“Birdseye Hits the Bullseye”: The Story of Jeff Cook and Birdseye High School’s Best Basketball Season.

For every Oscar Robertson, Rick Mount, Larry Bird, or Damon Bailey, there also existed a multitude of forgotten small-town athletes who excelled back in that golden age of single class Indiana high school basketball. Many of these exceptional players competed at the very smallest of small-town schools, schools that were often swallowed up in consolidations. One example was the remarkable efforts of Jeff Cook who led tiny Birdseye High School to its best record ever just before the school was absorbed into the Southeast Dubois County school system, becoming Forest Park High School in the fall of 1971.

Number 22, Jeff Cook, had a magical touch when it came to shooting a basketball.

There were several converging elements impacting Cook’s story. Indiana sportswriter Jerry Birge, who first brought notice to Larry Bird in Larry’s senior high school year, played an essential role in putting Jeff Cook and his Birdseye fellow players on the map in the 1970-1971 season. Birge was a hard-working, shop floor type of craftsman. For fifteen years, in every issue of Indiana’s Jasper Herald, he doggedly produced articles about the many aspect of sports in southwest Indiana, especially in his basketball column, “Keeping Score.” For the few years of its existence, Birge also wrote for the regional basketball magazine Hoopla, a sweet little jewel of a publication. The magazine offered stories about the teams that feed into the Evansville semi-state in the southwest corner of Indiana. 

Perhaps the most amazing thing about Jerry Birge wasn’t the homage in words he paid to the greatest high school basketball players, teams, and coaches of the area, but rather his understanding of the deeper aspects that under-girded the state’s mad love for basketball. It was this understanding that may have led Jerry to realize that the quiet, shy young man from Birdseye, Jeff Cook, even as a player slugging it out on the basketball court in one of the very smallest schools in the state, was an iconic player, worthy of notice.


Another person who had an essential role in the story of Jeff Cook’s many basketball successes and in Birdseye’s great season was Coach Dale Hein. The Millersburg High School graduate was fresh out of Evansville College when he came to Birdseye as the new coach in the fall of 1968. Although he had not played college basketball, he had a deep love for the sport, having been an exceptional player in high school, setting a Warrick County single game record in 1964 of 49 points. Hein was especially interested in game strategy, the X’s and O’s aspect, how a weaker team with a solid game plan might beat a stronger team. This was a skill he would have to perfect if he hoped to have success at tiny Birdseye High School. He certainly walked into a tough situation.

Coach Hein relished the x’s and o’s of basketball.

The town of Birdseye sits on Indiana Highway 64, the main route between St. Louis and Louisville before Interstate 64 came along. The country side is picturesque, wooded and hilly, but the immediate area has little industry and the hills are not conducive to farming. Birdseye High School was one of the smallest in the state of Indiana, having just over one hundred students, give or take. The town itself had a population of 400 souls, but the school also brought in the nearby Schellville kids. Jerry Birge would point out in 1971, however, that every school on the Birdseye basketball schedule “had a larger enrollment.” The sportswriter had certainly hit upon a crucial element. When Huntingburg sectional tournament time rolled around, Birdseye always lacked in sheer numbers.  In 1971, for example, Jasper had 1,197 students; Huntingburg, 495; Perry Central, 390; Ferdinand, 341; Dubois, 258; Holland, 111; and Birdseye, 105. 

There was yet another aspect that held Birdseye basketball teams down. Although the school’s first squad was put together in the 1917-1918 season, Birdseye teams never developed a strong winning basketball tradition like some smaller schools in the state. There were no undefeated seasons or sectional championships, no large photos of a great winning teams hanging inside the school gym. In fact, at one time Birdseye had the longest losing streak in the state.

When Coach Dale Hein walked into Birdseye High School in the fall of 1968, he had little or nothing to build upon. In the previous three seasons, the Yellow Jackets had gone 0-21, 1-20, and 3-16. And if Hein read the regional newspapers around that time, he should have been even more discouraged. In 1967, sportswriter Al Dunning at the Evansville Press wrote that the Birdseye had “one of longest-suffering basketball teams in the history of the world. Birdseye High School, the pride of this community, almost never wins.” Sportswriter Don Bernhardt of the Evansville Courier wasn’t much nicer. “Winning just one game is enough to make cheerleaders cry and players respond spontaneously like it was a state championship. What’s a coach’s feelings where losing is expected? Where getting annihilated is commonplace?”  (In fairness to these writers, even Jerry Birge could have an occasional sour day himself, once writing that one high school contest he attended, “was about as exciting as a re-run of ‘Let’s Make a Deal’”). Luckily for Birdseye, Dale Hein was just out of college, at an age where optimism is unusually at its height. And, of course, luck ran both ways.

