Even before he was playing on a team, Charlie Hall felt the pull of Kokomo basketball.
He grew up on E. Sycamore St., just east of the train tracks, tantalizingly close to the action in Memorial Gym.
"I grew up about two blocks or a block-and-a-half from Memorial Gym. I could hear the crowds from my front yard," Hall said, recalling his boyhood.
Later, when he was in middle school, he took in his first game at Memorial Gym.
"It was in the '60s, it was Frankie Watters and I think [Freddie] Springer. Those two guys, it was so cool to watch them in the crowd and everything," Hall said.
The atmosphere and the players made an impact. At the time, he was more drawn to baseball. He'd played some hoops in middle school and hadn't had much success.
"In sixth grade, I scored four baskets all year, two for our team, two for the other team," Hall said. Confusion about which end Kokomo was attacking, and the switch at halftime, led him to put in buckets for the wrong team in a game at the start of the season. Throughout, his sixth grade coach Doral Daniels was patient with him.
"To this day, I can't thank Mr. Daniels enough," Hall said. "Those are the things, as a kid, you never forget. You take everything when you start working with kids later on. He could have embarrassed me and he didn't. That's how my career started, I had four baskets my sixth grade year."
In seventh grade, he tried out for the team in what he called his "church socks" because he'd forgot to bring sweat socks to the tryout. He didn't go out for basketball in eighth grade, and then returned in ninth grade. He was put on the freshman B team and feels lucky to have been retained at all.
It was an inauspicious start. Two years later he led the North Central Conference in scoring as a junior, and was tops again as a senior in 1973-74.
"I've got to thank [coach] Ron Barsh for keeping me on the team as a freshman," Hall said. "I hadn't played in eighth grade and they knew that. If Ron Barsh doesn't keep me on his freshman B team, you and I aren't talking."
It was an unlikely journey, one that took Hall to the hardwood at Memorial Gym, on to college, back to Kokomo where he started a stellar coaching career, continuing currently behind the scenes as the game director of the Indiana All-Stars, and now, he's been selected for the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame. The former Kokomo girls coach is entering the hall as part of the 16th women's induction class.
HALL OF FAME
Upon graduation from Ball State in 1980, Hall got a job back home, teaching and coaching at Haworth High School a few years before the Kokomo-Haworth consolidation. Haworth basketball coach Jim Callane gave him a job then, and Callane, later the KHS athletic director and formerly the president of the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame, called Hall recently with news that he had been elected to the Hall of Fame.
"I was kind of surprised because I thought Jim might be calling just to talk, to see what's going on," Hall recalled. "You don't think it's going to happen so when it does, you're kind of taken aback for a minute. You're obviously humbled by it and at the same time it's also kind of gratifying because you realize what it means."
Hall is getting in the Hall of Fame based on the totality of his career on court, on the sidelines, and behind the scenes. He scored 1,163 points in two seasons at Kokomo, was an assistant at Haworth and Kokomo from 1980-1997 (serving under Hall of Famers Callane, Carl McNulty and Basil Mawbey) before taking the Kokomo girls job in 1997.
As the girls coach, he amassed a 172-22 record with eight NCC titles, capped by the unbeaten 2002-03 team that won the Class 4A state title. He coached the Indiana All-Stars that year. Later he spent time as an assistant at Ball State before taking the position of game director of the Indiana All-Stars, overseeing the boys and girls squads.
It's quite the résumé.
"Charlie Hall's induction into the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame is well deserved," Callane said. "He was an outstanding player in high school and college, and he had an outstanding coaching career at KHS. He was an integral part of the KAHS coaching staff for many years, serving as an assistant coach in basketball, baseball, golf and head coach of the boys tennis team — all achieved tremendous success during this period.
"His success as the girls varsity basketball coach was a remarkable achievement. I appreciate the years I had Charlie as an assistant coach at Haworth High School, and the many years he coached in different capacities at KHS. I'm very happy for Charlie."
It was only fitting that Callane was the one who told Hall of the news.
"Jim has been, from the day I left college to the day he called me, he's been instrumental in everything I did as a coach and as a teacher at the high school," Hall said.
COACHING THE KATS
Callane, McNulty and Mawbey were major influences on Hall as a coach, as were the coaches he played for as a kid. When he moved from an assistant spot in the Kokomo boys program, to the sidelines of the girls team where he made his name, he felt prepared, but it was an eye-opener.
"It's just totally different being an assistant and a head coach," Hall said. "It's like the difference between being a passenger in a car and a driver in a car. I felt like I'd been handed the keys to a Lamborghini and I didn't want to crash it."
At that time, the Kokomo girls were humming thanks to the work of previous coaches. Sue Huggler did the heavy lifting, getting the program off the ground and moving in its first decade. Mike McCroskey took over next and had the Kats at top speed, winning state titles in 1992 and 1993.
"They had so much success that you almost felt that there was no where to go but down," Hall said. "Luckily for me the talent pool hadn't dried up. It seemed like I had an endless supply of players in those years as girls coach. There was a definite pressure to try to live up to the success of the program."
Hall thanked assistants including Ed Moon, Lisa Pflueger, Jay Karp, Daro Johnson, Jesse Dunn and Jason Snyder for helping, and noted the city had a wealth of capable people interested in working at the grass-roots level.
"[As a coach] you try to find one person that's smarter than you that you can trust and I found half a dozen," Hall said.
Now Hall is getting a lot of satisfaction from his current position with the Indiana All-Stars.
"It feels good because our crowds have come back — we're up about 35 percent from where we started — but the cool thing is all the kids and their families. We've had a great run of talent," Hall said. He's watching former All-Stars now making their way in the NBA. "You turn on the TV and there's [Charlotte's] Cody Zeller guarding [Denver's] Gary Harris."
He's enjoyed the interaction with those players and their families, just like he got a lot out of the relationships he built in Kokomo with teachers, coaches, staffers and players. A lot of his former Wildkats got in touch after the Hall of Fame announcement.
"That's probably the nicest thing that I think is going to come out of this is on a personal level," Hall said. "I've heard from some kids, some players I hadn't heard from in a long time, even my tennis players."
It's been a great journey for the kid who grew up on E. Sycamore St.
"I'm just lucky to grow up in Kokomo," Hall said. "I got to play here and coach here. That might be the best break I got because this town loves any kind of sport."