‘March Madness’ or Indiana basketball may not hold significance for everyone, but Switzerland County ties to former coach Gene Demaree might rekindle some old sports memories for a lot of former players and their families.
Demaree, who was the first varsity coach of the Switzerland County Pacers after the consolidation of the Vevay Warriors and the Patriot Trojans, in years 1968-69 and 1969-70, was inducted into the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame on March 20th, 2013 at Primo Banquet Hall in Indianapolis, Indiana.
The induction process into this Hall of Fame is not taken lightly as former players and coaches must meet certain criteria to be considered since its establishment in 1962. A statewide board of directors (composed of coaches, businessmen, administrators and journalists) oversee the selection process and appoint a selection committee representing all parts of the state for final determination as to who will receive the prestigious honor of induction.
It is apparent that Demaree wanted to return to the proximity of home after college as his first coaching job was for Aurora in 1966-67 and ended in the 1967-68 season before coming to Switzerland County.
Demaree grew up in Ripley County and his earliest recollection of the when and why he ended up in the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame led him back to fond memories of growing up on the family farm.
“I believe I started shooting basketball around age seven. We lived on the farm and I had three basketball goals; one at the grainery, one in the gangway of the barn and one at the barn loft,” he said.
When asked what he thought he would be when he grew up, Demaree replied. “I always knew I would play basketball or coach basketball.”
What may have been Aurora’s loss would turn out to be the consolidation of the Patriot Trojans and Vevay Warriors gain.
The Demarees (Gene and wife JoJean) moved to Vevay and alongside Principals/Superintendent Bill Roeschlein and Delbert Wright, Demaree and the administrators with others assisting brainstormed as what to name the new team as well as team colors – hence the blue and orange Switzerland County Pacers.
If anyone looked at a basketball coach resume back in those days, Demaree’s would read like this:
– New Marion High School Class of 1961. Scored 1,361 points during his high school career.
– “All County” during his sophomore, junior and senior years; “All Sectional” during his junior and senior years; “All Regional” as a senior. Set the Connersville Regional scoring record of 32 points in each game for a 64-point tournament (A record that still stands). As a sophomore hit 27 for 27 from the free throw line in the county and sectional tournament. Senior year had an average of 25.8 points per game.
– 1961 full ride to Indiana University, transferred to University of Tulsa for 2 1/2 years.
Enough said, the Switzerland County School Corporation hired him and Demaree still touts the players of Switzerland County to this date.
When asked what player stands out in your days of coaching here, Demaree was quick with his response.
“I was fortunate to coach John Kinman who played forward/guard. He was the best player I ever coached and possibly the best player in Switzerland County basketball history. John was National Honor Society, had a 29-point average per game, he had it all. He was Mr. Everything!”
While quick to bring John Kinman into the limelight, Demaree couldn’t say enough about other teammates referencing: Reno May, Larry Tinker, Ricky Kelly, Kerry Peters, Randy Brown, Jim Farrar, Bucky Adams, Eddie Scherman, Gary Hornsby and John Wright.
Demaree also referenced former Vevay basketball player Gary Kemper as someone who could have stood up to John Kinman’s ability.
“Even though I didn’t coach Gary, he probably is the only one I know that could have possibly compared to John’s achievements both on and off the court,” Gene Demaree said.
Gary Kemper and wife Suzi heard of Demaree’s induction into the Hall of Fame and were the first to call and congratulate him.
Another player who Gene Demaree followed throughout the years through “Hoosier Basketball” magazine was Brad Burk. Demaree said he wished he could have seen Burk play because from what he had read, Burk possibility may be the leading scorer for the Pacers. Burk’s high school career (1979-1983) garnered him 1,456 points, and these points were earned when there were only two-point field goals.
When asked what he sees happening in the game of basketball since his days of coaching, his take on it is that today’s athletes are bigger, stronger and faster through use of weight training. When asked what if anything has been lost in the game, he replied, “A lost art is the shooting touch, it’s about the dunks and the show, not finessing the shooting.”
Gene and wife JoJean, both former Ripley County residents – and daughters Dara and Brandy – all live in the Dayton, Ohio area. His ties to Southeast Indiana and especially in Ripley and Switzerland Counties remain strong. Gene is President and Owner of Ripley Publishing Company in Versailles, Indiana and is owner of Demaree Financial Group in Centerville, Ohio.
While living in Vevay and spending time in Switzerland County after he left to begin a successful career in financial services, Demaree said he would always have a love for Switzerland County from his days of coaching and that he had met lifelong friends here in people like John Kinman, Joe Ricketts and Carl Bovard, just to name a few.
When asked what he attributes to his success both on the basketball court and in the business world, Demaree replied, “Don’t let the highs get too high or the lows get too low in sports, business or life.”
When John Kinman reflects on what he and Gene Demaree had in common, Kinman in his quiet response about the accolades Demaree had shone upon him responded, “I think we were of similar molds. We were both just small town kids, but Gene was really in a rural setting growing up and went to such a small school as New Marion.”
When asked what he might have learned from Demaree as a coach, John Kinman believes Gene Demaree was instrumental in teaching kids from small towns you can believe in yourself and succeed in larger venues in life whether it is in sports or in business.
Gene Demaree visited Vevay recently for this interview. He met up with athletic director David Todd at the Switzerland County High School gym to talk a little basketball and did take a shot from the free throw line while in his business attire.
Only those that were present for the interview and photo shoot know whether the former coach/player/inductee into the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame made that shot.
- Teresa Bovard Lyons