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VALPARAISO | When Virgil Sweet and Dale Ciciora walked into a hot, empty Boucher Gym at Ben Franklin Middle School last week, they recalled the cold, January nights back in time.

Sweet coached the majority of his games as the Valparaiso High School boys basketball coach at Boucher Gym as Ben Franklin Middle School was Valparaiso High School before the "new" and current Valparaiso High School was built a few miles north on Campbell Street.

"Jam packed every game," Sweet said. "Our fans would wear white and it was quite intimidating. I guess we had a little bit of a home-court advantage.

"We put on a show from the game to the cheerleaders. We put up points because I figured people weren't paying to watch us pass the ball around five times."

Sweet said they hoped the other school would not sell its allotment of tickets.

"We would have them announce on the radio that we had a few seats for sale and they would get gobbled up in no time," Sweet said. "When we played Lebanon with Rick Mount, we (closed circuit) broadcast the game into the cafeteria. We let the fans in free, held Mount in check for three quarters and won."

"It was a lot of fun back then, especially sectional time," Sweet said. "Everybody wanted to beat Valparaiso and those games were played right here in Boucher."

Not many teams beat the Vikings as Sweet won 14 sectional titles, including 11 in a row. He was the Vikings coach from 1954-55 to 1973-74 and his sectional record was 48-6.

Sweet is a real estate agent in Clearwater, Fla. for Charles Rutenberg Realty. He is widowed as his wife of 47 years, Paralee died in 1999.

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Under Sweet and Cicioria, his assistant for 15 years, Valparaiso gained fame for its free-throw shooting. His 1963-64 team shot .792 for the season — still a national high school record.

It was funny how he developed the "Valparaiso Free-Throw Shooting Method."

"I had to discuss some fundamentals to the board when I applied for the job," Sweet said. "I had never really broken down a lot of fundamentals, but I used free-throw shooting. I broke it down to 10 steps."

Sweet, an Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame member, said with Ciciora, it became 20 steps. Both agreed it was a simple thing.

"I watched Skip Collins (later a Valpo head boys basketball coach) and noticed his arc," Ciciora said. "A free throw is not a perfect arc. It is minimum movement by the player."

Added Sweet: "Dale and I figured to watch a good shooter and learn from him rather than try to watch a bad shooter and look at what he is doing wrong."

Surprisingly, Sweet did not have his players shoot at practice, but during lunch hour. He figured there was no sense in doing a drill when you are tired.

It was a lunchtime when Mike Copper, who later was Munster's head coach, made 409 straight free throws, a national record. He did it without moving from the line as managers and other players handed shooters the ball.

"Mike was late for class and I had to write him a note," Sweet said.

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Sports Director

Hillary has covered prep, pro and college sports -- and even a Dixie Baseball World Series -- for newspapers north and south of the Mason-Dixon Line since 1995.