Drawing A Line In The Stands

Vincennes senior Bryton Pinkstaff wore the score from the Alices’ win over Jasper in the 2014 football game during the boys basketball game Jan. 9 in Vincennes. The Alices won the football game 35-34 and won that night’s basketball game 53-50. Jasper got payback with a 28-0 football win last week. Herald photo by Caitlin O’Hara.

Story by Jason Recker

This would be more fun if everybody would just tell the truth.

Here it is: Jasper and Vincennes aren’t often cordial. Mostly, it’s about high school sports. Somebody told me it’s like a class society in which Jasper is the elite and Vincennes is not. It’s about money and trophies and how you handle yourself in good times and in bad. It’s a big deal. Just beat Jasper. Just don’t lose to Vincennes.

This is about that rivalry — Jasper and Vincennes Lincoln high schools and, to a degree, the cities themselves. The grudge spans multiple generations and has some roots in the 1960s but really didn’t get rolling until the 1990s and didn’t actually overflow into pure vitriol until sometime in the early 2000s. People on both sides have no problem talking about it. For the most part, there’s respect and civility and friendships. But there’s also an undercurrent of something else. Something more ...

“I hate Jasper. They’re all cocky and think they’re the best in the world.”

That was Brian Foss, who graduated from Vincennes Lincoln in May.

This is Austin Alles, a 2015 Jasper graduate who played football, basketball and baseball.

“No, I don’t like them. It’s big. We’re always just trying to win games, but when you beat Vincennes, it’s better.”

Told you they don’t like each other.

Let’s explore why. Be sure to read between the lines.

This means war

Jasper boys basketball coach Ken Schultheis argued a call during the 1992 tussle between Jasper and Vincennes at the old JHS gym. Schultheis flamed the rivalry during his tenure with the Wildcats, making it an annual goal to win the Big Eight Conference by beating the Alices. Photo courtesy of Ken Schultheis.

There are people who say Ken Schultheis created this whole mess.

He was a Jasper boys basketball coach who welcomed theatrics, and when he took over the program in 1990, he formed a list of goals that included winning the Big Eight Conference championship outright. Jasper had never done it because, for the most part, Vincennes Lincoln had. His first trip to Alice Arena as a coach ended with a loss. Not devastating.

Back when Schultheis took over at Jasper, Vincennes — technically, it’s Vincennes Lincoln, but we’re going to call it Vincennes because that’s what they often call themselves and their primary logo is a giant “V” — was good at basketball because it was, and still is, a basketball school. That game in January 1991 included a few shouting matches with Vincennes coaches, Wildcat student managers jawing with the crowd, pushing and shoving near the end of the fourth quarter, trash-talking in the handshake line and Schultheis asserting to media after the game that the Alices’ aggressive defense was “like something out of the Vietnam War.”  

As he left the court, he shouted at a few Alice fans.

“Their fans are standing up and yelling how they kicked our (butts),” Schultheis remembers. “Well they got some calls during the game. I said, ‘Well, we’re marking it down. We’ll see how you play against seven next year.’”

As if the referees favored the home team. Word about the dig got around in Vincennes, and the next season the Alices and their fans arrived in Jasper angry. There had been rumors about Jasper’s student section, dubbed the “Warlords,” hoping to start fights. Vincennes talked about bringing 1,000 fans and the green-clad crowd did in fact spill out of its assigned section. The place was packed like a sectional.

When Jasper and Vincennes met during the 1991-92 boys basketball season, Scott Rolen, right, was a junior on a Wildcat team with a goal of winning the Big Eight Conference and beating the Alices. Jasper lost the game in ’92 but the game helped spark the grudge between the schools. Herald file photo.

The Alices won. Then came another confrontation. Schultheis again.

“They had a player who I coached in camp back in middle school and I’d gotten on him back then. He had a Mohawk haircut and I told him he’d never be a player if he acted like that,” Schultheis recalls.

The kid met Schultheis in the postgame handshake.

“I guess I know how to play basketball now, huh, Coach?” the Vincennes player said.

“Only if you call thuggery basketball,” Schultheis responded.

