Hein achieved plenty coaching local teamsMay 5, 2020
BY COREY STOLZENBACH
Birdseye reached rock bottom during the 1960s. The Yellow Jackets went 0-21 during the 1965-66 campaign, and won one game during the 1966-67 season — a far cry from the team that escaped with an 83-78 triple overtime thriller against Holland in the 1965 sectional behind a 39-point performance from Roy Partenheimer.
The Yellow Jackets went through multiple coaching changes during that stretch. Kenneth Ransom took the reins in 1965. His only season ended in an unceremonious fashion when Birdseye received a 95-29 thumping from Jasper in the 1966 sectional.
Ron Dodson entered in 1966, trying to stop the bleeding of a program that had lost 22 in a row. It got to 32 straight losses before the Yellow Jackets finally broke through, a 39-38 survival against English, but that was it and they were back to their losing ways. Their three-win season in 1967-68 — Dodson’s second at the helm — wasn’t too much better.
But while bad times don’t last forever, turning things around would take some time. The coaching position became open again, and this time, the Yellow Jackets found somebody young and fresh: Dale Hein, who had just graduated from the University of Evansville.
Woody Buechler, a longtime superintendent in Dubois County, offered Hein an option — join Dubois as an assistant coach or take the head job at Birdseye. He chose the latter.
“It was an opportunity to seize it and see what you got, rather than going to be an assistant coach,” Hein said.
Birdseye saw a small improvement in Hein’s first year with a 5-15 record in 1968-69, but he could already see progress. He told of playing Andy Anderson’s Otwell squad his first year. The Yellow Jackets lost, 69-50, to a Millers team that went on to win their only sectional in school history that year. Hein thought his players held their own well during that game. In much of his first season, he saw his players be competitive, but not get over the hump.
The Yellow Jackets made a bigger jump during the 1969-70 campaign, going 9-11 during the regular season. Hein recalled he knew more about the strengths and weaknesses of his players and was able to get them in positions to succeed.
“After the first year, I just knew a little bit more about what to expect and who could play where and that type of thing,” he said. “They understood what I wanted a little bit more. The more time we spent together, the better we got, I think, just from the standpoint of knowing one another better.”
The Yellow Jackets had a trio of upperclassmen averaging double figures. Junior Mike Persinger averaged 13.6 points per game, and senior Jeff Critchfield averaged 12.5 points, but any team that met Birdseye that season had their hands full in trying to stop Jeff Cook, who scored 466 points for an average of 23.3 points per game.
Hein recalled Cook being known as the “Splendid Splinter,” the same nickname as baseball legend Ted Williams. He praised Cook’s left hand, and added left-handed players are always harder to guard.
“He was competitive,” Hein said of Cook. “The other teams had to respect him. I don’t care how good they were. He could score on about any team on the schedule.”
The Yellow Jackets lost to Holland in the 1970 sectional, finishing three games under .500, but they let it be known that they were no longer the cellar dwellers they once were, and were no longer in the basement among local teams.
They lost Critchfield to graduation, and while Hein thought the team missed him, they had others to fill his spot. Birdseye had Mike Whalen coming back for his sophomore year in 1970-71. Hein also touted Mark Lubbers as a good defender for the team.
The result was the Yellow Jackets claiming their best record ever that season. Cook scored 497 points, an average of 24.9 per game, scoring 20 points in 16 of their 20 regular-season games. He also scored 30 four times and his high of 36 twice. Lubbers averaged 16.6 points and Whalen 15.7. Lubbers scored 20 points in four regular-season games, while Whalen had five 20-point affairs and two games of 31.
“People knew who we were that third year because we didn’t slip up on anybody then,” Hein said. “We just kept getting better with those kids. Attribute it to them. They were some good, hardworking kids, for the most part. They spent some time in the gym over the summer, and were committed to making ourselves better.”
A 66-46 loss against Dubois in the sectional, however, ended Birdseye’s season at 15-6. Hein actually forgot that was Birdseye’s best record ever until his conversation with The Herald, but added people knew around Christmastime that Birdseye and Ferdinand would consolidate into Forest Park, which he called “a bitter pill to swallow.” He thinks that also might have been a reason for his players to do the best they could.
Hein thought the Yellow Jackets were building something good, and then the school closed, but he thought consolidation was better in hindsight.
Some of those players Hein coached at Birdesye helped Forest Park go 15-5 in the 1971-72 regular season and reach the sectional championship in the team’s inaugural season. Whalen led the team with an average of 14.4 points per game, and Lubbers averaged 11.6 points per game in those 20 regular-season games, as two of the four Rangers to make it to double figures in their first year.
Hein, meanwhile, spent eight years at Cannelton, but Birdseye consolidating wasn’t the last the area would see of him. He learned more things about the game through the years, and took over the coaching gig at Heritage Hills.
He led the Patriots to their first sectional championship in history in 1979-80. The Pats went 17-3 in the regular season, and a 52-47 win against South Spencer gave the program their first of 10 sectional championships in history. Hein was a mainstay in Lincoln City throughout the 1980s, and subsequent sectional titles followed in 1982, 1985, 1986, 1988 and 1989.
While at Heritage Hills, Hein got to coach his son, Jeff, who graduated in 1988. The elder Hein remembers he was probably harder on Jeff than he was on the other players, and kidded with his assistants to work with his son instead because of how stubborn Jeff was.
In actuality, Hein thought his son was very coachable, and “loved the hell out of” winning sectional championships with Jeff, though Jeff saw little action when the Pats won the 1986 championship. Jeff averaged 14.3 points per game in 20 games going into the 1988 sectional tournament.
A regional championship, however, still eludes Heritage Hills. Pats fans can only ask “What if?” as this year’s regional and the rest of the high school basketball tournament was canceled due to COVID-19 after the team won its first sectional championship since 2003. But 1988 came close to delivering what the Heritage Hills faithful are still waiting for.
The Pats got to the regional championship game after David Litkenhus’ 3-pointer in the final seconds put them past Vincennes, only for a Floyd Malone putback in the final two seconds to give Evansville Central the 1988 regional championship, 65-64, against Heritage Hills.
“Losing that game, I didn’t get over that the whole summer,” Hein said.
That was the hardest loss he ever had to endure in more than two decades of coaching. Hein isn’t sure if he’s ever gotten over a loss that he still replays.
Jeff has gone on to be a coach himself, going 310-216 to this point in his career. He’s won four sectional championships, two regionals and a semistate championship. He spent many years with Boonville, Evansville Bosse and Vincennes Lincoln before going 15-10 at Bedford North Lawrence in his first season this past year.
“Jeff is a defensive guru,” Hein said. “I mean, really, he builds his teams around defense, and he’s very competitive from the defensive standpoint. Therefore, they’re in a lot of games. When he played for me, he wasn’t the greatest defender. He wasn’t real quick, but that’s one thing I noticed that he has really hung his hat on.”
Dale, 73, makes sure to stay busy. He runs a service mowing lawns and also delivers newspapers. He also spends a lot of time playing golf, and those things are the main ways he occupies his time since his 2002 retirement from Heritage Hills.
“That’s my life now, and I don’t regret it,” he said.
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