Caleb Middlesworth C-T Winter Athlete Of The Year

Posted on April 22, 2018 in Boy's Basketball, Winter Sports

This image requires alt text, but the alt text is currently blank. Either add alt text or mark the image as decorative. Senior Caleb Middlesworth celebrates a state championship

BY SCOTT HUNT – shunt@chronicle-tribune.com
A big key to Oak Hill’s boys’ basketball team winning the school’s first ever state championship in the sport was balance. On different nights during the season, any one of four starting seniors were capable of being the team’s most valuable player.

But during Oak Hill’s run through the state tournament, there was no question who was MVP.

Caleb Middlesworth took a leading role when it mattered most and led his team to the championship. For that reason he is the Chronicle-Tribune’s top winter sports athlete for 2017-18.

• • •

Brash. Confident.

Those words were used by Oak Hill boys basketball coach Kevin Renbarger when asked about his first impressions of Caleb Middlesworth as an eighth grader.

The encounter was in the Golden Eagles’ locker room immediately after the team had lost the eighth grade Central Indiana Conference championship game.

“I told them that we wanted this to be a blip on the radar, something that they would never remember and that they have bigger and better goals ahead,” Renbarger said to his incoming class of freshman. “I asked Caleb, ‘What are your personal goals?’ and he said, ‘I want to start next year from day one and I want to win a state championship.’”

Middlesworth didn’t start as a freshman, but did earn his first varsity letter. However the lessons the 6-foot-8, Huntington University-bound senior learned as a freshman were put to good use in the Golden Eagles historic run to a Class 2A boys basketball state championship.

It was that first year of high school Middlesworth encountered a pair of juniors, Andrew Wood, who went on to play football at Marian University, and Caleb Maggard.

“Both of those guys were able to mentor him. I would say Wood more than any of them, in regards to what it’s going to take on a daily basis,” Renbarger said. “Because like a lot of freshman, he had no clue. No clue what it was going to take to even compete for minutes at (the varsity) level. It worked out that he was under the right kids – the exact right kids – so when they were gone and he had to take over the mantle, he was prepared and ready to go.”

“Then also, getting one point away from a regional championship, he got a taste. That was probably the most important thing, him and the rest of those guys got a taste of what success truly was like,” he added.

And bit-by-bit over his last three years of high school, Middlesworth grew into being the leader of the team, and the face of the Oak Hill boys basketball program.

He also grew into a state champion.

• • •

“… I’ve had very few kids that have outworked him in the summer time and during the year.”

Middlesworth outworked all of Oak Hill’s opponents during the tournament. After averaging nearly 17 points per game, his scoring increased to more than 22 points starting in the regional. Middlesworth also pulled down eight rebounds a game during the tourney, one more than his average during the season.

“That was going to be my last postseason run so I knew inside that I wanted to up my game a little bit,” Middlesworth said. “Me and coach were talking and we knew that we were going to play some pretty good teams down the stretch and that was needed to be done.

“It’s been really special for all of us,” he added about winning the title. “We’ve put in the work for all four years, our senior class, not to mention what everybody else has done.”

Renbarger said it wasn’t just Middlesworth’s play that amped up, it was his emotion and a touch more grit. The coach sensed nerves out of all his players during their first two wins in the sectional, but Middlesworth was the key to helping everyone relax.

“I saw more emotion out of him on the basketball floor towards the end of the year than I have at any point in time,” Renbarger said. “That’s the biggest difference. He let himself go in regards to showing a little bit of who he is as a player and as a person. When he did that, it gave the other kids the freedom to do that as well.

“I remember several big shots in that semistate game and he’s turning around and just screaming,” he added. “Same thing at the state. That started back in January and just got bigger and bigger as the moments got bigger. I think it helped him relax and play.”

And no question Oak Hill’s players fed off that emotion from Middlesworth.

“He was probably the biggest (factor) when he came and showed up then all of us would play a lot better,” Spencer Ballinger said of Middlesworth. “He played a lot stronger and got a lot more and-ones, and I think it was him realizing it was his senior year and it’s his team. He stepped up in big ways.”

• • •

Very few players in the annals of Oak Hill basketball have faced the type of scrutiny and pressure of expectations that Middlesworth and his teammates have dealt with in the last four seasons at Oak Hill.

“I can’t remember a team – I’ve been here for 22 years – there’s not a team that had more expectation than this basketball team did, more pressure placed upon it,” Renbarger said. “And the face of the basketball program is Caleb Middlesworth.

“Aside from Jarrad Odle and some of the things that Jarrod had to go through…I can’t think of another basketball player that has had higher expectations, higher goals placed upon them than Caleb,” he continued. “So trying to deal and handle and manage that and also manage my expectations … he had a lot to deal with and to a certain degree he let a lot of that go.”

Renbarger also thought getting his college commitment taken care of before the tournament helped Middlesworth free his mind.

“I think he was able to let that go and have a little bit more of a joy for the game of basketball as opposed to a lot of expectation,” Renbarger said.

• • •

The Golden Eagles recently did a trophy tour to all of the elementary schools in the district. Middlesworth, who sat in some of the same classrooms growing up, watched as good Oak Hill basketball teams and players had success but fell short on long tournament runs.

And while the 2017-18 team will always be the first to bring a boys basketball championship to Oak Hill, when he hoisted the large state of Indiana cutout trophy in Bankers Life Fieldhouse on March 24, it wasn’t just for him, his coaches or team. The trophy belonged to the Oak Hill community.

“Sports are something that we’ve always focused on at Oak Hill. When any team does good everybody rallies around them,” Middlesworth said. “And our program, the basketball program, we’ve been trying to get a state championship for years now. It’s not just a testament to the team we had out there this year, it’s a testament to everybody before.”

And Renbarger hopes those impressionable young boys at Converse, Swayzee and Sweetser Elementary schools will hope to follow in the footsteps of Middlesworth, Ballinger and the rest of the kids that had a hand in turning Oak Hill basketball into a state champion.

“Those kids, the word hero was thrown around quite a bit,” Renbarger said. “When Caleb comes in, Spencer, some of those guys come in, the little guys, just as you would expect, ‘Hey, there’s Caleb Middlesworth.’

“I think his impact for this program and for some of the kids who are following him is far greater than what he really realizes at this point,” he continued. “I think he’ll understand that the further he gets away from it and people start talking about this state championship basketball team as we have the (1982) state football championship team. A lot of those football players were my heroes when I was a fifth grader, so I know what some of those fifth graders are thinking about now.”

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