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O’Bannon no stranger to athletic arena

O’Bannon no stranger to athletic arena
O’Bannon no stranger to athletic arena
Then Lt. Gov. Frank O'Bannon took a few fast laps at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May of 1995. (Photo by Joe Young, The Indianapolis Star)

When it came to the sports world, the late Gov. Frank O’Bannon was as sound in the athletic arena as he was in the political universe. Simply put, he lived life to the fullest.
O’Bannon died Saturday at the age of 73 after complications from a stroke suffered last week in Chicago.
As a grade schooler playing basketball, O’Bannon was described by Harrison County historian and O’Bannon’s teacher, Frederick P. Griffin, as having a keen eye for the basket and quick in movement.
‘He could hold his own with boys older and bigger,’ Griffin added during a speech given for O’Bannon’s reception of the Indiana University Southeast Chancellor’s Medallion in March of 1997.
O’Bannon’s qualities didn’t change at Corydon High School, where he was quite a basketball star under head coach Paul Brackemyre.
During his senior season in 1948, when he was the only returning starter from the 1947 squad (he was a three-year starter), O’Bannon was the team’s long-shooting ace and he went a long way in deciding the outcome of several of the Panthers’ games.
Former Corydon Democrat writer Jimmie Mason wrote of one overtime affair with Salem:
Frenzied fans witnessed an overtime battle that caught their collective breaths and left them limp as the proverbial dish rag last Friday night at Salem. The Corydon Panthers squeezed out a 57-53 victory over Salem, who had trounced Corydon 45 to 39 earlier in the season.
At the end of the regular game, both squads stood at a 49-all stalemate. In the last minute of the regular game Salem had two chances to win by free throws, but for some reason took the ball out both times.
O’Bannon led all scoring with 24 points, finally getting out of a comparative slump of several weeks.
Scores at the rest stops showed the Panthers lead all the way, 10-7, 25-16, 36-31 and 49-49.
Witnesses found the game to be rough and exciting throughout. Records show that 47 fouls were called during the fracas.
In O’Bannon’s final home game, in what’s now the Gerdon Youth Center on East Chestnut Street, he scored the game-winning basket from the right side to upset an inspired band of Mitchell Bluejackets, 38-37.
Fellow seniors Frank Cook and Tommy Miller saw limited action, wrote former Democrat sports man Walter Fried. ‘Cook saw no action and Miller got but 14 minutes of play before he was forced from the milling via the personal foul route.’
Basketball didn’t end when O’Bannon graduated high school. He played on the freshman team at Indiana University in the 1948-49 season and then the varsity reserve in 1949-50. He never made it into a varsity game, but he was a Hoosier through and through.
O’Bannon later wrote sports and took photos for this newspaper.
In 1997, O’Bannon, an avid golfer, played with a slew of celebrities such as former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka and country music stars Vince Gill and Amy Grant in the first-ever Fuzzy Zoeller Wolf Challenge in Sellersburg’s Covered Bridge Golf Course.
O’Bannon was also an outdoorsman who enjoyed canoeing and fishing with friends on Blue River. He was a member of the Audubon Society and would frequent Eagle Creek Park in Indianapolis for 7 a.m. Sunday bird walks.
O’Bannon attended many events at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, including taking rides around the track in specially designed, two-seat race cars and official pace cars, and, as the local ‘head of state,’ handed out trophies to winners of the U.S. Grand Prix Formula 1 races.
The latest trip around the Brickyard came early last month with former Indy 500 winner Al Unser Jr., at the wheel of a Chevrolet Corvette.
O’Bannon and Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning worked together to promote character education through the Center for Character Development, which O’Bannon helped establish in 2000 at Anderson University.