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Saturday, November 26, 2022

30 Years Strong

Considered by many “experts” to be a team that could never seriously contend with the powerhouse schools from northern Indiana, the 1982 Castle High School Knights capped off an undefeated season with a championship that had been born six years before when a group of teenage strangers took the practice field for the first time as a team.

The Knights hadn’t set the world on fire since first fielding a football squad in the fall of 1960, and were more often than not the preferred homecoming patsy of most of the teams they faced. When Castle High School was elevated to the state’s largest football classification, AAA, disaster loomed, and for a few years it took its toll on the school and community. The Knights hit rock bottom in the 1978-79 seasons when they would drop 19 straight games.

But at rock bottom, there is nowhere to go but up.

CHAPTER 2: What Have We Done
Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall” rocked the locker room all week in mid-November as the Knights prepared for the game of their lives: the 1982 Indiana State AAA Football Championship. They had beaten three quality teams in the playoffs to get to that point. As long as they were there, they figured they might as well try to win it all. They were naive enough to believe they could.

The Road to Paradise is more than the story of what happened on a rainy night in November of 1982 when the unproven Knights stepped into the glare of a state championship matchup with the football powerhouse Hobart High School. In these excerpts from the just published book, author Thom Wilder tells the story of all that happened before, and all that would happen after, for a team, a school, and a community at the crossroads.

CHAPTER 4: Return to Waterloo
The players kept their eyes fixed on the enormous North Central High School stadium as the team bus pulled into the parking lot on the north side of Indianapolis. Napoleon had returned to Waterloo. The air of intimidation didn’t fill the bus this year as much as it had the previous season. This time it was an anticipation borne in the desire to erase the ghosts of the past. This time, it was for all the marbles.

“We felt that this was where we were supposed to be,” said Mike Davis, who had been a starting defensive back the prior season, but was now the Knights’ starting quarterback. “This is what we had talked about as eighth graders and freshmen. This is what all that hard work had been for.”

Still, the memories of Carmel’s 49-13 thrashing of the Knights were never far from their minds as a tightness circulated through the pre-game locker room. So far, the Knights had played the same 13 teams as the previous season — until now. Now, they had gone one game further.

Hobart was uncharted waters. Many of the Knights had never even heard of the northwest Indiana city. Castle was as close to Kentucky as Hobart was to Chicago. The two towns were in completely different worlds.

There would be no rah-rah, win-one-for-the-Gipper speeches when Head Coach John Lidy gathered his troops for the last-minute pre-game talk. As always, he got to the point. He shared no poignant words about what winning would mean. They already knew. He simply reminded them what they had done to get to the threshold of winning a state championship, as well as how none of the experts had thought the Knights could get here — and none believed they could win it now that they had.

“Well, we’re here,” Lidy said. “We might as well win the dang thing. Just do your jobs. Let it all happen on the field. Don’t hold anything back.”

He could see in their eyes they’d come to play football. Words were no longer necessary. They were ready. All systems were go.

“We didn’t need a big speech,” junior receiver Deon Chester said. “We had heard so much about another team from the north that says we can’t play with them. We’d heard enough. We didn’t need any more talking. We needed to go to work.”

With that, Lidy turned them loose, and the team bolted for the locker room door.

“We couldn’t get that game started fast enough,” linebacker Rodney Russell said.

In the pre-game warm-ups, junior flanker Gary Gilles marveled at how big the Hobart players were.

“They looked like a college team,” he said.

Assistant Coach Marc Anderson kept a careful eye on his players and a wary eye on the Hobart player making a spectacle of himself at the 50-yard line. De Lipke, the less celebrated of Hobart’s linebacking crew, had spent the pre-game standing at midfield screaming at the Castle sideline. Anderson stood 10 yards away, concerned that Lipke might make his way toward the Castle players going through their stretches.

“I guess he was trying to intimidate us,” Anderson said. “They seemed more focused on acting like tough guys than playing the game.”

Across the field, a burly Hobart fan watched intently as offensive line coach Johnny Evers ran his linemen through their drills.

“Hey, where are your big boys?” the fan yelled.

“This is it,” Evers replied with a grin.

