Nuetzel starred for Tell City in a different era

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By Larry Goffinet

If you were on a committee to elect members of a school's athletic hall of fame, you might be reluctant to vote for a basketball player who averaged 7.9 points per game.

You would probably be much more willing to vote for someone who was the leading scorer on a sectional championship team and went on to be a starter for a Big Ten Conference championship team as a sophomore in college.

But what if I told you those two examples are actually the same player?

That is the case, and the player is Bill Nuetzel, a 1938 Tell City graduate who was recently elected to that school's hall of fame.

He will be inducted, along with Craig Blackford and Beth Carlson Hibbard, Jan. 26.

Nuetzel's statistics illustrate the difficulty in comparing players from different eras. Major League Baseball Hall of Fame voters apparently have the same difficulty - how else can one explain their continual failure to elect Jim Rice, who dominated his era?

In 1937 basketball was more about ball control than fast breaks - not just at Tell City but statewide.

Washington beat Vincennes 17-14 in a regional game that year.

No team scored more than 33 points in a state final four game that year. And in 12 semistate games throughout the state only one team, Fort Wayne Central (with 43 points in a win over Muncie) scored more than 38.

It is also hard to find individual statistics from that era, or many people who remember seeing those players play.

Apparently no one kept track of rebounds in those days, as I did not see that statistic mentioned in any of the newspaper articles about games from the 1936-37 and 1937-38 seasons I was able to find.

Ditto for assists, steals, and blocked shots.

But I did find one issue that listed the scoring totals for each player at the end of the 1936-37 regular season.

That season was shortened because of the 1937 flood that devastated Tell City that winter, so the Marksmen played only 15 regular-season games. But I have no idea why one game ended in a tie (they were 8-6-1 going into the sectional that year).

Nuetzel is listed as being the leading scorer with 119 points on 48 field goals and 24 free throws, which would actually add up to 120 points.

So he averaged either 7.9 points or 8.0 points per game.

Walter Hagedorn, who would later serve six terms as Tell City's mayor, was second on the team with an average of 4.4 points per game that season.

Nuetzel scored more than half Tell City's points in the Marksmen's regional loss to Dale but finished with just nine. Dale won 21-17.

In another game Nuetzel scored two points but finished in a five-way tie for the team lead. Tell City lost that game 20-10.

Still he was a dominant player in his era and a major college player, so he deserves his election to the hall of fame.

He played center for Tell City and forward for Purdue.

"He was a good rebounder because of his size - he was about 6-5," Hagedorn said Friday. "And he shot a lot of hook shots."

Nuetzel led the Marksmen to a 13-6 regular-season record as a senior and they repeated as sectional champs. But he was not allowed to play in the sectional under IHSAA rules then, as he turned 19 before the sectional.

His college career was also cut short, as World War II broke out at the start of his senior season and he joined the Navy.

He served in the Gene Tunney program (named for the former heavyweight boxing champion), as a chief petty officer in charge of helping other sailors get physical fit.

After the war he completed his college degree and served 27 years as associate professor of health and physical science at the University of Florida.

Modest about his athletic accomplishments, Nuetzel said in a recent telephone interview that he considered his greatest honor "being named a professor emeritus" at Florida upon his retirement in 1984.

Nuetzel will be 89 next month and still lives in Florida.

He said he won't be able to attend his Tell City Hall of Fame induction, though, as "my wife has fallen and broken a hip, and I can't leave her now."

Tell City officials are looking into videotaping Nuetzel's acceptance speech so it can be played at the induction banquet.