Small town, big dreams

The students behind the Larry Legend Foundation brought ISU’s most famous alumnus and a 17-foot statue in his likeness to campus.

As a young boy shooting hoops in his driveway, Brad Fenton used to imagine himself as Indiana State’s No. 33.

“I wasn’t Jordan. I wasn’t Magic. I was Larry,” he said.

As a 21-year-old sophomore at ISU in 2006, Fenton wondered why the other two basketball icons had honorary statues built on their college campuses, but Indiana State didn’t feature any of Bird—and he resolved to change that.

Fenton is no stranger to the Bird hype that took Terre Haute by storm in the 1970s, as his mother attended Indiana State during that era. Fenton grew up in Terre Haute watching basketball games at Hulman Center and relishing his parent’s recollections of the 1979 season that took ISU to the NCAA championship game.

With the goal to bring a statue of Bird to Terre Haute, Fenton talked with local artist Bill Wolfe, who has constructed numerous pieces of artwork for the campus and city of Terre Haute in recent years. The two met at a Greek-life event and immediately bonded over their mutual admiration of Bird.

“I had an idea, and people said it was a good idea, but Bill was the first person that really believed in that idea,” Fenton said.

Over the next few years, Fenton found six friends to take his dream on as their own. Matt Foster, Ryan Royer, Nick Ferrell, Luke Jones, and Zack Hurst all graduated from ISU, while Geoff Haynes graduated from Indiana University but connected to the project through his Terre Haute roots. All came on board to help Fenton spearhead the effort.

Young college students with a lofty goal, the group set out in 2008 to establish the Larry Legend Foundation, a registered student organization charged with raising money for a statue of Bird. After opening an account at the Indiana State University Foundation, they began accepting donations and spreading the word.

Fenton also wanted Bird’s seal of approval on the statue before moving forward. Fenton promised himself that he would only continue his efforts if Bird endorsed the project.

“The last thing I wanted was to start this student organization, start getting all this attention and try to raise money for it, and have Larry say, ‘I don’t want any of this,’” Fenton said. “I think the reason we did get his blessing was because it was student-driven.”

ISU alumnus Zack Hurst joined Bird’s team of students in fall 2009. Hurst, who graduated in May 2013 with a degree in recreation and sport management, met with Fenton as a freshman and developed promotional materials for the Larry Legend Foundation, including brochures and T-shirts to be distributed at basketball games.

“I had a closer connection to the students living on campus,” Hurst said. “[Brad] had a full-time job and lived off-campus, so I tried to serve as that liaison and be that contact for him.”

Not all students, however, caught the Bird fever. Hurst recalled encountering indifference to the project among some in the student body, but only because they couldn’t see the “bigger picture” of the statue being built a few years down the road.

That bigger picture became clear on Nov. 9, 2013, as Bird and Wolfe unveiled the 1,900-pound bronze statue, suitably titled “Larry Legend.”

“He’s changed the game of basketball,” Hurst said. “For an individual to come out of a small town and to work as hard as he did, that’s why people look up to him. That’s what I think makes him an important figure.”

The weekend of “Honoring a Legend” at ISU provided closure for Hurst, as this piece of his Indiana State experience lingered beyond graduation day back in May.

“I wanted to leave a footprint on the campus somehow, and I was able to be a part of that by seeing the statue go up,” Hurst said. “Now I feel like I completed that Indiana State chapter of my life.”

Undoubtedly, the celebration conjured up a variety of emotions for Fenton, who was thrilled to see the once-lofty idea come to fruition. Mostly, he experienced pride in his hometown.

“I will love the fact that I can come back years from now with my kids or grandchildren and say, ‘I helped make this happen.’”

Fenton thinks the sculpture is a timestamp—a keepsake of a memorable era of ISU basketball: “Long term, it represents a time at Indiana State when we were on top of the world, 33-0. But we won’t talk about that last game against Magic,” Fenton said with a laugh.

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