One of the odd sports columns that had negative things to say about Birdseye’s basketball struggled.


            Just before Hein showed up, during Coach Ron Dodson’s last year at Birdseye, Dodson started a slender 5-7 freshman, Jeff Cook, who weighed just 105 pounds, “no more than a good-sized medicine ball,” according to Jerry Birge. Coach Dodson had noticed Cook when Jeff was in the eighth grade. Cook was a lefty and a natural shooter, a skill that caused basketball fans from another nearby high school to encourage the Cook family to send the young lad to the larger nearby school where he might get more notice. Jeff stayed in Birdseye.

During Cook’s freshman year, he often scored in double figures, knocking down 19, 18, and 17 points in three contests, but the Yellow Jackets won only three games. Nevertheless, Cook’s nifty play caught sports reporter Jerry Birge’s attention. Birge wrote how Cook “showed right away that he could hit the basket,” scoring “150 points during the regular season and showing signs of becoming a great shooter.”

In the team photo that year, sitting next to Coach Dodson, Cook, number 20, looked like a vulnerable little boy, so much younger looking than those gathered around him.

Jeff Cook, number 20, in his freshman year. He was such a solid shooter, he started varsity.

After Coach Dodson left, Jeff stepped in to the “key man” role in new coach Dale Hein’s plans to bring Birdseye basketball to respectability. Then Cook broke a wrist in the team’s fifth game of the year. Hein took this turn of events in stride. Watching from the sidelines, however, was a miserable experience for Jeff.  The team did fare a bit better than in other years, winning five contests. Also, an important public distinction was gained for the team when Birdseye senior Mike Beebe won the coveted county scoring race in high school basketball-rich Dubois County. Hoosier high school basketball fans loved a shooter and the “leading scorer in the county” feat was noted at the end of each season for all fans to see in a layout in Jerry Birge’s “Keeping Score” in the Jasper Herald.

Another great Birdseye scorer.

Jeff Cook likely read the local newspaper report about Bebee in wonder, thrilled by his older teammate’s accomplishments. At the start of the next year Cook was given the jersey number Mike Beebe had worn, number 22, a hopeful prophecy perhaps on Hein’s part.


            Was there something in Jeff Cook’s smooth left hand shooting stroke, some agile, quick move, or the fact he was typically the team’s leading rebounder that finally caught Jerry Birge’s attention?  Certainly Birdseye’s strong start in the 1969-1970 season gained the Jasper sportswriter’s interest, one of those Hoosier small-town high school basketball stories the fans might love to read about and sportswriters could sink their teeth into. 

Cook himself remembered it as his favorite year. “We had two hefty guys my height who played under the basket so I was given a guard’s role facing the basket, bringing the ball down court and setting up plays.” From this position, Cook had a quick set-up move from which he could loft arching jump shots from 15-20 feet out with great accuracy. “Had I stayed at this position the next year, and with my extra growth, I might have attracted more college attention.” Interestingly, Jeff also ended up as the team’s leading rebounder, pulling down 22 rebounds in one particular contest. At the beginning of the season, however, Cook’s and the Birdseye team’s overall fates were unknown, and Jerry Birge traveled to tiny Birdseye High  School to interview the school’s new coach, ever on the trail of a good story.

Jeff Cook’s junior year, an important turn-around season for the Yellow Jackets.

Going to Birdseye was a bit like going back in a time machine, a place of people in little hurry, eager to sit down and swap stories. This atmosphere may have influenced the sportswriter’s thinking, as his story was kind regarding Birdseye’s previous year. He noted, “Although they won only five games last season, Hein’s Jackets gave a number of good teams a decent game before losing in the end. The team was well coached, had good spirit and desire, but simply lacked the ability that too many of their opponents had.” Birge then ventured that “Cook could be the surprise for the Yellow Jackets. Jeff has grown from 5-9 and a half, 115 pounds last year to 6-1, 130 pounds this year.” Hein added, “Jeff is our key boy. He’s a good outside shooter, has good moves, lots of desire and a good attitude. Cook should be our team leader.” Then the coach explained how the school’s spirit had turned around from previous years. “The kids are talking basketball and all the students are looking forward to the new season. I am too.”

