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Chapter 7: Perfection
MANY OF THE UNDERCLASSMEN starters on the ’81 Castle team were far from happy about the way the previous season had ended. They felt they had been denied an identity on that squad, which played the game more with emotion and pure unchecked passion than with the business-like atmosphere that the underclassmen embodied.
It wasn’t the lopsided loss to Carmel itself that burned them. It was the end of the game, those last five minutes when all was lost, that had left them lying awake many a night since.
As the game got out of hand, some of the seniors had let their passion get the best of them — tears were shed, voices cracked with emotion in the huddle, and desperation, and perhaps even surrender, had crept into their eyes.
The underclassmen, meanwhile, were angry. Angry at losing, angry at being humiliated.
The game clock couldn’t tick down to zero fast enough.
STANDING ON THE FIELD after the game, sophomore Chris Brosmer promised his former Chandler Viking coach, Damon Monks, that this result wouldn’t happen again. Monks put his arm around him in consolation. Deep down Monks knew that the younger Brosmer and his teammates would keep that promise.
The ’82 team would throw itself into the weight room just a few days after the Carmel defeat.
They were focused on turning that humiliation into motivation. They would spend nearly every minute of the coming summer together. Before organized practices were allowed to begin, they practiced on their own for hours.They would not let the humiliation of the Carmel game happen again.
Storming through the 1982 regular season undefeated, outscoring opponents 333-40 along the way, the Knights shuffled into the playoffs with a vim and vigor that belied their status as a southern Indiana team without a chance to win the title.
They dominated an undefeated Richmond Red Devils team 23-7 in the opening playoff game setting the stage for a rematch with the undefeated Martinsville Artesians, a playoff game they had thoroughly dominated the year before.
But this time, the game would be on the Artesians home field. This time it would be different in ways the Knights couldn’t possibly imagine.
Next — Chapter 8: One More Score
Chapter 4: Return to Waterloo
The 1982 state championship game would bring the Castle Knights back to Indianapolis North Central High School Stadium, the very scene of their crushing defeat at the hands of the Carmel Greyhounds the year before.
While the Knights had exorcised the Carmel curse with a decisive 21-8 victory, returning to the iconic stadium floods them with memories of what can happen at this level. The glare of the stadium lights is even brighter than the Knights remember and the size and threatening natures of the Hobart Brickies players is even more ominous than what they expected.
When Castle’s junior running back Chris Brosmer bobbles the opening kickoff, leaving the ball fluttering on the wet turf for a split second, all of Castledom holds its collective breath. It’s in moments like this that championships can be lost. But Brosmer picks up the ball and lunges forward. Disaster averted.
Chris’ 10-month-older brother and fellow running back, Dave, approaches his sibling and slaps him on the butt. He won’t offer the competitive criticism that often flows between them. Off the field, the two often come close to killing each other. On the field, they are the most loyal of allies.
The two share a smile as they enter the huddle. Despite the pressure of the moment, they can afford to smile. They know what play is coming next — the team’s bread-and-butter, Reverse 47 Pass. Opponent after opponent has tried to defend against the deceptive play all season. Even when opponents know the play is coming, they seem powerless to stop it. The Brickies are about to discover that as well.
Quarterback Mike Davis takes the snap, fakes two handoffs into the line and heaves the ball downfield. Fifty-two yards later, Dave Brosmer picks himself up off the hard ground with a huge first down as the Castle sideline goes nuts. Hobart players, meanwhile, begin bickering amongst themselves. This isn’t supposed to be happening.
Next — Chapter 5: Learning to Win
Chapter 3: Paradise, Indiana
The Castle coaches and players would have liked to have had the respect of their opponents and those “experts” who predicted another embarrassing trouncing, this time at the hands of the beefy Hobart Brickies.
If the Knights couldn’t have that respect given to them, they’d just have to do the next best thing. They’d have to take it. Other than beating the Carmel Greyhounds, however, Castle High School had done little yet on the football field to demand such respect from the state’s elite football programs.
The fact is, in the early years after its inception in 1959, the school was as much at war with itself than with any other schools. Castle High School was — for all intents and purposes — a shotgun marriage of two polar opposite towns.
The historic river town of Newburgh, Indiana, rises above the meandering Ohio River, across from which some of Kentucky’s richest farmland spreads for miles. Civil War mansions and antebellum houses sit atop rolling hills and bluffs watching coal-laden barges and time itself roll by on the mighty Ohio. The lazy river town’s biggest claim to fame to date was being briefly captured by Confederate rebels during the Civil War — without a shot being fired.
Blue collar Chandler, Indiana, on the other hand, would have loved to have had such an historical moment — no matter how dubious. The town of modest clapboard houses and mobile homes was a mere spot on the highway that stretched from the Vanderburgh County seat and regional economic hub of Evansville to the west and the Warrick County seat Boonville to the east. Rough-and-tumble Chandler quite literally sat on the wrong side of the proverbial tracks, and Newburgh residents weren’t about to let them forget it.
When growth in southwestern Warrick County necessitated combining the two towns’ tiny high schools into a single school situated directly between them in an unincorporated area called Paradise, the once bitter rivals would be forced to find a way to get along.
It would be a trying honeymoon until the students of the new Castle High School could find a common enemy — county bully Boonville High School. It would be a bitter rivalry that would remain heated beyond any other for the next quarter century.
Next — Chapter 4: Return to Waterloo
Chapter 2: What Have We Done?
