High school sports dominated during decade

By Blake Sebring of The News-Sentinel

Fort Wayne has had plenty of terrific eras during its sporting history, but never has the area been more dominant than it was during the 1980s in high school sports competition.

Fort Wayne-area schools won 23 state team titles during the 1980s and earned runner-up trophies more than a dozen times.

From 1983 to 1990, Fort Wayne schools won 20 team state titles, and the era didn't end until five more titles were added in 1990 and 1991. The only year in which a northeast Indiana team did not win a state title during the decade was in 1981.

This was the decade in which the larger schools started to take control: Northrop, Snider, Homestead and DeKalb — with four of the biggest enrollments in the area — combined to win 11 state titles. Northrop led the way with four titles.

And Fort Wayne dominated in several sports. Girls basketball saw Heritage, Snider and Northrop win titles, all coming out of the Fort Wayne Regional. South Side won four girls state track titles, and Bishop Luers' two titles led the football parade that included Bishop Dwenger and DeKalb and five different runner-up finishes.

Besides South Side, there were also other dynasties as Bellmont won back-to-back wrestling team titles in 1987 and 1988. Northrop almost pulled off back-to-back girls state basketball titles. After winning the title in 1985, the Bruins were undefeated in 1986 until they lost in the Final Four. The Bruins still hold the state record with a 57-game winning streak.

Individually, Fort Wayne girls dominated the state cross country meet led by title winners Kristi Walker of Harding in 1981, Laura Didion of Northrop in 1985 and Jamie Gorrell of Woodlan in 1985. Tracy Rinker of Wawasee in 1980 and Jill Beauchamp of Homestead in 1983 won state all-around gymnastics titles. Brenda Hacker of Homestead finished second in the state singles tournament four straight years. Jodi Beerman of Heritage in 1983 and Lori Meinerding of Northrop in 1987 won Miss Basketball honors, and Jim Master of Harding won Mr. Basketball In 1980.

Snider turned a neat double title trick when the Panthers won the state volleyball title in the fall of 1987 behind coach Tom Beerman, and then many of the same players came back that winter to win the state basketball title under the direction of coach LaMar Kilmer. Missy Conrad, Kelli Allison and Jenny Herman, and twins Bonnie and Donna Gill were members of both teams.

The 1980s was also the decade in which the Fort Wayne Women's Bureau founded run, jane, run as a fund-raising event and a venue to raise awareness of female athletes. That event, started in 1981 and since spread across the nation, honors local and national athletes with the Nancy Rehm Award named in honor of the former Bishop Luers basketball star who was killed in 1982.

This was also the decade when Fort Wayne flirted with professional indoor soccer. The Fort Wayne Flames played in the American Indoor Soccer Association in 1985 and 1986 before being replaced by the Fort Wayne Kick, which lasted until 1990 when financial problems finally killed the franchise. The highlight for indoor soccer came in 1988 when the Flames lost to Canton for the league title.

The 1980s was also when Fort Wayne golfers Bill Kratzert and Cathy (Kratzert) Gerring competed very successfully on the men's and women's professional tours. Tom Kelley also continued his string of winning eight men's city golf titles.

Steve Bigelow added to Fort Wayne's fast-growing tradition of swimming excellence when he competed in the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, Korea. The 17-year-old finished 10th in the 200-meter backstroke.

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