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The Journal Gazette

Wednesday, March 16, 2016 7:56 pm

Book explores John Wooden's Indiana roots

Kyle Rowland The Journal Gazette

Barb Morrow has a soft spot for Hoosier State history. So when she pondered what her next writing project would be, the author of six books turned to one of the winningest figures in all of sports – Indiana native John Wooden.

Many books have been written about the basketball coach, including two autobiographies. In her research, however, Morrow noticed that Wooden’s Indiana roots were not detailed. Authors – and Wooden himself – focused on UCLA and life after basketball.

"Everybody seems to think his story started when he moved to UCLA," said Morrow, who was a finalist for the 1986 Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing while she was a writer for the Journal Gazette.

"His name was so closely identified with UCLA, but I discovered he was born in 1910 and was in the Hoosier State for nearly 38 years, until he left in 1948, and he kept coming back to Indiana. One-third of his life was here.

"I thought, ‘My goodness, there’s a story to tell.’ We need to play up his Hoosier roots. As a state, we should not see his legacy strictly to California or UCLA. As Hoosiers, we need to lay claim to his legacy."

So Morrow started digging. The finished project is "Hardwood Glory: A Life of John Wooden." But writing a 256-page biography on a deceased subject has its difficulties. Not only is the subject no longer living, but many of the central figures of Wooden’s life also were dead or in the latter stages of their lives. Wooden died at 99 on June 4, 2010.

"I felt an urgency because I wanted to talk to people who played for (Wooden) at South Bend Central (High School)," said Morrow, an Auburn resident. "If you just do the timeline, I knew those gentlemen would be very old. And, indeed, they were. It was important for me to interview them."

Ed Ehlers was one of those former players. He attended South Bend Central before starring at Purdue in basketball, football and baseball and then playing basketball for the Boston Celtics. Ehlers is a member of both the Indiana football and basketball halls of fame.

"I did interview him, but sadly, he passed away before the book came out," Morrow said. "I was dealing with people in their high 80s."

The book, published by Indiana Historical Society Press, was a three-year project. Morrow pitched the idea in November 2011, and it came to fruition last month when it hit bookshelves.

"It was two years of research and writing, another six months of revising and acquiring the photos," Morrow said. "The final months are the waiting game, and you just can’t wait till it comes out."

For Morrow, the wait is over.