When Jay Harrington was hired as Wabash Valley College basketball coach in 1975, he knew things were on the upswing on campus.
“I remember looking at the plans” said Harrington of the yet-to-be-built Spencer Sports Center, which opened two years later.
What has happened since for both Harrington and the school has been nothing less than storybook. The coach who first guided WVC into the national spotlight with a 33-2 team in 1977-78 later left for Belleville Area (now Southwestern Illinois) in a career that catapulted him into the NJCAA Hall of Fame.
The Warriors, too, continued to turn out consistent winners under several coaches, finally capturing the national juco championship in 2001.
Not that there weren’t plenty of stories from that first year.
Practice itself was a daily challenge.
“When I got here my first year we practiced where the swimming pool is now,” Harrington said of the quarters adjacent to the Ag Diesel program. “We would be practicing and they would be starting those diesel engines (next door). All of a sudden we’d have to stop practice and go outside. We’d get dizzy from the fumes.”
The practice facilty was spartan by today’s standards, with two baskets and a tartan surface, similar to the one used at Spencer until the current court surface was installed.
With no facility to call home, the Warriors spread their seven home games that year among three sites: Mt. Carmel High School (four games), Allendale (two) and Edwards County (one).
“We traveled everywhere,” Harrington said, recalling games against junior varsity teams at Illinois, Louisville, Dayton and Western Kentucky when four-year schools had JV teams. WVC would play the host school in a preliminary JV game, fully aware that if it went long, the game would be stopped to not delay the start time of the main varsity game. That happened more than once, Harrington remembered.
His first Warrior team finished 18-19, taking second in the Region 24 tournament. The following year, WVC was 15-16 before his final team set a season win mark (33) that stood until 1996 when Mark Coomes’ team finished 34-3.
The only other team to top that mark was the 36-1 national championship team coached by Jay Spoonhour.
They may not have seemed like fond memories at the time, but looking back Harrington said he was just thankful for the opportunity.
“This is where I started, and I’ve never forgotten that,” Harrington said. “I love this school, and would do anything for it.”
As for current Warrior coach Mike Carpenter, Harrington said: “Mike will get it going. He is really good. They’ve always had great coaches here.”
NOTES: Saturday’s snowed-out game against Olney Central will be played Tuesday at Spencer. Tipoff is at 5:30 p.m. for the women, followed by the 7:30 p.m. men’s game.