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Prep Sports: Side Lines, Bill Beck — Shike a coach, gentleman and motivator

names synonymous with Jimtown -- were there then and still are now. And while Jimmie football legend and lore often begins with the dynamics of Gene Skirvin's teams of the 1970s and ends with Bill Sharpe's incredible 28-year run of championships, those in the know point to Shike as lighting the fuse to the program's turnaround. "Everybody gives Gene Skirvin credit for jumpstarting Jimtown
Posted on March 19, 2009 at 1:00 a.m. | Updated on March 19, 2009 at 1:17 a.m.

Gene Shike remembered as a man of hard-nosed ways and family-style truths during his time at Jimtown.

The name Gene Shike may not resonate outside of Baugo Township. If fact, it's a name many in today's Jimtown may have never heard.

But old guard Jimmies certainly know Gene Shike.

"I loved him. He was a great motivator,'' said Steve Magyar, a 1968 JHS graduate. "He made me think about a lot of things that I've accomplished in my life.''

Shike, Jimtown's football coach from 1963-67 and later a longtime educator in Terre Haute, died last Friday. He was 75.

A four-season stretch as the Jimmie coach may look like another footnote in the school's history, so I went to the heart of Baugo to get the straight dope.

Magyar, Clark, McCuddy, Cook, Campbell, Fearnow -- names synonymous with Jimtown -- were there then and still are now.

And while Jimmie football legend and lore often begins with the dynamics of Gene Skirvin's teams of the 1970s and ends with Bill Sharpe's incredible 28-year run of championships, those in the know point to Shike as lighting the fuse to the program's turnaround.

"Everybody gives Gene Skirvin credit for jumpstarting Jimtown football, but it was actually Gene Shike,'' said Steve McCuddy, a '68 Jimmie grad.

Not only did Shike point football in the right direction, he made a controversial change in Jimtown football which still stands today -- the gold in the team's helmets and jerseys.

"Some of the old folks still don't like the gold,'' said Jerry Fawley, a retired Jimtown administrator and former assistant under Shike.

"We got some old Notre Dame helmets for our junior high team,'' said Fawley, "and Gene found some in a storage room upstairs in the old gym. That's what he wanted to wear.''

White pants and white helmets were then changed to gold. Shike's image to his players became golden as well.

"I remember Gene telling Wayne Cook, who was the athletic director, that we've got to get some new uniforms,'' Magyar said. "He said if we look good, maybe we'll play good.''

Evidently, that was merely the first step for Gene Shike.

He treated young men like family.

"I don't know how you call it. I guess he was a mentor,'' said Bruce Clark, another '68 Jimmie. "He'd treat you like a king.''

"He was like a father figure,'' Magyar said.

Magyar talked about how his mom wanted to walk the sidelines during away games.

"Gene said don't worry about it,'' Magyar said. "He gave her a coach's sweater so she could walk the sidelines.''

Gene Shike placed a high priority on no-nonsense habits and hard work.

If a player wanted to start on the line, all he had to do was challenge -- and beat -- a regular in a one-on-one drill.

"Absolutely true,'' said Fawley. "We called it the 'bull ring.'''

"He didn't play favorites with the linemen. If you could push them out, you started,'' McCuddy said. "Friday night, that was the easy night for us.''

Gene Shike understood the fine art of motivation.

At the end of practices, Shike and Skirvin, then an assistant, would have players run windsprint drills. If a player could beat Shike in a 40-yard race, players could head in for the day.

"He was fast,'' McCuddy said.

"The kids hated it. Gene Shike could run,'' Fawley said. "But you know what? We never got beat in the fourth quarter.''

And as a payback, Gene Shike was treated with complete devotion.

Years after Shike relocated to Terre Haute, Clark and some of his friends would travel to visit his former coach.

"I always kept in touch with him,'' Clark said. "Once a year, I'd bring a buddy with me and we'd go see him. And he'd tell me that every Saturday during the football season, he'd wake up and see how Jimtown played. When we talked on the phone, he'd want to know about Jimtown.''

Though his methods may seem peculiar by today's standards, Gene Shike's presence, behavior and beliefs transcend Jimtown -- not just football and athletics -- but the community.

He was straight-forward and simple and he had a hands-on touch which cannot be measured.

His approach is duplicated day-after-day in Baugo Township.

"You couldn't have found a better coach and gentleman,'' Fawley said. "He and Skirvin -- two straight shooters. They never told you something that wasn't true. If they told you, that's the way it was.''


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