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Kent Poole: Ill-Fated Hickory Husker from Lebanon

Every town has its tragedies. Local residents remember them for years afterward, the town mourns as one, and for decades old timers recall the “bad times” or the “unfortunate incident.” Tragedies leave a stain on a community, a stain that is almost impossible to rub out, a stain that becomes part of the town’s identity. Lebanon, Indiana is no different. One of Lebanon’s tragedies deals with one of the most beloved movies about Indiana sports of all time, Hoosiers, and one small town cast member whose star rose and fell with the fortunes of the film. Kent Poole, a Hoosier all his life, played a part in the film about basketball, dreams, and perseverance, but his own life ended in tragedy when he committed suicide in 2003. The event left the community of Crawfordsville, Indiana (where Kent Poole then lived) and Lebanon in an emotional shambles, and it is still remembered as a small town tragedy.

Video of Kent Poole (Merle) in the 1986 classic Hoosiers. Kent Poole was born in Lebanon, Indiana

 

Kent Poole was born in Lebanon, Indiana on December 9, 1963. Poole was 21 when he was cast for the role of Merle Webb in Hoosiers, one of the eight boys on the Hickory Huskers basketball team. He was the one who uttered the famous line: “Let’s win this for all the small schools that never had a chance to get here,” and, according to a quote by Hoosiers screenwriter Angelo Pizzo in an issue of Indianapolis Monthly magazine, he was the only one who could have done it. “We could have given it [the line] to anybody,” Pizzo said, “but it was a tough line…It had to be authentic and sincere in a truthful way, not an acted way. That was the way Kent was.”

Poole was chosen because of his corn-fed Indiana boy look and for his sincerity. But he also had a history in Indiana basketball along the lines of the events in Hoosiers. In 1982, he took his high school, Western Boone High School, to the Indiana state finals, where his team lost by a solitary basket. Hoosiers gave Poole a chance to remake history with a better outcome for his team. As we all know, Hoosiers was a smash success at the box office. Kent Poole had one more film role after Hoosiers: he played the part of Steven in the 1988 movie Fresh Horses. Kent Poole could have moved to Hollywood and been a successful actor, but he chose to stay in Indiana with his family and his farm, his first loves. Interestingly, his final acting credit took place in Indianapolis. He appeared as a burglar in a crime re-enactment series called Crime Stoppers on Channel 13 WTHR in 1991; it would mark the first and final time Poole would appear in Indianapolis media.

Video of Kent Poole playing in the 1988 movie Fresh Horses; Kent Poole is from Lebanon, Indiana

 

Kent Poole took his own life in Crawfordsville, Indiana on September 11, 2003. He was just 39 years old. He was buried near Old Union Church in Boone County, and an astonishing 1,300 mourners came to his funeral. Despite the fact that his film career was short lived, Kent Poole remains a famous Lebanon person if only for his commitment to the people (and state) he loved. He continued to speak at charity functions after he gave up his acting career, and he also helped coach local basketball teams. Though certainly not the most well known person from Lebanon, Kent Poole has left a lasting impact on those who remember tragedies in small town Indiana.


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