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home : considered comment : selected past columns April 29, 2016

RHS Hall of Fame athletes embellish a 100-year history

There they were on Sunday, six of Rochester High School's most prestigious former athletes, men and women, the second such group to be inducted into the RHS Athletic Hall of Fame.

Only four could be present to accept the honor. When each of those rose to do so, none spoke proudly of their achievements, only of their good fortune in being at RHS and having the support of family, coaches and students in pursuing the sports they so loved. Their modesty confirmed that character also contributed to their success.

As I listened to the entertaining recounting of their remarkable careers, I became emotionally atuned to each and wondered why, since I knew but one of them well. Then I realized that these six represent more than their own eras. They embody the whole of the rich athletic tradition that stalks the halls of memory at Rochester High School.

It all began with the first basketball team in 1906-07. That means that when the Zebras open the 2005-06 season in November, they will be the 100th RHS basketball team. Astonishing, but more of that and other tradition later.

The six in this year's Hall of Fame class are among the greatest achievers in RHS annals. In chronological order, they are:

• Dick King, high-scoring center on the 1942-43 basketball team, the only one ever to be ranked No. 1 in the state. King became All-Conference and All-State, Hall of Fame at the University of Western New Mexico, four times Coach of the Year at Tucson where his team was 1965 Arizona state champion. He is caregiver for his seriously ill wife and could not attend. If he had, I'm sure he would have told of his indebtedness to his RHS Hall of Fame coach, Clyde Lyle. King once said "when I went out for basketball I could barely walk across a room without tripping. Coach worked a lot with me, even paddling me up and down the floor to keep me moving in a straight line."

• John Nelson, deceased, class of 1947, who lettered in five sports: leading scorer and All-Conference in basketball; pitching for three undefeated softball teams; city and conference champion in tennis, plus baseball and golf. Played basketball and baseball at Valparaiso University, in 1951 began a 41-year coaching and teaching career at Aubbeenaubbee Township and Culver Community Schools, where his memory is revered still today by the many whose lives he touched.

• Dave Foellinger, class of 1970, a superlative running back on Zebra teams that restored the RHS football excellence that remains today. "He set a standard for all to follow," said presenter Ron Large, a teammate who flew in from Seattle to honor his old friend. In Dave's senior season of 1969, he set statewide records of 218 points, 2,465 yards and 453 single-game yards. His No. 40 was retired and in 1977 Dave entered the Indiana Hall of Fame. At Princeton, he was a four-year letterman in track and today is a marine biologist and ship captain in Hawaii. His response to all the praise epitomized that of his fellow inductees: "I thank you for giving me the chance to play a game I loved with teammates I loved and for a school and hometown that I loved."

• Rochelle (Shelly) Newell, class of 1976, who led the way for all the great RHS women basketball players who have followed her. An athlete of awesome talent , she scored 24 points a game without the three-point shot, 1,250 points in her career and grabbed an astonishing 16 rebounds a game. She could just take over games, it was said. Her senior team went undefeated, she played on the first Indiana All-Star team and is in the state Hall of Fame. Furthermore, she was four times most valuable in track and holds the RHS shot put record of 42-2 1/2 feet that may never be broken. There's more: most valuable in volleyball three years, pitched for a state championship amateur softball team and at Indiana State University led its team in scoring three years and to two state championships. She now coaches basketball and volleyball at Argos High School.

• Damon Hummel, class of 1994, an athlete of astounding versatility: in football an All-State punter as sophomore, All-Conference linebacker as junior and all-conference running back as senior. In wrestling, he was dominant in 141 matches, never losing in four years of regular seasons and winning 20 championships. In track, specialized in high jump and discus and holds the RHS discus record. All of this earned him recognition as Male Athlete of the Year in northern Indiana. He joined the Ball State football team as a walk-on and was so impressive that he was given a four-year scholarship, during which he started 45 games as defensive tackle, was all-conference and team captain. That earned him a contract with Toronto of the Canadian Football League. He now coaches three sports at Speedway High School.

• Sheila McMillen Keller, class of 1995, possessed such an irrestible urge to play basketball that she stole onto the gym floor while in elementary school, shooting baskets until the varsity chased her off. By her graduation, she had become the school's leading woman scorer with 1,696 points, an All-Star and All-American selection, twice area Player of the Year, besides becoming All-Conference in volleyball and softball. Her coach Rob Malchow said, "She was never satisfied, whether she had just scored 39 points as a freshman, and then 41 as a senior. She always wanted to learn more." At Division I Notre Dame, she played in four NCAA tourneys and with her 1997 squad went to the final four. With the Irish, she was team captain, most valuable player and a record-setter in three-point goals, ending with 1,439 points. Today she coaches basketball at Indianapolis Cathedral High School and is a staff assistant for the NCAA.

How's all that for athletic achievement? Not only in the hallowed confines of RHS but in the more demanding college level?

It came about as a culmination of all that had gone before them, such as:

• In basketball, the first game here was played in 1897, six years after the game was invented. Two elementary school teams used the rounder football of that day to pitch into baskets at Rochester College. By 1904, the young bloods of the town formed three amateur teams that played teams from other towns. Surprisingly, in 1905 the women got into the game with their first team. Games were played in the second-story Armory Hall on East Eighth Street, after 1923 in Whitmer Gym at Sixth and Fulton Streets until the 1965 opening of the new high school.

• Organized football began in 1926 but struggled to keep enough players interested and was halted in the Depression year of 1933, not resuming until 1950, but by 1953 produced an undefeated team and conference champion. The early games were played on open lots around town, later at City Park and then at Fansler Field in Manitou Heights until Barnhart Field was opened in 1972.

• Organized track and field competition began in 1908 against Rochester College boys but not until 1914 with other schools. As in most RHS sports, talent manifested itself quickly and in 1918 the team won the school's first state championship. Meets were contested on the horse-racing tracks of the county fairgrounds wherever it moved about until Fansler Field and Barnhart Field gave them permanent sites. Wrestling, however, had to await the new high school's coming to get onto the mats.

Our Hall of Fame now includes 13 of our best, but there are more just as worthy to be recognized as inductions continue every two years. It is altogether fitting, for as IHSAA Commissioner L. V. Phillips once said here: "RHS has a great and glorious athletic history that must continue to be recognized."

Since I have been witnessing that history now for 68 years, as boy and man, I am delighted to know that such recognition will continue regularly.

Published May 3, 2005

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