A year, a week and a day after the Carmel disaster, the 1982 Castle Knights football squad has answered the immediate question of whether they can ever get past the Greyhounds. Even though the Knights have gotten their revenge by dominating Carmel the week before, they find themselves to be the Rodney Dangerfields of Indiana high school football; they simply can get no respect.
Maybe it’s because they would be playing the Hobart Brickies, yet another Indiana football powerhouse known for its bruising, punishing brand of football, for all the marbles — the Indiana state AAA football championship.
The Knights aren’t the first team from the far southern tip of Indiana to vie for the football title in state’s highest classification. A few had been there before, particularly the Reitz Panthers, who had a half dozen “mythical” championship trophies on display in their school on Evansville’s west side.
No team from southwest Indiana, however, had even come close to taking the title since the state instituted a playoff system in 1973 that allowed the matter to be decided on the field rather than in the polls. Reitz had the best chance in 1977, marching to the title game in Indianapolis where they were taken apart — as the “experts” predicted — by a bigger, stronger Portage Indians team from northern Indiana.
If the Knights didn’t know known such history lessons firsthand, they are reminded by a constant barrage of media reports extolling that they have absolutely no chance against Hobart. Not this team. Not with this opponent.
The Knights are expected to take their beating and go home, proud of having had the opportunity to visit the state capital city to lose an important game.
Would the Knights listen? Would they take their beating and simply go home? Was beating Carmel destined to be Castle’s “championship” game?
No one is sure, not even the Castle coaching staff.
As the half dozen coaches hunker down to watch Hobart’s game tapes the day after the Carmel victory, an uneasy silence befalls the room.
After a half hour of watching the colossal Hobart players destroying their equally gigantic opponents, a lone voice in the back of the room finally breaks the silence and asks what’s on everyone’s mind:
“My god, what have we done?”
Next — Chapter 3: Life in Paradise
Chapter 1: Friday the 13th
A funny thing happened on the way to the coliseum.
Actually, it wasn’t that funny that the bus carrying the 1981 Castle High School football team to their semi-final playoff match-up with the Carmel Greyhounds got lost on the way the stadium.
When the Castle Knights finally arrived, the 10,000-seat stadium was already packed and buzzing with anticipation. As the young team with no prior playoff experience before this season stepped off the bus, the lights never seemed brighter, the crowd never seemed bigger, the consequences of what was at stake never seemed more important. They felt the pressure of the moment and the hopes and dreams of all southwest Indiana squarely on their shoulders.
This was more than just another game for the Knights; it was uncharted waters. The entire state was paying attention to the match-up of this unknown team from the southern tip of Indiana against the defending state champion Carmel Greyhounds, who hailed from the epicenter of the Indiana football universe.
The “experts” of such things predicted Armageddon, disaster and pestilence. And they were right.
The powerhouse Greyhounds annihilated the upstart Knights 49-13 in a game that in reality wasn’t even that close. The lingering question after the debacle wasn’t about what happened that night, but how would the program would respond?
Had the Knights reached the pinnacle of their success or would there be more to come?
Next — Chapter 2: What Have We Done?
Just as the film “Hoosiers” captured the poignant spirit of Indiana high school basketball, “The Road to Paradise” tells the story of an unlikely and unexpected football champion – an unproven team without a football pedigree.
Considered by many “experts” to be a team that could never seriously contend with the powerhouse schools from northern Indiana, the 1982 Castle Knights capped off a magical undefeated season with a championship that had been born six years before when a group of young, pubescent teenage strangers took the practice field for the first time as a team.
The Castle High School Knights hadn’t set the world on fire since first fielding a football squad in the fall of 1960. The Knights were more often than not the preferred homecoming patsy of most of the teams they faced.
And when Castle High was elevated to the state’s largest football classification, AAA, the Knights would face the state’s largest schools on the football field. Disaster loomed, and for a few years it took its toll on the school and community. The Knights hit rock bottom in the 1978-79 seasons when they would drop 19 straight games.
But at rock bottom, there is nowhere to go but up. The next season, the Knights would finish 6-3 and the season after would top that with an 8-2 record and drive deep into the state playoffs before being destroyed by the eventual state champion Carmel Greyhounds 49-13.
Had a fluke season just ended like it was supposed to – in annihilating defeat? Or was it that promising season a harbinger of things to come?
The answer came in a perfect 14-0 season in 1982 by the still “unproven” team that hailed from the disrespected and overlooked part of the basketball-mad state.
“The Road to Paradise” is the story of that season, that team, that community, and high school football in Indiana. But this story reaches beyond football. It is the story of a time and a place and the people who called it home.
The “Road to Paradise” is more than the story of what happened on a cold and rainy night in November of 1982 when the unproven Knights stepped into the glare of the big time and a state championship match up with the football powerhouse Hobart Brickies. It is the story of all that happened before, and all that would happen after for a team, a school and a community at a crossroads.
It is the story of two towns from the opposite sides of the proverbial economic tracks forced together in a shot-gun marriage, but with the common ground that both resided from the disrespected end of the state.
It is and is not a football story. It is a story about winning, but even more so, a story about refusing to lose. It is the story of a diverse group of young men that all come together to accomplish something impossible, something magical that no matter what life might throw at them — could never be taken away.
Similar books include: “Friday Night Lights,” “Our Boys,” “Miracle on the Gridiron,” Twelve Mighty Orphans” and “When Cuba Conquered Kentucky” as well as John Feinstein’s “Open,” “The Majors” and “A Good Walk Spoiled.”
Next — Chapter 1: Friday the 13th