A ceremony was held at Memorial Gym last Thursday to announce the renaming of a section of Superior Street to “Jimmy Rayl Boulevard” in honor of Kokomo’s Splendid Splinter.
The new boulevard runs from Rayl’s childhood residence at 1416 W. Superior St., past Foster Park, to Memorial Gym at 200 S. Apperson Way where he honed his basketball skills during his high school days. With his passing in January 2019, the Rayl family was pleased with the commemoration.
“It’s just a big honor. They could name a lot of different things after people, but a street that runs right through downtown Kokomo? People see it going north and south on Washington Street. It’s pretty cool,” said Jim “Jimbo” Rayl, Rayl’s son.
Rayl played for Kokomo High School from 1956 to 1959, earning the 1959 Indiana Mr. Basketball title. He went on to play for Indiana University from 1959 to 1963, being named All-American his junior and senior seasons. He still holds the single-game scoring record of 56 points, which he accomplished twice in his college career. Rayl was an original Indiana Pacer, playing from 1967 to 1969, and made the newly-formed team’s first three-point shot.
Mayor Tyler Moore presented a proclamation to Nancy Rayl, Rayl’s widow, before the family unveiled a seven-foot-long street sign. Other notable guests included Rayl’s IU teammate Tom Bolyard and Indiana Pacers’ teammates Jerry Harkness and Darnell Hillman, as well as Purdue University Head Men’s Basketball Coach Matt Painter.
Additionally, Northwestern alumnus and IHSAA Assistant Commissioner Chris Kauffman and IU Assistant Athletic Director Mark Deal were in attendance.
Nearly all special guests shared stories or memories of the Splendid Splinter, whether it was playing with him, against him, gaining help and basketball knowledge from him, or idolizing him while growing up. Bolyard reminisced on his college basketball days at IU.
“It was interesting. Branch McCracken (IU head basketball coach, 1938-1943, 1946-1965) was big on free throws. He said, ‘OK, before you go to the locker room, you shoot free throws, at least 100, but you shoot until you miss.’ No one wanted to be teamed up with Rayl. He would hit 100. He would hit 200. He’d make it 300 in a row and not miss it. You didn’t want to be teamed up with him because, hell, you wanted to go to dinner later,” Bolyard said.
Harkness, a former Loyola University Chicago point guard, played against Rayl in college and with him on the Indiana Pacers. Harkness shared a story on one of his memories of playing with Rayl at the professional level.
“I come down the court on a fast break, three against one. Jimmy is on my right, and the other guy is on my left. I come down, and I get ready to give it to Jimmy right here. And I look, and Jimmy’s not there. Jimmy went over in the corner, and I had to change my mind, change everything. This is a fast play. I had either this guy or this guy to throw to … So, I throw the ball to Jimmy in the corner, and he hits a three-pointer. He comes over to me and says, ‘Jerry, I know I confused you, but isn’t three points better than two?’ I said, ‘Yeah, you’re right. It is,’” Harkness said.
A few years before his death, a banner of Rayl was displayed on the west side of Memorial Gym, and Jim said his father enjoyed looking at it. He would ask Nancy to drive him by it so he could see it, said Jim, adding that, although his father was modest about his talent, he still would have appreciated having a boulevard in his name.
“Having a street named after him, he would probably act like he didn’t really like it, but really he would. He’d probably have my mom take him by every day and say, ‘Hey, I want to go by and see my name on that sign.’ … He would kind of play it off like it’s not a big deal, but I know he would think it was really cool,” Jim said.
The street sign now is affixed to the stoplight at Superior Street and Apperson Way, in addition to 19 other intersections along Superior.