Indiana’s Big Eight Conference passed away after 40 years, but memories can be extended.
It would be neat if Big Eight Conference athletic directors, and perhaps current and former coaches, could get together and choose all-Big Eight Conference teams for every sport in the league’s history that began in fall of 1980 and continued through the past school year, before the league ended.
Since Gibson Southern belonged to the league from 1980 through 1992, current athletic director Jon Adams should be at that get-together. So should athletic director Andy Brunner of Tell City, a Big Eight member in the league’s first 20 years before following Gibson Southern into the Pocket Athletic Conference, and Mounty Carmel athletic director Kyle Buss, since the Golden Aces played in the Big Eight from the 2002-03 school year until 2019.
Probably the easiest all-Big Eight Team to choose would be girls’ basketball. That all-time team would start with Jackie Young and Tyra Buss. Young, whose 3,268 career points remain the Indiana high school record for boys and girls, led Princeton Community to a 3A state championship in 2015 and impacted Notre Dame’s NCAA championship in 2018 before becoming the WNBA Number 1 draft choice in April 2019.
She became the first Indiana Miss Basketball to play on both high school state championship team and NCAA Division 1 championship team, and played the sixth person role this past season for the WNBA Las Vegas Aces, which reached the WNBA championship series before losing to Seattle.
Buss remains the Illinois high school career scoring record holder for both genders with more than 4,800 points. Then, she starred at Indiana University, where she owns the Lady Hoosiers’ career scoring record with more than 2,400 points and capped her playing career by leading IU to the Women’s National Invitational Tournament championship as a senior.
The all-Big Eight girls hoops team could also include Gibson Southern grad Tracy Hyatt Steed and 1997 Princeton grade Angie Watt. Hyatt owned the Gibson County girls scoring record upon her graduation and then played for the University of Evansville before and after marrying Tim Steed and becoming a mother. She played as a mother in her final UE season, when teammates called her “Mom.”
Watt, a starter on the 1996 Princeton Community team that this season will have a silver anniversary of its 1996 Final Four berth, went on to score more than 1,000 college points at IUPUI.
Washington’s Zeller brothers would highlight an All-Big Eight boys basketball team. Luke in 2005, Tyler in 2008 and Cody in 2011 all became Mr. Basketball after leading state championship wins. Cody, who keyed two state championship teams at Washington, went on to star at Indiana University before entering the NBA.
The Hatchets’ Craig Neal starred at Georgia Tech and is now starting his second season as head coach at the University of Nevada. Several Princeton grads should also be considered for All-Big Eight team honors including Chris Schafer, Travis Trice, Justin Lynch and Rontray Chavis. Each owned the PCHS boys scoring records, which Chavis still holds. Chavis, who as a sophomore started on the undefeated 2009 state championship team, owns the Gibson County boys’ scoring record from 2011 until 2019 when Wood Memorial’s Paxon Bartley eclipsed that record.
Lynch could also be an all-time all-Big Eight football player, having led the Tigers to an undefeated and their only Big Eight conference grid title in 1993, when he pushed his career rushing yards over 1,700 yards — then the county record.
He went on to star at Eastern Illinois, finishing his senior season despite a foot injury that later kept him out of workouts for NFL scouts.
Deon Hardiman, a 2014 Princeton grad, still owns the county career rushing record with over 2,000 yards. Hardiman merits all Big Eight consideration along with lineman Kevin Whitten and Ross Key of the Tigers’ 1993 Big Eight champions.
And, Bo Greer, who starred as a tackle and linebacker for the football Tigers and then started in two seasons at offensive guard for the University of New Mexico.
Jeff Goldbach, who as a catcher set the Princeton career record of 38 home runs in route to 1998 graduation, reached AA in the Cubs’ farm system and then played first base for the Evansville Otters Frontier League championships in 2006, when he was named the championship series most valuable player.
An all-time Big Eight baseball team should include Casey Whitten, who as a 1989 junior, compiled a 10-0 record and .28 earned run average in leading the Titans to Big Eight and sectional titles before a regional final loss to state champions Evansville Memorial. After staring at Indiana State, where he posted 27 wins in three years, Whitten became the Cleveland Indians’ second-round draft choice in 1993 and reached Triple A despite a series of injuries. A rotator cup injury that even surgery didn’t fix forced his retirement during 1999 spring training camp.
Gibson Southern’s Big Eight stars included 1994 state high jump Chris Walker, 1981 South All-Star football running back Kelly Maurer, and 1987 cross country stand-out Elaine Spindler and Terry Kissel, who reached the state tournament as a one-legged wrestler and received the Indiana High School Athletic Association Mental Attitude Award for his sport.
Princeton’s Drake Stein won two state wrestling championships and became that sports Mental Attitude Award winner in 2011 before wrestling for Purdue. Jason Greer and Josh Hardy also won a pair of state wrestling championships after heavyweight Marty Salters in 1986 became the Tigers’ first state champion in that sport.
Vincennes Lincoln grads include Clint Barmes, who became a major league shortstop. The Alices’ Ryan Hutchison reached Triple A as a pitcher, Shawn Daugherty played football for the University of Wisconsin, and 6’9” center Scott Sparks played for the University of Evansville before joining Dad Dan Sparks as a coach.
Boonville’s Darin Ward, the Pioneers’ current football coach, played H-back for Indiana University before starting a successful coaching career. Brandon Morton who in 2010 helped Boonville cagers to their first sectional title since 1994, remains the Oakland City University career leader in rebounds and shot blocks.
Mount Vernon’s Jeff Embry led the Wildcats to a sectional title in 1981 regional final berth against eventual state champion Vincennes Lincoln. Embry went on to play two years at point guard for the University of Evansville where coach Dick Walters said the press-breaker offense was “Jeff, you go get the ball.” When Walters brought in a junior college point guard the following season and confirmed that that guard would be the starter, Jeff transferred to the University of Southern Indiana and played there for two seasons.
Jason Bell, after starting in sports at Mount Vernon, played baseball for Oakland City University and keyed the Mighty Oaks to the National Christian College Athletic Association 1995 championship game, where he hit a home run before the game turned into a loss.
Jasper football players might dominate an All Big Eight team, and then Wildcats starred in other sports. Scott Rolen, an Indiana all-star basketball player in 1994 would have played for the University of Georgia except for opportunity in baseball, where he starred as third baseman for the Philadelphia Phillies and then for the Saint Louis Cardinals in their 2006 World Championship season.
Jasper teammates Michael Lewis starred in basketball as an Indiana University guard.
And Matt Mauck, after teaming with Goldbach in the Cubs’ farm system, returned to football at Louisiana State and cornerbacked the Tigers to an NCAA championship — he also played as a backup quarterback in the NFL.
Then-Tell City football coach Joe Talley not only produced winning teams, but he is credited with playing a role in founding the Big Eight. Ryan George one of three football playing brothers, starred for the Marksmen in the 1980s and Phil Johnson, who as a 1998 senior was considered one of the nation’s top high school quarterbacks, went on to play for Indiana State and started as a senior.
All-time Big Eight Coaches? Probably Jasper’s Jerry Brewer in football, Gunner Wyman of Tell City and Vincennes Lincoln, and Gene Miiller of Vincennes Lincoln and Washington would be basketball coaches. Miiller, having guided the Hatchets to three state championships in four years. Jasper’s Terry Gobert in baseball, having won several state championships, and Boonville’s Mike Wilson in softball. Princeton’s Steve Hauger, though his teams did not win any sectional title, deserves a mention in building the Lady Tigers softball program in his two decades as head coach before entering school administration.