By late December, the Yellow Jackets were playing well together and had won several games. To add to the upbeat situation, Jeff Cook held the second spot on the Dubois County scoring list with a 20.5 average. Another bit of good news was that fellow players Jeff Critchfield and Mike Persinger were also averaging in double figures. After the Christmas break, Birdseye pushed to a 6-9 record, one more win than the entire season before.

Another smooth, soft basket for Cook in the Birdseye gym.

The Yellow Jacket’s high point that season came in mid-February when the team won back-to-back games. One sportswriter wrote of “the deadly shooting of Birdseye’s splendid splinter, Jeff Cook” after the second victory and noted that Cook “scorched the nets with 34 points on 11-20 field goals and an even dozen charity flips.” The writer then suggested the unimaginable. “The Jackets are shaping into a real battle force for the up-coming Huntingburg sectional, with just two games remaining on their schedule.” It was emphasized too that Jeff wasn’t the only solid player on the team that year. Senior Jeff Critchfield and junior Mike Persinger were listed as essential components, along with Mark Lubbers, a sophomore, and freshman Mike Whalen.

It was also after the second of the back-to-back wins that Jeff Cook experienced an interesting run-in with a legendary Indiana referee. Never a great leaper, the “Splendid Splinter” had been frustrated in one game after being called for goal tending.  Cook told the ref he could not have goal tended, being hardly able to get above the rim. The official was Cyril Birge, Jerry Birge’s father, a long time basketball official who had called the iconic Milan/Muncie Central game in 1954 when Bobby Plump hit the last second shot for tiny Milan to win the state championship. The game and Milan’s story was later made famous by the movie Hoosiers. Almost always easy going, Jeff remembered “whining the rest of the game about calls after the goal tending thing.” 

Legendary Indiana referee, Cyril Birge, in the background, officiating the famous Milan/Muncie Central state tournament championship game in 1954.

A few days after Jeff’s conversation with the referee, Birdseye principle Bob Maxey came into a high school morning history class where Jeff was seated. Behind the principal came Cyril Birge.  Mr. Maxey got the teacher and the class’s attention when he said, “Mr. Birge had an important announcement to make.”  Birge cleared his throat than looked directly at Jeff Cook. “Mr. Cook, you will be a fine referee one day.” Then he handed Jeff a referee’s whistle and the two men walked out. “It certainly got the point across to me about complaining” Cook recalled.

Cook, stretching for a basket.

While the Yellow Jackets continued to improve on previous years’ wins, another exciting aspect emerged in the second half of the season. Jeff Cook continued to be the off-and-on again scoring leader in the county, with Jasper’s Wayne Bailey and Holland’s Larry Kahle serving as Cook’s main competition. Kahle had grabbed the lead after a 49 point shooting spree in late January, nudging ahead of Cook by one percentage point. It remained to be seen if Jeff could catch up.

Birdeye’s last game of the season against Portland of Kentucky was Jeff Cook’s best effort that year. The Ferdinand News reported the Yellow Jackets’ victory was led “by their dead-eye bomber Jeff Cook who sizzled the nets with 18 of 26 from the field and added four at the stripe for a heavy 40-point effort.” The win left Birdseye with a solid 9-11 record, the school’s best in over a decade. Cook’s scoring explosion also brought the slender junior the Dubois County scoring record trophy.

For the first time in a decade, Birdseye fans were excited about the sectional tournament at Huntingburg where they would play Holland in the opening round.

Just before the sectional tilt, Jerry Birge reported that Jeff Cook had “suffered a serious ankle sprain in practice,” and “was not expected to be at full strength.” Birdseye’s foe, Birge further pointed out, carried a 16-4 record into sectional play, and had been in the sectional final game “in the last three years.”  Birdseye fans, however, were confident about their team, coming to their feet in the huge Huntingburg gymnasium when the Yellow Jackets came storming onto the floor in with new gold uniforms. They yelled even more when they saw Jeff Cook uncorking long shots during the warm up with an ease that suggested his ankle had gotten miraculously better.  

