Greatest sports year in PHS history?
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At the end of the 2018-19 schoolyear at PHS, Indians sports teams had only won nine IHSAA team titles. Four in cross country (XC), two in gymnastics, two in softball and one in football. The first two were won during the 1974-75 school year in XC and gymnastics. The only other year where PHS has won two team titles was in 1999-2000 when the XC team won their fourth title and softball won their first. This article will primarily discuss the achievements of the sports teams during the 1974-75 season in which is without question the first great sports year in PHS history, and is arguably the best ever. At the end of the article the 1999-2000 year will be briefly discussed but a more detailed article is for another writer at another time.
THE 1974-75 SPORTS YEAR BEGINS
When the school year started, the sports programs at PHS faced some new challenges. First was that the Duneland Athletic Conference (DAC) was increasing from five schools to seven. LaPorte and Merrillville would join the DAC alongside Portage, Chesterton, Hobart, Michigan City Rogers and Valparaiso. Girls programs would compete in six sports: basketball, volleyball, gymnastics, swimming, track and tennis. The first All DAC Sports trophy for girls’ programs would be presented at the end of the year.
BOYS CROSS COUNTRY (XC) – THE FIRST TEAM STATE TITLE
When the XC team assembled for the 1974 campaign, they were created by new coach Bill Wilkie. Wilkie’s predecessor, Mick Cavanaugh, had left for a teaching/coaching assignment in New Mexico after turning six seasons running the XC and track programs. In six seasons, Cavanaugh had turned the Portage XC program into one of the state’s best with top 10 team finishes the past three years, finishing 4th (’71), 6th (’72) and as state runner ups in 1973. Four members of the state runner-up team had graduated (Tom Sanidas, Larry McEwan, Shawn Mulvihill and John Brown) but Wilkie welcomed back state runners and seniors Bill Wishnevski, Bill Perkins and John Longfellow. Juniors Basil Robertson and Bob Peterson who had also run varsity in 1973 also returned along with varsity newcomers Bill Murray and Brian Mulvihill (who had won the freshman meet at the New Prairie Invitational the previous year). In preseason interviews, Wilkie stated that the Indians would be very competitive.
The team started their season in early September with dual meet wins over Laporte and Calumet. Two days later the Indians won a quadrangle event with Griffith, Noll and Valpo by having six runners in the top 10. Griffith and Noll had the first two runners, but the Indians running as a team, had six of the next eight placers. The team was off to a quick 5-0 dual meet record.
After the dominating performance at the Duneland meet the team, the team prepared for the post season meets. Without missing a beat, the Indians set a sectional record at Hobart by placing the first five runners, with a score of 15. A record that could never be broken. As in the DAC meet, Wishnevski finished first in 12:21, and their fifth runner, Bill Perkins finished 19 seconds later at 12:40.
Despite the earlier losses and the predictions, on the morning of November 2, 1974, the PHS XC team brought home the school’s first IHSAA state title. There was a mix-up that initially had Hammond High being announced as the winner, but that was sorted out and the Indians were declared the winners. The first IHSA team state championship in school history.
FOOTBALL – UNDERSIZED OVER ACHIEVERS MAKE THE STATE SEMIFINALS
The preseason outlook for the 1974 did not portend how well the Indians would finish. Despite winning seven games each of the previous three seasons, and returning 13 lettermen, predicting that the 1974 club would not be as successful was based on several items. 1st, for the first time in four years PHS would have a new quarterback, senior Cortie Wilson. The previous three years (and those 21 wins) had been with recently graduated all-State QB Kelvn Riley having departed NWI to play at Indiana State. 2nd, Four of the five interior offensive lineman had graduated with only one returning starter, Jon Hilliard. Besides Hilliard, only Randy Tumblin (SE) and Francis Santarromana (RB) had been starters on the offensive side of the ball during the 1973 season.
On the defensive side of the ball the Indians did return inside linebackers Jeff Uhl (leading tackler the previous season) and Mike Pinter, Wilson and Tumblin (DBs). Uhl and Wilson had made the DAC defense honorable mention team the previous season. The 3rd reason for the less that optimistic outlook was that in addition to losing 16 of the 22 starters, all of the players weighed 200 pounds or less (and only two were at 200). Inexperienced and small (the offensive line for example by midseason averaged 5’9 and 175 pounds, the defensive line not much bigger) would accurately describe the team during pre-season. What wasn’t readily apparent but would soon be on display was the heart and desire of the 1974 team, which would lead them to a state semi-final game.
