By Frank Denzler Rushville Republican
---- — Playing to a packed house at Memorial Gymnasium was nothing new to Mark Simmermon and other local basketball players during the mid-1970’s. Then again, in those days, basketball was the main attraction on any given Friday or Saturday night in small towns across the Hoosier state. At the time, slam dunks were not allowed and the game was played without a 3-point line.
What stands out most about Mark Simmermon from that era was not his 6’4’’ frame, so much as what he was about to do with it on a basketball court. During his four years at Rushville Consolidated High School (1970 to 1974), Simmermon played in 77 games and scored 1,241 points for an average of 16.12 ppg. Forty years later, that point total has stood the test of time and still ranks as the pinnacle for an RCHS Lion basketball player.
Simmermon credits his basketball career to being teamed with equally good players and coaches. He also said his parents Phil and Patty Simmermon made major contributions to his successes in his life, not only from an athletic standpoint, but also to the person he became. Two of his earliest basketball memories are connected to his parents.
“I was always tall for my age and when I was seven-years-old, my dad came home one night with a gym bag and said Nick Singleton had a travel team at the Rushville Boys Club made up of 9 and 10 year olds and wanted to know if I would like to play with them. I played with the team later that night, got in the game and scored. The second moment was when my father brought a basketball rim home and nailed it to the side of our barn,” Simmermon said.
During the following years, the youngster spent hours honing his shot on the rim nailed to the family barn.
His first organized basketball experience began at the since closed Webb School and continued a few years later when the family moved to New Salem. During his years at New Salem Elementary and Junior High School (also now closed), he was teamed with some very talented basketball players, and a teacher and coach that remains special to him today, Dick Dunn.
“I was very fortunate to play for Mr. Dunn and the guys I played with were also very good - Keith Rice, Bob Emmy, Rudy Wesling and Greg Cook and others. Every one of those guys could play,” Simmermon said.
It was during his time at New Salem that Simmermon became in part, responsible for a rule change because of his basketball ability. While in grade school and playing in the county tournament as a member of the fifth and sixth team, he also played for the seventh and eighth grade tourney team. A few years later, depending on the students grade in school, a player could play for only an elementary school or junior high team, but not both. Another unprecedented point to note is that until 1970, when Simmermon first walked the halls of RCHS, basketball teams he played on had never experienced a loss.
“When I got to high school, there was some uncertainty as to if the coaches were going to move me up to varsity or not. I played one game for the freshman team coached by Ken Stanley and during that game I scored a lot of points. The next day, I was called to the coach’s office and told I was moving up to the JV team,” Simmermon said.
As a member of the junior varsity, Simmermon dressed for varsity games although his playing time was limited until near the end of his freshman season when his fortune was about to change.
“Becoming a better ball player and playing basketball for Rushville in the 1970’s couldn’t have come at a better time for me personally. There were a lot of good players both to look up to and to play a long side of. Each day my confidence grew just by playing with those guys,” Simmermon said.
Near the end of his freshman year, Simmermon got in to a varsity game against Jeffersonville. At the time, Jeffersonville and Rushville were in the South Central Conference and Jeffersonville was ranked No. 1 in the state.
Although Rushville lost that game, a few weeks later, sectional play began and as any Hoosier basketball fan knows, that’s when the “real” season begins. It also marks a turning point for the lad from New Salem.
During sectional play, foul trouble resulted in some of Rushville’s upper classmen and starters sitting on the bench. It was then that coach Ken Pennington called Simmermon’s number. Under one of the brightest lights and at a time when teammates needed him most, the freshman came through in a big way by scoring double digit points in the fourth quarter. A few games later, the team claimed the sectional title and Simmermon was named to the all-sectional team. A week later, gutsy play was again rewarded with playing time and Simmermon was selected to the all regional team. From then on and throughout his remaining high school career, Simmermon did not spend a lot of time on the bench.
When asked about the longevity of his scoring mark, he said he’s surprised that it has stood the test of time, citing the addition of the 3-point line and other changes in how the game is now played. Changes that he thought may have the point total surpassed.
“I am very humbled and very honored and it has some added measure (at least for me) from the standpoint of all the hard work, sweat and effort that went in to the opportunities I was given - the points stand as an end result. I would also hope that my parents can share in it because of sacrifices they made, getting me to all those practices and it means a lot that they are alive to enjoy it too,” Simmermon said.
He continued by saying that in those days, basketball was not only important to him, but the school and the entire community and the team’s focus was on preparing for Friday and Saturday night games.
“I remember having a key and my dad dropping me off at the gym at 6 a.m. long before school would start just so I could shoot. I had an inner drive to get better. Although basketball is a team sport, it is also a game that you can get better at by yourself. It takes work, a lot of work - you have to prepare, then you have to compete. Yes, I scored a lot of points, but somebody had to rebound, somebody had to dribble the ball down the court, set a pick or screen and somebody had to pass me the ball. It took all of us working together toward a common goal,” Simmermon said.
Following high school, Simmermon furthered his education at Trine University in Angola. In 2006, the 1975 Trine men’s basketball team, (of which Simmermon was a part) were inducted into the university’s Athletic Hall of Fame, for being the Mid Central and State Champions - something of which he is equally proud.
Once his playing days ended, Simmermon turned his attention to coaching for a number of years. During his tenure as a coach at Greenfield-Central, his teams won two sectional titles.
Simmermon looks back fondly on his formative years and his time at RCHS. Knowing that all records are eventually eclipsed, he still is proud of the longevity of the scoring record. Equally important to note is that before it became a catch phrase years later, Simmermon was a student – athlete and he graduated in the top 92 percent of his class.
“Basketball has been very good to me. I think, more than anything, it allowed me to develop a work ethic that I was true to. What I learned through basketball is that it’s easy to work or play hard when someone is looking, but it’s how hard are you willing to work when you are by yourself and no one is looking that’s more important and I tried to do the right thing - hopefully I did.”
Contact: Frank Denzler @ 765.932.2222 x106.