ATWOOD — Even at the age of 12, Jim Irwin knew what he wanted to do in life. “I wanted to coach and teach,” he said.
And so he did for more than 35 years.
Irwin grew up on a farm along CR 650W about a mile north of Atwood. He later graduated from the former Atwood High School in 1960 where he played basketball for three different coaches — Ray Miller, Forrest Dunnuck and during his senior year, Tom Sittler.
After graduation, it was on to the College of Emporia in Kansas, where Irwin played basketball for a couple of years. But he moved back to Indiana and finished his college degree at Ball State University in 1964, a bachelor’s in PE and health.
With his college degree, Irwin began a basketball coaching and teaching school journey crisscrossing the state of Indiana. “I was a coaching vagabond,” he noted.
First stop was at Straughn High School in Henry County, a school later consolidated into Tri High School. Next it was Pierceton High School where he coached with Sittler for four years. “Tom Sittler probably had the biggest influence on me,” Irwin said.
Irwin stayed until the consolidation took place and coached at the new Whitko High School. For four years, he coached with the legendary Bill Patrick. In 1975, the journey continued and the next station was at Bluffton High School in Wells County.
After five years at Bluffton, he remained in Wells County and went to Southern Wells High School. “That was my favorite place,” Irwin said. “It was a small school with a great faculty. It was just fun.”
Then he shifted gears and went to the southern part of Indiana and coached in Salem for two years. Another move to the north found him at Eastbrook High School near Marion where he stayed the longest — for 10 years — and from where he retired.
But in between Salem and Eastbrook, Irwin stepped away from coaching basketball for a few years. While coaching at Salem in a sectional championship game, his team had a nine-point lead with about two minutes left in the game, but couldn’t hold the lead and eventually lost in double overtime. He said it was probably the toughest loss he ever experienced as a coach.
A serious car accident in December 2000 eventually led to the decision to retire. After retirement, Irwin moved back to the area he grew up in and helped his brother on the family farm. He also worked at Dick Baumgartner’s summer basketball camp in Richmond, Ind., for many years.
He volunteers his time in different ways and helped start the Kosciusko County Basketball Hall of Fame based at the North Webster Community Center. No inductions have taken place the last few years, but the hall of fame still exists.
Irwin also helped organize the Basketball Remembered Events where former high school basketball players from the pre-consolidation era gathered to reminisce and share memories at Grace College. “Those events were very well attended,” he said.
Although many memories are wrapped up in coaching basketball, teaching in the classroom was also something to cherish. “I enjoyed being in the classroom,” he said, noting he taught history, government, economics and a little bit of physical education.
Jim and his wife Mary Ann, a retired school superintendent, now live in Atwood and have four children: Rob, David, Jonathan and Jennifer, none of whom live in the local area. Jim also enjoys reading in his spare time.