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NEWS-SENTINEL EDITORIAL: Chuck Bavis made the best of his life after tragedy took away basketball career

Chuck Bavis might have been an NBA star.

The former 7-foot-tall Garrett High School and Purdue University basketball player, however, crashed his car while driving intoxicated early on a Saturday morning in 1969 near Garrett. It cost him the finish of his Purdue career and any chance of ever playing the game again.

But his obituary — Bavis died Saturday morning at age 71 — does not reflect defeat and dejection. Rather it celebrates a life well-lived. Bavis overcame his struggles in the time following his accident and summarized his life when he told News-Sentinel sportswriter Steve Warden in a story in 1997, “I’ve been blessed.”

News-Sentinel.com pays tribute today, the day of his funeral, to a man who did not let his life fall apart under the regrets of a “bad decision” that resulted in the loss of part of his left foot. Rather, as he told Warden in that story, “Thank goodness, I did see a light one day and pulled myself up by the bootstraps and figured the whole thing out that the world was going to go on, whether big Chuck Bavis was gonna continue to be a part of it or not. I did realize that I wanted to be a part of the world and be a benefit to those who helped me all my life and do something.”

Charles L. “Chuck” Bavis was born in Indianapolis but grew up near Garrett and graduated from Garrett High School in 1966. As a Railroader, the uncommonly tall basketball player helped his team win three consecutive sectional titles and was named to the Indiana All-Star Team after averaging 33 points a game his senior year.

Bavis and 6-10 Jim Heitz led Garrett in 1964-65 to a 23-2 record and a 15-game winning streak that ended in the semistate.

As a senior, Bavis was a huge attraction in Fort Wayne where he led his Garrett teammates to play in four regular season games (and two more in the tournament) that were moved to the Memorial Coliseum because of the crowds they attracted. One game against Ossian drew 8,013 fans, the second-largest crowd to see a boys high school basketball game in Fort Wayne.

Garrett was 24-0 in the regular season before losing in the regional to South Side — a team that went to the state finals that year behind the leadership of 6-9 Willie Long.

At Purdue, Bavis’ potential soared, and playing with Rick (The Rocket) Mount in his first varsity game as a sophomore in 1967, he helped hold all-American center Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) to 17 points. But the Boilers lost to the defending national champions by 2 points on a last-second shot at Mackey Arena’s grand opening.

During the next season, Bavis led Purdue on a hoped-for rematch with UCLA for the NCAA championship, but he broke his shoulder in an NCAA regional victory over Miami of Ohio. He never played again. The Boilermakers did, indeed, reach the 1969 NCAA tourney’s championship game, but, without Bavis, they lost to UCLA by 20 points.

That shoulder injury was going to keep Bavis out of the following season, but with the granting of a medical redshirt, he was planning to return for a final year of eligibility.

So he was free to make visits to his beloved hometown of Garrett, and on a Friday night after a football game, he reportedly stopped at a bar and had too much to drink. He told The News-Sentinel he “made a bad, bad decision — drinking and driving. I ran off the road, went into a ditch, and as luck would have it, there was a huge rock in the ditch. The car hit that rock, flipped over and did a lot of body damage to the big guy. I was very fortunate to make it through that accident alive.”

Part of his left foot had to be amputated as a result of the crash. And that was the end of basketball.

“I didn’t handle the injury very well,” Bavis said in the story. “I pretty much lived in the tank for two or three years. And I’m certain I wasn’t a very pleasant guy to be around.”

But in time he bounced back as a businessman in Auburn. He married Carol Lee in 1977 and became a regional sales manager for JDS Industries in 2001, working in the trophy and awards manufacturing business.

Bavis was inducted into the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame in 2010, a great tribute to an outstanding basketball career a long time ago. But Bavis came to find joy and meaning in his later life with his wife and sons Jordan and Alex, his business successes and many opportunities to speak publicly about the dangers of drinking and driving.

As former Journal Gazette sportswriter Mark Montieth once wrote, “He overcame tragedy and made the best of it. And that’s a story worth telling.”

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