Kyle Sokeland Evansville Courier & Press
Published 5:32 PM EST Feb 8, 2019
TELL CITY, Ind. – It’s hard to end up in Tell City by accident.
Tucked away in Perry County, Indiana on the banks of the Ohio River, there’s a Walmart Supercenter and several chain restaurants along Indiana 66 on the southern edge of town. Like a lot of small Midwestern places, Tell City is smaller than it used to be.
Matt Lynch didn’t end up in Tell City by accident. He was the assistant coach at one of the biggest programs in the state and mentored by one of the best to ever coach in Indiana.
Dustin Hunt landed in Tell City by way of Washington, Indiana, the home of four fairly recent state titles and enough basketball history to fill a book.
Ty Smith, the kid who was shot at age 7, didn’t end up in Tell City by mistake, either. It’s where he found family and stability.
And then there’s Braeden Beard, whose skills on the court are surpassed only by his humility off it. Beard’s the young man who could’ve folded up shop when his mom died, but Grandma and Grandpa’s love kept him on the right path.
All these people — and several more — ended up in Tell City at a time when so many were leaving. Now, they’re doing things on the basketball court that the townspeople haven’t seen since Gerald Ford was president.
“Nothing for 20 miles”
Matt Lynch remembers his first impression of Perry County, Indiana.
He was driving on Interstate 64 when he saw the exit for Tell City, where Lynch – then a New Albany assistant – had a job interview for the head coaching position. At first glance, he thought he had reached his destination.
Only a 45-minute drive? Not too bad.
Then he saw a sign that said Tell City was still 21 miles away. As he drove south on Indiana 37, doubt crept in.
“You pretty much drive past nothing for 20 more miles,” said Lynch. “My first thought was, ‘My wife is going to kill me if I get this job.’”
That was nearly three years ago. A lot has changed for both Lynch and Tell City.
After years of losing, the Marksmen have regained what they lost: respectability and winning on the basketball court. They were once a proud program, one of the blue bloods in Southern Indiana during the 1960s and 70s.
No longer are the Marksmen considered easy marks on the schedule. Forty-four victories in three years behind a strong senior class and a young coach wanting to bring a winning culture.
Things are different now.
The ‘golden days’ of Tell City
Stephen Lochmueller still remembers the line of cars streaming out of town, headed to the regional and semistate games. It was like a scene out of ”Hoosiers.” It felt like the entire town of Tell City packed their vehicles and followed the team throughout the postseason. In the 1960s and 70s, there were a lot of chances to see them play deep into the state tournament.
Once upon a time, Tell City was at the pinnacle of high school basketball in Southern Indiana. From 1959 to 1975, the school won 14 sectional titles in the single-class tournament. The Marksmen secured five regional crowns and a spot in the 1961 state championship.
Tell City itself was booming, too. According to U.S. Census data, the town boasted 2,680 residents at the turn of the 20th Century. Growth rates sometimes topping 20 percent per decade took the town to 8,704 people in 1980.
As a player, Lochmueller had a front-row seat for some of the greatest days in program history.
“It makes your heart swell with pride,” he said. “Tell City basketball today is in some sense not what it was back in the 70s and 80s. It was a different world back then.”
The Lochmueller family played a big role in that success. Bob Lochmueller was the architect and coached at the school for 15 seasons. He finished with a 257-96 record. At one point, he oversaw nine consecutive sectional titles.
His son, Stephen, remains one of the best to ever come out of Tell City. A three-year starter, the forward set school records for points in a season (634), points in a career (1,333) and rebounds in a career (927). Inducted into the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame in 2008, Lochmueller played basketball and football at the University of Kentucky. As a senior in 1971, he led Tell City to a regional championship.
If anything, the big schools were scared to play Tell City.
“I had the distinct pleasure to play for my dad,” said Lochmueller. ”I still tease today that I was one of the few people to ever get kicked out of a practice because he thought I wasn’t living up to those expectations. I probably wasn’t. Playing for him was an honor.”
The Marksmen count several standout players among their ranks. The gym is named for school alum and University of Evansville player Bryan Taylor, who died in the Purple Aces’ 1977 plane crash.
