Corbin starred on diamond, court for JasperMay 11, 2020
BY COREY STOLZENBACH
Athletes sometimes find themselves thrust into the spotlight during their freshman year of high school. How well they perform can vary greatly, but Gary Corbin played no small role in Jasper’s success when it took the baseball field in 1967.
The Wildcats boasted a stud pitcher during that time in Gabe Mehringer, a junior in ’67 who ended up signing with Austin Peay State College (Tenn.). But Jasper had somebody it could rely on when Mehringer didn’t take the hill: Corbin. Opposing teams sometimes had to see both of them in the same game, which often didn’t bode well for the other squad.
“Why [Wildcats coach Don Noblitt] put the trust in me at that point in time, I really don’t know,” Corbin said. “There were some other pitchers on the team that were probably as good or better than me at the time, but he had confidence in me.”
Jasper had one blemish in the 1967 regular season. The Wildcats played a doubleheader April 27 at New Albany. The Wildcats took the opener, 3-1, but a 5-2, five-inning loss put them at 3-1. Corbin pitched a third of an inning, and remembers things not going well for him that night.
“He benched me and kind of gave me a chance to, I guess, get a lot of jitters and nerves out of my system, which I didn’t even realize I had at the time,” he said.
Whatever jitters Corbin, or anybody else on Jasper, might have had, for that matter, did not negatively impact the team the rest of the way. He hailed the upperclassmen that year for stepping up in a big way, labeling them as “winners” and “leaders.”
The offense came out in a flurry June 5 in a 20-0 shellacking of Winslow in the sectional championship game. It was the first of Jasper’s state-record 38 championships. That was Jasper’s 12th straight win, but it was nowhere near finished in the new Indiana High School Athletic Association state tournament.
The Wildcats won the regional championship and then the semistate championship on June 13, 3-1, against Terre Haute Gerstmeyer, all on their very own Recreation Field. Corbin said everyone was playing baseball and having a good time, not realizing the magnitude of what they were doing that season.
With that success, the Wildcats won over many adoring fans in 1967.
“It was incredible,” Corbin said. “That I could not describe. It was like the whole town was behind us and encouraging us.”
That support did not change when the town came out in droves to throw a welcome home party for the Wildcats, even after they lost, 10-1, to Arlington to fall one game shy of making it to the championship game.
Then-Herald sports editor Charles McPherron wrote in the June 19, 1967, edition, “LaPorte captured the first IHSAA state high school baseball tournament Saturday afternoon, but in Jasper late Saturday evening, a stranger passing through the community probably couldn’t have been convinced that the Wildcats didn’t win the title.”
“We were all very disappointed with our performance in ’67,” Corbin said. “We all knew we were better than that, and we felt like we let the community down, I guess. Probably no one ever said that, but we all felt that.”
The 1968 Jasper squad didn’t quite have the long winning streak that the 1967 team did, but the Wildcats were out to prove the previous year was no fluke. Mehringer started the 1967 season 15-0 before the loss to Arlington at state. He didn’t replicate that his senior year, but Corbin thought Mehringer was better that year. Jasper bested Clarksville, 4-1, and Evansville Memorial, 7-6, on June 15, 1968, at semistate — again on its home turf — to qualify for state for the second year in a row.
The Wildcats came so close to having a berth in the 1968 state championship game. They were sitting pretty with a 2-0 lead against Marion after five innings. However, multiple errors led to a meltdown in the top of the sixth inning. The Giants made the Wildcats pay for their miscues, putting up a six spot in the top of the sixth, and tacking on two more runs to hand Jasper an 8-2 loss.
Jasper committed five errors in the game, which was actually only one more than Marion did, but Marion capitalized, and Jasper could not.
“It was just nerves, definitely nerves,” Corbin said. “We had the game won. We should’ve won that game, and boom. We lost our composure.”
Had the Wildcats made it to the state championship game both years, Corbin believes the 1968 team would have been more likely to win it all. He thought the team, himself included, was more confident that year, despite the errors against Marion.
Corbin excelled on more than just the baseball diamond. The Wildcats were going through a sectional drought in basketball by the time his senior year rolled around in 1969-70. They proceeded to go 17-3 in the regular season, and Corbin averaged 13.1 points per game in those 20 regular-season games. He was one of four Wildcats to do so, along with junior Wayne Bailey (18.4), senior Terry Fleck (14.7) and junior Jim Wenzel (13.3). This made Corbin as part of a balanced group.
“It was just a deep, deep team,” Corbin said.
Jasper got past Dubois to advance to the sectional semifinal round on Saturday, but in what was considered an upset, Holland extended Jasper’s drought by another year, handing the Wildcats a 52-47 defeat. As Corbin put it that he “couldn’t buy a basket” in that year’s sectional. He went 0 for 7 shooting against the Jeeps, and 0 for 8 against the Dutchmen.
Corbin thought that, just like in baseball, being shutout in the shooting department that sectional had to be because of nerves. He put it that someone must’ve put a lid on the basket for him. The only scoring he had in the sectional was when he was a perfect 3 for 3 at the free throw line against the Jeeps.
What’s worse for Corbin is that the Wildcats finally broke through and won the sectional championship the year after he graduated in 1971 — their first of five consecutive sectional crowns.
“I still sometimes have nightmares that we didn’t win that sectional (in 1970),” Corbin said.
His prep baseball career might not have ended in a state championship, nor his prep basketball career with a sectional championship, but Corbin was very much a hot commodity at the next level. He attracted collegiate attention both in state and out of state. Corbin posted a batting average of .365 with seven home runs as a senior, while going 6-3 on the mound with a 1.10 ERA.
In the end, he chose to sign to play both sports at Florida State University. One contact who swayed Corbin to Tallahassee was Elmo Henson, a businessman in Evansville who was a baseball scout for both FSU and the St. Louis Cardinals. Florida State was the runner-up to USC in the championship game of the 1970 College World Series.
Corbin credited then-Herald sports editor Jerry Birge for helping make it all possible. Birge knew Henson, whose son, Tom, played for the Seminoles. Corbin inked his letter of intent July 10, 1970, as he wanted to play “big-time baseball.”
He never got on varsity in either sport. Freshmen could not play on varsity at that time, and Corbin told then-hoops coach Hugh Durham he just wanted to concentrate on baseball after his freshman year ended. Corbin told The Herald that Durham had a stipulation for him in order for that to happen.
“He said, ‘Well, my future starting guard out here is having some grade problems,’” Corbin recalled. “‘He said, ‘If he makes his grades this summer, you can concentrate on baseball. If not, you’re playing basketball.’”
The Seminoles made it to the NCAA national championship in 1971-72, losing to UCLA, 81-76. Corbin was spared the heartbreak of losing to Bill Walton and the rest of John Wooden’s Bruins, but he thought it would’ve been great to play on television. Corbin said he wouldn’t have been a starter, but he still would’ve seen playing time that year.
He played baseball his sophomore year, but again, on junior varsity. Corbin didn’t play all four years at FSU — he experienced arm problems. In fact, he left school and never finished his degree. He married when he was a sophomore and started a successful drapery installation business in the area. Corbin came back home to Dubois County not long afterward, but he would do things the same way all over again if he could.
Corbin is still going strong as president of Corbin’s Drapery in Jasper. The business dates back to 1954 when his parents, Marvin and Sylvia, opened Corbin’s Department Store, which included, but wasn’t excluded to, drapery. Gary enjoys running his small business and maintains an active life.
“I just enjoy life,” he said. “Every day is a gift.”
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