No. 1 Terry Dischinger
All-around player
Success on three levels puts Dischinger
at top of Vigo County list
by David Hughes

Photo courtesy Purdue Debris

Talk to the people who played with and against Terry Dischinger in sports in the Terre Haute area and you'll find them as unanimous as the selection committee was about his rank among 20th century Vigo County athletes.

Talk to Dischinger himself and he'll give some of the credit to those teammates and opponents for helping him become the athlete and the person he became.

"He was a great all-around ballplayer; in my opinion, the best there ever was in Terre Haute," said Bob Kehrt, Dischinger's teammate on the 1955 Babe Ruth League World Series champions and throughout their years at Garfield High School, "and a really great guy too."

"He had size combined with speed," said Ray Goddard of the 6-foot-7 center in basketball, end in football, hurdler on the track team and first baseman in baseball. "All-around, I think he was the best athlete that every played [here]. I would have voted him No. 1.

"We fought tooth and toenail," said Goddard, who competed against Dischinger in most of those sports for Gerstmeyer. "I was a hurdler and we ran against each other for several seasons. I think I beat him once. Then we played together in American Legion baseball and he was a great teammate.

"He was a first baseman and I played shortstop or third base," Goddard recalled. "You could throw it over there anywhere and he'd catch it, or dig it out of the dirt."

"This is kind of overwhelming," Dischinger said this week when he learned of his selection by the Tribune-Star's panel. "There have been a lot of great athletes come out of Terre Haute, so this is very special."

Dischinger and Kehrt were coach's sons in the days when the coaches coached pretty much every sport. Terry's father, Donas Dischinger, was the football coach at Garfield when Bob's father, Willard Kehrt, was basketball coach.

"The first picture that was ever taken of me, I had a football in my hand in my crib," Dischinger recalled. "Later, Dad was involved at Spencer Field [which had a youth baseball program], so all my summers I was there every day, from 8 in the morning until dark, and I loved that.

"I remember when I was about 8 years old. I was at a basketball practice at Garfield and [the Purple Eagles] were running a three-man fast-break drill. They let me play with them, but you were supposed to pass and go behind the player you passed to, and I kept wanting to pass and go away. I remember my dad saying, 'If you can't do the drill right, stay out.' "

Dischinger didn't have to stay out of many drills, nor did he want to. He remembers going to a high school track meet at Lawrenceville, Ill., as a spectator and watching one of his city rivals win the hurdles with an outstanding time.

"I told Dad I needed to go back and practice," he recalled, "so we drove back to Garfield and I changed into my gym clothes while he set up the hurdles."

"He gave up baseball [except for one high school season] to concentrate on track to develop his speed for basketball," Kehrt noted. "His greatest asset was probably his speed; he was a handful for anybody trying to guard him.

"He was always the last guy out of the gym. He worked hard at everything."

"He had a work ethic before the term 'work ethic' was popular," Goddard agreed.

His hard work and athletic ability were already blossoming by the summer of 1955. Dischinger, already a freshman basketball starter at Garfield earlier that year, remembers a picnic for all the competing teams at the Babe Ruth World Series.

"All the teams wanted to play basketball," he said recently. "The winner got to stay on the court, and we [Terre Hauteans] were out there all night."

About the only drawback to Dischinger's high school career was that the Purple Eagles never got out of the sectional in basketball.

"That was his only Achilles' heel," Goddard noted. "He started all four years, but Sharpie [Howard Sharpe] and the Gerstmeyer boys got him every time.

"Our senior year," continued Goddard, who played at Gerstmeyer with the state's leading scorer and Dischinger's eventual Indiana All-Star teammate Charlie Hall, "[Garfield] was ranked No. 1 or No. 2 [in the state] all year, and they beat us during the regular season."

"That was probably the toughest thing I had to put up with in high school athletes," Dischinger agreed. "We lost three times to Gerstmeyer by a total of five points, one of them on a tip-in at the buzzer by [Howard] Dardeen.

"It didn't seem like it was our destiny to get out of the sectional, but that's sports," Dischinger continued, "and sometimes I think you grow more in a loss than in a win."

From Garfield, Dischinger went on to Purdue on a basketball scholarship. He met Mary, his wife of 37 years and counting, during a freshman calculus class and led the Big Ten in scoring for three seasons (freshmen weren't eligible for varsity competition then).

From Purdue he went to the National Basketball Association, where he was named Rookie of the Year despite playing on a part-time basis during the second semester of his senior year, and was an All-Star in each of his first three seasons.

Two years of active military service during the Vietnam war -- he had an ROTC commission from Purdue -- interrupted his NBA career, but he played six more years after returning.

His final season was with the Portland Trailblazers, and he and Mary fell in love with the Pacific Northwest.

"I loved Indiana, but I didn't like wintertime," he said, "and we don't have snow in Portland. It's a great place to raise a family."

After finishing dental school and then studying orthodontics at Oregon University, he established a practice as an orthodontist 22 years ago; his youngest son Bill joined him during the past summer.

His family now includes daughter Kelly Loomis, 36, a former volleyball player at Oregon and then at Lewis and Clark, who is married to a former Stanford basketball player and has two children -- including an up-and-coming 5-year-old basketball player; son Terry, 35, a three-sport high school star who played a fourth sport, volleyball, at Oregon and is now a missionary at Kiev, Ukraine, with his wife Emily and two children; and Bill, 27, a former all-state basketball player and golfer and all-conference football player who was cut as a walk-on basketball player at Oregon State.

Bill and his wife Kari Lynn are expecting their first child in the spring and Terry and Emily have a third child on the way, so the Dischingers look forward to pampering six grandchildren in the near future.

Memories of Terre Haute are always fond ones.

"It was a great atmosphere to grow up in, and the competition all the teams were good," Dischinger said recently. "I would not trade my years growing up in Terre Haute for anything.

"The coaches we had -- my dad and Willard Kehrt, for example -- taught us to play the game the way it should be played, with fundamentals and sportsmanship, and how to be good people. That was the basis for me to go on as an athlete.

"They also taught us that sports was something you do for fun but school was more important," added Dischinger, also the valedictorian of Garfield's Class of 1958. "I would not be doing what I am today except for Mom [Clara] and Dad; they were tremendous at helping me keep my head screwed on straight."

As he gets older, he said, Dischinger finds he appreciates the recognition he receives more and more.

"I feel very honored to have been selected [as Vigo County's No. 1 athlete of the century]," he concluded. "Please tell everybody thank you from the bottom of my heart."

Back to the 50 Greatest Athletes index