Tim Wright of Wright Brothers Fame Authors the Valley Boys
In Indiana, we hold our sports lore in high regard, but not every great story finds its way to Hollywood. It wouldn’t be heresy, for example, to say the small towns of French Lick and West Baden should figure as prominently as Milan in the rich history of Indiana high school basketball.
In a 1957 consolidation of two Orange County high schools, the French Lick Red Devils and the West Baden Sprudels – then bitter rivals – were forced to make nice and become one. It also meant two towns would have to share a basketball team, which rose to the level of the unthinkable. The people of French Lick didn’t much care for the folks in West Baden, just a stone’s throw away along State Road 56, and it was a twoway street.
The adult fan bases saw trouble ahead, but in the summer leading to the first year of their unholy union, a group of teenage boys from both sides of the tracks, sharing nothing more than a love of basketball, started practicing together. And by the time their first season as the Springs Valley Black Hawks was over, they had won 25 games in a row and reached the mighty Final Four of Indiana’s one-class tournament. Neither French Lick nor West Baden had ever so much as won a sectional. Those boys and their coach brought two feuding towns together and made them see they were far stronger together than they were apart.
Their journey, which drew national attention in 1958, has not yet basked in the bright lights, but their story is now, finally, in print. Tim Wright of Indiana’s own Wright Brothers Band has found enough time in between performances to write a piece of Indiana’s high school basketball heritage, “The Valley Boys: The Story of the 1958 Springs Valley Black Hawks.”
And Tim had an excellent vantage point for writing it. He was a first grader in French Lick that year, freely roaming the neighborhood on his bike and stopping to shoot hoops wherever he found a friendly rim. But his favorite stop was his grandfather’s barber shop, where he was always welcome. That’s where he heard all the buzz. Tim was patient enough to wait decades to write about it, but the excitement in the air in those days never left him.
Even now, he marvels at the story, and the people. “Rex Wells, the coach so wise beyond his years, was the heart of it all. Think about his leadership and the simplicity of those times: When the students lobbied so boldly for a school nickname, that guy picks up the phone, calls the operator, asks for Walt Disney Studios and gets a cartoonist on the line! Rex asks him if he’d draw a mascot for the school, and the artist agrees. A week later, the school gets its rendering in the mail … and today, that menacing Black Hawk mascot painted on the Springs Valley gym floor is exactly the one a Disney artist came up with 60 years ago!
“I’ve had the honor of meeting with Coach Wells and most of the guys on that team. They’re good, humble people who are all still friends. You can tell how happy they are about having their story told, and that’s what’s so gratifying about writing this book.”
By Rudy Schouten, Freelance Writer