Participants were announced for December’s Hall of Fame Classic, played in New Castle and two area teams will be making the trip for the event. The Norwell girls will play in the Tuesday, December 29 four-team tournament and the Blackhawk Christian boys will play on Wednesday, December 30.
All games of the tournament are played at the famed New Castle Fieldhouse.
It was just 2018 the last time the area had girls and boys representatives at the Hall of Fame Classic with Westview boys and Homestead girls playing.
Norwell coach Eric Thornton will be making his second trip to coach in the Hall of Fame Classic, after leading the Knights to a runner up spot in 2011 behind Miss Basketball Jessica Rupright. Norwell lost in the night game to Penn that season.
“We thought this was our best chance of making the field in the foreseeable future,” Thornton said of why Norwell applied to return to New Castle next season. “This has been a special class for us and we wanted to give it a shot. You’ve got to have a couple things going for you. You have to have a lot of returning talent and you have to have a good fan following. Obviously, it is a fundraiser for the Hall of Fame.”
The class that Thornton mentions are the current juniors, many of which have been playing varsity basketball since they were freshmen. Led by Outside the Huddle All-Area selections Maiah Shelton and Kaylee Fuelling, Norwell will return their entire varsity roster minus one graduating player for next season. The Knights have a six player Class of 2021 that played varsity this year and two other varsity rostered players from the Class of 2022.
New Castle Fieldhouse, itself, is a draw as the host of the tournament. The sprawling facility seats 7,829 according to a 2019 report. That number alters the long standing thought that New Castle was the biggest high school gym in the country. It now sits third, unofficially, in Indiana. But that doesn’t take away from the wow factor the first time teams take the floor there.
“It will be interesting when they get down there to play the day before,” Thornton said of his team. “I remember one of our players [in 2011] when we were practicing, just looking around and saying ‘this is awesome.’ And I don’t think it will really sink in until we get the girls down there and on that floor and just being able to visualize what that is going to be like the following day when we are playing Mount Vernon.”
Norwell will play Mount Vernon, who was also in the tournament with the Knights in 2011, although the two teams did not play. Mount Vernon’s coach, Julie Shelton, was the coach there in 2011 but has also spent time as an assistant at Butler before her return to Mount Vernon. Shelton went into the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame in 2017 and has 313 wins as the coach at Mount Vernon. The team returns their own trio of current juniors Lexi Shelton, Olivia Yeley and Abby Worley. They will face Norwell at 11 a.m. with Fishers and Evansville Memorial set for the second game. The night session will begin at 6 p.m.
The set up is beneficial for teams also because it is a mid season look into what a postseason Regional day looks like. That is because you will play a game in the morning and win or lose, you will play again at night. It is a good simulation of a two-game Regional day, considered by many as the most difficult day of the state tournament. Blackhawk Christian didn’t get the chance to play a Regional this season, but Norwell did and advanced to the night game before losing.
“You are literally preparing for three teams, that type of environment,” Thornton said. “This will be the same. Very, very difficult to try and get to the championship game, but great prep.”
Blackhawk Christian coach Marc Davidson, who has been to back-to-back Regionals and wast set for a third straight Regional round this year, couldn’t agree more with it being good preparation.
“It mimics that Regional format. For us, there are positives all around,” Davidson said. “Talking it over with [athletic director] Joel Cotton and our administration, I just felt like if you get an opportunity to do that, it is a no brainier. It is a great thing for our kids, for our basketball program and really fo our entire school to be able to play on that stage. I am really excited for our kids.”
Like Norwell’s girls, Blackhawk Christian will return all but one player next season, led by their junior class of Zane Burke, Marcus Davidson and Purdue commit Caleb Furst. The Braves’ roster this season boasted five juniors, two sophomores and two freshmen that will all be back for the Hall of Fame Classic games.
First up for the Braves on that day is a familiar foe in Barr-Reeve.
Blackhawk Christian went 3-0 versus Barr-Reeve, long considered as the best Class 1A team on the south side of the state. In 2017-18, the Braves beat Barr-Reeve to win the North Daviess Tournament. They repeated that feat the following season and then beat the Vikings to win the 2019 Class 1A State title. With the Braves’ move up to Class 2A this season and their exit from the North Daviess Tournament, Barr-Reeve avoided Blackhawk Christian for a season at least.
“It will be a great ambience in there. I am sure they are going to bring a hoard of fans and I am sure we are going to bring a hoard of fans,” Davidson said.
Barr-Reeve was the topped ranked team in Class 1A again this past abbreviated season and are the winningest team in the state over the past 15 seasons. The Vikings will be led next season by current juniors Brycen and Devin Graber and current sophomore Hagen Knepp. Barr-Reeve will also add one of the best Class of 2021 players in the state, Curt Hopf, next season. He sat out all of this past season after not being granted eligibility following a transfer to the school. Blackhawk Christian and Barr-Reeve will face off in the second morning game on December 30 following the conclusion of Blackford versus Shenandoah. The night games will start at 6 p.m.
Blackford, headlined by Luke Brown, sits as a possible Class 2A semi state opponent for the Braves, as they did this past season. And Shenandoah could be a state finals opponent for either of those two teams, as they were this past abbreviated season. This a rare instance where the Hall of Fame Classic on the boys side will only see teams from Class 2A and Class 1A participate.
“I think it is a great idea. I saw the following that all three of those opponents generated this year and of course the following that we have,” Davidson said. “I just can’t imagine the atmosphere, it is going to be a lot of fun.”