“A Brilliant High School Basketball Career:” The Story of Alan Nass and the Huntingburg Happy Hunters

While Indiana has such a rich history of high school basketball, it is easy for many of the stories of great teams, great rivalries, and exceptional players to be lost in the vast ocean of time. The fading and eventual disappearance of these stories is more than sad, as they are as exciting to hear today, and as full of irony and moral orchestration, as they were back in their day. Fortunately, Indiana sportswriters were a key element in helping to construct the stories that would later become important classic tales of Indiana high school basketball and their work can be accessed from old newspapers.

In early December of 1955, Jasper Herald sportswriter Jim Leas wrote, “Center stage this evening in Dubois County basketball in the JHS gym, scene of the 100th renewal of a rivalry that dates back to at least 1919 and includes 55 happy occasions for [Jasper] Wildcat adherents and 44 joyous events for [Huntingburg] Hunter folks.” Jasper, the sportswriter went on to point out, was the favorite to win the contest, which it did, while Huntingburg continued to have an especially luckless basketball campaign, losing 15 games in the regular season.

Jim Leas of the Jasper Herald was one of many such local Hoosier sportswriters who helped create great Hoosier high school basketball stories during the 1950s.

Despite Huntingburg’s poor record, coach Howard Sharp was pleasantly surprised by the play that year of a freshman named Alan Nass, whom he started in the Hunter’s very first game against the Washington Hatchets. Not only was Nass six foot four inches tall, but he carried plenty of muscle on his large frame, making him a force under the basket. Alan played in every varsity game in the 1955-1956 season and scored and captured rebounds in almost every contest while playing against older opponents. Nevertheless, as noted, the season played out miserably for the team, arch-rival Jasper defeating the Huntingburg squad in the second round of sectional play.  

A 1955 newspaper sports article mentioning Alan Nass playing as a freshman on the Huntingburg varsity team.

When the 1956-1957 season rolled around, Nass came back to school two inches taller and with even more size. Coach Sharp’s high expectations for Nass were shattered, however, when Alan broke his shoulder while playing football. One sportswriter reported,

The only dim spot for the basketball picture at Huntingburg is the injury to promising sophomore Alan Nass. Alan broke his arm in the Washington-Huntingburg football game on Oct. 19 and it looks as if he will be out until the first of January. Nass, at 6-6 is the tallest man on the squad and Coach Sharp was anticipating great things from him following a fine season last year as a freshman. When Nass returns the Hunters will receive a big boost in rebounding and will help strengthen their bench strength considerably. 

As it turned out, Alan did not return to play until very late in the season and his team was defeated in the first game of the sectional by Winslow, the Hunters ending up with a 14-7 record. Thoughts of next year, however, always lingered in the air that season for Huntingburg fans, fans knowing Naas would be back to full health the next season and the team having several veterans back, including a player almost as tall as Alan Nass, a lanky sophomore kid named Rich Welp.

Alan Nass, number 45, as a tall muscular sophomore.

Huntingburg fans were rarely disappointed during the 1957-1958 season. Nass was now 6-7 and the Hunters roared into the sectional with an 18-2 record and with a high state ranking. Huntingburg also won the conference championship that year in the sprawling and highly competitive Southern Indiana Athletic Conference, beating out the likes of Evansville Bosse, Evansville Central, and Vincennes, and ending with a 12-2 record in conference play. Alan Nass ended up being the leading scorer, with Rich Welp and Mike Gooch not far behind. Starting five players Scott Struckman and Bobby Craig also made important contributions.

If there was a disappointing game in the 1957-1958 regular season, it had to be the contest against the Bedford Stonecutters on February 8, 1958, a loss Indianapolis Star sports writer, Bob Collins, called “The biggest upset of the 1957-1958 Indiana basketball season.” Huntingburg came into the Bedford gym with a 16-1 record, 12 consecutive wins, and the number 5 ranking in the state.

An earlier snowstorm and Bedford’s 5-9 record led to a small crowd being present for the upset. The Hunters raced to a 16 to 3 first quarter lead and seemed to be coasting to an easy victory when the Stonecutters came crawling back. With the game tied and seconds left, a Bedford player missed a shot and Alan Nass was just about to take down the rebound when a Bedford player seemed to come out of nowhere to tip the ball in as the buzzer sounded. Huntingburg players fell to the floor in disbelief. Nass was the Hunters’ leading scorer, not that that would have been any consolation.

