Call to Hall humbles former JHS star

By JOHN PATISHNOCK
Herald Sports Writer

Karen (Bauer) Stenftenagel still remembers the exact place in Cabby O’Neill Gymnasium where she was sitting when she decided she wanted to try out for the varsity basketball team.

Stenftenagel

Interested in other details? Don’t ask Stenftenagel. She can’t remember anything other than sitting in the upper bleachers on the opposite side of the scorer's table and thinking she wanted to play basketball the following season. It worked out for her.

After a storied prep and college career in which she accomplished as much on the court for herself as she perhaps did for others, Stenftenagel is part of the 11-member women’s class that will be inducted into the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame on Saturday in Indianapolis.  

Stenftenagel, a 1979 Jasper High School graduate, led the Wildcats to three sectional titles, two regional championships and the program’s only semistate crown in her senior season. During the three seasons in which she started, Jasper finished 49-5.

All this from somebody who simply wanted to give a new sport a try.

“That’s pretty amazing,” Stenftenagel, 51, said of her high school accomplishments.

People who know Stenftenagel describe her as low-key, creating a strange dichotomy for someone who has so many reasons to be boastful.

“I feel very honored and very blessed,” Stenftenagel said. “I look at it as an honor, a tribute to the 1979 team as much as it is on me individually.”

Surprise didn’t accompany the news. Honored. Humbled. Deserving. Stenftenagel was all three. As for others, no one was shocked when Stenftenagel was named a member of this year’s class.

“I wasn’t surprised at all when she was named to the hall of fame,” said Dan Musselwhite, who coached Stenftenagel at Jasper and wrote her a letter of recommendation. “She’s deserving of it.”

After graduating from JHS, Stenftenagel then starred at Ball State, where she received the university’s first female athletic scholarship and became the first woman to surpass 1,000 career points at the university. She graduated with 10 school records, including points (1,095) and rebounds (760) and still holds the single-season rebounding average mark (11.3 per game in 1981-82). She’s also still in the top five in program history in free throws made and attempted.

Twice, she earned a spot on the Academic All-American second team and was inducted into the Ball State Athletics Hall of Fame in 2000.

Stenftenagel said she arrived at Ball State with “perfect timing,” noting if she attended college earlier she wouldn’t have been able to play because of the absence of women’s sports.  

“I never felt that’s the way I was, I never felt like I was being a pioneer,” said Stenftenagel, who lives in Ireland with her husband, Scott, and their 18-year-old daughter, Megan. “Looking back after all these years, I think it does make it more special.”

Stenftenagel, who’s been a high school math teacher for 30 years, spent 15 seasons coaching, beginning with three years at Princeton starting in 1984-85. She then coached the Jasper JV squad for six seasons starting in 1987 while also assisting Musselwhite and then took over the varsity team in 1993. Stenftenagel led the Wildcats to eight sectional titles and two regional crowns and finished with 200 career wins at both schools.

The decision she made to step down as Jasper’s head coach after the 2004-05 season was brutal.

“It was like reaching into my chest and pulling out my heart and chucking it into the trash — it was the hardest thing I ever did,” Stenftenagel said. “Picking a husband was much easier.”

Musselwhite recalled Stenftenagel’s ability to elevate the team’s post play while she was an assistant coach, saying, “We had some good post people during those years she coached and I think she had a lot to do with that.” He also remembered the dynamic she brought as a player.

“I had never coached girls up to that point,” Musselwhite said. “It was like, ”˜Wow, she can jump at a whole new level.’ I just remembered how well she could jump.”

Stenftenagel also possessed traits that couldn’t be quantified. Jasper teammate Laura (Ackerman) Grammer recalled Stenftenagel as anyone but a cheerleader. Big speeches and flamboyant displays, Stenftenagel did not do.

“The thing I remember about Karen — because you don’t remember the score, you just remember people and what they were — and Karen was calm, just get it done, it wasn’t big fanfare,” Grammer said. “It was very humble — Get the job done and go forward — and she’s still like that today.”

Stenftenagel couldn’t pinpoint a specific memory that stands out after all these years. She said she never hit a game-winning shot and couldn’t remember any buzzer-beating play she pulled off. Instead, she remembers spending time with coaches and teammates. She logged lots of hours inside gyms with the people who meant the most to her, which explains her reaction when talking about the honor with Grammer.

“Her response was, ”˜It was a team effort,’” Grammer said. “It wasn’t ”˜Thank you very much, I was really excited.’ I just remember, ”˜Laura, it was a team effort,’ and that was Karen.”

Contact John Patishnock at jpatishnock@dcherald.com.




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