Bloomfield basketball: It’s a family tradition
BLOOMFIELD – It goes without saying – With banners representing 32 sectional championships hanging on the wall in Guy Glover Gymnasium, Bloomfield has enjoyed a rich basketball tradition.
The tradition goes beyond basketball. As in many small communities, grandfathers, fathers and sons have all donned the Cardinal red uniform.
Dozens of Bloomfield boys have won sectionals, as their dads did a generation before.
It’s more than just a basketball tradition. At Bloomfield, basketball – and winning sectional titles – is a family tradition.
Current Cardinals coach Jamie Hudson and his son Kyler, a senior starter, just experienced their first sectional championship.
In the Hudsons’ case it isn’t quite the same. Hudson, who played for Eastern Greene, didn’t grow up in Bloomfield, dreaming of one day playing for the Cardinals.
But for Bloomfield’s other two seniors, Patrick Beard and Isaac Combs, Saturday’s sectional championship is more than just a dream come true. They’re carrying on the family tradition.
Both had fathers who played for sectional-winning teams at Bloomfield nearly 30 years ago.
“I do feel like we’re carrying on a tradition,” Patrick Beard said. “It’s always great to follow in their footsteps and try to live up to the standards they set here a long time ago.”
And as Patrick pointed out, there is a lot of tradition to live up to at Bloomfield.
“I feel like we’ve done all we could to keep that going, to keep the winning mentality here and keep winning sectionals like they did back then.”
Isaac Combs added, “It’s always good to follow in the footsteps of the guys who won sectionals back then and set that kind of standard for Bloomfield basketball. And that’s winning sectionals.”
Saturday night wasn’t the first time Patrick Beard and Isaac Combs cut down the nets after winning a sectional. Both were part of Bloomfield’s 2016 team that made it all the way to the State Finals.
Patrick’s father Brad Beard, who played for the Cardinals’ 1987 and 1989 sectional championship teams joked, “I told Patrick he got more net that one year than I got my whole career.”
Brad Beard went on to say, “It was really neat to see. It kind of makes you go back in time and remember the days when you were there and you did it then.
“I don’t know if I can put it into words. It’s pretty exciting.”
Isaac’s older brother Eli was one of the cornerstones of the State Finals team.
“Playing with Eli, that was really fun,” Isaac said. “He won one his senior year and for me to win one my senior year it feels pretty good to be in that company with him.”
Their father John Combs earned a spot on the varsity for the 1989 team. He said, “It’s kind of ironic. All these years later there’s a Beard. And I have a son on this team.
“Just to see that to me it’s very humbling. And I’m so blessed to have been in this community. To see my own children get to participate in something like that is pretty cool.”
In addition, Patrick’s uncle Bart Beard – Brad’s older brother – starred for Bloomfield’s 1986 Sweet Sixteen team.
John Combs, who was in junior high at the time, remembers collecting all the sports clippings from the Bloomington Herald Times.
“Bloomfield played at Bloomington South and we went up there and beat them,” he recalled. “On the front page of the Herald Times it said, ‘Bad Bart and the Cardinals gun down the Panthers.’
When I saw that headline I was like, ‘Does it get any better than this?’”
Combs offered a unique and interesting perspective – a perspective borne from growing up in Greene County and as a youngster watching scores of players at the Switz City sectional.
Heading to the sectional championship game Saturday along with wife Gwen, a strange thought occurred to him.
“Even when Eli and Isaac had that run and they went to the State Finals – out of everything they accomplished I was more emotional when they won the sectional,” Combs reflected.
“And I could never figure out why I felt that way to be honest with you.”
After all, winning the sectional doesn’t get your team picture on the wall at Bloomfield. A Cardinal team has to win a regional or better to merit a space on the wall of history.
“And then on the way over to the game Saturday it hit me.”
Combs explained, “I grew up here, went to school here. And ever since I was knee-high I would go over to Switz City and watch those sectionals like a lot of little kids did.