For whatever reason, the program began a decline soon after Lochmueller’s father retired in 1980. The Marksmen didn’t win another sectional title until 1993. Following that championship, Tell City won just 37 percent of its games over the next 23 years.
At one point, the Marksmen had eight consecutive losing seasons. There probably isn’t one concrete reason why. The town population fell off as much as the basketball record. Those 20 percent gains? Gone, replaced by losses of 7.1, 3 and 7.3 percent in the 1990, 2000 and 2010 Census counts. The most recent Census had the town’s headcount at 7,272, a 16.5 percent drop since the town’s basketball glory days.
Basically, for every six people who lived in Tell City then, one is gone now.
“I have talked with my father about it,” said Lochmueller. “We’ve been somewhat disappointed over the years after dad retired because we weren’t able to be better. It wasn’t any one thing. Times are so much different today. From what I’ve seen other years in athletics, parents were so much more involved back then.”
As the director of athletics at Eastern Kentucky University, Lochmueller hasn’t had the pleasure to return to Tell City and see the changes happening within the program. He has heard about it, though.
Tell City athletics director Andy Brunner contacted Lochmueller a few weeks ago when senior Braeden Beard was getting close to breaking his career scoring record. After listening to how the team is changing the perception of Tell City basketball, he has nothing but pride.
“I would love to get back,” said Lochmueller. “It’s just a matter of timing. Proud of the job they are doing and the job coach is doing.”
Making the team believe again
The culture shift was night and day for the first-time head coach.
A 2008 graduate of New Albany High School, Lynch returned to his alma mater to spend six years as an assistant under Jim Shannon. After three years coaching the freshman, he was promoted to junior varsity coach in 2013.
New Albany is one of the premier Class 4A programs in the state. Under Shannon, the Bulldogs have won nearly 400 games over the past 21 years. New Albany has compiled 12 sectional championships during that time and won a state title in 2016 behind then-sophomore Romeo Langford.
It had been decades since Tell City had sniffed a fraction of that success. The Marksmen had eight straight losing seasons before Lynch arrived in June 2016.
Something needed to change. Losing was starting to feel like part of the program’s DNA.
“Sometimes I felt like our guys didn’t expect to win when we played certain opponents,” said Lynch. “My first win here was against Forest Park and we were 0-2. Most people wrote it off. They were the sectional favorites and we upset them. That was a kickstart for these guys.”
Lynch and the team butted heads a few times in the early days. At New Albany, Lynch was taught the importance of discipline, preparedness and expecting to win every night. The players needed time to learn his way and what was expected of them.
At the same time, he had to learn and adapt to them. Tell City, with an enrollment of just over 400, didn’t have the same athletes as New Albany, with an enrollment topping 1,800. It would take time and patience to get things right.
The results gradually started to come and with it several milestones. That first victory over Forest Park? It snapped a 17-game losing streak to the Rangers that dated to 2005. A 13-11 record also produced Tell City’s first win over Mater Dei since 2008.
Tell City took another step forward last year with a 16-9 record and only its second sectional victory since 2011. The Marksmen became known for their defense, yielding 44 points per game both seasons.
“(Lynch) has been great,” said senior Spencer Fest. “He has confidence in all of us and takes a lot of time and effort from his own life to help. It really pays off during the games.”
Lynch has produced a complete turnaround of what people assumed Tell City basketball to be. He currently holds a 44-24 record in three seasons. Most of all he has the respect of this players.
A former player himself, Lynch understands how to relate to his athletes. There are practices when he even attempts to get up and down the floor with them. The kids appreciate his hard work to turn around a program with which he had zero prior connection.
“He is one of the greatest competitors I’ve ever met,” said senior Tretter Lyons. “He is always trying to win. He always asks the best out of us and we try to give him that.”
Whenever they see him in public, people will stop Lynch and thank him. Not for winning basketball games, but for making Tell City respectable again. For a town itching for success, Lynch has been glad to give it. He has felt nothing but support from the community and administration. He and his wife, Carly, welcomed a daughter, Hadley, last March.
Lynch does have one thought about the success.