Hobart had won the pre-game coin toss, but elected to kick rather than receive to begin the game — a wise strategy if you have a top-notch defense like that of the Brickies. Castle had the option of which end zone it wanted to defend and the Knights chose to go into the wind in the first quarter and have the wind at their backs for the second quarter.

As Hobart’s Mike Budzelik kicked off, the Brosmer brothers, David and fellow running back Chris, and senior end Kenny Brown waited at the other end of the field in their white jerseys, yellow pants and white helmets adorned with a blue “C” and two blue stripes flanking a gold stripe running down the middle.

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Chris Brosmer charged in to meet the ball, but never quite secured it, and the ball squirted out as he took a hit from a Hobart defender. In reality, the ball was on the ground for only a split second, but in the collective consciousness of everyone in the stadium, it seemed like forever.

Heads turned, seeing the prize lying there only 26 yards from Hobart’s end zone. Plays just like that are where championships can be won or lost. In a split second, cold, wet hands and a slippery ball can change the fortunes of a season or a lifetime.

In a flash, Chris lurched forward from his knees, covering the ball and wrapping it tightly in his arms. Disaster averted. David approached his younger brother and slapped him on the butt as they headed to the huddle. He didn’t offer the competitive criticism that often flowed between them. Off the field, the two brothers were likely to kill each other. On the field, they were the ultimate teammates.

“Don’t worry about it,” David said. “Now, let’s take it and stuff it down their throats.”

Being brothers had never been easy for David and Chris. Born less than a year apart, both were competitive, but Chris was super-competitive, always trying to prove he was as good as or better than David or David’s friends. Like most brothers, they could — and oftentimes did — come to blows.

“My brother,” David said, “is one of the most fierce competitors you’ll ever meet. We could get in a fight over a game of checkers. There were times we wanted to kill each other. We didn’t just threaten to fight; we did fight.”

Once the two stepped onto the field, however, a different kind of brotherly instinct took over.

“Once in battle, it was a completely different story,” David said. “We could fight each other, but you couldn’t fight one of us without having to fight both of us.”

The entire huddle knew what play was coming. They had practiced it all week — all year, really — for that moment. It was time for Reverse 47 Pass out of the I-formation — the Knights’ bread-and-butter play. Hobart had seen the game tapes. They’d seen team after team fail to stop it. They’d surely be expecting to see the play themselves. Lidy wanted to know right off the bat whether the Brickies could stop it.

“We were so excited and anxious to run that first play,” Russell said. “It was like waiting for your birthday to come.”

As Davis led his team to the line, center Pat Lockyear finally got a close-up look at the behemoths he’d be blocking all night. Lockyear’s eyes got huge as he took in defensive lineman Tony Karris and linebacker Ray Fonseca. He turned to Russell and junior guard Dan Thurman and uttered something he hadn’t said all year: “I’m going to need help.”

As they lined up under center, Davis examined the defensive set, trying to read the linebackers’ intentions as his offensive line snapped into their three-point stances. The defenders were where he expected them to be. Hobart liked to play a lot of man-to-man coverage, the kind of coverage most susceptible to a play-action passing game. The linebackers didn’t scream out that tailback David Brosmer was lined up at fullback instead of senior Neil Chapman, which should have been a key indication something was amiss. Evers smiled on the sideline. He knew the play would work.

“They were thinking we were going to come out and try to run an isolation play, and they would just jam us up,” Evers said. “They weren’t smart enough to know that the key to that play was when David lined up at fullback.

The Knights set, and Davis called the familiar signals: “Blue, 88, hut one, hut two.” He took the snap from Lockyear and executed a perfect fake handoff to Brosmer, who blasted into the right side of the line. His legs churned to carry out the fake and fight his way through would-be tacklers. Suddenly, a stinging pain rushed through his thigh as he took a hit from Fonseca.

Davis, meanwhile, offered yet another fake to the slot back as Brosmer leaked into the flat on the right side. Russell had pulled from his guard position and leaked to the right side to block for Davis, but Davis had executed his fakes so well that the Hobart defense had been completely fooled. There was nobody for him to block. Davis had been receiving raves all season for his adept ball-handling skills — a talent not always the first to be discussed when rating quarterbacks. But he had turned fake handoffs on play action passes and misdirection plays into an invaluable part of his team’s offensive arsenal.

