Thoughts on the impacts on Portage Sports/Community

Submitted by: Bob Miller

When youth basketball was started and during the first years, Portgae was undergoing a dramatic change.  In 1950 before the league was started, the population was 2,116.  In 1969, 11,822 and by 1970, 19,172.  Portgae would become a town then a city in that timeframe.  Though Portage had some successful sports teams prior to the start of youth basketball, notably basketball sectionals champs in 1956 and Calument Conference football co-champs in 1955, sports success improved dramtaically in the 60s.  Witht the growth in the community, came a growth in the school system.  Research shows a large building program in the school facilities.  Prior to 1957, the high school competed in varsity sports of football, basketball, baseball, cross country and track.  In the late 50s, the school began competing in swimming (1957), wrestling (1958) and golf (1959).  With only Little League and Babe Ruth baseball being offered for the youth, I’m sure the community leaders felt the need to expand opportunities.  Youth basketball being the first in 1959.  The youth league would have an impact on PHS sports in the future.

Players in the first two seasons, Bruce Lindner, Jim Samuel, and Mike Buergler would go on to star on a very good 1966 PHS team that would finish as Calument Conference runner-ups.  Bruce would go on to hoops success at Valparaiso University where he is in their sports Hall of Fame and Jim Samuel is in the Macmurray College Sports Hall of Fame.  In the early 70s, PHS would win three consectuve sectional titles in basketball.  The only time in PHS history.  Players with youth basketball experience shown in pictures earlier on those sectional teams are Jim Combs, Jim Langendorfer, Chuck Shields, Tom Taylor, Al Vaught, Mark Cahillane, Ken Clements, Rick Sabo, Russ Lindner, Scott Devries and Dan Snodgrass.  Does PHS have that success, string of sectionals, without youth basketball exposing these players at a young age in the 60s?  We’ll never know, but I’d offer that youth basketball and the arrival of Coach Morrie Goodnight in 1969 were a perfect storm for that successful period in PHS basketball.

Not every boy who competed in youth basketball could play varsity basketball.  But it did offer an early competitive experience for future PHS stars.  Notably (and pictured with 1963/4 all stars), Bob Thomas in track (two time top 3 finisher in the 2 mile run and later starred in cross country and track at Indiana State), Steve Cook in wrestling (PHS’ first three time sectional wrestling chmap and top 4 finish at state wrestling meet) and Larry McEwan in cross country (helped lead 1973 XC team to a 2nd place finish at the state meet and was the state’s first Mental Attitude Award winner).  Russ Lindner, mentioned above would become the 1st PHS athelete to win an individual state title, discus event in 1973.  Many others would play baseball, swim, football or tennis.

Saturday’s at the gyms in Portage in the winter were an oppurtunity for the rapidly growing community to come together.  By not charging a fee in the early years for the league to use the gyms, it was inexpensive for the families. I would offer that the success of the league encouraged the adults in the community to begin offering football and soccer in 1967.  Ten years later, PHS won the state title in football, not a coincedence in my opinion.