Birge’s sports report the next day certainly spoke to the success that came from all the hard work of Coach Dale Hein and his players.  “The Yellow Jackets, an exceptionally young, well-coached and well-disciplined team, executed their game plan perfectly for the first two quarters and it took a field goal in the closing seconds of the first half to give the Dutchmen a five point lead at intermission.” But good basketball strategies worked both ways. When the second half began, Jeff Cook realized the Holland squad, under the keen coaching of Woody Neel, now used “a box and one defense, keeping one guy on me all the time and closing down the middle.” The result was a collapse of the Yellow Jackets offense and a tourney ending loss. 

Jeff Cook would be a back-to-back Dubois County scoring leader.

The celebration of the season continued despite the sectional loss. It was also mixed with some bitter-sweetness. The news was now out that Birdseye school system would consolidate with Ferdinand High School after the next year. However, that could not erase the fact that the Birdseye team, with hard work and dedication, had carved out one of the school’s better records. And then came the added good news that Jeff Cook had managed to win the county scoring race.

Jerry Birge personally handed the scoring trophy to Cook at the Birdseye High School basketball banquet that spring, and wrote in the Herald, the next day, “Cook had a top effort of 40 points and scored 30 or more on three occasions, and 20 or more on 12 occasions. He failed to reach double figures only once.” Jeff also captured his team’s most valuable player award, free throw award, and rebounding award. Perhaps Birge best summed up the exciting year by noting, “Cook, a southpaw gunner who can hit from anywhere on the floor was also Birdseye’s top rebounder and their leading playmaker. The coaching of Hein and the playing of Cook blended together to make basketball exciting for the Birdseye fans.”

Sportswriter Jerry Birge and Birdseye star Jeff Cook finally meet.

Speaking of Birdseye fans, they could only wonder what the team, led by a senior Jeff Cook, might accomplish in the season ahead, a season that would be the school’s last.


Finally. The season Coach Hein told sportswriter Charles McPherron he had “been looking toward with anticipation.”   Hein knew from the team’s prior year’s work that the returning Birdseye squad now possessed the court skills and understandings to play exceptionally competitive basketball. And Birdseye players were ready to build on that foundation.  There were other pieces of good news. Jeff Cook had grown to almost 6-4 over the summer and upcoming sophomore Mike Whalen had grown four inches during that time, reaching 6-1. Also, a junior, Mark Lubbers, broke into the lineup, having improved his skills over the summer. Joining these three starters were dependable underclassmen Robert Oxley and Mark Austin.

The 1970-1971 season. This team would gain the best record, 15-5, in Yellow Jacket history.

It was not all good news. Jeff Cook faced a new challenge. The season before he had been 6-1 and served as the team’s main ball-handler, facing the basket where he was able to set up for good shots for himself or pass to an open man. In his senior year, with his growth to almost 6-4, and with his long arms, he was better used by the team as a pivot player under the basket, his back to the goal. Jeff remembered the new situation well, recalling, “We had lost two guys my height to graduation and it took me a while to adjust to playing underneath the basket. Whatever skills I gained about playing in the pivot, I lost in my abilities to play as a guard. A 6-4 center was not a good college prospect, while a good shooting 6-4 guard was.”

A meeting of the minds during the 70-71 season. Note how Coach Hein and his leading player, Jeff Cook, are making eye contact.

The Yellow Jackets played their first game away against an always tough Leavenworth squad. While Leavenworth had beaten Birdseye twice the year before, the second game was close. Coach’s Hein hoped an opening victory would set the stage for the kind of spectacular season he was looking so forward to. Things were great late in the third quarter, the Jackets leading by five points, leaving more than a few Birdseye fans thinking of the possibility of an undefeated season. Then Leavenworth’s slick little guard, Otis Broughton, erupted in a super fourth quarter. Otis ended up with 30 points and his team won a 90-87 hard-earned victory. Cook canned 22 points, but Birdseye was charged with 18 errors. The next day’s Jasper Herald suggested the disappointment of the Birdseye basketball world, Birge writing, “The Jackets will try to pick up the pieces and put them back together again before hosting Otwell in their home opener.”