As expected, the Brickies had been playing man-to-man, and sure enough, Brosmer had gotten a step on the defender covering him as Davis lofted a perfect pass over the scrambling linebackers and into his hands at midfield. Brosmer turned on the afterburners but was caught from behind at the 22-yard line for a 52-yard gain.

Castle’s side of the stadium roared as Brosmer, his leg throbbing, pulled himself up from the turf. He pumped his arms to the cheering crowd as Lockyear likewise raised his arms in triumph. Moments of glory, though, are fleeting in a football game. The Knights still had work to do.

The Knights wanted a quick strike to discourage and deflate the jacked-up Brickies, who were already milling around cursing each other. Lidy had emphasized all week the need to score quickly — before Hobart’s defense could get its game feet, settle any butterflies, get the juices flowing. He knew that when you needed a big play, you went to your big-play guy, and David Brosmer had been that big-play guy for as long as anyone could remember.

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CHAPTER 5: Learning to Win
David Brosmer and Pat Lockyear first met in kindergarten. By the time the pair attended their first practice for the Chandler Vikings — part of the newly formed Chandler/Newburgh Football League for fourth through sixth graders — they were tight friends.

Brosmer was born in Jasper, a football hotbed 45 miles to the northeast, but his family moved to Chandler as he neared school age when his father accepted a position as lumber inspector at Indiana Hardwood. He quickly became friends with Lockyear, the son of an Alcoa worker, whose family had moved in just south of Chandler when he was 2.

As fourth graders, Brosmer and Lockyear wouldn’t get much playing time in the Saturday morning games, but there couldn’t have been a better setting for their development and for learning to win. After a brief tryout that involved passing, catching and punting, the coaches, after determining the first pick by a coin flip, selected their squads.

The Vikings’ coach, Damon Monks, knew a couple of things about football. The Bristol-Myers Squibb worker had been a member of Castle’s first football squads in the early 1960s. Monks was joined by fellow coach Jerry Gill, another good high school athlete. Gill would handle the Vikings’ backs while Monks concentrated on the lineman. It was a football marriage made in heaven.

“It was just something that came together that couldn’t have worked out much better,” Monks said.

It could have started a little better, however, as the Vikings began their gridiron existence with a tough 6-0 loss to the Chandler Rams. However, their luck quickly changed, and the team charged unchallenged through the rest of their six-game schedule against the Rams, as well as the Newburgh Chiefs and Newburgh Chargers, to finish as league champs with a 5-1 record. At 10 years old, David Brosmer and Pat Lockyear were already champions.

That same year, the Indiana State High School Athletic Association began a high school football playoff system that involved a state championship game. For the first time in history, Indiana’s high school football champions would be crowned on the field rather than in a post-season coaches’ poll.

In the league’s second season, the number of teams increased from four to eight with the addition of the Cardinals and Cowboys in Chandler and the Saints and Raiders in Newburgh. The Vikings would once again play a six-game schedule, but now against only the Chandler teams with the champions of both towns meeting in a championship game dubbed the Castle Bowl.

Brosmer and Lockyear — who were now joined by David’s younger brother, Chris — found more playing time as the talented Vikings finished the regular season undefeated at 6-0. They would meet the Newburgh Saints in the inaugural Castle Bowl championship game at Castle Stadium. For elementary school kids who played their games on Saturday afternoons on a weed-choked field before maybe 100 fans, the thought of playing under the lights at the high school was the thrill of a lifetime. That was the feeling league officials had hoped for.

Rodney Russell, the son of a nurse and a banker, would one day be best friends with Lockyear and David Brosmer, but for now he was on the other side of the ball as a linebacker for the Newburgh Saints. Russell had spent his early years in Evansville and then for a short time in Greenfield, Indiana, where he got his football start playing for a Boys & Girls Club team, before his family ultimately settled in Newburgh in fifth grade.