Despite the bitter Bedford loss, the Huntingburg team was pumped up as the season drew to a close and sectional play loomed. Just before sectional play began, the Jasper Herald pointed out,

A lot of Huntingburg’s success can be attributed to their air-tight defense which they set up and their tough rebounding combination of Rich Welp and Alan Nass. The Hunters have also been noted for their fine shooting and have hit better than 40 per cent in a number of games this season. Huntingburg won their last sectional in 1955 and are heavy favorites to win this year’s crown.

The unknown factor as sectional games began was the Springs Valley team. They came into the tournament undefeated and had a junior sharp shooter named Marv Pruett. But other than a 45-38 victory over Jasper, the Blackhawks had not played the larger schools that Huntingburg had. One southern Indiana sportswriter at the Linton Daily Citizen picked the Huntingburg regional to be the most interesting one in the state, given the fact the Springs Valley and Huntingburg teams were in separate brackets and would only clash if both teams got to the finals.

The highly ranked 18-2 Huntingburg Happy Hunters just before the start of 1958 sectional play.

Huntingburg easily took out Otwell in their first sectional match up then beat county rival Jasper 67-53. But the Hunters ran into a buzz saw when they played another country rival, the Holland Dutchmen. Melvin Menke looked to have scored the winning basket for Holland until Alan Nass hit two pressure packed free throws with 3 seconds to play, giving the Hunters the 46-45 win.

As predicted, it would be undefeated Springs Valley and 18-2 Huntingburg playing for the sectional championship. Springs Valley took a wide lead going into the third quarter, with Huntingburg finally drawing within eight points before the Blackhawks made the next six points, soundly beating the Hunters. Before fouling out, Alan Nass made 15 points in the sectional final game and ended up as the team’s leading scorer for the year.

Huntingburg’s loss to Valley was a surprise to most followers of Indiana high school basketball. Associated Press sportswriter Dale Burgess wrote the next day, “Unbeaten Springs Valley of French Lick, playing in its first sectional tournament, walloped Huntingburg’s Southern Conference champions Saturday night 66-41, in a colossal upset.” As it turned out, Springs Valley was, in fact, a very good team, going on to advance to the final four level of the state tourney. 

The final act in the 1957-1958 season had to be a sorely disappointing one to the Huntingburg fans, and to the team and coaches. Almost everyone believed the Hunters would go deep into the state tourney. At the Huntingburg sports banquet in March, Coach Sharp made it clear what he expected in the future, announcing, “Winning the sectional is our goal next year.” With the likes of big Alan Nass and Rich Welp back, the coach’s wish certainly seemed possible.

Perhaps Alan Nass still despaired over the sectional loss that spring after school let out. Meanwhile, it would turn out that Nass, a straight-A student, was also involved in activities besides basketball. During the summer before his senior year, Alan was chosen by his school to attend the prestigious Indiana Boys State convention on the Indiana University campus. Nass would be selected as the “Outstanding Citizen” from among all participates there.

Alan Nass’s senior year was a bit like riding on a roller coaster, Coach Sharp often complaining about trying to find the right guard duo, and Nass and Rich Welp often carrying the scoring load.  Huntingburg started with an easy win over Petersburg, followed by a close 70-66 loss against a fired up Winslow team. Nass scored over twenty points to keep the Hunters in the Winslow contest, but it was not enough. Then, after two straight wins, Huntingburg got clobbered by Bosse, 60-44. The Hunters had little time to ruminate over the loss; the next game looming was against arch rival Jasper, and this time there would be more than just the two teams’ ancient rivalry catching everyone’s attention.

During his junior year, Alan Nass had become a part of a friendly rivalry against Jasper’s 6-6 big man, Bob “Chesty” Luegers. Chesty, a year behind Nass, had put up some big scoring numbers beginning in his sophomore year. Once he got the ball underneath the basket, he was almost impossible to stop. Luegers would eventually claim the all-time Jasper scoring record and single game record before his career ended.

