Benny Crowe went to his first Indiana All-Stars game in 1956.
“I would have been there in ’55,” Crowe said. “But I didn’t have my driver’s license yet.”
In June of 1956, Crowe attended his first Indiana-Kentucky All-Stars game at a sweltering Butler Fieldhouse. The 16-year-old Crowe watched Oscar Robertson pour in 34 points as Indiana routed Kentucky and its Mr. Basketball, King Kelly Coleman. Two nights later, Crowe was among those in a sellout crowd at the Louisville Armory who watched Robertson drop 41 points on Kentucky in a 25-point blowout win.
Crowe, 82, was hooked. Since that game in 1956, he has kept coming back to the Indiana-Kentucky All-Stars games. Every year. Every game. Every game?
“Kentucky and Indiana,” Crowe said. “I haven’t missed a game. My daughter had to change her wedding date because of one of the games. We found in February when the game was going to be and they had picked out that weekend. I said, ‘Wait a minute.’ She still talks to me about that.”
Crowe will be there again Friday in Owensboro, Ky., when the Indiana All-Stars travel to the Owensboro Sportscenter to take on the Kentucky All-Stars. And on Saturday, when the Indiana All-Stars host Kentucky at Southport Fieldhouse. If you are adding up the streak — that would be consecutive games No. 129 and No. 130. Indiana All-Stars director Mike Broughton plans to present Crowe a plaque Saturday for his amazing streak.
“He’s a basketball freak,” said his younger brother, Tony, owner of Crowe Automotive in Peru. “He always played basketball as a kid growing up and would go to high school games all the time. My brother, Donnie, was the same way. Those two were basketball freaks.”
Benny attended school and played basketball at long-gone Miami County school of Butler Township, where he was part of the last graduating class in 1958. He wore No. 44 for the Tomahawks, who lost 91-32 in the school’s final game to host Peru in the 1958 sectional. Benny was raised in the area where the dam was built to create Mississinewa Lake in the 1960s.
“I rode my bike to a lot of places that are under the lake now,” he said. “There were a lot of barns and silos torn down when they decided to flood that into a lake.”
By the time he graduated high school, Crowe was already three years into his streak. But attending the Indiana-Kentucky All-Stars games was just part of his normal routine.
“I was hung up on (basketball) when I was a young guy,” he said. “I lived in Miami County so I went to games at Peru, I went to games at Kokomo. I remember seeing (Goose) Ligon and that Kokomo state championship team in 1961. I’d go to the Marion Regional, went to the Fort Wayne Semistate. I remember when Kokomo lost in the sectional three years in a row in 1955, ’56 and ’57. Everybody went to high school basketball games then — they packed the gyms. We would go to Muncie Central, Gary Roosevelt, Lafayette Jeff, wherever there were good games.”
Crowe’s brother, Donnie, would often accompany him to games as well (and will be there with him Friday, at Owensboro). Part of the routine when the Indiana All-Stars played in Kentucky would be to find games of their own in the days leading up to the game. George Hawkins, who played on the 1961 Kokomo state championship team, was part of a 3-on-3 team with the Crowes in 1997 that took runner-up for their age group at a streetball tournament in Louisville.
For many years, there was a week between the game in Kentucky and the game in Indianapolis.
“Usually four of us would go down to Louisville on Thursday and find a pickup game that afternoon,” he said. “We’d play until the evening, then get up on Friday and play all day. There were courts in Jeffersonville next to the railroad tracks on 10th Street where we would play, too, and in Clarksville. We would play all over the place.”
Crowe, who lives in Kokomo, played basketball into his 70s.
“You couldn’t leave him open in the corner,” his brother, Tony, said. “He’s only about 5-9 but he’d rebound and fight for the ball. My brother, Donnie, you couldn’t leave him open anywhere. He was like Dr. J but a little-bitty white guy.”
Benny is not sure when his love of basketball exactly started, but he does remember listening to the Milan-Muncie Central state championship game on the radio in 1954 at age 14. “If we had class basketball in 1954,” he said, “the Milan game wouldn’t have happened.”
Over the years, Crowe became familiar with folks at the Lions Club who operated the Kentucky side of the All-Stars series. He attended the first game in the series at the brand-new Freedom Hall in Louisville in 1957. “It had air conditioning, of all things,” Crowe said. “I got to know the people down there pretty well. The Lions Club even had me to dinner the night before the game and I went to the practices two or three times. Every time they would switch gyms, they would let me go in and pick out my seats.”
The games in Kentucky moved from Louisville to Lexington to Frankfort to Owensboro to Bowling Green to Louisville to Lexington to Frankfort to Louisville and now back to Owensboro. All the while, Crowe has been there to see them all. In fact, the All-Stars series was a single game in Indianapolis through 1954. The first time the doubleheader was played with a game in Kentucky was in 1955 — meaning that is the only year Crowe missed a game in Kentucky.
“I would always know the schedule by February so I could use my vacation time,” Crowe said.
He will be there again Friday in Owensboro and Saturday at Southport Fieldhouse. And, if everything goes to plan, he will do it again next year. And the year after…
Call Star reporter Kyle Neddenriep at (317) 444-6649.