Local News

Golden Bears still remember 1986 state title appearance at Market Square Arena

“We’re not here to start no trouble,

We’re just here to do the Shelbyville Shuffle.”

 

On March 29, 1986, Shelbyville High School basketball fans shuffled north to Market Square Arena in downtown Indianapolis to see how a magical season would play out.

 

Shelbyville’s only boys basketball state championship came in 1947. Thirty-nine years later, John Heaton’s squad came within one win of competing for a second title.

 

Sunday night, a text was sent out to those within that historic basketball squad reminding them all of Monday’s 35th anniversary of the school’s last Final Four appearance.

 

“That surprised me and we got a lot of nice responses,” said Heaton, now retired from coaching and still living in Shelbyville.

 

With an athletic and unselfish squad, Shelbyville took its community by storm in late 1985 and early 1986. And if not for two unfortunate postseason injuries, there was a real possibility William L. Garrett Gymnasium would sport two state championship banners.

 

Following its third straight sectional title, Shelbyville lost key reserve J.D. Lux during the Columbus North Regional after he crashed into the stage at one end of the court and broke a bone in his lower leg.

 

“That was definitely a moment on that run that was obviously disappointing to us,” recalled Heaton, now a member of the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame. “That made it a little more intense to pick up some of the slack.”

 

The Golden Bears rallied to reach the semistate round at Hinkle Fieldhouse of the now-defunct single class basketball tournament.

 

Shelbyville was paired up against New Castle, a team it defeated 75-73 in early January when Lux was a key component off the bench.

 

After that game, Heaton spoke with New Castle coach Sam Alford, who believed the two teams would meet again in the postseason.

 

That prognostication came true but Shelbyville would be without Lux’s services in the rematch.

“That scared us a little,” said Heaton. “That part of the game plan was gone. We had to make a few adjustments.”

 

Shelbyville prevailed 74-67 to set up an Elite 8 game against Warren Central, who defeated Connersville, 58-48, in the other semistate semifinal game.

 

Warren Central, a football powerhouse boasting consecutive state titles, included star quarterback Jeff George, but the Golden Bears were the better basketball team that night and prevailed 73-65.

 

Southridge, defending state champion Marion, Anderson and Shelbyville advanced to the Final Four.

 

“The Sweet 16 was a big deal for us but the Final Four was the ultimate chance to play for everything,” said Heaton.

 

Making the Final Four meant playing before a statewide television audience.

 

“There was a calmness,” said Heaton when asked if nerves were an issue that March 29 morning. “I think there was a lot of anxiety, maybe you can call that nerves. I would have been more frightened if I knew (Bryan) Harrell was going to go down in the first 2-3 minutes.”

 

Harrell, Shelbyville’s starting point guard, suffered an ankle injury early in the semifinal game against Anderson. The Golden Bears fell behind by as much as 15 points and trailed 52-41 after three quarters.

 

Harrell was able to get back on the court, get comfortable, and spark a fourth-quarter rally that led to overtime.

 

The Indians scored the only overtime point from the free throw line as opportunity after opportunity was squandered by both squads.

 

With time nearly expired, Anderson missed on a free-throw opportunity and Julius Denton snatched the rebound, turned toward Shelbyville’s basket and heaved a desperation shot that hit the backboard.

 

The dream run was over after a 70-69 loss.

 

Marion went on to win its second of three straight championships under head coach Bill Green. The roster featured Jay Edwards and Lyndon Jones along with several other players that went on to play college basketball.

 

Heaton believes the Golden Bears would have been a good matchup for Marion. Through a family member that coaches in northern Indiana, the Shelbyville coach created a detailed scouting report on the much-heralded Giants.

 

“The boys really wanted to play them because of their reputation,” said Heaton. “It was a challenge our guys deserved to try.”

 

Thirty-five years later, the “what if” discussion still takes place. If Lux and Harrell did not get injured, Shelbyville was a legitimate title contender.

 

“We’ve played that game several times,” laughed Heaton. “J.D. has played it individually several times, Todd (Anderson) has, well and all of us. It’s fun now. It was not fun then.”

 

The basketball program was further honored at the state tournament when Todd Anderson received the Arthur L. Trester Medal for Mental Attitude.

 

“We felt all along Todd was a strong candidate for that award,” said Heaton. “I know it meant a lot to him and to the players and the coaching staff as well.”

 

Through the entire season, the community embraced its Golden Bears.

 

Postseason tourney celebrations grew exponentially, local businesses were decorated with black and gold colors and a video created by the team inspired by the Chicago Bears’ Super Bowl Shuffle made the players seem larger than life.

 

“We’re not here to start no trouble,

We’re just here to do the Shelbyville Shuffle.”