“It’s not me,” he said. “It’s these players. They are the reason we are winning. We have a great group of seniors. They’ve set the tone for the younger groups behind them. The community has been great and supportive. I think they were hungry for success and right now we are giving it to them.”
“They are all my brothers”
You would be hard pressed to find a group better suited for each other.
Each of the seven seniors for Tell City have a different personality. Some are goofy. Others are more serious, the take-charge type. But for the Marksmen, this is the class who wanted to make a difference. Not just for themselves, but for this town and program.
They were tired at being looked down upon.
“We heard all about the success they had back in the golden days of the 70s and can see the banners on the wall,” said Lyons. “We want to be able to bring some of that back.”
Dustin Hunt, Devon Blake, Trent Arnold, Ty Smith, Fest, Lyons and Beard represent the rise of Tell City basketball. A group that could have easily split apart amidst their own problems away from the gym stuck it out for something greater.
Some of them have lived in Tell City their entire lives. They played in the same youth league before adding the final pieces in the fourth grade when Smith (Gary, Indiana) and Hunt (Washington, Indiana) moved into the district.
To say these seven are close would be selling it short. They’re always together: in school, after practice, on the weekends playing video games. The seniors taking the court at Bryan Taylor Arena are a family in every sense of the word.
“They are all my brothers,” said Beard. “It’s very special that we’ve all stuck together with it.”
It is also remarkable considering what some of them have endured to reach this point.
Beard lost his mother to cancer when he was 8. Hunt moved to Tell City with his mother around the fourth grade, but hasn’t had it easy.
Then you have Smith. He has never met his father and his mother has spent time in prison. When he was 7 years old, Smith was shot in a drive-by while living with his grandfather. Parts of the bullet remained in his body until last year.
Smith moved to Tell City with his mother, but she never kicked a drug addiction. She has been arrested on multiple occasions and is currently incarcerated. After bouncing around different houses, Smith eventually found a much more stable household with Terry and Kelly Ingle.
It is a diverse group brought together by basketball. Sports has a way of helping those in times of struggle.
“Deep down they are all good kids,” said Lynch. “When you are coaching them … sometimes they can be frustrating, but they are trying to do what they think is best. It’s been a blessing and I couldn’t ask for a better group to start with in my coaching career.”
On the court, there is a connection watching them play. Some were thrown into the fire as freshmen on a losing team. Others were called upon as sophomores when Lynch arrived.
All that time together has produced a strong, unified group that doesn’t care about the spotlight. They love each other and want to prop each other up.
A 16-9 record last year represented Tell City’s best season in a decade. The Marksmen were set to match that win total against Pike Central on Friday.
“Maybe that’s why,” Darla Deom, the grandmother of Beard, said of this group’s success. “Their stories are not alike but they are. They just have that bond. Some haven’t had a cushy life.”
“My mom is dancing in heaven”
The events of Jan. 13, 2009 changed the lives of not one but two families in Tell City.
Fifteen months after learning she had pancreatic cancer, Terry Deom passed away at Perry County Memorial Hospital. The pain of losing a loved one never disappears. It has been the case for her three children: Stori, Spenser and Braeden Beard.
Darla and Kenny Deom were left to pick up the pieces while also grieving the loss of their daughter. After going to court to get custody, the two opened their home and embraced parenthood again.
Considering everything that happened, it’s a credit to them for the way Braeden turned out. The senior recently became the all-time leading scorer in Tell City history, passing Lochmueller on a baseline jumper against Mater Dei on Jan. 18.
Beard calls them Mom and Dad.
“They’ve done everything for me,” he said. “They clothed me and bought me anything I’ve wanted. They raised me just like my mom would. Disciplined me and made sure I got good grades. They are my mom and dad, but just my grandparents.”
The Deoms raised three children of their own and have always been involved with sports. Tracy coached volleyball at Tell City Junior High School and the freshman team for Tell City High School. She was an avid Kentucky basketball fan.
Having a strong connection with the kids prior to losing their mother helped the Deoms and vice versa. They needed one another.
“I don’t want to say it was easy because they lost their mom,” said Darla Deom. “It was an easier transition than most. They felt at home. We were so thrilled to have them. That was all we had left of our daughter.”
