Hallowed Halls

Posted Monday, Apr. 22, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Bob Knight, John Wooden, Larry Bird, Steve Alford and ... Carl Meditch? Even his best golfing buddies wouldn’t have put him in the same category as those basketball legends.

But the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame did. On March 20, the 76-year-old Mansfield resident was inducted into an exclusive arena, where only the best of the basketball state’s elite will ever hold court.

“In a state where everyone plays, it is truly a crowning achievement,” said Chris May, executive director of the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame. “It’s the pinnacle for anyone who played or coached basketball in Indiana.”

So how good was Meditch?

“He was playing in Indianapolis at the same time as Oscar Robertson,” May explained. “In 1955, Meditch was the leading scorer in Indianapolis. Robertson went on to become one of the top 5 to 10 players of all time (in the NBA).

“At the time, Tech (Meditch’s high school) was the largest school in the state,” May said. “Just to make the team was something.”

At 5-foot-10, Meditch knows he isn’t the poster player for a sport that usually features athletes with more abundant altitude. But the small guard had a secret weapon -- determination.

“It was something I grew up with, you play basketball,” said Meditch, who grew up in Indianapolis. “I put up an old hoop in my backyard and shot baskets. I’d shoot baskets in the middle of winter with gloves on.”

If that sounds like something from the movie Hoosiers, it should. Meditch was only a year behind Bobby Plump, who led tiny Milan High School to the Indiana state championship in 1954, the player and team the feature film was based on. Although he didn’t play against Plump in high school, the two would meet on the basketball court and baseball field in college.

Meditch -- the son of immigrants from Macedonia -- started playing basketball in grade school at the community center and in the police athletic leagues. All that practice paid off, too.

“By the time I was a freshman, I was playing with the big kids,” he said. “I could shoot so they kept picking me.”

Just making the starting five at a school with more than 5,000 students in a basketball-powerhouse like Indiana takes talent. But Meditch wanted to go to Arsenal Technical High School, which at the time was the largest high school in the state.

“When you’re at a big city school, you’re always playing against the top competition,” he said. “I never felt that I was going to fail. If I went to a smaller school, I don’t think I would have gotten inducted. I think that’s the reason they went back and picked me, because they figured out how tough it was.”

The guard would average 16 points his senior year and rank first in his conference in shooting, free throws, defense and back court play and second in scoring and all-around play. In a game against Kokomo, he tossed in 34 points -- and that was before the 3-point shot, which would have added to the outside shooter’s stats. He was also a three-year starter as shortstop on the high school’s baseball team.

“I would dive after balls and steal bases,” Meditch remembered. “I was on the ground most of the time.”

But it was his hard work in the classroom that earned him a scholarship to DePauw University, where he would be a two-sport athlete again, facing off against Plump, who was playing for Butler University. Meditch double majored in art and physicial education at DePauw, planning to become an architect, a passion he discovered in high school. He excelled on the court again, too, leading the team in scoring with a 14.5 average his senior year and earning all-conference honors.

After graduating from DePauw, he headed to the University of Iowa to work on his master’s degree in physical education and teaching at a high school for handicapped students. That was where he met another grad student, Lou Holtz, who went on to make a name as a football coach at the University of Notre Dame and as a broadcaster. Meditch also met his wife, Kay, while in school at Iowa.

His goal was to become a college coach, but after graduating from Iowa in 1961, Meditch was hired as an assistant baseball coach and architecture teacher at his alma mater, Arsenal Tech. The following year, he added assistant basketball coach to his duties. Six years later, he was named head basketball coach. His teams ran up a 106-43 record, won three city championships and went to the final four while Meditch was at Tech.

He then headed to Ball State University as an assistant coach, where his freshman team went 12-2, defeating Notre Dame, Purdue and Indiana, gaining the notice of Coach Bob Knight. Meditch credits Knight’s letter of recommendation for getting him the head basketball coaching job at Juniata College in Huntington, Penn.

Meditch led the Juniata team to its first winning season, but after three years he was exhausted.

“I left because it was getting tough recruiting,” he said.

He headed back home to become athletic director at Wawasee High School in Syracuse, Ind., which was just adding women’s sports. After three years as an AD, though, he re-evaluated his career and decided to go with his other love, designing homes. Meditch and his family moved to Mansfield in the mid-80s, and he and Kay - an elementary teacher - both retired about a decade ago.

Meditch rediscovered another love after retirement, going to work in customer service for the Texas Rangers baseball team.

In 2009, the DePauw University Hall of Fame inducted Meditch, followed by the Arsenal Tech Hall of Fame in 2010. Meditch admits that he was surprised.

“My DePauw roommate ... put my name up,” he said. “To me, that was pretty big. I kind of bawled a little bit. When Tech called in 2010, I said ‘You’ve got to be kidding.’”

Meditch’s family, including daughters Jeri, Laura and Holly and seven grandchildren, were also thrilled. His oldest grandson, Nate Giska, 25, said he didn’t really understand how important his grandfather’s basketball career was until recently.

“A newspaper story resurfaced a couple of years ago,” he said. “That’s when I started thinking he was kind of a big deal.”

Last fall, Meditch learned that he would be inducted into the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame, enshrined along with approximately 600 players and coaches in New Castle, Ind. He received a plaque, a ring, a drawing of himself during his playing days and was honored during a luncheon and reception.

“I got choked up a little bit,” he said. “You go back over your career and you think ‘it was worth it.’ To me, this is like the Academy Awards of Indiana basketball. It means so much to me, I can’t really explain it. Everybody likes to leave a legacy.”

Amanda Rogers, 817-473-4451 Twitter: @AmandaRogersNM

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