Birdseye needed a victory. A loss might easily cause a devastating physiological blow, a spiraling downward. But Otwell ended up being just the team the Yellow Jackets needed to play. All five Birdseye starters were in double figures and Cook was the leading scorer, hitting for 23 points in a great 80-45 victory at the Yellow Jacket’s packed gym.  Jeff also realized during the contest that there was an upside to playing underneath the basket. He grabbed a game high 15 rebounds.

The next game, a close 56-51 loss to Dubois at the Jeep’s gym, brought back fearful doubts. Jeff canned 19 points but his team lost after seemingly gaining control of the contest at halftime. Hein thought his team should have won the contest and may have wondered if his squad lacked a killer instinct. In the next game, the Yellow Jackets finally clicked. Cook scored 31 points and pulled down 18 rebounds in a runaway against English High School. Lubbers, Whalen, and Austin were also in double scoring figures. This would be the start of a nine game winning streak.

Jeff Cook for two against Dubois.

Cook got 36 points in a pounding of Evansville Latin School. Then Birdseye came back the next game to thump Otwell again. A Jerry Birge column observed that when Coach Hein’s team next beat New Harmony, the Yellow Jackets achieved their best start since the 1958-1959 season. Cook canned 31 points and Lubbers had twenty-eight in that 76-70 victory. Cook also grabbed the first place position in the Dubois County scoring race, with Jasper’s Wayne Bailey as his main competition.

The next tilt was yet another delight for Yellow Jackets fans who witnessed an added Jacket shooter coming to the forefront, Mike Whalen, notching 31points from a guard position. Jeff Cook, meanwhile, settled for nineteen in the awesome 89-60 rout. In Birdseye’s own holiday tourney, Hein’s crew rocked South Central and then got by Marengo in a closer game 62-56. Cook recalled one play that brought him down to earth in the championship game. Marengo’s tough little guard, Jerry Hanger, who ended up his team’s leading scorer that night, “stole the ball from me when I was dribbling up court. That’s when Coach Hein hollered at me to let our guards do their job.” 

Coach Hein, urging his Yellow Jackets to victory in the Birdseye Holiday Tournament.

Cook had 29 and 23 points in the two tourney wins. The trophy would be Birdseye’s first since 1957. The cutting down of the nets, the applause of the crowd when the trophy was presented would become life-time memories.

Holiday Tourney Champs!


The Birdseye story now became a sportswriter’s delight. Newspapers as far away as Kentucky took notice of what Coach Hein had been able to do at the tiny school. One Louisville Courier and Press sports reporter declared, “The Yellow Jacket has regained his sting. Birdseye High School, whose basketball fortunes dipped so low that the team could manage but four wins in three seasons is riding the crest of a seven-game winning streak.” Giving great credit to the school’s young coach, the reporter observed that Hein “has managed in three seasons to produce a winner where many fans can’t even remember when it last happened.”

While Jeff Cook received recognition for being the player who the team “fused” around, the reporter also emphasized the essential contributions of Mike Whalen, Mark Austin, Mark Lubbers, and Robert Oxley.

Mike Whalen was another great scorer for Birdseye in the 1970-1971 season. Here, Cook looks on as Mike knocks down a bucket.

Mike Boaz, at the Evansville Courier posted a great, upbeat story on the Yellow Jackets at this same time, “Little Birdseye Hits Bullseye.” Using a Christmas theme, Boaz pointed out several important items about the squad.

For years Birdseye was Indiana’s most generous ‘givers’ on the basketball floor while receiving more than its share of lumps. But this year the Yellowjackets are giving out little more than woe to their opponent’s. With a remarkable young man named Jeff Cook and a cheerful, dedicated young coach named Dale Hein, Birdseye rapped eight out of ten of its first opponents, a feat that four years ago was as unapproachable as a man walking on the moon. 

Coach Hein told the reporter that Cook, whom he called the team’s play maker, “could be averaging 35- 40 points a game. But he is so unselfish he is always setting up people. He’s just that kind of kid.”  As it was, Jeff was hitting “the hoop for a 25.8 average, hitting 55.2 percent of his shots from the floor and 71.7 from the charity stripe.” Given the jelling of Jeff and the other four starters, Birdseye, the reporter noted, was “actually gazing at the Huntingburg sectional with a wistful eye.”