The past year has been one of happiness for the family. Stori graduated from Indiana University-Southeast, got married and is now an elementary school teacher. Spenser Deom — he changed his last name because of his love for his grandparents — is a junior at the University of Southern Indiana and plays baseball.
Beard will finish his career as one of the most decorated players in Tell City history. In addition to the scoring record, he set the school record for field goals and is closing in on the rebounding mark, as well.
You will never hear him brag about it. He was raised to be humble. Beard has gone out of his way to credit teammates and coaches when speaking to the media.
Soon after he broke the scoring record, his grandmother brought it up during a conversation. After giving it some thought, Beard could only think about his mother.
“He said, ‘My mom is dancing in heaven and watching me,'” said his grandmother. “We are beyond proud. He has worked hard for it and loves the sport. His sister graduated and is an elementary teacher. His brother is at USI and he is doing fabulous. Braeden has always been a happy kid. (We’re) beyond proud.”
Playing for the city
From the moment Lynch arrived in Tell City, everything has been building towards this winter.
A large, talented group of seniors led by one of the best in program history. Three years and a complete belief in a system. A fan base itching to support a winner. All that was left was to get results.
This year, the Marksmen are providing them. Following a double overtime victory over Gibson Southern on Thursday, Tell City sits at 15-4 with four games left before the sectional.
“One of the older guys, Dave Alvey, he is a legend at Tell City,” said Fest. “He came up to us and said ‘thank you’ for bringing respect back to our name. It’s great to bring that value back to Tell City.”
It believes it is a more complete team than last year. Beard is averaging over 17 points and nine rebounds per game but has help on the offensive end with Arnold (12.0 ppg) and Fest (8.2) on the wings. Lyons and Blake are the defensive stalwarts, shutting down team’s best players on the nightly basis.
Hunt does whatever is asked, be it rebounding down low or stepping out to knock down a 3-pointer. Smith is a sparkplug whether he’s coming off the bench or in the starting lineup.
All this success is nice until you realize the Marksmen’s true goals.
“So far, we’ve stepped up to the challenge,” said Lyons. “Our main goal has always been the sectional, regional, state. Everything that we have been doing thus far has been to make us successful at that point.”
Tell City has not won a sectional title in 26 years. These seniors were nearly a decade away from being born the last time the community celebrated a championship in boys’ basketball.
It won’t be easy. Mater Dei has developed a strong team and beat Tell City on Jan. 18. Forest Park is coming on strong behind a Division I-caliber forward. The rest of the sectional field has proven it can get hot and beat anybody.
The players understand it and won’t overlook anyone. Lynch will make sure of it. But they can see the potential forming to make a special run.
As the team motto goes, they want to do it “For the City.”
“We feel like we are a complete team and can win in different ways,” said Lynch. “We (also) know to take it one step at a time. When you haven’t won a sectional for 25 or 26 years, there is no overlooking anything. Any draw we get, we feel like we can beat anybody on any given night.”
Follow Courier & Press sports reporter Kyle Sokeland on Twitter @kylesokeland.
SUPPORT GREAT STORYTELLING: We love telling great local sports stories. Help support that mission by subscribing.
- MaxPreps 2018-19 preseason Top 100 high school basketball teams
- MaxPreps Top 25 national high school basketball rankings: Sunrise Christian Academy climbs 11 spots
- Top 25 high school basketball scores: No. 1 Montverde Academy hosts No. 11 DeMatha
- Top 25 high school basketball scores: No. 2 IMG Academy clashes with No. 8 Paul VI
- Top 25 high school basketball scores: No. 8 Paul VI shocks No. 2 IMG Academy
- Minnesota Girls’ High School Basketball Rankings
- High school basketball player in South Dakota dies during practice
- 2018-19 high school boys basketball state champions
- MaxPreps Top 25 national high school girls basketball rankings: Top-ranked Westlake falls as DeSoto takes its place
- Predicting the field for GEICO High School Nationals
A revival on the Ohio River: How Tell City High School basketball found new life have 3395 words, post on eu.courierpress.com at February 8, 2019. This is cached page on Europe Breaking News. If you want remove this page, please contact us.