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40 years ago: Remembering the Ivy Tech Kokomo championship basketball team

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CHAMPIONS — The 1978-1979 Ivy Tech Kokomo basketball team and cheerleaders pose with the championship trophies at the Indiana Vocational Technical College (IVTC) state finals at Market Square Area on Feb. 24, 1979. The Tigers went 18-5 that season, also winning the Wright State Invitational earlier in the season.

It’s been 40 years since the 1978-1979 season when the Ivy Tech Kokomo basketball team went 18-5, winning the Wright State Invitational, and winning the Indiana Vocational Technical College state (IVTC) championship game at Market Square Arena.

The team consisted of 10 players including Mark Hummel (team captain), Terry Etchison, Tom Bergman, Jerry Hoffmeister, Bruce Bangel, Eric Dillman, Duane Hostetler, Eric Lantz, Bruce Foland, and Bruce Taflinger. By the end of the season, the team averaged a record high 95.8 points a game.

“It was just a fun group of guys that knew basketball. All of us played in high school,” Taflinger said. “We were an older team. I was 26 at the time, I think. We weren’t young kids right out of high school. We were an older group of guys that understood basketball and understood what our goals were.”

The Friday night game before the weekend of the two state tournament games, the Tigers were trying to protect their lead late in the game. Taflinger, trapped by two defenders, tripped and fell against a player’s knee on the opposing team, slicing his face under his left eye. After receiving 23 stitches, Taflinger and his fiancée spent the rest of the night in the hotel room keeping ice on his eye. The next day, Taflinger led the team in scoring in the preliminary round of the semifinal game, beating Ivy Tech South Bend twice to win the state championship.

The Tigers were coached by Lawrence “Larry” Brown, also known as “Downtown Larry Brown,” the director of admissions and recruiting from 1971 to 1985. With his larger-than-life persona, Brown was not only able to recruit students to attend the campus but also many students for Ivy Tech Kokomo’s athletic leagues.

Brown’s personality wasn’t the only colorful part about him; he had a wardrobe to match it, according to Taflinger.

“He was kind of a flamboyant coach in terms of his dress to the nines. He always wore bell-bottoms and big-collared shirts and ties at ball games,” Taflinger said.

Additionally, as a coach, Brown took on the responsibility of keeping the team organized in terms of scheduling practices and games, getting uniforms together, arranging gym times, etc. In those days at Ivy Tech Kokomo, Taflinger said, there were no assistants or managers to take care of the administrative duties.

There also were no bus travel options for team, so often the players would have to carpool to the games. Taflinger credited Brown for helping keep the bonds within the team close, on and off the court. Often, the team would go out after games for dinner and dancing, which Brown loved to do, according to Taflinger. The camaraderie with the team was always positive, he said.

Throughout the 1970s and ‘80s, the Ivy Tech Kokomo basketball teams played their home games at the Kokomo Armory. Additionally, the Tigers would play their exhibition games at Market Square Arena prior to the Indiana Pacers’ or NCAA games, which were enjoyable experiences for the team that they otherwise might not have had, he said.

“It was just a lot of fun. It marked a good time in our lives and in Larry’s life because he loved basketball. He loved to coach basketball, so it was a neat thrill for him to have that kind of success. So we enjoyed it along with our coach,” Taflinger said.

With the 40th anniversary of the season and the recent passing of Brown, faculty and staff at Ivy Tech Kokomo are currently organizing a reunion for former players and cheerleaders of the 1978-1979 team.

Members are encouraged to contact Tom Tolen at 765-438-6692 or tomtolen@gmail.com for an invitation.