The Indians shocked the region by defeating Crown Point in the season opener 29-6, holding the Bulldogs to -22 yards for the entire game. Crown Point was led by a senior quarterback (All-State) who would go on to play at Western Michigan, but limited him to 49 yards passing while holding the Bulldogs to a remarkable -71 yards rushing.
PHS went to 2-0 after beating Andrean in a hard-fought game, 7-3. As with all games, the under sized Indians outplayed the larger 59ers, who had two starting tackles over 220 pounds, one who would play at IU, limiting Andrean to 105 total yards of offense.
The third game saw the team traveling to conference and county rival Valpo. The Vikings entered the game 1-1, having lost to Munster in their season opener and then squeaking by Crown Point 7-0 in week 2. The Indians suffered their first loss of the season 23-14, surrendering 257 total yards. Valpo was a quality team led by an all-state RB and four other all state performers, finishing 9-1 and DAC champs.
After the week 3 loss, Coach Klein made a significant change to personnel. No longer would Hilliard, Pinter and Mike Wildermuth go both ways on the line. They would focus solely on the defensive side of the ball, and were replaced by Ron Moore, Marty Hyde and Jim Wilson. After the first three games the Tribe had averaged 16.7 points per game, rushing for 134 yards per game and surrendering 11 points per game on defense. All that would change.
In succession the Indians, who Klein now called “a team of scrappers,” rattled off seven consecutive wins. The manner in which the team won these seven games was historic, outscoring their opponents 224-3 with six shutouts. No PHS team in the history of the sport has recorded six shutouts in a season, let alone in a seven-game stretch. The 35 points allowed in the 1974 regular season was the least by any of the 117 teams in Northern Indiana (cannot verify if that led the entire state that year) that season. The 224 points (in seven games) scored offensively was only surpassed to that time in PHS history by the 1954 and 1973 teams (257 and 250 points in ten games). The scores only told part of the domination the defense had in these games. Rogers 14-0, 1 first down surrendered, -11 total yards; Merrillville 35-0, 3 first downs, 19 yards; Wirt 28-0, two first downs, -20 yards; Hobart 28-0, seven first downs, 49 yards seven; Chesterton 21-3, eight first downs, 118 yards; East Gary (Lake Station) 49-0, three first downs, 115 yards; and Hammond 49-0, five first downs, 88 yards. Amazing averages of 4.1 first downs and 50.4 yards allowed per game during that seven-game run. On the offense side after averaging 134 yards per game rushing in the first three weeks, they would average 215 yards per game the rest of the season.
The state coaches and press took notice of the PHS team during this run, as the Indians entered the state rankings at 19th after the Hobart victory and would rise in the rankings each week until reaching 8th after the Hammond victory.
Though Klein coached teams had been ranked previously at PHS during the season, this was the first time any PHS team had finished the season ranked.
In a show of how much the players focused on the group effort, at the homecoming game against Gary Wirt, the Mr Football Award was given to the entre team instead of the customary individual(s).
Co-Captains Wildermuth and Tumblin accepted the award on behalf of the team.
In the final regular season game against Hammond, Wildermuth (who would be named Region Defensive Player of the Year by one newspaper and was 4th in tackles) sustained a broken arm.
As a result of their 9-1 record, the Indians earned the right to represent the region in a state semi-final game against Mishawaka. Unlike the current (2019 format) only four teams in the state in class 3A (largest schools) earned the right to play for a state championship. Their opponent, the Mishawaka Cavemen were also 9-1 and ranked 5th in the state. The team traveled to Mishawaka and before an estimated 8,000 fans lost a thriller 28-21. After giving up three touchdowns in the first half and an early score in the third quarter, the Tribe battled back from a 28-6 deficit for the final 28-21 result, battling until the final whistle and finishing 9-2 overall.
For a team that was heavily discounted in the sweltering days of August preseason, the team had come together for a memorable season. The 1977 state champions and the 1994 state runner-up teams played on the final day of the season, but the 1974 etched their name in the list of best PHS football teams of all-time by making the state semi-finals in such a dominating manner.