Sportswriters knew a good story when it presented itself, and soon writers were comparing Nass and Luegers whenever the two teams played. Just before the December, 1958 bout, for example, Charlie McPherron of the Jasper Herald observed, “The Hunters’ Alan Nass and the Wildcats’ Bob Luegers have played against each other on three occasions. Nass has outscored Luegers, 44-42, in the three games. Both boys have made a total of four errors in their three previous meetings. Nass holds the decided edge in rebounding in the three games with 37 to Chesty’s 20.” 

Chesty, however, ended up not playing in the two teams’ first meeting that season because of breaking team rules. Without Luegers, Huntingburg dominated the game, winning 82-61.

Huntingburg’s next game, against the Washington Hatchets, was the kind of contest that can shorten a coach’s life. At the very end of regulation play, just before the horn sounded, Nass missed a shot, but got, “his own rebound” and scored “to put the game into an overtime, 56-56.” Although the Hunters would go on to lose the game 60-58, Alan scored 22 points in front of several college scouts.

The Washington loss would be followed by a Huntingburg four game win streak, including a victory against Lafayette, before Huntingburg lost badly against a Valparaiso team in the holiday tournament championship game.  The Huntingburg team had little time to lick their wounds after the pounding they took from Valparaiso. On January 6, 1959, the second game of the regular season with county rival Jasper was upon them and this time big Chesty Luegers would be playing.

Huntingburg’s Rich Welp scores in a surprise loss to Valparaiso.

The Jasper-Huntingburg clash was, in the words of one sportswriter, “A real honey of a game, with Nass and Luegers being at the center of the epic basketball struggle. One newspaper piece went into great detail about the match between the two giants.

Last night’s contest brought out the best in the two clubs’ talented centers. Huntingburg’s Alan Nass and Jasper’s Bob Luegers both played one of their finest games in their high school careers. Both boys have scored more points in previous games, but it is doubtful that either boy worked as hard as they did that night. The two boys battled to a near standstill in four games that they have played against each other. Chesty Luegers, by virtue of his 25 points last night, ran his four game total to 67 against Nass. The Hunters’ pivot ace stuffed in 22 markers, and with his 44 in previous games against Luegers, he now has 66 markers.

A Louisville sports reporter wrote, “The two big boys were as fine a centers as there are in this section of the state.” Unfortunately for Alan Nass and the Huntingburg team, Nass fouled out of the game for only the second time in his high school career up until that point, and Huntingburg lost the game 54-51. Luegers won the scoring war as well, pouring in 25 points to Nass’ 22.

After the disappointing Jasper loss, the Hunters went on a tear, winning their next seven games before the start of sectional play. Perhaps the most satisfying of the wins was a victory over Bedford, a two point squeaker. Because of the year before, when Nass had a rebound taken from his hands and turned into the winning basket by Bedford, Nass was on a mission, ending up as the high point scorer and rebounder for the game.

The sectional draw that year placed 15-2 Springs Valley and the 14-5 Hunters, like the year before, in opposite brackets. Valley, thanks to their appearance in the final four the year before, was also chosen by the Indiana Associated Press as “The People’s Choice,” a title given by sportswriters to the small school team with the best possibility of winning the state championship.

Before Huntingburg could get to the final game and avenge the embarrassing loss of the sectional final game of the year before, they would have to beat a 16-4 Ireland team and probably would run into Jasper again, a team they had split with in the regular season.

Huntingburg team, ready to go into the 1959 sectional

Surprisingly, the Hunters easily handled Ireland and moved on to face Jasper, just as predicted. Their play and victory against Jasper, 68-58, was, according to one sportswriter, Huntingburg’s “finest of the tournament.” This time the Huntingburg guards carried the scoring load, hitting baskets from all over the floor and at a fantastic rate. When the dust settled, Mike Gooch, Kenny Craig, and Eldon Neukam led the scoring parade. As for the two big men, “Nass had a 14 to 12 edge on rebounds while Luegers had a 13 to 8 advantage in the scoring column.”

Meanwhile, Springs Valley and their all but unstoppable guard, Marvin Pruett, had marched through their bracket and were waiting to meet the Hunters. Huntingburg’s spacious gym was packed with over 6,000 fans, and they would not be disappointed.