The local Ferdinand newspaper also praised the Yellow Jackets as “a true story of courage and determination. After several win less seasons, the morale at a new, all-time low, Coach Dale Hein moved into the driver’s seat and began an uphill struggle of almost insurmountable odds. . . . This year, Birdseye set their sights on the role of a winner. . . . They intent to be a deciding factor in this year’s IHSAA sectional.”

Perhaps the longest and most heartfelt piece which appeared at this time was an article that showed up in the second issue of Hoopla. It was written by Jerry Birge and titled “Birdseye is ‘Cook-ing.”  Like the other writers who spoke of the hot Birdseye team, Birge gushed over the amazing stats of Cook and the game strategies of Coach Hein, but also stressed the “supporting cast” of other players, a factor which had helped create the overall best team “in the history of Birdseye.” There was also a nod to the fans. In a town of 400 citizens and a school with 104 students, the 1200 seat gym, Birge explained, was full for every home game. The Herald sportswriter ended the piece saying, “The 1970-1971 season promises to be the most successful in Birdseye history. But that isn’t enough for Hein. He’s already circled February 27 on his calendar. That’s the night they crown the sectional champion at Huntingburg.”

 You could be sure Birdseye players and their families were busy cutting out these and other lengthy articles and putting together fat scrapbooks. A lifetime later, old men would thumb through the now yellowed, crumbling collections of faded newsprint, reading in smile-lit wonder of a time of footloose dreams and forgotten existence.


After the three week Christmas break, Birdseye beat South Central again in regular season play but the score was much closer, 56-53, a result perhaps of being off so long. Cook, however, continued his shooting blitz, hitting for 27 points and grabbing 19 rebounds. The winning streak was now up to eight and fans were rocking the Birdseye gym. The next game Jeff Cook’s play verged on magical, Jerry Birge reporting in the Herald how the slender senior “was the whole show.” It was an understatement.  Jeff scored 36 points, snagged a staggering 33 rebounds, blocked 11 shots, made 5 steals, and had 5 assists. As of 2017, Jeff’s rebounding and shot blocks from this game ranked as number eleven on Indiana’s all-time high school basketball records list. The Yellow Jacket’s had reached the magnificent season’s high point.

Headline in the Evansville Courier after Cook’s overpowering performance which included 33 rebounds.

Birdseye had a nine game winning streak when they traveled to play a tall, strong Perry Central squad that had beaten some tough competition. The Commodores had two 6-8 giants and another 6-3 player. Meanwhile, Jeff Cook was 22 points away from the 1,000 points career mark and many thought Jeff would easily break that barrier at the Perry Central contest. As it turned out, Birdseye had its hands full.

The Yellow Jackets led at the end of the first three quarters, but the lead was razor thin at each stop. Then in the final quarter, Birdseye’s shooting went into the deep freeze and Perry Central got hot. Birdseye loss by five points and Cook was held to seventeen, just short of his 1,000 point goal. Then came a heartbreaking one point lost to Chrisney, this after Birdseye held a 7 point lead late in the fourth quarter.

Birdseye had a tough loss to Perry Central and their two “giants.”

With forty seconds to go, a Chrisney player put his team up by one. Coach Hein told his team to get the ball to Jeff, “and see what he can do with it.” Cook remembered getting the ball underneath and “seeing Mark Austin in the corner wide open. But instead of tipping the ball his way, I brought the ball down first and got tied up.” Cook hit for twenty-six in the loss.

Jeff and his teammates came back from the bitter defeat to smash New Harmony, a game where Cook tossed in 30 points. Then came another historical game for the Yellow Jackets. Against Lanesville, the Jackets took a 102-60 point win, a new school scoring record. Just as important, the squad had four players in double figures with Cook being in the third position with twenty. This outlay of scoring bode well for sectional play.

The next game may have been the sweetest victory of that great season. In the last home game ever played by a Birdseye High School basketball team, the Yellow Jackets thumped Leavenworth 80-65. With the win, the team set a new season wins record of 14-4. Mike Whalen, whose scoring totals had been rising rapidly in the second part of the year had 23 points. Cook and Mark Lubbers had 20 points each. This victory was followed by what could be called a lesson in basketball physics— what goes up, will come down. In the next contest, Portland of Kentucky clipped Coach Hein’s crew in an overtime by two. Jeff Cook helped his own efforts in the Dubois County scoring race, however, knocking down 27 points. 