Portage had several players make all state teams the past several years, but in 1974 the numbers exploded. Six players from the exceptional defense made all state teams. Godfrey Mackenzie was 2nd team all-state at defense end and honorable mention tight end. Uhl was 3rd team linebacker and Paul Duda (linebacker), Mike Pinter (linebacker), Frank Cirricione (tackle) and Tumblin (defensive back) all made the honorable mention team. Eight players made the All Duneland Conference team on offense: Bill Wood (half back), Cirricione (tackle), Mackenzie (tight end) and Tumblin (split end) made first team while Ron Moore (tackle), Tim Cole (center), Greg Sobkowski (end) and Wilson (quarterback) made the honorable mention team. On the defensive side of the ball, six Indians made the DAC team. Uhl (linebacker) and Wildermuth (lineman) made first team while Hilliard (lineman), Pinter (linebacker), and defensive backs Steve Sabo and Phil Wright made the honorable mention team.
The (Lake County) Herald would name Coach Klein as the area Coach of the Year. Earning all-area honors on offense were Tumblin, Cole, Wilson and Wood. On defense were Hilliard, Wildermuth, Sabo, Wilson, Mackenzie, and Uhl. As mentioned earlier, Wildermuth (a 5’8, 165-pound defensive tackle!), would be named the area Defensive Player of the Year over Hobart and Chesterton linemen who would play D1 at IU and Wisconsin respectively.
Looking at team statistics the 1974 team ranks with the best in school history. The record of 295 total points they set in 1974 was not broken for 20 years, until the state runner-up team in 1994 set the current record. Their 63 points surrendered is only bested by the 1955 team which allowed 51, however the 35 points surrendered in the regular season is still the standard for a regular season. The 26.8 points scored per game was not broken until the 1994 team. Defensive points allowed per game ranks 2nd to the 1955 team, 5.1 to 5.7 (regular season of 3.5 is the school mark for regular season). In 1974 the team outscored their opponents by an average of 21.1 points per game. Which stood as a record until the 1994 team outscored their opponents by 23.5 points per game, and the 1974 mark still ranks 2nd all time.
A number of the Indians would go on to play college football. Before leaving for Dubuque University to play football in the summer of 1975, Tumblin would become the second Indian to play in the Indiana Coaches North-South All-Star football game (Riley PHS ’74 was the first the previous year). Shortly after playing in that game, he and Wilson would depart for the University of Dubuque to continue their football careers. After modest success at their first college they would transfer to Olivet Nazarene University and Valparaiso University where they would each find great success. Tumblin (also a basketball letterman at PHS) would letter in football and three other sports at Olivet Nazarene and was inducted into the school’s Athletics Hall of Fame in 1995. In May 2019, Tumblin was inducted into the Indiana Football Hall of Fame.
Wilson would become a very accomplished starting QB for the Crusaders. He would be the Heartland Conference Player of the year in 1978, and despite an injury plagued senior year in 1979 which limited his playing time, when he finished his collegiate career, he was in the top five in passing yards at VU. Cole would play football four years at Graceland University in Iowa and would be the long snapper on the 1975 team which would play in the Mineral Water Bowl, finish 7-3-1 and conference champs and that team has been inducted into the University’s wall of fame. Mackenzie would attend the US Coast Guard Academy for one year before transferring to Purdue. But while at the USCGA, he was the East Coast Athletic Conference Rookie of the Year, as he led the Bears in scoring as the kicker for an 8-2 team, playing for football Hall of Fame player/coach Otto Graham. Wildermuth would walk-on at IU and play special teams for one year prior to transferring to UCLA. While at IU he also lettered in wrestling and would later letter at UCLA in wrestling. Wright would play two years at Manchester University before returning to Portage and was a volunteer coach at PHS for 17 years. Sabo would walk on and play football at both Ball State and later Valparaiso University. Wood, a junior in 1974, would play in the Indiana North-South game the following year and go on to play football one year at Wisconsin where he would also letter in track for the Badgers.
