PENDLETON — Throughout sports history, whether it be professional, college or high school, certain teams and years stand out as a special one for the books.
Five years ago, the “one for the books” wore green and white and went by the name of Arabians. The 2011-12 basketball season became a dream season for Pendleton Heights High School and the community.
Despite that season coming to an end much earlier than anticipated, the memories of a magical season forever remain. The five seniors on the Arabian squad that year — Parker Aul, Kellen Dunham, Brandon Hart, Nick Swartz and Matt Wehner — had a bond both on and off the court so tight, their actions during games reflected how well they knew each other.
“The combination of our personalities — everyone got along,” said Swartz. “We enjoyed being together even after spending hours in the gym. We had a special bond, and we played better for it.”
Hart also talked of team unity. “We had chemistry, better than any other team I’ve been on. We had our roles,” he said.
While Dunham was the state’s top scorer at the time, it wasn’t just Dunham’s team. The Arabians were as complete a team as one could be. “We had discipline and humility,” Wehner remembered. “Everyone’s role was so important. It was a really cool culture.”
Swartz said they had ownership of the process and game. His game was defense. “It was my guy not scoring.”
Then-coach Brian Hahn found the niche for each one’s contribution. In a sense, he was putting together a jigsaw puzzle, identifying the parts and knowing how those pieces were going to fit together.
“Obviously, we had a unique part in Kellen and what he was capable of, and then in finding ways to play to each individual’s strengths,” he said. Each one grew and developed into those roles, dedicating themselves to making the team a success.
They understood their roles, and Hahn made them believe they could win.
“We all bought into that, and we became good,” Aul said.
Swartz said Hahn was the best coach he ever had.“He was an intense guy, and you respected him for it. Off the court, he totally cared about your well-being, and you wanted to work hard for him.”
Some had played together since grade school, and they knew what to expect from each other. Dunham’s memories of the relationship and the game are still strong.
“That’s the closest team I’ve ever been on. Our off-the-court power became our on-the-court power.”
Up until the regional loss, the Arabians were 21-2, the best record in school history. They had won back-to-back sectionals and a Madison County championship against long-time rival Anderson. Their two losses were against Hamilton Southeastern, in both a typical regular-season game and also a loss to the Royals in the Hall of Fame Classic.
The Arabians played one of the toughest schedules of any school around. Aul remembers just how tough.
“On paper, there were games we shouldn’t have won. We followed Coach Hahn’s game plan, and believed we could win, and we did.”
While the players credit Hahn with so much of their success, he honored those seniors as well. “They were extremely hard workers, and every single one of them were completely dedicated to the team. They really did work that hard, and that is very unique, especially in today’s society.”
Every single one interviewed said the North Central game was one of their best memories. The Panthers were ranked No. 2 in the state at the time, and the Arabians took them down on the Panthers’ home court. “Winning that game was a huge morale booster,” Wehner said.
They played to gyms full of fans and non-Pendleton people who came to watch them play. Swartz said friends of his father and people he worked with came out to regard the Arabian machine, and Wehner recalled the enormity of playing in front of 10,000 fans at the New Castle Fieldhouse.
One of Dunham’s vivid memories was the Madison County championship game against Anderson at Pendleton Heights. “I think the whole community came out. People were standing at the rails.” That night, those who didn’t arrive early had to stand the whole game.
All of the guys expressed gratitude for the support of the community. “That culture of basketball brought the whole town together,” Wehner said.
Dunham said basketball was the team’s platform to unite a community, and it worked daily for the chance to show the community what it could do.
“During the summer at 6 a.m., while everyone else was sleeping, we were improving. That made those wins special,” Dunham said.
All of those early morning and late night lessons served an even higher purpose. The players grew up and became adults. Everyone earned or is about to earn a college degree. Every success and every disappointment on the court made an impact on how they live their lives now.
“He (Hahn) taught us how to be men, future husbands and fathers,” Dunham said. “No excuses.”
Dunham referred to a four-part goal: Work harder. Positive enthusiasm. Collective responsibility. Get-it-done, no-excuses accountability.
The team chemistry that Hart talked about has influenced him now. “When you understand who you are and what you’re capable of, problems can be handled much easier.”
Hahn hoped the lessons learned on the court carried over into their lives. “That’s one of the goals is to try and create habits of success, and I’d like to think we’ve been able to do that.”
Hahn resigned as coach after the 2014-15 season but continues to teach at Pendleton Heights.
Aul is about to graduate from Ball State University with a degree in sports administration. He finished an internship at Greencastle High School, serving as a varsity assistant to the team. He wants to coach and ultimately be an athletic director. “Coach Hahn taught me the Xs and Os of the game, and it’s easier to be a coach because of that, and that will help me in my career.”
Hart graduated Purdue University with a degree in aeronautical engineering. He works for Duncan Aviation in Battle Creek, Michigan, as an avionics modification specialist. His work is project-oriented, and he gets great satisfaction from what he does. Hart married last May, and he and his wife, Mickaela, are hoping to relocate to Indiana soon.
Swartz went to Indiana University and works in public accounting for PricewaterhouseCoopers in Chicago. He lives close to Wrigley Field. As a long-time Cubs fan, he was thrilled to be a part of the historic World Series win.
In his job, he works on a team. “That relates directly to a sport. It’s having pride in what you do, delivering to your boss and my team. That represents me, and I can thank Coach Hahn and Bates.”
Wehner is close to finishing his communications studies degree at IUPUI. He initially attended Hanover College and found it wasn’t quite the right fit for him. He’s happy in Indianapolis and still plays some basketball at the YMCA. He learned the discipline he needs outside of the classroom and how to have a work ethic on his own. “I’m expected to perform. It’s competitive greatness.”
Once he graduates, Wehner is looking more for the place he prefers to live than the specific job. With his degree, he is interested in helping others with their businesses.
After graduating from Butler University, Dunham played in the NBA summer league and is about to finish his first season in the NBA developmental league with the Iowa Energy. He plans to come to Indianapolis for a little while but is still weighing his basketball options. He is unsure if he will play NBA summer league, return to D-league or consider going to Europe to play. “It’s a blessing to be playing basketball. God continues to be in my life in every facet.”
They’ve gone their separate ways, and busy lives prevent the closeness they once shared, but they still keep up with one another through phone calls, text messages or social media. When the opportunity arises to meet in person, time has stood still.
“We were such a close team,” Swartz said, “we can pick up right where we left off.”