CHARLESTOWN — There’s no denying basketball has a special place in the hearts of many Hoosiers.
Around the state, the sport has grown to encompass much more than just throwing a ball through a hoop. It’s about community and sportsmanship; pride and perseverance.
Chuck Ledbetter Sr. has documented such tears and triumphs of a local town in his new book that chronicles the story of Charlestown High School boys’ basketball. Today, his finished tale, “Charlestown High School’s Pirates of the Hardwood,” will be released.
Fans who will attend the Charlestown-New Washington boys’ game tonight will have the opportunity to buy Ledbetter’s account, the first of its kind to fully record the school’s long basketball legacy. Books may be purchased for $20 during the game. For those unable to attend, copies are available at the Charlestown library or online at charlestownpiratepride.com
“I hope it sparks an interest with the fans to create more excitement about coming to basketball games and our rich history. It was the fans who sparked me to do this,” Ledbetter said. “It doesn’t belong to me. It belongs to them.”
For the past two years, Ledbetter devoted much of his free time to researching forgotten games of Charlestown’s past. During that time, he interviewed more than 30 former players and coaches for the book in addition to spending countless hours pouring over old newspaper articles, photographs and box scores from local archives.
Like many country schools at the time, Charlestown couldn’t find enough boys to field a basketball team until 1916. Farm work came first, and many students had few free moments to devote to practice and games. Ledbetter also noted that horse and buggies were still the primary means of transportation for many in the town, and the rickety roads made for a difficult journey to and from the school.
That all changed on Nov. 3, 1916, when the Charlestown Pirates under coach Arthur Blythe traveled to Henryville High School to play in their first competitive game.
“I was amazed reading about Henryville, because they were the first team we played back in the 1916 season and they played the game on a dirt floor. They didn’t have a basketball floor,” Ledbetter said.
Beginner’s luck didn’t help the Pirates that night. Charlestown lost to its regional counterparts 12-11. Not to worry though. Only seven days later, Charlestown avenged its inaugural loss by beating the Hornets 24-21.
Ledbetter found in his investigation that basketball has changed quite a bit since Charlestown first adopted the sport. Imagine a time when players had to jump for the ball after every made basket. Between these breaks that slowed down the game and the 3-point shot almost half a century away, scores remained low during the early years.
In the decades that followed, coaches changed and different players emerged to continue the Pirate tradition. Ledbetter said his book gives the history of these leaders and their contributions to the school and the sport.
“Each coach brought their own personality and brought a new level of the game to the young boys here in Charlestown, going way back to where Arthur Blythe was the first coach,” he said. “All those coaches had some effect on our program and where we are today. We might not see it that away, but when you put it all in to one little box or one little book and you see it back to back ... I see that gradual change in each little phase of our basketball program and how we developed.”
Not a stranger to the feel of a leather ball, Ledbetter experienced the thrill of running up and down the court firsthand when he played for Coach John Wood at CHS in the late 1950s. A self-described bench warmer, the 1961 graduate said he learned to love basketball while watching the other players on the court. Later, he’d cheer on his own brother, Ben, from the stands. Ben went on to coach the basketball team in the late 1990s.
“I tried to get as much information about the players and what they did to let the fans know. To my knowledge, this is the first time Charlestown has ever known who their coaches were in the past. This is it,” Ledbetter said.
Not forgetting the present, the book includes a chapter on current CHS coach Sean Smith. Guiding the team since 2007, Smith said he appreciates Ledbetter’s hard work in writing about the team’s past.
“I think that it’s outstanding that someone has taken the time to research the history of our basketball program,” Smith said. “I think it will show a lot of people in our community and around that we have a lot of tradition basketball-wise. I’m just glad we get to be a part of that tradition and carry it on.”
Don’t think the publishing of this book is the end to Ledbetter’s research. He continues to compile basketball stats from yesteryear in a binder to give, once completed, to the athletic department. He also hopes “Pirates of the Hardwood” might inspire someone to author a history of the girls’ basketball program.
“It’s not over,” Ledbetter said. “There’s still a story to tell yet.”