have dead time on the air, so we have many notes prepared of things to say when not describing the action on the court or on the field.”
Lorenzo Pettiford, a Marion native and now a resident of Muncie, became Harp’s new broadcast partner and they combined to bring Trojan football and basketball to listeners until Harp’s “retirement” from broadcasting in March.
Travel to broadcast games away from home was a little bit different when Auten was his partner compared to when he partnered with Pettiford.
“Since Steve and I both lived in New Castle, we traveled together for away games and ate together afterward,” Harp explained. “Since Lorenzo lives in Muncie, we usually traveled to out-of-town games in separate vehicles.”
Harp was asked about some of his favorite memories of games he has brought to listeners over the radio. Of course, the Trojan boys state championship in 2006 came to mind, but he also mentioned games involving Corie West as a player and coach, Allison Reece’s great game, and the Blue River Valley boys basketball team finally defeating Lafayette Central Catholic in the Frankfort Regional at Case Arena in 2011.
“Really, there were so many,” Harp said. That’s the great thing about high school sports – you never know what might happen until it does, and you’re there to bring it to your listeners.”
Harp was asked about some of his favorite venues from which to broadcast the games.
“Obviously, New Castle Fieldhouse is one,” Harp replied. “Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Lucas Oil Stadium, the RCA Dome, and Case Arena are others. Again, there are so many. One place I didn’t care as much for was Muncie South. We were given these little desks about a foot wide. As people were walking up and down the bleachers, the desks bounced up and down, making it impossible to write down anything.”
Harp was asked what prompted him to give up the microphone when he did because he still was very good at what he did.
“I decided a couple of years ago that Cole McDaniel’s last game would be my last game,” Harp added. “I coached his basketball team in the Optimist League, and felt it would be an appropriate way to go out. There were other reasons, as well. I wanted to help my wife Valerie in her job and be able to see my grandkids play sports. It was just time to do it.”
If readers are at one of this upcoming season’s New Castle girls basketball junior varsity games, they will see John Harp prowling the sideline, encouraging his troops.
From the movie “Hoosiers,” just remember what Barbara Hershey’s character said: “I think it would be a mistake to let Coach Dale go. Give him a chance.”
We enjoyed John Harp’s voice on the air for 25 years. Give Harp a chance to be a good coach, too.