“I loved it because the conference championship went through Vincennes,” Schultheis says now. “(Those games) incited it. It was hot and crazy and nobody was backing down.”

It wasn’t the first edition of bitterness.

Gunner Wyman was to Vincennes what Schultheis was to Jasper.

The famed boys basketball coach is buried in Kentucky and he built part of his furor for Jasper during his days at Tell City back when those two schools were sworn enemies in basketball and football. Wyman is the guy whose tombstone includes the line “I’d rather be here than in Jasper, Indiana” and he didn’t make a lot of friends in Jasper because when things went wrong, he took his ball and went home.

During the 1969-70 season, Wyman coached at Vincennes and Ed Schultheis (Ken’s father) coached Jasper. After the Alices beat the Wildcats by two points in a game played in Vincennes’ old coliseum, somebody tried to throw a cup of soda on Ed. The fan missed. Ed didn’t see it, but an assistant coach did. He twirled, grabbed the fan’s leg and unloaded some choice words. A Jasper player attempted to exit the locker room, ready to fight.

The next year, Wyman criticized Jasper’s choice of game officials, voiced his displeasure with Jasper athletic director Cabby O’Neill and lost to the Wildcats. On Wyman’s command, the Wildcats and Alices didn’t play another basketball game until 1980 when the formation of the Big Eight Conference mandated they meet.

“My dad was a character and I’m sure he felt the rivalry but for the most part it was in good fun,” says Will Wyman, Gunner’s son and a retired teacher and boys hoops coach at Evansville Harrison. “But there probably is some real animosity between the two towns. I’m sure it’s increased quite a bit with being in the same sectional.”

Yeah. For sure.  

Point of pride

The Jasper student section jeered Vincennes guard Conner Barmes as Barmes waited for referee Stephen Marx of Elberfeld to hand him the ball during the Class 3A boys basketball sectional March 7 in Washington. The Wildcats lost 69-54.  Herald photo by Alisha Jucevic.

This is about perception as much as anything.

Brian Foss, the young man at the beginning of this story who said he hated Jasper “because they think they’re the best” is not alone in his sentiment. Ken Schultheis said there are folks in Evansville, where he’s lived for several years, who “know you’re from Jasper and just don’t deal with you.”

It’s quite simple, really: People from outside Jasper think those on the inside look down upon everyone else. They’re spoiled. They’re rich. They’re arrogant. That is at times the reputation.

Maybe it’s the rows of upscale homes that surround JHS (asking price for a house up the road is $850,000). Maybe it’s the well-kept yards (there’s an ordinance preventing grass left too long) and German surnames (Hochgesang, Gramelspacher and Stenftenagel, et al.) and proliferation of successful big businesses (Kimball, Jasper Engines & Transmissions, MasterBrand Cabinets, Meyer Distributing, insert wood furniture company here). Then there’s the fact that Jasper has a new gym and athletics facilities that include fieldhouses and locker rooms and accessories that extend beyond the norm for most high schools in southern Indiana.

There are simple facts, too.

On the field.

Jasper has won a grand total of 336 sectional championships and has claimed the Big Eight’s all-sports trophy every year but one since the conference was founded in 1980. Vincennes has won 71 — yes, 71 — sectional championships in boys basketball alone but success in other sports has been more sporadic. In the last calendar year, Jasper beat Vincennes in every sport except boys basketball and girls basketball (Jasper later won the sectional in girls basketball).

Off the field.

Jasper senior Stephen O’Connor wore a chain necklace and a tank top as part of the student section’s theme of gangsters during the Jan. 9 boys basketball game in Vincennes. For some, the perception of Vincennes is that of “poor, dirty, redneck, ruffians” said one Vincennes representative. Herald photo by Caitlin O’Hara.

A U.S. Census Bureau report on earnings reveals that Dubois County has more than 884 of what are termed “high-income” homes. By contrast, Knox County, of which Vincennes is the county seat, has somewhere between 107 and 251 of those same types of houses. Employment in Dubois County is the best in the state. Knox County ranks near the middle. Jasper operates on a budget of more than $17.7 million. The same report lists Vincennes’ budget at about $13.3 million.

