Oh, Indiana … Where to begin? Well, why not here:
For those of you who don’t know Craig Pumphrey or his big brother Paul, that’s Craig with me up there. He’s a member of the New Albany (Indiana) Police Department, and he was kind enough to stop by on Saturday and say hello just as we were firing up the foul shots at Hoops For Heroes Midwest. Care to see what he does in his spare time? Click here. It’s kind of interesting to think that he could have literally broken me into about 12 pieces, if he were so inclined. Fortunately, he wasn’t, which made it a whole lot easier to shoot long enough to drop in 8,000 more foul shots, our best single-day total yet.
Hoopsforheroes.com (that’s us), meet hoopsforheroes.org (them). Great day. Great people. Great event.
They’ve done this for three years now, Hoops For Heroes in New Albany, in Southern Indiana just across the Ohio River from Louisville. It’s a day-long benefit basketball tournament in memory of Officer Frank Denzinger, who was shot and killed in the line of duty in 2007, and provides scholarships to current police and corrections officers who want to continue their education. This year, 12 teams took part in the double-elimination event, and during the planning stages one of the event founders, Lt. Andrew Sands of the Floyd County Sheriff’s Department, accidentally stumbled upon our website, and thought to send an e-mail. I was thrilled to be invited, and the next thing I knew Lt. Sands and Co. had made the plane and hotel reservations for our trip west — flying out Friday afternoon, returning Sunday.
I was told I’d be alongside one particular member of the Sheriff’s Department for most of my stay: “John King will be picking you up, and he’ll be with you the whole weekend,” Lt. Sands told me, then laughed. “We call him the old man.”
The old man.
So naturally, I’m picturing some 80-year-old lifer, someone who’s been with the Department for, like, 50 years and gets the occasional odd job just to keep him out of official retirement. Maybe we’ll play a little canasta between hoops, I figured.
Turns out, the “old man,” Gentleman John King — an ex-Marine who used to work undercover, has voluntarily been electroshocked by a Taser (at left), serves as a part-time bodyguard, and practices some form of martial arts that I can’t pronounce — is 42. More specifically, his kind of 42 is the kind that’s three months younger than my kind.
So yes, I’m older than the old man. That was good for a laugh.
The arrival was on time, and there was John King, along with co-worker Kevin Ellenbrand (whom I truly hope gets to wear his camo shorts when he marries Charla this June … but I think she’s going to win that one), as soon as I turned away from baggage claim. Perfect timing. Then it was off to the gym for the end of tournament preparation, where I met the crew of …
… from left, Zak Leffler, Kevin Ellenbrand, Danielle Sass, Andrew Sands, Gentleman John King and Jeremy Longest. What a team. Seriously.
Then it was off to Applebee’s, which happens to be where their Hoops For Heroes was jotted out on a few napkins over a few beers one night three-plus years ago. The bacon burger was exceptional, the live entertainment right there at the table even better.
And finally, goodnight.
The Gentleman Old Man John King slept in the room next to mine at the Holiday Inn Express, and by 7:15 a.m. we were at the breakfast buffet, by 8 back at the gym, setting up. My new best pal Craig (that’s Officer Pumphrey to you, my friend) showed up. Would have been cool to see him destroy the bleachers, but I refrained from making the request. There was work ahead.
And then, somewhere between 8:30 and 9, after a most amazing rendition of the National Anthem by 13-year-old JoJo Reger, we got to shooting. And we just kept on shooting, and shooting, and shooting. If you’ve got 4 minutes and 3 seconds to spare, you can watch a streak of 100 below, aided by the steady hands of Gentleman Old Man John King under the hoop and Phillip James of the Floyd County Sheriff’s Department handing off …
Now, it surely wasn’t all that fast or good … but it was consistently pretty fast and pretty good. The crowd ebbed and flowed, the 3-point and cup-stacking competitions were a hit, the DJs kept the place jumping, Greg McMinoway of our Floyd County corrections team had one of the most gruesome ankle injuries you can imagine (it’s not supposed to go at a right angle, correct?) and was taken away by stretcher (and doing OK now, I’m told), we did a short promo for a local news website, took a few breaks, and with two balls going all the while, there was Gentleman Old Man John King, taking the ball out of the hoop and firing it back. Over and over and over again.
He had plenty of help, but he was consistently there. Safe to say that in the 150-plus days of this project, no one has ever rebounded even close to as many in one day as John King did on April 10, 2010.
So that’s the way it went, until finally, at about 5 minutes before 6 p.m. and my right side feeling like I had just arm wrestled Craig Pumphrey, we hit 7,998 … 7,999 … 8,000.
This is not a lie: A few minutes later, when I walked into the hospitality room to and gazed at mounds of barbecue sandwiches and brownies and Thin Mint Girl Scout cookies, I came very close to crying. In all seriousness. Wow, was that good.
At the awards ceremony, we got a fun surprise when the tournament Most Valuable Player was announced, presented to … “the tournament high scorer, with 8,000 points …” and sure enough, we of HFH East Coast were handed the MVP trophy by HFH Midwest. It was a very nice way to end a near-perfect day.
We’ll hold the trophy in honor of the event’s real MVP, Officer Frank Denzinger, who by every account was an amazing, energetic, community-minded family man before he died, leaving a wife and young daughter. His former co-workers only smile when they speak of him. I’m sure there is lingering pain in the memory of his death, but it is clearly overmatched by the joy left behind by his life.
His mother was gracious enough to stop and say hello, thanking us for coming and wishing us well. She wears a pin with her son’s image always, as a reminder to everyone of the everyday danger that comes with that job. She smiled, said she hopes to see us again next year, and then she was off to see a grandson’s opening day of the baseball season.
Life. It marches forward, doesn’t it? I guess we should be grateful for that.
So that night, hours after the Jeffersonville Fire Department had claimed the tournament title, hours after Team Sands had made sure the Christian Academy gym was exactly the way they had found it, and hours after my tour of the Floyd County jail (I’ve decided to stay clean, thank you), we met up at the Ellenbrand/McCarty home, where soon-to-be-married Kevin and Chandra hosted a cookout and Kevin proved that you absolutely don’t need any light whatsoever to grill the perfect burger.
The whole crew as I know it was there, including Lt. Sands and Danielle and Zak and Jeremy and John, and their cool pal Christine, and John’s son Dakota, and Dakota’s girlfriend Layken, and Zak’s kinda-cousin Chelsea, who is an outfielder for the Louisville softball team, by the way. We stayed awhile, and then the two most senior members of the group — that would be Gentleman John King and myself — realized that we are, in fact, old men. In fact, we were old men who had to be at the airport by 9 the next morning. And I’ll admit, we were both feeling kind of beat up by the day’s fun.
So off we went. The next morning, it was to the Waffle House, then across the river to Louisville, and an awaiting plane.
So many to thank. To those who volunteered to rebound. To those who donated. To Hoops For Heroes New Albany for the $1,000 pledge. To Zak and Jeremy and Kevin and Danielle and Christine for the laughs. To Craig Pumphrey for not breaking me, my ball or the hoop. To Lt. Sands for the invitation. To John King for everything.
And to Officer Denzinger, for inspiring an amazing event that I hope to be a part of for years to come.
I miss you already, Indiana.
That’s 218,607 down, 781,393 to go to 1 million made foul shots.
For more on Hoops For Heroes, with a goal of 1 million made foul shots and $1 million raised for the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, visit www.hoopsforheroes.com or contact Dave Cummings at 603-554-7855.
Oh, and just for kicks, here’s one more segment of the Pumphrey brothers, this time on Jimmy Kimmel Live. Enjoy.