Carmel’s Improbable 1977 Basketball State Championship
Carmel Clay Historical Society to host 40-Year Reunion at Flix Brewhouse
Former Carmel head basketball coach Erik Clark always knew that the 1977 Carmel boys’ basketball team was something special. During a meeting with the team after their eighth grade season, he told them they had the potential to go all the way and be state champions.
Those words turned out to be prophetic, but it wasn’t an easy coast to the championship as many thought it would be.
“When they got to high school, they were successful and did very well,” said Clark’s daughter Deb Gangstad. “Then senior year, it’s almost like they tried too hard. It just wasn’t coming together.”
A Front-row Seat to a Year of Struggle
Gangstad, who in ’77 was a recent college grad with a new teaching job, had a front-row seat to that season, although she initially thought her social life was more important than attending every basketball game.
With expectations high and prophetic words to live up to, the Greyhounds faltered as they lost seven games of their regular season schedule. Particularly devastating was a trouncing by Ben Davis in the final game of the season. Going into tournament time, expectations were very low.
Gangstad recalls that life was stressful for her parents, as reality didn’t live up to expectations. Coach Clark caught a lot of flak in the community, which was hard on his family, but he always maintained his belief that the team was capable of winning everything.
After the regular season, a rumor circulated that team players called a meeting without their coach where they vented feelings and were able to turn things around. They started winning in the tournament, and the community finally rallied around them.
The team made it to the state finals, which were played at then Market Square Arena.
They won the morning game and with a shallow team of five main players, had to come back and play again that night. Their opponent was the heavily favored East Chicago Washington.
The championship game was a dogfight from the start. Early in the fourth quarter, Carmel went up by 10 points, but Washington fought back and took the lead by one point with just 11 seconds left. A jump-ball was called and Carmel’s Bart Burrow caught it and threw it to Jon Ogle down court, who scored. Washington took a last second shot but missed, and in true Hoosier fashion, Carmel won the state title.
Gangstad recalled how thrilled her father was with the win.
“He met a goal that he wanted to meet for his whole life,” Gangstad said. “He thought that would be the epitome of a high school basketball coach in Indiana.”
After winning the championship, Clark retired from basketball. He didn’t, however, retire from the school. He became assistant principal in charge of student activities, which was his forte.
“Dad thought if you are involved in activities then you’re more likely to be a contributor in the classroom as well,” Gangstad said. “He would go to the lunchroom and sit with the new kids or the ones by themselves. He was even a matchmaker and a few people got married from it.”
When Clark retired from education, the activity center at Carmel was named after him. He passed away in 2009. Gangstad is hoping many people will join the celebration in March to hear firsthand from some of the team’s players how they persevered through a difficult season to take home the ultimate prize.
On March 21, 2017, the Carmel Clay Historical Society is hosting the 1977 Basketball State Championship 40-Year Reunion at Flix Brewhouse. The doors open at 6 p.m., with the program starting at 7 p.m. Tickets are $5 and can be purchased through Eventbrite. Children are free but still need to be registered on Eventbrite. Tickets will not be available at Flix Brewhouse or on their website. Contact 317-979-4236 for more information or visit carmelclayhistory.org/2017-begins-with-basketball-fever.