“My first heroes in life played on that floor. It was something I could see and feel. I was there. It had a big impact on me growing up. And I don’t know if other places in the state it’s as big a deal as it is here.”
He continued, “Just to be a witness to everything that’s happened over there in my lifetime and to hear stories from other guys who have been there before me this is pretty special.”
And for John Combs it has come full-circle – from watching all those players he looked up to as a youngster, to winning a sectional himself as a player, then watching his own boys cut down the nets.
“I think now that’s why it hit me,” he said. “It was very humbling and very gratifying obviously to see them win. But for my own selfish reasons – to figure out something I’ve wondered about since Eli and Isaac went to the state finals – it was kind of cool to finally understand why it touched me so much.”
Combs went on to say, for kids growing up in Greene County the spirit embodied in basketball is something unique and different. It’s something you won’t find in Bloomington or in a lot of other places.
As a basketball fan, even before his sons played John Combs has watched regional and semistate games at storied venues such as Huntingburg’s Memorial Gym, the Hatchet House in Washington, and Barney Scott Gym in Seymour. He’s been to the State Finals at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
He remembers as a little kid watching games in the old gymnasium at Bloomfield sitting up in the balcony.
“But that place over at Switz City to me is hallowed ground,” he said.
Combs continued, “I would rather watch a high school basketball game at Switz City in a tournament atmosphere than go to the front row of an IU-Purdue game at Assembly Hall any day of the week. Because there’s something pure about it.
“It’s just been a blessing for my family and myself to watch this unfold.”
And when it all unfolded, the Bloomfield Cardinals hoisted a sectional championship trophy for the 32nd time in the school’s history.
“It feels like a thousand pounds lifted off your back,” Combs said. “Eli’s senior year they were expected to do it. And some would say this year they were expected to do it.”
But Combs has seen things play out differently than expected before.
In 1988 one of Bloomfield’s better teams – a team with the potential for an extended postseason run – was upset by Shakamak in the sectional.
“After witnessing that I’m never confident,” he said. “When people say Bloomfield will walk through the sectional I say, ‘They haven’t seen what I’ve seen.’”
What Combs saw was the Lakers shoot 70 percent to upset the Cards.
But there was no upset special this past weekend at Switz City.
“It just seemed like this team jelled,” Brad Beard said. “Of course Patrick and Isaac have always been close. They’ve grown up together.
“I think some of the kids have accepted their roles. Not everybody’s going to score 30 points a game. And they seem to be having fun. Of course any time you win it’s fun.”
One of those players who has accepted his role is Patrick Beard. Patrick doesn’t start for the Cardinals. But when his number is called he does what he can to contribute.
“Everyone always talks to me about how great my dad and uncle were,” the younger Beard said. “But I don’t really feel any pressure to be like them. They encouraged me to be the player I am and play the game I play.”
He said his dad and uncle have taught him many things he can use on the court and have helped shape his game.
“I don’t feel any pressure to try and live up to them,” Patrick added. “I just go out there and try to do the best I can every game and do whatever coach Hudson needs me to do.
“And at the end of the day they’re going to be proud of me no matter what.”
Brad Beard is certainly a proud and happy father.
“I’m super happy for Patrick,” Brad said. “He’s a good kid. And I don’t say that just because he’s my kid.”
As his father pointed out, Patrick Beard ranks fourth in his senior class. The Indiana Basketball Coaches Association recently recognized Beard as an Academic All-State honorable mention selection.
Patrick Beard and Isaac Combs are both exemplary student-athletes and role models for the younger kids to look up to, hoping to follow in their footsteps one day.
“When they go down to the grade school level and go through the halls and the kids get to cheer them on – they’re like idols for these little kids,” Brad Beard said. “The kids all look up to them and say ‘Hey, I want to do that one day.’”
And as John Combs said, “When you’re from this area and you’re knee-high your first heroes are over at that gym.”