Bell receives Distinguished Service Award
For 28 years, his trademark long hair and shorts, even well after the arrival of pants season, have been found roaming the baselines and sidelines of local high schools. On March 19, Wade Bell was honored by the Indiana Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association for his commitment to student-athletes.
Nominated by Crawford County High School athletic director Jerry Hanger for the District V Distinguished Service Award, which is presented to an individual who goes above and beyond for the success and promotion of student-athletes, Bell received the honor by unanimous vote.
‘Wade was an easy choice for me,’ Hanger said. ‘He was and is always available to take Patoka Lake (Athletic) Conference pictures of individual athletes and teams. He does a great job of reporting our games for the Clarion (News) and Corydon Democrat.’
Bell, whose name commonly can be found on the visitor sign-in sheet at CCHS, said he learned of the award from Hanger while at the school.
‘I didn’t know he had nominated me or anything,’ he said. ‘I had to take something out to the school one day, and he walked out and told me about it. I just kind of said, ‘What? Why me?’ He told me that it had been for work that I had done with Crawford and North Harrison and Floyd (Central) and the schools around.’
Bell said he was still asking why him when he went home and told his wife, Peggy.
‘It was like I told a friend of mine, all I do is push a button on a little black box and type words on a keyboard,’ he said.
Hanger, however, said Bell’s reputation is of more than just a photographer and writer.
‘He is widely recognized in Southern Indiana as a good reporter and loyal to our local programs,’ he said. ‘It’s a tough job covering all the local teams, but he does his best to be consistent and fair.’
As the primary sports reporter for the Clarion News, Bell is responsible for covering the boys’ and girls’ teams at Crawford County, North Harrison and Floyd Central.
Bell was presented the honor at the IIAAA 49th annual State Conference Awards Banquet at the Indianapolis Marriott East. The banquet capped an eventful weekend in Indianapolis, as the Crawford County boys’ basketball team played in the Class 2A state championship game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse the previous day.
‘It was a big formal banquet, and I did wear long pants,’ Bell joked, adding that he also got six inches of his hair cut off a couple of months before the event, primarily at the ‘suggestion’ of his wife and daughters.
Although he knew of the award ahead of time and had to supply the IIAAA with some photos, including of him and his family and him working, and biographical information for a slide show, Bell kept the honor a secret from most people, including his daughters, Kara Fraley and Kayla Kreilein, whom he didn’t tell until closer to the event.
‘I was honored, I’ll admit that, but, at the same time, I still feel like that there probably were others out there who deserved it more than me,’ he said.
Bell was joined at the banquet by his wife, Kreilein and her husband, Nathan. Unfortunately, he said, Fraley and her husband, Daniel, were sick and unable to attend. Also in attendance was Hanger, who, as first vice president of the IIAAA, presided over the program. Hanger will serve as the organization’s president for the 2017-18 term.
Bell fell into journalism by accident, with his first story published in the May 5, 1989, issue of The Crawford County Democrat, which in 1992 was merged into the Clarion News.
Bell, who studied graphic design at Ivy Tech, took photos at the North Harrison Invitational track meet for a class project.
‘When I went through the pictures, I saw there were a couple that I liked,’ he said, ‘so I wrote up a little thing to go with it and took it in and gave it to (editor) Sara Combs, and she looked at it and she just simply said, ‘Bring us more’.’
Almost three decades later, Bell still has the negatives of those photos and countless others, as well as numerous external hard drives from after he made the switch from film to digital.
‘And I was one of the last ones to jump to digital,’ Bell said.
In addition to high school sports, Bell covers the Indianapolis 500 and Brickyard 400, as well as non-sporting events, including breaking news, such as fires and other natural disasters, and human-interest features, including the Kentucky Derby Festival.
Several years ago, the KDF provided him one of his favorite memories, when he was given the opportunity to fly with the Red Baron Precision Flight Team.
‘The Kentucky Derby Festival called me up and asked me if I wanted to fly with them. They didn’t have to ask me twice,’ Bell said.
Although the pilot of the two-seater Stearman biplane couldn’t do loops and barrel rolls as planned because of cloud cover, Bell said the experience still was exhilarating.
‘Flying in formation with the wingtips only 10 feet apart, that was fun,’ he said. ‘The plane that was next to us, I could just barely get the whole plane in the (camera) frame. That’s how close we were.’
Another favorite memory also involved flying.
‘In 1992, I got to fly with Indiana’s Air National Guard down to Savannah, Ga., on a KC-135 refueling plane and photographed F-16s gassing up underneath of us at 500 miles an hour at 27,000 feet, and we were only 25 feet apart, the planes were,’ Bell said. ‘That gave me a rush. It took two weeks for Peggy to get me out of the clouds after that.’
Still, the heart of the job has been high school sports, and it is something that Bell has taken seriously. That was probably most evident this past winter when he didn’t let a broken leg and torn lateral collateral ligament slow him down during one of the busiest times of the year: basketball season.
Bell was on the sidelines for Floyd Central’s sectional football game at Bedford North Lawrence when it happened. Midway through the fourth quarter, Bell, who was shooting with a telephoto lens, which makes it difficult for a photographer to see the action nearby, was hit after a tackle pushed the players out of bounds. He said as soon as the Bedford player’s leg made contact with his, he could tell something was wrong.
‘The very first thought that went through my head was, ‘Oh, man, there goes my hiking’,’ he said.
Still, Bell hobbled to the 50-yard line to take more photos and then to midfield following the game for interviews. Floyd Central trainer Becky Clifton gave him ice for his leg, which already was swelling, and Bell, after making his way to his truck, drove an hour-plus back home. The next day he went to the emergency room, where he was given the bad news.
His leg was put in an immobilizer and he was instructed not to do anything. That lasted two weeks. Provided a wheelchair by Clifton, Bell covered a Crawford County girls’ basketball game. He covered two games the following week and, with the assistance of his grandson, Clayton Sheckells, who had just gotten his driver’s license, was soon back in full swing.
The only issue came Dec. 28 when Bell opted against the wheelchair in favor of crutches while covering the Crawford County boys’ basketball team at the Perry-Spencer Classic.
‘I thought, instead of taking the wheelchair, I think I’ll just try to crutch it in this time. It had been raining; that was a bad mistake,’ he said.
When his crutch came down on a ramp that had been painted yellow, it gave out.
‘My knee locked up, all my weight came down on the knee, and it felt like two semis hitting head on. My first thought was I had re-broken it,’ Bell said.
Fortunately, he hadn’t, and, after his grandson and a classmate got the wheelchair from his car, Bell made his way into the gymnasium for the game.
Bell said that, no matter how many years he has covered high school sports, he still is amazed when student-athletes do something special, like when a Floyd Central softball player pitched a gem a couple of weeks ago after being wired to an electronic muscle stimulator to ease back pain moments before the game.
Understanding that without the players there would be no sports page, Bell said he has always tried to develop relationships with the athletes.
‘Especially with the local schools and everything, I try to become friends with the kids, because it’s easier to talk to them. It’s easier for me to talk to them, and it’s easier for them to talk to me,’ he said.
‘I’ll have some that will be a little shy at first and stuff, but, once you get to know them and kind of become friends with them … I have kids that are unbelievable at talking. They just talk real intelligently, and it just makes my job a whole lot easier.’