Mark Lubbers, another high scoring player on Birdseye’s 70-71 season.

After the team’s last game of the regular season against Evansville Day School, the Ferdinand News claimed Dale Hein’s Yellow Jackets were “caught up in the pre-sectional doldrums,” having barely won. Still, the Yellow Jackets ended with their best record ever, at 15-5. Jeff Cook gained 22 points in the final game and captured another Dubois County scoring title, the first back-to back champion.

Scoring champ again!

Birdseye players, coaches, and fans had little time to enjoy all the aspects of the great season. Sectional state tournament play was about to begin, Indiana high schools so-called “second season.”


Birdseye fans were hyped, especially after Jerry Birge wrote on the eve of Birdseye’s opening game against Dubois at the Huntingburg sectional that the Yellow Jackets “are considered a serious challenger for the title.” The Jasper sportswriter based his statement not only on the fact the Birdseye squad had high scoring Jeff Cook, but also because of the 16.9 scoring average of Mark Lubbers and the 15.7 average of Mike Whalen. Their opponent, Dubois High School, had beaten the Jackets in the early part of the season in a close game, a contest Hein thought his team should have won. Meanwhile, new head coach for Dubois, Jim Mueller, had only good things to say about his opposition and their strong 15-5 record. “Dale Hein,” Mueller noted, “has done one terrific job at Birdseye.”

The Yellow Jacket fans roared in the first several minutes of the fight, Birdseye taking a 7-0 lead. In that time, Mike Whalen had made a shot underneath, Mark Lubbers hit another close shot, and Jeff Cook connected on a smooth long toss. Then Lubbers canned a free throw.  The noise was so thunderous, like shock waves, some fans pressed their hands to their ears.

Then Dubois made a big run, catching some kind of psychological wave that caused them to play at a whole other level. Coach Hein later assessed that it was at this point, “We stopped running our offense and did too much free-lancing.” The Jeeps took a surprisingly easy 66-46 victory.

Birdseye’s Robbie Oxley tries to stop a Dubois play.

In the deathly quiet of the Birdseye dressing room after the game, Hein told Jerry Birge, “If we would have played our best game I doubt we could have beaten Dubois tonight.” It was the toughest of losses. Even many non-Birdseye observers were disappointed with the outcome as they filtered out of the Huntingburg gym. You could have heard a pin drop on the Birdseye team bus as it made the dreary trip back to Birdseye.

A week or so later, the Birdseye community was better able to assess the great year, remembering now the bountiful number of good things— watching their team when it really got rolling, seeing their young men play seamless, almost perfect basketball, gazing at those high arching, rotating Jeff Cook shots that swooshed through the basket. These visions created a life-time of memories. Still, time began to pass, dulling the sounds and sights of memory.

It wasn’t to be.


Jeff Cook would go to the University of Evansville, where he played on the freshman team. He eventually dropped out, however, engaging instead in the most essential work of all— making a living, serving as a good neighbor and community leader, and raising a family.

Coach Hein resigned his position as basketball coach at Birdseye in the spring of 1971, just after the season ended. He then took the basketball job at Cannelton, another tiny Indiana school where he continued to be successful. He later moved to Heritage Hills where he had his greatest coaching successes, winning six sectionals over eleven years. His best season at Heritage Hills was a 21-3 campaign.

Birdseye High School disappeared as an institution, students going, as noted, to the new Southeast Dubois School Corporation’s, Forest Park, in the fall of 1971. Mike Whalen and Mark Lubbers would eventually start for the Forest Park Rangers in basketball there. The Birdseye High School building was razed in 2002, and the gymnasium in 2013, perhaps their empty spaces having become homes for a few forlorn ghosts before the wrecking ball struck.

More time passed.

Over fifty years later, at an Indiana high school basketball game, an older gentleman, pulling along a grandson stopped Jeff Cook and turned the young boy Cook’s way. “This is the greatest basketball player Birdseye High School ever had,” he told the boy. Cook, now seventy-years-old and a bit stooped from his 6-4 days, smiled. The young boy’s eyes grew big for a moment, understanding it was some kind of a big deal. But he could never have imagined a willowy teenager at the very peak of a jump shot, the left hand cocked back, a basketball balanced in the palm, a roaring crowd raising to their feet.