Indy Basketball Beginnings

As we enter this new month, we get closer to the March Madness season for college basketball, I am going to share a story which shows how Perry County may have made a small contribution to a person’s basketball success.

The connection with basketball comes from the story of a Lutheran educator who started his life in both Jacob, Illinois and Wittenberg, Missouri.  His name was Charles Richard Nennert, and we posted an article about him last September titled, Indy Educators.  In that story, we talked about how Mr. Nennert was born in Jacob, Illinois, but later, as an orphan, he was raised in Wittenberg.  Before all was said and done, there were three Perry County products teaching at St. Paul’s Lutheran School in Indianapolis, Indiana.  Joining Teacher Nennert was his boyhood friend, Arnold Mueller, from Wittenberg and Theobald Wukasch from Frohna.

Here are photos of these three men when they attended Concordia Teachers College, River Forest.  C.R. Nennert (left), Arnold Mueller (middle), and Theobald Wukasch (right)

 

All three of these men were musicians.  Back in those days, every Lutheran teacher was expected to be a musician.  They were expected to play the piano, and in many cases, also the organ.  Here is a photo showing Arnold and C.R. with musical instruments.

mueller-nennert-musicians

Arnold is on the left holding a trumpet.  C.R. is sitting on the chair and probably played the piano with this group.

We also know that Arnold and C.R. were involved in athletics.  When they attended the Addison Normal School in the Chicago area, which was a preparatory school for the Lutheran teachers college there, they both played basketball.  We have this wonderful team photo which includes both of them.

addison-normal-school

Arnold is in the middle of the photo and C.R. is seated on the right in front.

We also have a baseball team photo which includes these two.  This photo was from the Teachers College in Addison, which later became Concordia, River Forest.

concordia-teachers-team

C.R. is in a suit on the right, and Arnold is seated next to the boy on the right.

Teacher Nennert is given credit for starting a basketball league for the Lutheran schools in the Indianapolis area.  We know that he was a basketball coach at St. Paul’s Lutheran School.

Now the story gets personal.  When I was a student at Concordia, Seward, I did my student teaching in Indianapolis at Calvary Lutheran School.  My student teacher experience there lasted just eight weeks.  During that short time, one of the tasks I was given was to help the basketball coaches during some of their practices.  Calvary was one of those schools in the Indianapolis that played in the league that Teacher Nennert started.  One of the players at Calvary that has always stuck in my memory from back then was one of the 6th grade students by the name of Randy Wittman.  I knew right away that he had the makings to become a great basketball player.  In fact, I can probably say that he was the most talented basketball player that I ever had the opportunity to coach.  Over the years, I managed to follow his progress.

Randy averaged more than 23 points per game during his high school career at Ben Davis High School in Indianapolis.  He became one of the top basketball recruits in the country, and ended up getting a scholarship to play at Indiana University for Coach Bobby Knight.  In 1981, Randy played on the Hoosiers’ National Championship team.  He was the other guard on that team along with Isiah Thomas.  In 1983, Randy was named the Big Ten Player of the Year.

After his college years, Randy played in the NBA, mostly with the Atlanta Hawks, although toward the end of his playing career, he was back playing in his hometown with the Indiana Pacers.  Even after his playing years were over, his career was not.  He became a coach in the NBA.  He spent time with the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Cleveland Cavaliers, and the Washington Wizards.  He is not coaching right now, but it is possible that he may land a job somewhere else in the coaching profession.

randy_wittman
Randy Wittman

Credit for this photo goes to Keith Allison and this website:   https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/05/Randy_Wittman.jpg

I like to think that the athletics programs at Lutheran schools have had positive impacts on plenty of young athletes, both boys and girls, over the years.  Teacher Nennert never knew Randy Wittman, but it was the league which he first envisioned that became a training ground for his later professional career.  One might not think that a little village like Wittenberg could have any kind of impact in the world of athletics, but it did.

Just another note:  In more recent East Perry County history, a very successful female basketball player came out of Frohna.  Her name was Lauren Lueders, who played her college ball at Vanderbilt University.  She is now married to the head coach of the University of Louisville women’s basketball team, Jeff Walz.  And it is even more interesting to note that the family that took in C.R. Nennert as an orphan and later adopted him was a Lueders family.


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