By ROGER SCHNEIDER
THE GOSHEN NEWS
Except for the jog around Emma Lake, C.R. 600 West is rail straight and takes motorists past browned pastures with draft horses hunkered together against cold spring rain and snow squalls. At its rural intersections, shingle signs point the way to Amish bakeries, wood shops and produce stands. Nothing along the road reveals it’s a route to basketball greatness.
The road connects Topeka, Emma and Shipshewana, tiny towns noted for their hard-working residents who make RVs, host tens of thousands of tourists each year and can serve up a hearty lunch at local cafes. The three towns also make up the nucleus of the far-flung Westview Community Schools district.
But once at Westview Junior-Senior High School, visitors quickly notice the legacy of basketball accomplishments found there. Just inside the gym doors, in a beautiful handcrafted wood-framed case, hang two state title trophies. The nets cut down by past Westview greats are draped over the trophies. And there are more trophies. Seventeen are from sectional tiles, five are regional trophies and three are semi-state trophies. And then there are trophies for the girls teams and the junior high teams crowded into the display cases. Basketball dominates the trophy cases, and the passions of the Westview community.
“We kind of grow up with it in our blood around here, I think,” said Staci Massey.
Massey was busy Thursday manning a cash register at the Topeka Pharmacy before the community pep rally to send yet another Westview team to Indianapolis to play for a state title today in Indianapolis.
She is one of the thousands of people who have played roles in the ongoing drama known as Westview basketball. She was a cheerleader from seventh grade to her graduation in 1998. That was one year before the Westview boys won back-to-back state titles in 1999 and 2000.
Now she is watching as another generation buys into the round-ball legacy. She laughed when asked if her life is like living on the movie set of “Hoosiers.”
“It is,” Massey said. “My son (Jackson, 7) alone has five basketball hoops in and outside our house.”
Her story of continuity in the Westview basketball world is typical. One generation hands off their love of the game to the next, and so on.
A positive thing
Obsessing with basketball, or any sport, can bring long stares from co-workers and family members. But nobody in the Westview community seems to think it’s an odd thing.
“It’s good for the whole community,” said Tom Miller, as he took quick steps away from his pharmacy position to retrieve something for a customer. “It makes people talk about everything. It’s a good thing. Win, lose or draw, it’s a good thing.”
Miller said that today in Topeka will be a lonely one, as many town residents will be in Indianapolis watching the game against No. 1 Park Tudor, or settled at home in front of a TV.
“When it happened before, you could really tell the difference,” he said of the store’s customer traffic. “Especially during the game. It will be on every radio and television in the area.”
Miller and others who work downtown won’t have far to go to watch the game. They can stop in at Ace Hardware, where Lyn Stutzman plans on having it on a TV. He’s the owner, and he volunteered to let his workers, some of whom are Westview students, off today to attend the game.
“They have been following them all year and I haven’t been able to get out to the games, so I let them go,” Stutzman said. “I had my years when my son played, so I decided I would let them go. I will set up a TV inside here so we can hoot and holler inside the store.”
Stutzman’s son is Brad, who was on a Warrior team that made it to a semi-state game. And Stutzman said Brad’s experience on the team has led to a life dedicated to good work ethics.
He said the strong families behind the players, good coaching and a commitment to excellence carry players forward through life.
“The kids work hard,” he said. “They don’t just show up for the first day of practice and end up with a state championship. They work hard in the off season and that all pays off.
“My son, in his entire career, I never had to tell him to go outside and practice. He just constantly was working out and trying to improve. The only advice I ever gave him was ‘If you want it, you have to work for it,’ or, ‘If you work hard your hard work will pay off.’”
Stutzman speaks proudly of how that ethic has stayed with Brad now that he is a corporate accountant.
Up 600 West at the Emma Cafe the sweet fragrance of baked goods fresh from the oven mingled with the eye-opening smell of fresh-brewed coffee. Around the window table, Ron and Travis Hostetler, Adam Lambright and Ken Martin were warming their usual seats. They catch lunch each day at the cafe owned by Ron’s daughter, Molly Michael.
Any Westview fans here? a reporter asks. Yes there were.
Travis was the student manager for the 1999 state champs.
“I had the best seat in the house,” he said of watching that title unfold in Indianapolis.
He also remembers a perk of being one of the mangers. “We practiced on the side court while the rest of them ran,” he laughed.