For a team with limited prospects at the beginning of the year, for several reasons, the Indians had shown those predictions were wrong but had proven the old adage that “the whole is greater than the sum of their parts.” Prior to the state semi-final game against Mishawaka in a press conference with a local paper Klein remarked, “We are where we are because these young men have a strong belief that if you want something bad enough and you’re willing to work hard to attain it, it’s within your grasp.” For a group of under sized over-achievers, the 1974 Indian football team goes down in history as one of the best ever at PHS.
GYMNASTICS – ANOTHER STATE TITLE
Though this was the 3rd year of Gymnastics for the IHSAA, Portage had been one of the top teams in the state for several years. In the first two years of IHSAA competition PHS had finished 2nd (’73) and 3rd (’74). Prior to being sanctioned by the IHSAA, PHS girls had competed successfully in the Indiana Girls Athletic Association (GAA) winning numerous individual state titles, and in 1971 dominated the state by winning ten of the 15 individual first place ribbons. Portage had a very successful gymnastics program and was one of the state’s elite in the 70s. Entering the current season, the team had been undefeated in three years of dual meets, and Coach Bev Reynolds had only lost two members of the previous years team to graduation. The 2nd year coach, who had been a gymnast at Valparaiso University, welcomed back three individuals who had competed at the optional level the previous year helping the team earn a 3rd place finish: seniors Sandy Horner and Lyn An Huisinga and junior Karen Kusmierz. She also welcomed back juniors who had competed at state in the intermediate level: Sheryl Cook, Lianne Cox and Toni Yudt. In the previous season Cook had won state on the uneven bars and Yudt had won the intermediate all around crown. As a sophomore Horner had won an intermediate state title on the uneven bars.
In the Portage sectionals the optional team completed dominated the field. Finishing with 83.05 points to runner-up Laporte’s 43.05. Yudt won the all-around, balance beam and vaulting titles, Kusmierz won the floor exercise title and Horner won the uneven bars title. At the intermediate level, PHS finished first with junior Carla Hare winning sectional titles in floor exercise, balance beam and all around and sophomore Elise Froman won the vaulting title.
PHS defeated solid Munster and Wawasee teams with a score of 81.55 to 78.80 and 67.80 scores respectively. Portage only garnered one individual regional title, Cook on the uneven bars but other podium finishers were: Kusmierz 6th on floor exercise; Yudt 2nd and Kusmierz 4th on the balance beam; Cox 3rd and Yudt 4th in vaulting; Horner 3rd and Yudt 6th on the uneven bars and Yudt 3rd in the all around. At the intermediate level, PHS finished second in the team competition with Marie Padilla earning a regional title on the uneven bars. Hare finished 4th in floor exercise, 5th on beam (tied with teammate Ruth Flynn), 5th in vaulting and 3rd all around. Froman earned 3rd on the uneven bars. Kelly Claussen finished 1st in beginning all around after finishing 2nd at sectionals.
Moving on to the state finals Portage would have to compete against Indianapolis Howe who had defeated them in January.
Portage avenged their loss earlier in the year to Howe and in the process earned the first girls IHSAA state title in school history. In individual competition, Yudt won the state title in vaulting and finished 4th in the all-around; Kusmierz took 3rd in the balance beam; Horner 4th in the uneven bars and Cox tied for 5th in vaulting. At the intermediate level Hare took 5th in floor exercise and Claussen took 2nd in Beginning All Around.
PHS would win the sectionals the following year (1976), 4th in a row, but would not win regionals to advance to state as a team. Sheryl Cook would win the uneven bars at the 1976 state meet to become the first PHS state champion at an IHSAA meet. The school would not win another state gymnastics title until the spring of 2013. Yudt and Cox would go to Morehead State to compete in gymnastics in college.
