Lanky teenager Charlie Hall would stretch his arm high above his head, with a basketball perched in the palm of his hand.
With a flick of his wrist, he sent the ball spinning in the hoop.
Hall developed his sky-hook on the Terre Haute playgrounds in the 1950s, years before NBA Hall of Fame member Kareem Abdul-Jabbar made shooting world famous. Hall deployed his sky-hook as a featured player for coach Howard Sharpe’s Gerstmeyer High School teams from 1955 to 1958.
“He was spinning and hooking this thing, and could do it with any hand,” recalled Ray Goddard, former Hall Gerstmeyer teammate.
Hall used this sky hook more times than Sharpe wanted, Goddard said with a laugh. Yet he entered so often. Hall totaled 1,412 points during his three-season career at Gerstmeyer, helping the talented Black Cats amass 78 wins in 93 games. He also caught 638 rebounds in his only junior season. Hall was a finalist for the Mr. Basketball Indiana Award as a senior in 1958, just behind Mike McCoy, 7 feet from Fort Wayne South Side.
“Hall is the best basketball player I have ever coached in my 18 years,” Sharpe told the Terre Haute Tribune in April 1958, when Mr. Basketball’s vote was announced.
The image of Hall pulling this sky-hook epitomizes Terre Haute’s slice of the “golden age” of Indiana high school basketball history – the 1950s. It was an era of Classic Gerstmeyer’s duels with eventual state champions like Milan and Indianapolis Crispus Attucks, the exploits of the great Black Cats Arley and Harley, the fiery style of the late Sharpe and the stellar play of future Olympian Terry Dischinger against his rival Garfield. .
A piece of this rich history has passed.
Hall died while walking his dog in a park near his Las Vegas home on November 14. The funeral was held in Las Vegas on Sunday. Hall was 81 years old.
“Charlie Hall was not only one of the greatest athletes we ever had in our community, but he was a gentleman,” said Goddard. He called Hall “my best friend”.
Hall’s athletic accomplishments weren’t limited to the basketball courts or high school. His multisport versatility rivaled that of the legendary Dischinger, Goddard believes.
Hall helped a Terre Haute all-star baseball team win the 1955 Babe Ruth League World Series as a pitcher and hitter. Dischinger was a teammate. Hall later played baseball for Gerstmeyer. He carved a place for himself in Terre Haute athletic history by winning the Indiana High School Athletic Association high jump titles for Gerstmeyer. Hall remains one of only two Vigo County athletes to win multiple state track and field championships.
After high school, Hall went on to excel in basketball and baseball at Indiana University. He spent three college seasons with IU Coach Branch McCracken’s Hoosier hoops teams as a front row starter from 1959-1962. Hall played 72 games as a Hoosier, averaging 7 points and 7.7 rebounds. per output. As a senior IU, his average of 10.3 rebounds per game led the Big Ten Conference. Hall was also the team’s captain that season.
One of the opposing Big Ten players Hall faced was Ohio State reserve forward Bob Knight. The connection between Hall and Knight continued long after their playing days were over. Hall avidly supported his varsity alma mater, especially during Knight’s 29 years as an IU basketball coach. when Hoosier’s teams won three NCAA titles. During Hall’s decades of career as a financial planner and consultant, Knight became one of his clients.
“They were good friends,” Goddard said. “They were close.”
IU’s sacking of Knight as head coach in 2000 – for what the university called a “model of unacceptable behavior” – angered Hall. “He wasn’t particularly thrilled when Bob was fired,” said Charles Hall, Charlie’s son. “He was a Bob Knight guy.”
Earlier this year, IU hired one of Knight’s former star players, Mike Woodson, to coach the Hoosiers. The decision convinced Charlie, his son said Tuesday by phone from Las Vegas.
Most of the most lasting memories Charlie Hall created occurred during his Terre Haute years. He never got tired of telling these stories, said Charles, who heard them as his father’s “sidekick”.
“These were just great moments in his life,” Charles said.
Life and a financial career took Charlie Hall to Chicago, Phoenix, San Francisco and finally Las Vegas, but he always thought of Terre Haute as his “home,” his son said. Every time he returned, Hall and his buddies would get together and remember. “They would act like teenagers again,” Charles said.
Among the notable characters who loom in these memories was Oscar Robertson and his teammates from Indianapolis Crispus Attucks High School. The “Big O” led Attucks to consecutive state championships in 1955 and 1956 – the first all-black team in America to win their state’s prep basketball title.
“This guy named Oscar was pretty good,” Hall’s son Charles said of Naismith Basketball Hall of Famer Member Robertson.
Robertson and Attucks beat Hall and his Gerstmeyer teammates twice in the 1955-56 season, by 46 points in the regular season, then again in the state tournament semifinals by a more modest 68- 59. The ‘Big O’ scored 17 points against Gerstmeyer in the semi-finals – one of five Tigers to score in double digits.
The following 1956-57 season, Hall’s junior year, Gerstmeyer beat Attucks in the crowded old Indiana State University gymnasium on Seventh Street in the regular season opener. Robertson had already graduated. Nonetheless, in this season’s State Tournament – with the Black Cats posting a 32-1 record and the State No.1 ranking – Attucks again knocked out Gerstmeyer in the State Semifinals, 63 -57.
Heartbreakers and joys are all part of the Indiana hoop tradition. Hall’s niche in this story saw him be inducted into the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame in 1992.
Even hundreds of miles away, Indiana and those youthful days remained close to Hall’s heart.
As his health unexpectedly waned as he walked his dog, Louie, in the park on November 14, Hall’s son rushed to see him in the hospital emergency room. Charles Googled a recording of Jim Nabors singing “Back Home Again in Indiana” and brought it to his father’s ear just before he passed away.
“It seemed like he liked it,” Charles said.
Mark Bennett can be reached at 812-231-4377 or [email protected]