Is Catawba coach setting up Hoosiers, Part II?

By Ronnie Gallagher, The Salisbury Post

David Bennett leaned over his desk, showcasing that wide country grin.

“You know what we’ve got here, don’t ya, Ronnie?”

I knew right then that the Catawba College football coach had been watching movies again.

“What we’ve got here is a little ‘Hoosiers’ story.”

He has a point.Catawba keeps harping on the fact that it is the only private school left in the Division II playoffs. More amazingly, it has an enrollment of only 1,300. And when it travels to Michigan for the national semifinals, it will face Grand Valley State, which has an enrollment of 18,000.

The Indians are from a town with a population of 25,000 and will stay in a city (Grand Rapids) with 250,000.

They’re the Division II version of Hickory High, which won the state basketball championship in that famous movie, Hoosiers.

Norman Dale, uh, I mean, Bennett, will be dressing 52 Jimmy Chitwoods Saturday and play against the big school for a chance at a berth in the national championship game on ESPN.


Being in Bennett’s office Monday morning was a dizzying experience.

Not for me. For him.

“Your dadgum head can get to swimming with all the stuff that’s gotta be done,” he said.

First, he was trying to get warm underclothing for his team.

“I need 52 of those shirts,” he said, quoting a price of $1,300. Then, he had to acquire gloves for the players, but they had to be all gray. That’s NCAA rules.

“We’re going from playing in 85 degrees in Valdosta, Ga., (during last week’s 37-34 overtime win) to 35 in Michigan,” he noted.


The madness started early.

A little ol’ lady came marching into his office unannounced, saying she had to have a Catawba shirt for her boy. Bennett gave her one, no charge.

“But that’s the last one,” he warned her. “Tell everybody there’s no more.”

A call comes in from some guy in Michigan, wanting to do a documentary on Catawba during the week leading up to the Grand Valley State game.

“My gut feeling is not this week,” Bennett said. “If we win, he’ll have more to do.”

A guy walks in wanting to talk about furniture for the new field house. An assistant bursts in. A booster comes calling.

Bennett tried to negotiate a breakfast buffet for his team and realized the cost of living is a little higher up north than down south.

“They wanted $13 (a person!)” he wailed. “Last week, it was $6.


Bennett must hurry. He has a million things to do and has a class to teach at 11 a.m. Bowling, I think it is.

He finally sits down and listens to his messages. Thirty to be exact. They’re from fans and mothers and boosters and salesmen. And friends and daddies and preachers.

One minister reports he was in the middle of a funeral Saturday but did his best to listen to the Catawba-Valdosta State ballgame. There was the story of another preacher who had someone conduct the wedding ceremony for him because he had plans for Grand Rapids.

The manager of the Brunswick, Ga., Holiday Inn, where Catawba stayed, calls to say congratulations ... “and how was our service?”

The North Carolina News Network wants a word.

Bryan Applewhite, a former Catawba star who has a home in Colorado, called to give some tips on cold weather.

“People want you to return their calls but it can’t be done,” Bennett says. “There’s too much to do and not enough time to do it.”


Bennett did find time for his team meeting and practice later in the day. And his team knows it is representing every small school that goes up against the big boys. Grand Valley was No. 2 before Catawba beat Valdosta State so it is now recognized as the country’s best Division II team — and the only remaining unbeaten.

“We’ve got an opportunity to do what few teams have — and that’s beat the No. 1 team in the nation two weeks in a row,” Bennett said.

Does he think Catawba has captured the imagination of a country by making the Final Four?

“I don’t think so,” he said, referring to calls from the Detroit Free Press, as well as the newspaper in Grand Rapids, which has a circulation of 100,000 more than Bennett’s hometown daily.

“Both papers asked me, ‘Where is Catawba located — in North or South Carolina?’” Bennett marveled, rolling his eyes. “They don’t even know where we are! That’s because they were thinking (Grand Valley State) were going to play Valdosta State.”


“Well, they ain’t gonna be coverin’ Valdosta State. They’ll see Catawba College instead.

“Eighteen thousand students,” exclaimed Bennett of Saturday’s opponent. “Who’s that comparable to? Chapel Hill? Grand Valley State has more students than Clemson!

“But you know, it doesn’t matter how many students you have. Each team puts 11 on the field. I told our staff, ‘If you haven’t ever been in a championship, fake it. Act like you have.”

That’s pretty much what Norman Dale told his players in “Hoosiers.”

And that movie had a pretty good ending, now didn’t it?


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