A brisk autumn evening meant near-freezing temperatures would greet both teams for the inaugural championship, and the game would become a defensive struggle. Amid an icy drizzle late in the game, the Vikings coaching staff had called a pass play, but quarterback Reuben Weiss changed the call in the huddle. Weiss wasn’t bucking authority. He was worried about being able to grip the ball to make the throw and the receiver’s ability to catch it.

Instead, Weiss took the snap, faked a step back and dove through a hole in the line for a four-yard touchdown — all the scoring the Vikings would need as they held off Russell’s Saints 6-0 to capture their second consecutive crown. Lockyear and David Brosmer were now two-time champions (with a 12-1 career record) while Chris Brosmer had just earned his first taste of glory.

In the league’s third season, the Vikings were once again expected to vie for the league title as Lockyear and David Brosmer were now sixth graders and Chris Brosmer was a fifth grader.

Monks knew they were good, but worried that perhaps his players were starting to believe it as well. His concerns were heightened when he felt they were merely going through the motions during a game against the league doormat Cowboys in which they led only 21-0 after two quarters.

While the Cowboys sat in the shade sipping cool drinks at halftime, Monks ran his defending champs up a hill behind Chandler Elementary where the games were played. Monks got their attention. After a much crisper 28-point second half, the Vikings cruised to a 49-0 victory, their biggest winning margin of the season.

With their focus renewed, the Vikings once again stormed to an undefeated 6-0 regular season and a spot in the Castle Bowl, where they would face the Newburgh Raiders.

In three seasons of organized football, Lockyear and David Brosmer had now won 18 games while losing only one (a 94.7 percent winning percentage). Still, Monks knew beating the Raiders would be a daunting task, especially since they were led by a quarterback who was as big as the Vikings’ biggest lineman. Practicing all week well past dark on a field lit by automobile headlights, the Vikings prepared for the game.

The Raiders had squeaked by a Newburgh Chiefs team led by a hard-as-nails running back named Joe Dillman to reach the championship game. Dillman, whose father owned an auto body repair shop in Evansville, had grown up in Newburgh and attended St. John’s Catholic School. Dillman — a man among boys — was the kind of running back who inflicted pain and brought stars. Most of his friends would swear that Dillman had six-pack abs and hair on his chest in fifth grade.

“You didn’t really tackle Joe,” Neil Chapman said. “He just ran over you and hopefully fell down in the process.”

The Raiders were quarterbacked by first-year player Mike Davis, who had lived his early years in Boonville where his father was a Baptist minister. Davis had spent a good part of the summer after fifth grade begging his skeptical mother to allow him to play tackle football that fall. The game was nothing new to the tall, angular Davis. He had been playing backyard football for years, but he wasn’t prepared for the organized game — at least when it came to footwear. The embarrassed Davis showed up for his first practice wearing metal baseball cleats. The embarrassment wouldn’t last long. By his second practice, he had the right cleats and was about to have his football career defined for him as the coaches lined the entire team up and had them each throw a dozen passes. They were looking for a quarterback, and they quickly found one in Davis. One of the biggest players on his team, the 98-pound Davis barely qualified for playing quarterback in the league, which had a 100-pound weight limit for skill-position players.

In the summer before 11th grade, Davis sat around the kitchen table at the Brosmer household in Chandler with David and Chris shooting the breeze. They had always been a business-like team, concerned more with winning the next game rather than looking too far ahead, but in this moment of levity, they allowed themselves to dream a little.

With their junior season coming, they would be playing for the varsity, teaming up with the seniors who had themselves blazed a trail of countless victories. They surmised that they were about to form a team that wouldn’t know how to lose. Davis and the elder Brosmer came to the conclusion that given the strength of the junior and senior squads, there was no reason to doubt that both teams would be top contenders.

“We believed we could win the championship not only our junior season but also our senior season,” Davis said. “We were bragging that we could win two state championships.”

Chris, who had been sitting quietly at the table hanging on every word, suddenly blurted, “That means I’m going to win three!”

The table broke into raucous laughter.

“We felt it was doable,” Davis said. “It was a dream, but a possible dream. It was a dream within our grasp.”

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