While riding home from one of his grandchildren’s youth baseball games recently, Dave Ross reflected on a life that has been filled with athletic participation, competition and remarkable success.
“I guess growing up in a family where we were always playing and competing gave me a real love for sports,” said the Morristown native.
It was fitting that Ross, now 82, recounted his history after yet another sporting event.
Athletics have been a constant in Ross’ life. He is part of, arguably, Shelby County’s most accomplished sports family. Former Indiana University standouts and Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame members Gary Long and the late Jerry Bass are Ross’ first cousins. Late 1950s Shelbyville star athlete Ronnie Richardson is also a cousin as is former Morristown basketball player and track record-setter Phil Batton.
“We all played so much together that I think it motivated us to always want to get better,” said Ross. “There was that constant desire to be good; the drive to win.”
One would be hard-pressed to find anyone to equal Ross’ more than seven decades of sports participation and pursuit of athletic success. His achievements as a competitor and his efforts in sports organization have earned him the genuine respect of the Shelby County community.
There were limited options for Ross and many like him growing up in rural areas in the 40s and 50s.
“There was farming, school and sports,” said Ross. “Those were pretty much the available activities. That is what we all learned to do.”
His diligence as a youth was rewarded with success as a three-sport Morristown High School athlete. He was a three-year basketball letterman and a member of the Yellow Jackets’ 1957 sectional championship team (main photo, Ross is back row, far right with net around neck).
“We ended up 23-2 that year,” remembered Ross. “Many sportswriters picked us to win the regional but we lost Jerry Ernst who was a key player. We were up 10 points at the half but ran out of gas and Connersville beat us.”
Connersville (coached by former Shelbyville and Indiana University star Ken Gunning) would go on to win the regional championship that evening.
Ross (photo above) experienced his first real brush with fame in 1955 as a Morristown sophomore on the varsity basketball team during preparations for a game against Morton Memorial, a school at the Soldiers and Sailors Home for homeless children of military veterans.
“Tim Brown was a tremendous athlete for Morton,” said Ross. “I played the role of Tim Brown for the practice squad and got to shoot all week.”
Brown, who graduated from Morton in 1955, went on to be a three-time NFL Pro Bowl selection and is in the Philadelphia Eagles Hall of Fame. He later became a successful actor, appearing in such films as “MASH” and “Nashville.”
“He was a great player,” said Ross. “I got to watch him from the bench a lot that game.”
Brown died in 2020.
Ross won Shelby County and conference high jump titles as a senior in 1957. He was one of the favorites at the sectional meet, however a conflict with Morristown High School’s graduation precluded his participation.
“I think I would have had a good shot at winning the sectional high jump but they told me I had to be at graduation,” said Ross. “I could jump my height which was over six feet and that would have won it.”
The decade following graduation would be filled with adversity and significant change for Ross.
He married Beverly Stohry in August of 1957. The couple welcomed their son, Jeff, in 1958. Complications during the birth of their second child, Chris, in 1961, resulted in Beverly’s untimely death.
“It was really tough," he said. "The three of us moved back in with my parents. They were very helpful during those years. When you are single and have two kids under the age of four, it presents a challenge.”
A freak accident while he was cutting wood in 1966 caused a traumatic eye injury and permanent loss of vision in his left eye. Dave married Janet Main that same year.
Ross would press forward through all the changes and hardships. He worked at Pittsburgh Plate Glass (now Knauf) in the early 1960s, and would later begin a 30-year tenure at Eli Lilly. He played for the PPG team in the local men’s basketball league at the old downtown Shelbyville armory.
From 1960 until 1972 Ross played with the F&M Oil team out of Findley. F&M would have resounding success. Fairland native Jack Judge assembled and coached the team that through the years included a legion of area superstars.
The aforementioned Long and Bass joined forces with exceptional players that included Doug Linville, Howard Wilkerson, Duke Watson and Gordon Pope.
“Jack always found great talent and he put together some excellent teams,” stated Ross.
Judge died in 1977.
F&M would win three Indiana AAU titles while recording amazing point totals. For example, they captured the 1965 state crown with a win over Indianapolis Warco Supply, 129-126.
“We had some of the best players you could find,” said Ross. “Howard Wilkinson became a scoring legend in men’s basketball circles, Jack Krebs from Shelbyville is in the Butler University Athletic Hall of Fame for two sports and Gordy Pope played at Purdue and Butler.”
Outdoor basketball tournaments were very popular from the mid-1950s through around 1985. Parks in Lebanon, Zionsville, Logansport, Elwood and Franklin provided sites that drew some of the state’s most prolific players.
“We defeated a team of former high school stars that included eventual Purdue All-American Rick Mount in 1966,” said Ross. “We later beat a team that had 1968 Mr. Basketball Billy Shepherd, who starred at Butler.”
F&M narrowly lost a championship game in a Logansport tournament to a team led by former UCLA standout Mike Warren. Warren was a starting guard for UCLA’s 1967 and 1968 NCAA championship squads that produced a collective record of 59-1.
Ross continued to indulge his love of sports even as his teammates steadily retired from competition. He would play in a variety of softball competitions for more than 50 years, including age 35- and 45-and-older leagues.
He also participated in the Senior Division and finished his softball career in 2019.
Ross became involved in the Master’s Basketball Tournaments held in Florida. These festivities were inaugurated in 1985 in conjunction with the World Master’s Games for participants age 45 and over. He organized teams that would win age 60-and-over Master’s championships in 2003, 2004 and 2010.
Ross, similar to Judge, seemed to have a knack for finding remarkable players.
“In 2004, former NBA player Walli Jones played with us. He was still amazing and led us to the title,” said Ross.
Jones (photo above, left with Ross) had a 12-year NBA career and was a starting guard on the 1967 Philadelphia 76ers championship team.
Ross’ achievement and contributions to the Master’s division were recognized with major honors. He received the Master’s Sportsmanship Award in 2002 and was inducted into the Master’s Hall of Fame in 2015.
“The Hall of Fame honor was very special because I was nominated for that by Sam Jones and Artis Gilmore,” said Ross. Jones and Gilmore are former NBA stars and members of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.
Dave and Janet continue to reside in the Morristown area. They maintain close relationships with sons Chris and Jeremy and all their grandchildren. Oldest son Jeff fell victim to lung cancer in 2003 at the age of 45.
Ross is forever thankful for the lifetime of sports enjoyment and the lessons learned from athletic competition. Approaching age 60, he would regularly play pick-up games at the Boys and Girls Club on Sunday afternoons with players spanning a wide age spectrum. It was always evident that Dave Ross appreciated the opportunity to play.
He evinces a sense of pride in the significant accomplishments of his numerous teams and the longevity of their success.
“Timing is everything. I was fortunate to come in contact with and play with and against so many talented people,” said Ross. “I am fortunate to have a lifetime of memories and a history of relationships with many special people.”
Reflecting on his years of competition he says with a hint of satisfaction: “Well, when we were young we beat the older guys, and when we got older we beat the younger guys. I guess that means we were pretty good.”