A Brief History of the Indy Hawks

From humble beginnings...

From humble beginnings…

Coming out of the Greater Indianapolis Deaf Club located on a gritty neighborhood of Indianapolis – the Indy Hawks were born.

The GIDC has a long history of having basketball teams participating in the Central Athletic Association of the Deaf and occasionally sending the team to the American Athletic Association for the Deaf (AAAD) and its forerunner, the United States of America Deaf Basketball (USADB) National tournaments.

The Indiana School for the Deaf (ISD) has been a proving grounds for young basketball players for decades, given the state’s love of basketball and its intricaties. Often, graduates of ISD would enroll at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. and become productive members of the basketball team there and to a lesser extent, the Intramurals program on campus.  Many would then go on and lead productive careers within the USADB ranks and occasionally we would see a Hoosier land on the Deaf Olympics team.

Prior to the 2004-05 season, the GIDC team’s highest finish was a third place result in the 2002 USADB tournament hosted in Indianapolis at North Central high School. That team had a group of local men participating – a healthy mix of white/blue collar men with college students and a very special player who was out of eligibity for the high school competition but was the nation’s number one high school prospect.

The 3rd place finish was preceded by two Division Two National Championships in 1999 (Phoenix, Az) and 2000 (Providence, RI) and with several promising young players on the team, the future looked bright and promising.

However, as it usually is within real life – reality came along and scattered the team. Some players retired, the young guns went different ways to other teams and the prospect went to Gallaudet University where he became a legend. Two mainstays kept the GIDC team alive and the team began to build around their unique skills, one a dominant force inside the post with a sharp passing eye and the other with a deadly three-point shot and internal toughness.

Midway through the 2004-05 season, the then-Head Coach Rusty Crace – a calm and gracious man, stepped down to focus on his ISD coaching obligations and passed the baton to Carl Denney, who had a mixed record of results with various teams and was mainly known for his temper.

That transition was coupled with some turbulent changes. Right off the bat, Denney pursued and landed three Chicagoans from the Chicago Club of the Deaf (CCD), who were the GIDC’s biggest rivals. The only reason given was that they were perfect pieces for the GIDC team. Shawn Stringfellow at point guard, 6’2 Kevin Smith at wing and 6’8 Daryl Thomas in the middle to go along with GIDC’s 6’5 high post Brian Bippus and the sharpshooter 6’3 Keith Westhoelter. With a revamped bench including transplant 6′ Les Crump and some young men coming into their prime, the GIDC team stormed through the Central region and went deep into the USADB which culminated with a tight loss to the Southern California team – Dynamingle (which later became Deaf Sports Academy (DSA).

Fresh off a runners-up finish, the team remained hungry and reloaded when Thomas retired by adding 6′ Hector Cueto, a bruising combo player newly relocated from Florida and 6’7 banger Brenton Holliday from Chicago. The team was no less hungry than it was in 2005 – once again running the tables, including a mid-season Indy Deaf Hoops Championship over the visiting Dynamingle team and advancing all the way to the 2006 USADB Championship game where they lost an amazing come-from behind thriller against Dynamingle that could have gone both ways at the end. Dynamingle repeated as champions (their third straight USADB title) and the Hoosiers went home to spend the summer wondering what would take them over that “mountain” to become champions.

The 2006-07 season was a very rewarding time. The Chicagoans returned home and in this void stepped a young man-child named Edlin Dorn. Dorn, who was 6’8 of sinewy muscle, ball-handling skills and poetry on the floor had been the number one recruit of Coach Denney who had been mesmerized by his talent the previous winter when the Lincoln team upset the heavily favored GIDC team at the Chicago Invitational. The 46-44 upset by Lincoln had featured Dorn doing a triple double that included 16 blocks on the Indianapolis team. The most amazing part of this story was how Coach Denney could never find a way to get ahold of Dorn, who had simply materialized on the ISD campus during a middle school football game with his then-sweetheart, an Indianapolis native.

With Cueto moved to the wing (unwillingly at first), the GIDC team went 35-4 for the season behind Cueto’s 25 ppg and Dorn’s dominant performance inside. However, one major barrier stood between the GIDC team and the USADB championship trophy – D.C. East Zone.

