By Beau Wicker
— Logansport’s girls basketball program has been one of the top programs in the state in recent years.
The Berries have put on quite a display of hoops all across the state in competing at prestigious in-season tournaments, winning North Central Conference championships and making their presence known in the IHSAA Tournament.
They are now set to take their show across the world.The Berries are set to be globe-trotters of sort, as they are headed to Jinhua, China, a city Logansport began developing a sister-school relationship with in January. The Berries fly out on Saturday and will return home the following Sunday, Nov. 3.
“This is historic,” LHS coach Jerry Hoover said. “This is the first time in the history in the state of Indiana that any team in any sport has left the country during the season. It’s absolutely historic.”
The Logansport contingent going to China includes 11 players, three parents, athletic director Greg Fisher, girls basketball coach Jerry Hoover and his wife, Loretta.
The adult chaperones paid their own way, Fisher said. The players were responsible for paying only for a passport. The team raised around $30,000 to pay for airline tickets, which Logansport Community School Corporation superintendent Michele Starkey said the Cass County Community Foundation helped raise money for.
Once the contingent arrives in China it’s an all expenses paid trip including room and board and site-seeing, paid for by a Chinese consulting firm, Starkey said.
Hoover will hold basketball clinics while in China. The sage old coach will do his best to impart his knowledge, he said.
“I want to see the Great Wall and I want to see Tiananmen Square, but if there are Chinese coaches who want to talk about basketball, I’ll stay up to 3 in the morning to talk about basketball,” he said. “That’s where my interest is. I’m in love with the game. I’ve been in love with the game since I was 15 years old. I know how to teach it and demonstrate it. At each school we’ll teach fundamentals and skills and pick up where we need to start at and move up the line.”
One of the players attending is Miss Basketball candidate Whitney Jennings, a once-in-a-lifetime type of athlete for Logansport who has already scored 1,778 points and dished 498 assists entering her senior season for the Berries.
“I’m excited. I think it’ll be a really neat experience,” she said. “It’s something that none of us have seen or done before so it’ll be completely new to us. I think it’ll be a good time and that we’ll learn a lot.”
The trip is part of a cultural exchange program between the sister-school cities. Logansport recently sent three high school teachers to teach English at two high schools in Jinhua for a monthlong stay in June.
Thirty-one students from Jinhua ages 9-12 visited Logansport last month and partnered with students from Columbia Elementary School.
In May, a group of 30 Chinese citizens including students and teachers visited Logansport elementary schools.
Hoover said the selection of the LHS players that are going to China was made with the future in mind. He said three seniors are going: Jennings, Samantha Kain and Katrina Neuendorf. Two juniors that played significant varsity minutes a year ago, Nakeya Penny and Sydney Bullard, cannot make the trip because the Berries’ volleyball team is hosting a sectional this week. Eight underclassmen are making the trip.
“We’re taking eight sophomores and freshmen, and the reason we’re doing that is those people will be around for three or four more years. When the Chinese students come back over here they have built-in friendships. They can talk about what they saw there or how things are going,” Hoover said.
One of Hoover’s many nicknames is “The Colonel,” as he is a retired Colonel (Infantry) with the National Guard with 32 years of combined military service. He said he’s been to Germany three times and to Puerto Rico but this will be his first trip to Asia.
He’s looking forward to his team getting to play some hoops on the other side of the planet.
“We’re hoping we can go there and show the girls off a little bit and they can show them what Indiana basketball is all about,” he said.
The Logan coach talked about Hoosier Hysteria.
“We have grown up in a culture that’s crazy. Let’s be real honest about it, it is out of proportion to what real life is all about,” he said. “We have a gym right here that seats 6,500. In Kokomo, 8,000, in Richmond, 8,000, in New Castle, 11,000. We’re in the league that plays in those big gyms. The reason they built them is because they understood the culture and interest that basketball has in Indiana.
“I’m not saying it’s right. I’ve never said it’s right. Me, at my age, it’s been a very, very interesting lifestyle.”
The Berries are coming off a school record breaking season in which they went 25-2, won an NCC title and sectional title, were regional finalists and finished ranked No. 4 in Class 4A.
“The Chinese when they were visiting us here read about the team in the newspaper and knew we had a special team last year. That’s why they invited us for this,” Hoover said.
One concern is the China trip will take away from preparation time for the upcoming season. The Berries have a challenging start to the year. They travel to Lafayette Central Catholic on Nov. 12 to face a Knights team that was a semistate finalist in Class A a year ago that features a Division I prospect, Cameron Onken. The Berries then host McCutcheon, one of their biggest rivals, on Nov. 15.
“If somebody said you’re going to lose two games early or you can go to China, I said we’ll got to China and lose the two games,” Hoover said. “And I don’t think we’ll lose the two games. Let me make that very clear. I think we’re going to be all right.”
Timing is everything, and the timing is right for the Berries to make the trip to China. Representatives from Logansport and China are reportedly talking business and the schools from Logansport and Jinhua are undergoing a cultural exchange program.
There is one more thing they in common, Hoover said.
“They are crazy about basketball in China,” he said.