Pruett seemed unstoppable, leading the Blackhawks to a 14-9 lead after one quarter and a slim 22-19 lead at halftime. Coach Sharp had said before the contest, however, that if his team could limit Pruett to 25 points, the Hunters would likely win the game. Pruett scored 24. The final score was 41-39, with Welp hitting the decisive free throw. McPherron of the Jasper Herald wrote, “In the final quarter the score was knotted at 33, 35, and again at 37. Rich Welp took a rebound off the boards and stuffed the ball in for a 39-37 lead. He was fouled on the play and made good his toss for a 40-37 margin with 1:04 left to play.”

The Huntingburg Hunters had avenged their heartbreaking loss from the year before and were now moving on to regional play. Alan Nass was playing at his typical high level of performance, junior Rich Welp was banging in the points and getting his share of rebounds, and Coach Sharp was seeing the kind of play out of his guards he had hoped for. But in an after game analysis of Huntingburg’s sectional win, one sportswriter noted that defense had been the most important element of Huntingburg’s fantastic sectional successes. “It was close to being perfect.” There was more good news. The regional would be played in Huntingburg’s cavernous gym, a place where the Hunters were 12-1 for the year. Perhaps the best news was that the other three teams advancing to the Huntingburg regional did not seem to be overpowering. Sullivan, Huntingburg’s first foe, was 16-10. In the other bracket was Vincennes, at 19-5 and tiny Odon, 24-3, which had not played any large schools until they knocked Washington out of the sectional crown, 59-56 in a wild upset. It was not surprising that the United Press picked Huntingburg to easily win the regional.

Little Odon pulled off a shocker in the first game of the Huntingburg regional, coming from behind and beating Vincennes 63-61 on a shot at the final gun. Meanwhile, Huntingburg easily handled out-manned Sullivan, 71-54.

The championship game was a heartbreaker, Huntingburg having the tiniest of leads at the first quarter and half-time breaks. The third quarter was tied at 50-50. In the third quarter, the Odon team came back from a six point deficit thanks to the dead-eye shooting of little guard Norman Beasley. The turning point came with less than a minute remaining and Huntingburg with a two point lead and the ball. Fans were on their feet, the Huntingburg crowd all but ready to pack their bags for the Evansville semi-state.  Then Odon’s Beasley deflected a Huntingburg pass, caught it before it went out of bounds by flipping it to an Odon player who went down the court to tie the score with 33 seconds remaining.  

The next day, a sportswriter wrote how Huntingburg quickly came back down the floor for a last shot, but lost the ball on a traveling violation. Odon’s Myers then came flashing with the ball towards Odon’s goal, drove into the free throw circle, stopped, and let fly to give Odon its first regional crown in history.

The loss was a heart breaker for the Hunters who played well. They committed only six errors. However, two of those miscues came in the hectic minutes of the final quarter in which the ball was awarded to Odon. Al Nass, Huntingburg’s fine center, brought to a close a brilliant high school basketball career, Nass played one of his finest games Saturday night. He was a work horse on the backboards as well as the game’s top scorer with 22 points.

The loss to Odon was a shattering event, but life would go on for the Huntingburg players and their coach. At the spring basketball banquet, Alan Nass would receive a special plaque for winning 12 letters in sports, receiving All-State football and basketball first team honors, being placed on the first team All-SIAC basketball team, and the first team All-sectional and All-Regional teams. He was also recognized as the leading scorer for the Huntingburg team during his junior and senior years, recording 1,069 career points.

After high school, Alan Nass would be a three-year starter at Georgia Tech and was captain of a 21-5 SEC runner-up team in 1963, leading his team in rebounding his junior and senior years and becoming the school’s second all-time leading rebounder. Most recently, he was selected for the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame.

Alan Nass was an important player for the Georgia Tech team, setting several rebounding records.

This is not the end of the story. When Alan Nass graduated from Georgia Tech, he could have gone any place in the country and been a great success. Instead, he returned to the Huntingburg community, where he eventual came to run the family business and became completely absorbed in serving his church, the local school system, and other public service roles. Thus, did this great athlete go on to become a great public servant.