WRESTLING – HISTORIC YEAR WITH PHS’ FIRST INDIVIDUAL STATE TITLE
Legendary PHS wrestling Coach Bruce Sheriff had high hopes for the 1974-75 wrestling team. In the 1974 Legend section on wrestling the coach is quoted as saying the 1974-75 team is “the team to beat” the following year. These expectations were based on the team returning 13 lettermen from the 1973-74 team that had finished second in the sectionals and 3rd in the Duneland Conference. Returning for the Indians were seniors Frank Colon, John Savel and Jeff Uhl who were sectionals champs; senior John Hilliard who had finished 2nd at sectionals and regionals. Colon had also finished second at regionals, and due to an injury to the winner, he wrestled in the state finals in 1974 (losing in the first round). Junior Les Slatton had finished 2nd at sectionals. The team was also getting back at full strength senior Steve Cook. Though his junior year was hindered due to injuries, he had a stellar resume prior to the injuries. He had won sectionals as a freshmen and sophomore and won regionals as a sophomore making him only the second Indian wrestler to qualify for the state meet (his older brother Ron Cook was the first in the 1970-71 season). Cook and Uhl were the only two time sectional champs in school history entering the season. Other returning lettermen included seniors Godfrey Mackenzie and Mike Wildermuth and sophomores Ted Choucalas,, John Hatch, Dan Houchins, Dennis Mullins and Pat Woods.
The team lived up to all expectations. In December the Indians went to Hammond to compete in the Hammond Invitational and walked away with the title. Six wrestlers collected firsts: Choucalas, junior Dan Kennedy, Cook, Uhl, Hatch and Hilliard. Three collected seconds: Colon, Mackenzie and junior Jim Wilson.
PHS easily won the sectionals at Valparaiso, earning only the 2nd sectional wrestling title in school history, the first was in 1972. The team had six individual titles: Choucalas, Colon, Cook, Slatton, Uhl and Hilliard. With their titles, Cook and Uhl became the first three-time sectional champs in school history. Finishing second were Kennedy, Mullins, and Mackenzie.
The wrestlers did not disappoint as they handily won the schools 2nd wrestling regional title (the first was in 1971). Winning regional titles were Choucalas, Colon and Hilliard which earned them a trip to the state finals. Only regional champs advanced to the state meet in those years, so Uhl ended a stellar wrestling career with a second place finish, losing in overtime to Maile from Crown Point who would end up winning state the following week. He finished with a 24-2 mark. Slatton finished third as did Mackenzie. Mackenzie’s last two defeats as an Indian wrestler in sectionals and regionals were by the same score, 1-0. At regionals he lost to Lowell’s Renn who would win a state title the following week. Cook also ended his stellar career by finishing fourth.
Portage was considered one of the favorites entering the state meet. The team would be represented by three wrestlers and as mentioned earlier, PHS had only sent two wrestlers to the state finals in school history (Ron Cook in 1971 and Steve Cook in 1973). Choucalas and Hillard entered the state meet undefeated 26-0, while Colon was 24-2.
As a team Portage would finish tied for third, but Frank Colon would become the first Portage wrestler to win a state wrestling title, finishing 28-2 on the year. Hilliard and Choucalas would suffer their first defeats of the season in the semi-finals and Hilliard would finish third while Choucalas would finish fourth (Choucalas would finish 2nd the following year at state, becoming the 1st PHS wrestler to place twice in the state meet).
Coach Sheriff’s prediction came true in various ways. Duneland Conference, sectional and regional team championships. The first team to win all three titles. Six individual winners at conference and sectionals and three at regionals. The school’s first state champion and two others on the podium in Indianapolis. By any measure, a historic season on the mats at Portage High School. As of this writing, Portage has had 16 other individual state champs since Colon’s in 1975. Only ten teams in the state have more individual state titles than Portage’s 17. As a team since 1975 Portage has finished 2nd twice (in duals format) and 3rd four other times (using individual scoring). A banner year for Portage wrestling, the first of many more to come over the following decades.
GIRLS VOLLEYBALL – 1st DAC TITLE
The volleyball team under Coach Juanita Viera had high expectations for the season. The previous season the team had finished 13-4 while winning the sectionals (in the 2nd year of IHSAA competition) and returned all but one player from that successful run.
The team would win the Duneland Conference and finish the regular season 16-4.
The team beat Kouts in the first game of the sectionals but fell to the Chesterton Trojans in two games after defeating them during Duneland Conference competition. Seniors Carol Branscome, Gail Cunningham, Becky Livovich and Debbie Storey would finish their careers by playing on the school’s first sectional (previous year) and DAC championship teams, and also being named to the first ever All-DAC team for volleyball. Senior Carmen Corey would be injured during the year and would assume the role of coaching the JV team.
The team would go undefeated in conference to win the DAC and finish the season at 11-4.