His dad, Ron, looked forward to today’s game.
“It is a great experience for them,” Ron said, “Win or lose, it is something they will never forget.”
Ron is also part of the Westview basketball tradition. He is a 1972 graduate and played forward for Coach Denny Foster. The team went 13-8 that year. Gary Yoder, Westview’s all-time scoring leader with 1,711 career points, was a member of that team and Ron mentioned him fondly.
“When he was a senior,” Ron boasted, “they went all the way to regionals.”
That 1972-73 team won Westview’s first sectional championship at East Noble in the old one-class tournament format.
“The first sectional title,” said longtime Westview Athletic Director Darlene Mathew, “was a very big deal.”
Ron Hostetler’s take on why the Westview community is committed to basketball is it’s because football has no role in the community.
“We are basketball fanatics,” Ron said. “We don’t play football. A lot of schools look toward football. We put everything into basketball.”
Former Westview coach Troy Neely, who led the Warriors to their back-to-back state titles, agrees with that assessment.
“The program has a large following because there are not a thousand things to do (in LaGrange County),” Neely said. “The school doesn’t have football, so if you want to be a part of the family you have to play basketball.”
Everybody has a hoop
Ron Hostetler too said the community is comparable to the fictional town of Hickory, Ind. in the basketball movie “Hoosiers.”
“That’s just about the way it is,” Ron said. “Everybody has a hoop somewhere.”
Ron goes to all the Westview home games, but was forced to leave his seat vacant the last two games because of knee surgery. He will also have to catch today’s game on television.
Perhaps he can watch the game with his father, Norman “Bud” Hostetler.
Bud, at 83, is an honored Westview fan. He sits at mid-court in a seat reserved for him. He has only missed three Westview home games in the past 50 years. Those absences were because he went over to Fairfield High School to watch one of his grandson’s play basketball.
“I have seen a lot of ball games over the years,” he said. “A lot of good teams, mediocre teams and weak teams.”
Bud is letting Ron run the family’s dairy farm these days just south of Emma Lake.
Sitting in his spacious kitchen, Bud’s sharp eyes stared across the room into long ago days.
“I played at Shipshewana,” he said. “I graduated in 1949.”
He played three years on the varsity squad as a point guard.
“In 1948 we had a good team. I think we lost three games that year,” he said. “We went to Kendallville. They were rated No. 10 in the state and would you believe we beat those guys.”
That was back when the sectional was 18 teams divided into groups of nine from Noble and LaGrange counties.
“This was an all-day affair,” Bud said of sectional play back then. Teams would play in the morning and if they won, again in the evening.
“We beat those guys, seven points I think, and they were undefeated that year,” he said of the Kendallville squad.
But the glory was fleeting. In the sectional semi-finals Shipshewana fell to a scrappy Wawaka team.
“We played like we had never played basketball before,” Bud said, his head shaking in disbelief as fresh as if he was still in the locker room after that game.
Westview was formed by merging Shipshewana-Scott and the Topeka school districts in the mid 1960s.
Besides attending most every game, Bud said he drove the team bus for 11 years and was a basketball referee for seven.
“He still thinks he could do a better job (than current refs),” his wife Barbara kidded him.
Bud doesn’t dwell long on the past. He keeps an eye on future prospects and says the current seventh-grade boys team has some good players and he expects that group to have a lot of success. His grandson Eric coaches that team.
As for himself, he still loves the game that has been a big part of his life. At 83, he may no longer be able to bring the ball upcourt or drive the lane, but he still plays.
“I still enjoy it, I do,” Bud said. “I still shoot foul shots with by grandkids.”
Good clean fun
Mathew, who has been at Westview since 1975, indicates Westview’s continued success — 36 out of 48 winning seasons and 14 20-win seasons — is bred from older generations to the younger ones.
“It’s the tradition and the fact the community is still willing to support the young people,” Mathew said. “This is something other communities have lost. The tradition (here) goes back to before Shipshewana Scott and Topeka were consolidated into Westview.”
Current Westview assistant coach Randy Miller, himself a member of the 1999 Warriors’ state championship team, said the Westview community simply does things the right way, which leads to success.
“A certain aspect of it is the conservative nature of the community,” Miller said. “We are turning out good, hard-working people and basketball is a good, clean fun thing for them to do.”