“Our kids feel like we don’t have as much, our population is down and the perceptions are that we’re poor, dirty, redneck, ruffians,” said one Vincennes representative. “Our kids’ perception (of Jasper) is just the opposite.”

There was a time when Vincennes’ enrollment was more than 1,500, but it sits at about 800 this year and the Wildcats and Alices haven’t been in the same football class since 2007 because of Vincennes’ backslide. Population is estimated at about 18,000, a dip from nearly 21,000 in 1980; by contrast, Jasper has grown from about 9,000 in 1980 to an estimated 15,300 today. Vincennes Mayor Joe Yochum said his city’s expansion has been outward instead of from within and the city council has stopped efforts to annex nearby areas.

He notes, though, that downtown has improved with the addition of Pioneer Oil offices, a walking path along the Wabash River is advancing a dozen years after the process began, and Good Samaritan Hospital and Vincennes University remain stable among a list of major employers that also include a company that makes glass shelving for appliances and another that makes parts for Toyota vehicles. The city has a full-time fire department and a police force of nearly 40 officers.

Still, it’s not the glory days.

Back in the 1920s, big railroad money and more than 17,000 people called Vincennes home. Prestolite Battery closed down in the 1980s. In the last several years, SCHOTT Gemtron, the glass company that makes appliance shelves, has downsized. Neighbor schools Vincennes Rivet and South Knox have seen an uptick in success.

Let’s be clear. Not everything in Jasper is rosy.

But in Vincennes, beating Jasper heals wounds.

There are those in Vincennes who acknowledge that if the Alices won one game, they’d want it to be against Jasper.

“You grow up hating them and there’s nothing you can do about it. Parents, aunts, uncles, in a sports manner, they don’t like them,” says recent Vincennes graduate Conner Barmes. “If you meet someone on the sidewalk, you’ll be nice. But in sports, it’s not the same.”

Love on both sides

Steve Nowaskie of Vincennes, left, chatted with friend Jason Ahlbrand of Jasper, right, during last week’s football game between Jasper and Vincennes while their wives, Tracey Nowaskie, left, and Susan Ahlbrand, right, spoke about Tracey’s nephew, Collin Smith of Vincennes, 3. Susan is a Vincennes native. Herald photo by Erica Lafser.

Jason Ahlbrand still remembers the sentiment, if not the exact words, when the girl he was dating told some folks back home about him. It was more about where than it was about who.

“She’d say something about Jasper and the first thing out of their mouth was, ‘What are you doing over there? I hate that place.’”

Jason is a Jasper native, former Wildcat sports standout and current JHS teacher and assistant coach for the baseball and boys basketball programs. Susan Hutchison is a Vincennes girl who’s become a Jasper woman. They’ve been married since 1995 and have four children, so it worked out. But it’s been interesting — that’s one word for it — because the Ahlbrands and Hutchisons are deeply involved in education and sports, from their careers to their children to the nostalgia most of us feel for our hometown.

For Susan, it’s about loving your enemies.  

“I don’t like for my own children to feel like half of their lineage, they hate them,” Susan says. “I have a softness for Vincennes. I don’t like when it gets unruly. ... Both places have a lot of really, really good people. But even the really good people (in Vincennes) are radical about (the rivalry).”

As a high school tennis player for the Alices, Susan developed two impressions of Jasper.

The first was typical.

“You just think, well it’s Jasper and they have 9 million courts all in one place and we have two courts in two different parts of town,” she says. “So I did grow up thinking it was a wealthy, entitled place.”

Jasper High School freshmen Maggie Getzin, Emily Kuhlman and Breanna Bounds turn their backs to the court during the Alices’ introductions at the Class 3A sectional clash March 7 between Jasper and Vincennes Lincoln in Washington. Jasper lost 69-54, falling to the Alices in the sectional for the ninth time since class sports began in 1998.
Herald photo by Alisha Jucevic.

The second required some maturity.

“You got tired of coming to Jasper and getting thumped. But I didn’t resent them for it. It’s just something I aspired to have myself, that pride, that work ethic.”

Her father, Richard, came to Jasper to teach in 1959 and the decision wasn’t met with fret on either side. Susan’s godfather was from Jasper and her family had friends in both places. Richard later returned to Vincennes but Susan followed her father’s path to Jasper and hasn’t turned back.