Donna Devries, Marsha Hopkins and Linda Radivan would be named to the All DAC team, the first in conference history. Hopkins would once again lead the team in scoring, while Devries and Radiva were top rebounders.
NOTE: The following year, 1975-76, Coach Atkins and the team would win the only regional title in PHS girls history. The team went 16-1, losing to EC Roosevelt in the first game of the semi-state. Devries would make the Indiana All-Star team and go on to play at Morehead State. Two other PHS players have made the Indiana All-Star team: Natalie Yudt in 2000 and Lisa Samplawski in 2008. Radivan would play at Cumberland College in KY and Hopkins and Fagen would go on to play at Vincennes University.
GIRLS TRACK – SECTIONALS TRI-CHAMP, 1st IN SCHOOL HISTORY
The 1975 girls track season was the schools second in the IHSAA. During the inaugural IHSAA track season in 1974, then sophomore Lawana Stanely was the first girl to ever qualify for the girl’s state meet when she qualified for the 80 yard hurdles.
Portage would have a successful season. In the DAC meet, they would finish a close second to Valpo, 88-87. The Viqueens winning the title in the last event by winning the 880 yard medley relay and the PHS team finishing second. Portage would have four champions. Stanley in the 80 yard hurdles; Barb Homme in the mile; Karen Arwood in the 880 and the 880 yard relay of Van Lopik, Vohs, Kathy Burton and Tarpo. Other placers would be Tarpo 2nd in the 220; Sue Piasecki 3rd in the high jump and Rhonda Pendelton 4th; Vohs 3rd in the baseball throw; Van Lopik 6th in the 220; and Jane Slatton 4th in the 440.
PHS would earn a share of the sectional championship by tying Valpo and Chesterton. All three teams would finish with 53 points. Stanley would be the sole sectionals champion by winning the 80 yard hurdles. Also scoring for the team were Tarpo 6th in the 100 yard dash; Homme 2nd in the mile run; Slatton 4th in the 440; Arwood 4th in the 880; Piasecki 3rd in the high jump and Pendleton 4th.
At the regionals three girls and a relay team would earn places. Stanley in the 80 yard hurdles, Homme 5th in the mile, Arwood 6th in the 880 and the 880 yard relay team would finish 6th.
Stanley and Homme would qualify for the state meet. In the following year Stanley would qualify for the state meet a 3rd time, the first in school history, male or female to compete in three state track meets. She would also qualify for the state meet in diving in 1976. Homme would return to the state meet in 1977.
Kathy Tarpo would go on to run track at Purdue with her younger sister Cindy and in 1980 they were members of the record setting 2 mile and 3,200 meter relay teams for the Boilermakers.
The 1975 girls track team, coached by Bernita Atkins, was the first of only five girls track sectional championships in school history. The next one would not happen until 1988.
BOYS TRACK – CONTINUED DAC DOMINENCE
For the first time since the spring of 1969 the PHS boys track team would not be coached by former coach Mick Cavanaugh. Assuming the reins for the departed Cavanaugh would be Les Klein, assisted by Don “Rip” Van Duersen. The Indians would compete on the road at all meets, as the PHS track was no longer acceptable for meets. Having won four consecutive DAC titles, the Indians boasted several quality competitors. Bill Wishnevski, Bill Perkins and Bill Boyer had competed in the state meet the previous spring in the mile, two mile and discus respectively. Other quality returners were Bill Wood who had placed 3rd in both the 100 and 200 yard dashes at the DAC meet and Paul Mammelson who had placed 4th and 3rd in the 110 high hurdles and 180 hurdles respectively.
The Indians had a successful season and for the fifth straight year, won the DAC title. Earning five firsts the Tribe beat the expanded DAC meet, as LaPorte and Merrillville competed in the DAC for the first time. Earning firsts were Wood in the 100 and 220, Mammelson in the high and low hurdles and Boyer in the discus. Adding depth in the scoring were Wishnevski and John Longfellow 2nd and 3rd in the mile; Larry Mulligan 6th in the 100 and 220; Craig Nelson 3rd in the 440 and 4th in the long jump; Bryan Mulvihill 3rd in the 880; Owen Miller 3rd in the high jump; Boyer 3rd in the shot put; and Finucane 5th in the discus. Wood and Mammelson tied DAC records in the high hurdles and 100.
