By Joseph Fratena
As part of the P-H-M Education Foundation naming rights campaign, Dr. and Mrs. Jerry Thacker have generously donated $10,000 to the Education Foundation to have the basketball court in Penn High School’s Main Arena named after Hall of Fame and Penn’s legendary coach, Al Rhodes, renaming the court “Al Rhodes Kingsmen Court.”
The Penn-Harris-Madison Board of School Trustees voted to approve the sponsorship agreement at the Monday, October 9, 2023, Board meeting. The donation will be paid in one lump sum to the Foundation.
Coach Rhodes retired at the end of the 2022-2023 school year, with a 28-2 record. The Kingsmen reached the Final Four led by Rhodes protégé and standout Markus Burton who won the coveted Mr. Basketball Award. Burton is only the third player from St. Joseph County to be named Mr. Basketball. Now at Notre Dame, he was the MVP of the 2023 Indiana-Kentucky All-Star series.
Rhodes also played for the Kingsmen from 1966-1970. He went on to play for Tri-State University (now Trine University) before embarking on his coaching career.
Starting his head coaching career at Warsaw in 1980, Rhodes coached the Tigers through the 2002 season. His 1984 Warsaw team claimed the State Championship.
Rhodes and his Kingsmen teams cut down the nets six times as Sectional or Regional Champions. Penn reached the Final Four in Indiana’s revered Hoosier Hysteria state tournament for the third and fourth times in the school’s 65-year history. Rhodes posted an overall record of 693-320 in 42 seasons, including an overall state tournament record of 101-41. The Kingsmen won 18 Sectional Championships, nine Regional Championships, four Semi-state Championships and one State Championship. Coach Rhodes retired as the winningest coach in Kingsmen Boys Basketball history with a record of 239-128 in 15 seasons.
Dr. and Mrs. Thacker’s donation to name the court after the Hall of Famer was a natural decision, said Dr. Thacker. “It’s only fitting that the hardwood where Kingsmen student-athletes racked up so many wins under Coach Rhodes’ leadership would be named after him. This is an excellent way to commemorate and celebrate Penn Basketball’s winningest coach ever!”
The unveiling of the new court signage is scheduled to take place at the Penn-Clay game on December 1, 2023. The new court name will be displayed above the scoreboard.
Per PHMEF’s naming rights fundraising initiative, 80 percent of the donation will go into the Foundation’s endowment, which will in turn provide alternative and additional funding for various co-curricular and extracurricular programs. The remaining 20 percent directly funds professional development initiatives for P-H-M teachers. Continuing the education and training of teachers is a major priority for P-H-M School District.
The mission of the Education Foundation is to develop alternative sources of income to support education initiatives in the School Corporation by strengthening partnerships between the community and the District. PHMEF supports education through awarding innovative teaching grants, scholarships to students, staff development and other corporation-wide initiatives.
Dr. Thacker has been superintendent of Penn-Harris-Madison School Corporation since 2006 and has supported the Education Foundation wholeheartedly. Over the course of 17 years, Dr. and Mrs. Thacker have donated $202,500 to the P-H-M Education Foundation, including this most recent donation of the naming rights. Most of this money has either been unrestricted donations or used as matching funds for fundraising initiatives. This is the second time they have made a donation to the naming rights campaign. In 2021, they donated $25,000 to have the Kingsmen Athletic Center renamed the Chris Geesman Kingsmen Athletic Center after Penn’s legendary football championship coach. Click here to see pictures and video of the dedication.
“The Foundation Board and I are so appreciative of Dr. and Mrs. Thacker’s generosity through the years,” said Jennifer Turnblom, Executive Director of the P-H-M Education Foundation. “Their unwavering support has been a tremendous help to us fulfilling our mission. The Thackers’ donations alone have made it possible for the Foundation to fund approximately 20% more classroom grants, activities and programs possible for the students of all P-H-M’s 15 schools. Their impact has been nothing less than incredible!”
The Arena is still available for naming rights.