KEIM'S KORNER: Sharpe's honor one the legend truly deserves

Funny how things in life work out sometimes.

The year officials at Jimtown High School install a new synthetic turf football field and rename the stadium after one of the school’s and Elkhart County’s coaching legends, the Jimmies only play four home games among the nine contests on the 2019 regular season schedule.

Jimtown fans will have to put the celebration on hold as the Jimmies open the season with three consecutive roads games. The Jimmies travel to NorthWood on Friday, Aug., 23; South Bend Washington on Friday, Aug. 30; and Elkhart Central on Friday, Sept. 6.

When the Jimmies host John Glenn on Friday, Sept. 13, it will be a historic evening, one that will talked about for years to come. The game will be the first official contest on the newly installed turf at Knepp Field and it will be the opening night for Sharpe Stadium.

The Baugo Community School Board approved the stadium name in honor of the school’s legendary coach Bill Sharpe back in July.

Honoring Sharpe in this way is very appropriate since he was the main man responsible for turning Jimtown into a football powerhouse, known not only in northern Indiana, but to the eastern, western and southernmost cities and towns in the state.

The small school from Baugo Township commanded, rightfully so, respect that not only crossed state lines, but throughout the different classes when Indiana first adopted a class system for the state tournament, based on school enrollments, for the 1985 season.

During Sharpe’s impressive 28-year coaching career (1980-2007) the Jimmies amassed a noteworthy record of 288-54 (.842 winning percentage). Included among the wins were four states championships: 1A in 1991, 2A in 1997, 1998 and 2005 and two runner-up trophies in 1A in 1985 and 1987.

The Jimmies captured six semistate titles, 10 regional crowns, 17 sectional championships and 19 Northern State Conference crowns under the guidance of Sharpe.

Sharpe is a member of both the Indiana Football Hall of Fame and the Elkhart County Sports Hall of Fame.

The coaching legend was born in South Bend and graduated from South Bend LaSalle High School in 1968. He went to Rock Valley Junior College for two years and went on to graduate from the University of Evansville in 1973. Sharpe was named all-conference as a sophomore defensive back at Rock Valley and as a senior at Evansville he was all-conference and a team captain.

His coaching career began as an assistant at Evansville before becoming an assistant at Southport High School from 1973-80. Then came the move to Jimtown, and as they say, the rest is history.

Sharpe assumed control of a Jimtown program that posted a 2-8 record in 1979. He righted the ship in a hurry as the Jimmies posted a 7-3 mark in his first season.

Sharpe never had a losing season in his Jimtown career. He recorded 28 consecutive winning seasons in a program that had notched a total of 15 since the initial campaign in 1957 that ended with a 1-5 record.

The closest Sharpe ever came to a losing season was an 8-5 mark in 1990. He followed up on that 1990 season with what can only be described as astonishing string of victories over the next nine campaigns when the Jimmies averaged nearly 12 wins (11.89) per season and an average of only one loss per season.

The actual tally over the nine remarkable seasons was 107-9, highlighted by back-to-back 15-0 seasons in 1997 and 1998.

The 1997 Jimmies were a high-powered offense that outscored opposing teams by 632-106, including a 63-0 win over Clarksville in the state championship. The 63-point differential is still the largest margin of victory in any class in state playoff history.

Jimtown rushed for a total of 4,122 yards that season, led by Brian Smith 1,535, Travis Daniels 855 and Adrian Pettis 735.

The team’s quarterback was Keith Kinder. He completed 75-of-136 passes for 1,352 yards. He tossed 13 touchdown passes and seven interceptions.

Kinder has followed in Sharpe’s coaching footsteps. He begins his second season at Mishawaka High School this fall after leading the Cavemen to a 12-2 record a year ago.

Smith was Jimtown’s leading scorer with 210 points (35 TDs), while kicker Robert Menchinger was second with 85 (3-of-4 field goals and 76-of-82 PATs).

Those trends continued the following season as the Jimmies outscored opponents 687-106. Jimtown brought home a second consecutive state championship trophy in a 28-0 win over Western Boone in the finale.

The Jimmies rambled for a total of 3,893 rushing yards as Jimmy House scampered for 1,732 and Johnson 763. Kinder returned as the signal caller, connecting on 62-of-120 passes for 988 yards to go with 17 TDs and five interceptions.

House scored 190 points, Johnson 134 and Menchinger 106 (10-of-14 field goals and 76-of-84 PATs).

During my career at The Goshen News it was my privilege to cover a number of Sharpe’s games at Jimtown. One of the things that impressed most about the coach was his desire to make players into the best players they could possibly be. He displayed that desire one night during a postgame interview.

While answering a question from a local reporter about the game, one of Sharpe’s players came up to him and said, “Coach the other team is holding me on every play.” Sharpe finished his answer to the reporter’s question, looked the young man in the eyes and responded, “Good, if they don’t have to hold you on every play you are not good enough to play for me.”

Simple words that carry an important meaning, one that can translate into all aspects of life. A message this writer will never forget from a coach that is also unforgettable.

Greg Keim can be reached at greg.keim@goshennews.com or 574-533-2151, ext. 326. Follow Greg on Twitter @gkeim_TGN

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