At the tough Gary track sectional, Portage would finish 3rd behind perennial state contenders Gary West and Gary Roosevelt. Roosevelt would win the sectional, while West would win regionals and the state title. Portage would win three events. Wishnevski the mile, Basil Robertson the two mile and Boyer in the discus. Also qualifying for the regionals were Mammelson in the low hurdles and Bob Peterson in the two mile. None of the regional qualifiers would qualify for the state meet.
With a new coach, the Indians had continued their dominance in the DAC in track.
Expectations were high as the team returned four lettermen from the previous seasons sectional co-champs: Seniors Don Crandall, Dave Fernandez, Dave Nelson and junior Rusty Tanner. Nelson had been All DAC the previous year. The team would finish with an 11-3 dual record and finished 3rd in the DAC. Senior Dave Fernandez was named the MVP.
The team finished with an 11-2 dual meet record. Finished 4th in the DAC and 6th at sectionals. The medley relay qualified for the state meet but did not place. Senior Ed Noland who was ranked in the top 20 backstrokers in the state was named the team MVP.
The squad finished the season with a 14-8 record, 4th in DAC competition. Seniors Kevin Hilzley and Wayne Najar were named co-MVPs and were also named to the All DAC team.
The team finished third in the DAC with a 6-6 record. Making the ALL DAC team were seniors Jeff Hannah, Dwayne Najar, Cortie Wilson, Dan Crook and junior Kirk Salmon.
Team finished sixth in the conference. Senior Scott Jamison was the MVP, made the All DAC team and was a four-year letterman.
Seniors Betty Burton and Kathy Harms were co-MVPs. Junior Kathy Tarpo participated in the state meet in diving.
For the fifth year in a row the boys sports program won the DAC trophy.
This was the first year that the girls program competed and Portage took home the girl’s trophy as well.
The success of the sports teams in the 1974-75 school year were a combination of the athletes and the coaching. A review of the coaching staff reveals a plethora of notable talent. First year cross country coach Bill Wilkie would win four state titles as HS coach and is a member of the Indiana Association of Track and cross Country Hall of Fame. Head football coach Les Klein is a member of the Indiana Football Hall of Fame as are assistants in 1974, Bob Mattix, Dave Mattix and Brad Smith. Dave Mattix was the Grissom coach and helped with scouting. Smith was a PHS ’69 grad who coached at Fegley and helped with scouting and would later to go to be a head coach at several other schools in Indiana. Forrest “Dusty” Rhode was the Grissom Principal, having moved over from the Assistant principal position at PHS and is the Football HoF as an Administrator. Bruce Sheriff is a member of the Indiana High School Wrestling Coaches Hall of Fame. First year assistant swimming coach Bill Chappo would go on to have a great career as Portage coach and later at Muster and Valpo and was inducted in to the Indiana High School Swimming Hall of Fame in 2011. Bernita Atkins is a member of the Indiana basketball Hall of Fame.
1999-2000 SCHOOL YEAR – ANOTHER LEGENDARY YEAR
As mentioned in the opening chapter, PHS has won nine state titles as of this writing, and the 1999-2000 school year is the only other year where PHS won two state titles. Hopefully someday, another writer will do a more in depth writing of the achievements of the sports teams during that year. A brief discussion of the 1999-2000 sports year includes:
Boys Cross Country: 4th state title in school history. DAC, sectional, regional and semi-state titles as well. Michael Taylor would finish 2nd at the state meet. It was the end of an era as Coach Wilkie retired after the school year. Having won 19 sectionals between 1974-1999, the team has won two since Wilkie’s retirement. Having won 14 regional titles in 25 years from 1974-1999, the Big Red has only won two in the past 19 years. After winning 13 semi-state titles between 1983-1999, PHS has won one in the past 19 years. The Indians ran at the state finals all 25 years of Wilkie’s coaching career. They have only been to six state meets in the past 19 years.
Softball: The girls would win the state title, defeating Decatur Central 2-0 after claiming sectionals and regionals.
Boys soccer: The team would win sectionals and regionals. The first regional title in school history.
Girls soccer: The team would win their 3rd sectional title in school history.
