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Letter To The Editor - Lakeland Basketball

Fred Bontrager



To the Editor:

    The Letter to the Editor from Paul Lauver on Lakeland Basketball was very interesting. Our family has followed Lakeland basketball throughout the years and attended many games. My hopes are that WAWK and Fred Inniger will do a feature on Westview High School and interview the greatest high school and college basketball player to come out of LaGrange County, and that player is Gary Yoder. Ryan Yoder, Rusty Yoder, and Todd Fisher should also be prominently mentioned. Fisher was an All-American at Alaska-Anchorage.

    In my humble opinion, Paul Vanderweir, Jon Workman, and Bill Bender were the three best players in Lakeland High School history based on their stats and the fact that they are the only three who received full scholarships to NCAA Division I universities. You put Bender on the 1975 team (21-2) lead by Doug Harp, Bryan Heller, and company and they probably go to the semi-state. You take Bender off the 1978-1979 team and perhaps they struggle in the sectional.

    That is not to take anything away from the team but again, Bender played on the highest level. The only other player on that team to play college basketball was John Boyle. Jeff King was certainly an outstanding high school basketball player, but how many 5’8” point guards do you see playing on any level of college basketball? He, like many before and after him, were very good high school players that would have difficulty playing against quicker, stronger, and more athletic players. If they were good enough, they would have played.

    Dennis Harp was among many that were excellent high school players that went on to play four years of college basketball. He became only one of a handful of former players in the entire state of Indiana who would later become a NCAA Div. I head coach. What were the chances of a Lakeland product accomplishing that?

    The team I felt overachieved because they had no “Bill Bender,” Jon Workman, or Paul Vanderweir, was the 1978 Regional Finalist team. I was in the stands that night in Ft. Wayne with nearly 8,000 other fans. They accomplished more with their ability than any other team in Lakeland history.

    Bill Leiter won five sectional titles in eight years. He should never have been let go. That set Lakeland High School Basketball back. He was our best coach, followed by Butt and Sirk. The 1973-1974 and 1974-1975 teams went 38-7 with four of those losses to East Noble. East Noble had their best teams during that time and many of their players played college basketball. In other words, Lakeland was 38-3 against teams except East Noble. Neither team won a sectional, but they need to be included in the conversation of the best teams in the school’s history.