Her family remains loyal to the Alices. Brother Pat is on the school board. Brother Tim is the boys tennis coach and an assistant baseball coach. Her brother-in-law received the mental attitude award when the Alices won the 1981 boys basketball state championship. Nephews have played starring roles on Vincennes teams that have beaten Jasper. Her godson is Brandt Nowaskie, a 2015 graduate who sparkled in the Alices’ football and basketball triumphs over the Wildcats last school year.

There’s room for gags.

When one of Jason and Susan’s sons was maybe 7, the Hutchisons tossed a green cap on his head, snapped a picture, circulated the photo on social media and noted that the kid had some Vincennes blood in him.

There’s also room for friction.  

“I’ve taught most of these (athletes). I’m married to a man whose job it is to win. ... I want him to win,” says Susan, who teaches at Jasper Middle School. “Yeah, it’s created tension between me and my siblings. I was already the princess of the family and now I’m over here living in the kingdom.”

Jason and Susan explain what are basically cultural differences. At Jasper, winning is important, but young athletes often have a wider view and grand aspirations. They see the big picture. In Vincennes, some say there’s less of that. Consider this: Last school year, Vincennes beat Jasper in football and boys basketball (twice) and a few people said that had the Alices swept the three major boys sports by also topping the Wildcats in baseball, that the Class of 2015 would have been remembered for decades.

“They tend to play their (butts) off against us,” Jason says.

Jasper’s Tate Blessinger was tackled by Vincennes Lincoln’s Charles Ellis during the Sept. 19, 2014, game at Jerry Brewer Alumni Stadium in Jasper. Vincennes won 35-34 in overtime, but Jasper leads the all-time series 30-15. Herald photo by Rachel Mummey.

That edge — the scowl and swagger — is something Jason says Jasper could sometimes use more of. The Wildcats are tucked in. The Alices let loose. After an overtime football victory at Jasper last September, Vincennes students stormed the field and a few stopped at JHS on the way out of town, posed for crude pictures and said unpleasant things on Twitter. There was also a self-made rap video about the football program that, as you can imagine, was both famous and infamous.

For Jason and Susan, the elephant isn’t leaving the room anytime soon. They have two athletic daughters — Elisabeth and Mallory — but Jasper’s dominance in girls sports applies inertia to the feud; for instance, Jasper has never lost to the Alices in girls soccer. But Jason and Susan’s sons Grant, 14, and Jack, 11, are a step or two away from leaping into the fray. They have played football and basketball and baseball, the three sports that drive the rivalry.

In football, Jasper leads the all-time series 30-15. In baseball, since Vincennes won a state championship in 2002, the Wildcats are 18-3 in the series, claimed their fifth state crown and advanced to four more state finals. The Alices lead the boys basketball series 61-59 by virtue of recent dominance — they’ve won 23 of the last 29 meetings and bounced the Wildcats from the sectional nine times since the class sports era began in 1997-98.

Before and after games, Jason has been a peacemaker. He’s cooled the loathing from some longtime Jasper haters. Still ...

“I tell (Susan) and their kids ‘Once an Alice, always an Alice,’” Pat says. “It’s made it different. But I still want to beat them. ... There are people here in town that hate Jasper. But I don’t think there’s anybody who wants to start World War III.”

Sometimes, it just seems that way.

Controversy is never far away

Jasper pitcher Adam Klatka, right, exhaled after an umpire’s ruling negated a run that would have given Vincennes the Class 3A sectional title on June 7, 2005, at Ruxer Field in Jasper. The Wildcats won 1-0 in 14 innings in a game that, more than any other, inflamed the bitterness of the rivalry between the schools. Jasper’s Luke Mehringer is with Klatka. Herald file photo.

Before we keep going, let’s establish this much: Folks from these places can and do get along.

Pat Hutchison notes that “people in Jasper do a lot of things the right way.”

Last week’s football game was rather amicable. Vincennes leaders showed their peers from Jasper around the school’s new $500,000 fieldhouse. The group included Glenn Buechlein, the assistant principal at Jasper who spent 18 years at Vincennes. He knows good folks on both sides. Players in green helped players in black and gold off the turf and vice versa. Jasper won 28-0, and nobody on either side made a peep.