Boys track: Michael Taylor would win the 800M run and the 3200M relay team of Mike Halaschak, Xavier Mendez, Michael Taylor and Steve Samuel would take gold. As a team they won sectionals, regionals and placed 8th (tie) at the state meet.
Wrestling: The team would finish 29-1 and win sectionals and regionals and qualify for the team state meet where they would place 3rd (tie) after losing in the semi-finals to eventual team champion Evansville Mater Dei. Eric Keith (140) and Fred Joseph (152) would take first at the state meet and Rich Elkins would take 2nd.
Girls basketball: Natalie Yudt would make the Indiana All-Star team. The 2nd girl to do so.
Football: The team would finish 9-2 and were DAC champs. They were ranked in the Top 25 preseason poll nationally by USA Today and Street & Smith magazine. Byron Riley was selected to play in the North-South All-Star game. His father Kelvin was the first PHS player to participate in the annual game in 1974. They are the only PHS father-son to ever play in the game.
Though some may argue that another sports year was more significant and that there are historic teams, but the sports year of 1974-75 ranks up there with any of them. The lack of photos or articles for the girls’ sports teams is due to the times of the 1970s. Those teams were not covered as in depth as the boy’s teams. Title IX was passed in 1972, and its effects were already being felt by the 1974-75 season as the IHSAA had begun having girls’ sports compete in state tournaments. In the 1974-75 season, though the DAC awarded champions in six girls sports, the IHSAA only had five state tournaments. Girls basketball would be added in the 1975-6 season. There were ten sports sponsored by the IHSAA (PHS did not compete in boys’ gymnastics). The landscape was clearly different then. For example, in the 1972-73 PHS Legend, the girl’s gymnastics team which took 2nd in the first IHSAA meet (highest placing ever for a PHS team of either sex), shared a two-page layout with three other girls’ teams. You have to read the smaller print to see this worthy achievement (2nd place finish).
Travel teams or specialization by athletes had not yet occurred. IHSAA rules prohibited off season teams/training for the most part. The weight training available at the school was limited. A two part Universal gym and a limited amount of free weights (one bench press!). There appears to be more three sport athletes back in the day then there are today. In 1974-75 you had Cortie Wilson (football, basketball and baseball); Perry Theodoras (football, basketball, baseball), Bill Wood (football, basketball, track), Craig Nelson (football, basketball, track), Ron Langendorfer (football, basketball, baseball), Owen Miller (football, basketball, track). Remarkably, Barb Homme participated in four sports in 1974-75: volleyball, basketball, swimming and track. A special mention must be made about Randy Tumblin. Though he only played football and basketball in 1974-75 (he decided to pass on baseball for church commitments), he would go on to letter in four sports in college: football, basketball, baseball and track. He was inducted into the Olivet Nazerene University Hall of Fame for his achievements.
This article was titled “1974-75: Greatest sports year in PHS history?” There is no definitive answer that everyone can agree on, just as all Portage residents would never agree on which is the better baseball team, the Cubs or the White Sox. Hopefully what this article does is provide anyone who would engage in the discussion some facts to use in the discussion. However as pointed out in the writing the sports year of 1974-75 is in the short list of years to be considered.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Bob Miller is a 1974 graduate of Portage High School. He lived with his family in Portage from 1961 until he left for the Navy in 1980. He grew up participating in youth sports until junior high and high school where he participated in interscholastic sports of football, basketball and track. Having competed against and with many of the male athletes cited in this article and a brother (Owen) who was a junior at PHS in 1974-5 he has many great memories of the individuals and also attended some of the games/meets discussed in the article including the state semi-final football game against Mishawaka. He is a 1980 graduate of the Indiana University Kelley School of Business with a degree in Accounting and also a 1990 graduate of the Navy Postgraduate School, Monterey, CA with a Masters degree in Financial Management. He is a retired Navy officer. He is a proud graduate of Portage High School and during the sports season says that Saturday/Sunday mornings he always checks the scores of PHS games with his morning coffee. He has the utmost respect for coaches cited in this article as he played for most and knows the impact they made in his life and other PHS athletes during their careers. He has contributed several historical articles to the Portage Community Historical Society and intends to continue doing so in the future as there are many stories to be written.