Photo Provided // HUMBLE BEGINNINGS: Guerin head coach Pete Smith still uses an empty baseball bucket as a seat on the sideline. It's a reference to how far the program's come.
Photo Provided // HUMBLE BEGINNINGS: Guerin head coach Pete Smith still uses an empty baseball bucket as a seat on the sideline. It's a reference to how far the program's come.

The first year of Guerin Catholic High School hoops, parents brought foldable chairs to watch their kids play because the school couldn’t afford enough bleachers to fill the arena, head coach Pete Smith said. 

Last Friday, the Golden Eagles won the 200th game in program history with a 75-60 victory over rival Lafayette Central Catholic. 

Guerin’s come a long way — and Smith has seen it all unfold along the way. 

“People weren't beating down the door to play us, because we had no tradition, and they didn’t know what to expect,” Smith said. “To get where we’re at — to be able to build a great schedule — and to be able to win against the opponents that we’ve won against … is really cool. I’m very blessed.”

Guerin opened in 2004 with 88 freshmen and a desire to see a basketball program established to give students an additional extracurricular activity to participate in. 

Winning never has been the No. 1 goal, Smith said, which was a change of pace for the longtime coach who has stops at Warsaw, Manchester, Noblesville, Penn and Carmel high schools on his resume. 

“(Guerin) didn’t have any high expectations … It’s never been about winning at Guerin like in other school districts,” he said. “There’s a lot more important things in life than winning basketball games or athletic events, and I think Guerin does a really good job of focusing on that … We’ve just developed into a really successful program that’s been able to win some basketball games.” 

Guerin did play one varsity game its inaugural season — a 56-48 win at Morton Memorial — but the program’s first victory came in a freshman contest against Lafayette Central Catholic. The Golden Eagles won the game 38-33 — Nick Jonathan led Guerin in scoring with 11. The next year, 2005-06, Guerin continued to play mainly with its JV and freshman teams, although the number of varsity games was bumped up to four. Their opponents were all small 1A schools, and the Golden Eagles defeated each one of them. 

Guerin became IHSAA-eligible in 2006-07, and, in that first varsity season, went 9-13. “That happened to be the last year of the Hamilton County Tournament, held during the holidays,” Smith said. “We drew the bye, first playing at Hamilton Southeastern in the semifinals of the tournament and upsetting Westfield 60-56. We lost in the championship game the next night to a strong Noblesville (20-3) team 73-36.” 

Since Guerin’s enrollment was going to be high enough to be classified as a Class 2A school the following season, the IHSAA assigned the Golden Eagles to the Triton Central Sectional, a 2A bracket. They drew a bye and beat the host Tigers 55-52 in the semis, before losing a 50-48 thriller to Park Tudor in the championship.

There’s been a number of nail-biters and big wins over the years. In the 2007-08 season, Guerin won its first, and still only, holiday tournament at Franklin County on its way to a 17-6 record and a 79-77 loss to Oak Hill in the 2A Tipton Sectional. The next year, Guerin got the best of Hamilton Southeastern and former Michigan State star and current NBA player Gary Harris in overtime. The Golden Eagles finished the 2008-09 with a 16-8 that season but lost to the Tipton Blue Devils in their sectional.

“We broke through in 2009-2010 in IHSAA terms,” Smith said. “The regular-season highlight was playing Central Catholic for the first time, and what a first-time venue we played at and in.” 

Guerin beat Central Catholic 62-52 at Conseco Fieldhouse in the second game of a doubleheader — the first game played was a college matchup between Purdue and Ball State. “That game was the original Bishop's Cup game, and that evening was also our 50th win in school history,” Smith said. “We finished 15-11 that season, (and) we upset Tipton in the 2A sectional championship game, before losing in the regional final to Southwood.” 

The 2010-11 season — Guerin’s last in 2A — was highlighted with wins over undefeated and 3A No. 1 Lebanon and 4A ranked Richmond. The Golden Eagles fell short to Tipton in the sectional championship, 52-39, and finished the year 16-9.

It was on to 3A in 2011-2012, and what a first year in 3A we had, Smith said. Five victories over 4A schools, including wins at Lawrence North and at Richmond's Holiday Tourney against Noblesville. “Those wins gave our team confidence they had the potential to be a really good team when the tourney started,” Smith said. 

After winning the Mt. Vernon Sectional and Greencastle Regional, Guerin faced Evansville Bosse, who featured future college players Jalen Pendleton and JaQuon Lyle. Guerin prevailed and ultimately defeated Norwell in the 3A State Championship 64-48 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse to finish 24-5. The Golden Eagles won another 3A State Championship in 2014-15, with a team that featured the school’s only Indiana All-Star in Matt Holba. 

“Our record that season finished at 22-8,” Smith said. “However, after that second state championship for our school in 3A, we were not allowed to have the chance to defend it due to the IHSAA Success Factor. Therefore, the past two seasons, we became the first school in boys basketball mandated to move up and play 4A despite having only 750 students.” 

This season, Smith has found himself frustrated at times with his team’s lack of consistency, he said. The Golden Eagles are 11-7, but Smith doesn’t think they’ve gelled together quite yet. Still, this year’s squad has had their share of moments. “This group has seen the other groups win state championships, and they’ve dreamed of playing for the Golden Eagles,” he said. “Now, to help us reach 200 wins, it’s pretty special for them … Sometimes I got to tone myself down, because, again, winning is not the most important thing at Guerin.” 

Winning might not be the most important aspect of Smith’s teams at Guerin — and seating arrangements remain low on the coach’s list, too. 

While parents no longer need to bring chairs to sit on, Smith still uses an empty baseball bucket as his seat on the sidelines. On its side is a lamented picture of the original Guerin team — a reference to how far the program has come. 

Editor's note: This article was edited to include the correct college Gary Harris atended.