The D.C. East Zone was led by Robert Haney, who had been the aforementioned young talent from the Indiana School for the Deaf who had gone along to Gallaudet and become such a dynamic force all four seasons he played there, finishing his career with a 22ppg average and numerous honors.  The Indy Deaf Hoops classic in February had shown how the GIDC – East Zone matchups would be when the East Zone team captured the championship with a 71-69 victory. The USADB semi-finals had the Hoosiers going against East Zone, with a very unusual twist: the East Zone backcourt were all Hoosiers who were Gallaudet students playing out their eligibity playing the hometown team in Indianapolis’ Fieldhouse.  The game was tight until the final minutes when the East Zone team pulled away on free-throws. The East Zone then went on to capture the 2007 USADB title while the GIDC team placed third and wondered if they were running out of chances.

That fall – with Coach Denney looking over the Indianapolis roster after the loss of Hector Cueto, who returned to Florida and with the addition of Cy Saunders at point guard – the team began to take on an identity that would culminate with Haney returning home with three consecutive USADB championship appearances (2008-2010). This identity was simply toughness, basically radiating off Saunders and Haney. Both players, along with Matt Johnson had recently led the D.C. East Zone to their first and lone championship. Their homecoming was greeted with delight as they produced immediately on the court combining with the Bippus/Dorn frontcourt and a veteran bench, leading the Indianapolis team to their first ever championship in Orlando, defeating the North Virginia (NoVa) team in overtime. That edition went 32-7 and captured the Chicago WSAD, Indy Classic, CAAD and the USADB in dominating fashion. Haney continued his run of Most Valuable Player honors by being voted for the third consecutive year by his peers.

The 2009 USADB title quest was very challenging as the team underwent internal challenges brought on by retirement, the advent of Free agency and the long daily grind as pushed by Coach Denney. As the stand-alone Indy Hawks, bolstered by the support of patron Sam Hawk, for whom the team is named and n0 longer under the auspices of the Greater Indianapolis Deaf Club – the change was an experiment in social study as many adjusted to the mentality of the Hawks as an independent team under the management of two local men.  The 28-15 record posted by the Hawks belied their total team toughness by making several come-from behind victories that led to an amazing comeback victory in overtime against the Arizona Desert Fire, a legendary team in their own right.

The 2010 championship game appearance sort of signified their status as a dynasty and the 21-point lead midway through the title game against NoVa reached the Hawks’ nadir as a team. The lead evaporated as the NoVa contigent steadily battled back behind the torrid shooting of 6’3 Sekoe White and 5’10 PG Jon Mowl. The NoVa team captured the lead in the final minute and never let go, much to the chagrin of the stunned Hawks, who were rightfully looking at their place in the USADB history annals. Mowl, himself a Hoosier who had led the ISD team to the Deaf Prep National championship in 2005, was selected the USADB’s Most Valuable Player.

The 2010-11 season was a year of changes. Haney and Johnson departed to the New Mexico Zia and Saunders to the Bay Area Breakers. Dorn was battling injuries while Westhoelter and Bippus remained mainstays and adjusted to new roles on the team. Onye Davis, the 5’11 strongman post player, became a pivotal player. With the addition of several local players who formerly played for Indianapolis’ other team, the Hawks, with 7 players, captured fifth in the 2011 Minnesota USADB. In this tournament, the Hawks lost to DSA in the quarters in overtime in the dying seconds after being down by 21 at the half and in the consolation round, overcame a 22-point deficit to defeat Austin in overtime.

In the summer of 2011, Coach Denney stepped down to cultivate his garden, 6’9 Edlin Dorn took the season off to concentrate on healing his injuries and long-time manager Jay Krieger took over the Head Coaching reins for the 2011-12 season. Winning their 9th consecutive Central region championship, the Hawks were short-handed at the 2012 Houston Nationals, placing 9th.

The 2012-13 edition of the Indy Hawks led to new promise with 6’1 newcomer Kyle Bingham playing a prominent role from the wing. His quickness, youth and maturity along with Onye Davis’ emergence as the mainstay of the Hawks’ inside game – gave the Hawks the potential to pull several surprises over the season. They did not fail that potential in capturing several mid-winter classics and dominating the Central regional tournament. Reinvigorated, the Hawks pushed the eventual runners-up DC Showstoppers hard in the USADB semi-finals before losing by 11 and then lost a tight one with the Arizona Desert Fire to finish 4th at the Philadelphia USADB tournament.

In the summer of 2013, it was quietly announced that Carl Denney has returned as the Head Coach of the Indy Hawks. With the Central Region growing stronger with competitive teams growing and developing inside the area, especially with the resurgent Chicago Club of the Deaf recruiting several Deaf Olympians for the 2013-14 season – this belies what the future will be in store for the Indy Hawks: are they a team that will  continue to regain their prominence among the nation’s elite teams or are they content to simply compete within the region?

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