That’s hardly normal. Most times they meet, something goes sideways.

“You get two towns our size that are geographically close and competitive, it brings out the best,” Vincennes principal and former boys basketball coach Steve Combs asserts. “And sometimes the worst.”

Nothing tops the helmet game. It was the 2005 baseball sectional championship that lasted 14 innings, spanned more than four and a half hours, included a Vincennes pitcher allowing no hits for the first 10 innings, a Jasper player who pitched on three separate occasions and the ejection of Vincennes’ best player (he pushed the catcher rather than slide at home plate) and coach (he argued the ruling on the star player) in the first inning.

And that doesn’t include the most notorious moment.

Vincennes thought it prevailed with a walk-off single in the ninth inning. Except that before the winning runner crossed home plate, he removed his helmet. The home plate umpire thought the player had violated a national high school rule and called an out. The game continued. Jasper won. A decade later, the father of the player who removed his helmet said he and his family would rather not talk about it.

The legend lives.

“My favorite was when Vincennes had the winning hit and the guy threw off his helmet,” says Tyler Begle, a shortstop on Jasper’s baseball team who graduated in May. “I was 8. I was on the first-base side, three rows up.”

Vincennes Lincoln baseball coach Brandon Pfoff, right,  talked with Jasper coach Terry Gobert after last spring’s game at Ruxer Field in Jasper. The Wildcats won 11-2 in the regular season and 10-0 in a sectional game that included the ejection of a Vincennes player. Herald photo by Alisha Jucevic.

Tyler was on the field last June when the schools clashed as usual in another baseball sectional. That game included a player on both sides being hit by a pitch, an Alice being ejected and plenty of chatter among players and fans.

Add it to the list.

There was the intentional foul call that helped Michael Lewis erase a four-point deficit in the final seconds and lift Jasper at Alice Arena in 1995. The ref’s name was Larry Nixon. Folks from Vincennes haven’t forgotten.

There was another foul, this one late in the 2001 boys basketball sectional. Chip Sweet blew his whistle. Jasper broke a tie with two free throws. Won the sectional. People in Vincennes remember.

There was football Hall of Fame coach Jerry Brewer’s final game against Vincennes in the 2002 sectional, when he inflated the score with a late two-point conversion though the Wildcats didn’t need the points to win.

There was last season’s boys basketball game at Vincennes when students from both schools surged toward one another as the teams exited the court. The Alices won. They let Jasper know.

Shenanigans to be sure. But the helmet game is unsurpassed.

“It seems like Vincennes came out on the wrong end (of those calls) a lot,” Pat Hutchison says, noting that former IHSAA commissioner Gene Cato was the father-in-law of former Jasper athletic director Denny Lewis. That’s another thing folks in Vincennes don’t forget. “I’m not sure there’s one controversy where Jasper came out on the wrong end.”

In the helmet game, Jasper baseball coach Terry Gobert was on his way to shake hands and concede when Jason Ahlbrand noticed the umpires gathering. He raised an arm to stop Gobert.

“There’s a lot of myths, but we don’t hire umpires and we don’t select them (for the sectional),” Gobert says. “I did not challenge the play. I didn’t know the rule.”

Turns out, the umpire — his name was Doug Ray, as folks from Vincennes could probably tell you — had it wrong and later admitted it. But that was only the beginning of the bizarre sequences that followed the call.

Vincennes’ principal walked onto the field, as Jasper coaches recollect, and demanded answers. He was told to leave. He didn’t. Seconds later, the call was finalized.

Gobert says Vincennes fans threatened to burn down his house and one met him after the game with plans to fight Gobert and the umpires. Gobert’s sister honked the horn and wanted police intervention. Gobert’s father, at the time an 82-year-old ex-Marine, began to climb out of his van to help. Gobert told the Vincennes fan to leave.

“It’s 1 a.m. and I remember thinking, ‘What’s this all about? Why? How did it get to this point?’” Gobert says.

We’re here. No turning back now.

Contact Jason Recker at jrecker@dcherald.com.

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