Tampico is located along State Road 39 in Jackson County. The tiny community is nestled into a small strip along the highway surrounded by farmland.
A sign that greets visitors reminds anyone that passes through of Tampico’s biggest event: “Welcome to Tampico, Home of the Grassy Fork Volunteer Fire Department Tractor and Truck Pull.”
In Tampico, you won’t find a grocery store or place to get gas. But you will quickly find a feeling of family, where people are willing to extend an invitation to a stranger, like the cold, snowy morning in December 2012 when I approached Jim Kidd, a Tampico resident, in the parking lot of the Baptist church.
Kidd was busy shoveling snow in the parking lot but took the time to chat with me about some of his Tampico memories and even invited me to attend church with him that morning.
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While the truck and tractor pull is a source of pride in the community, there was a time when the small community swelled with pride over its local high school. And, like many other Indiana towns of its era, was deeply devoted to the high school basketball team, the Tampico Bobcats.
The Tampico school was positioned on the east side of State Road 39 and was a high school until 1963, when it was closed as part of the Jackson County consolidations. The elementary school remained there for 10 years after the high school closed.
Several years later, the school was torn down, and now, the only reminder of its existence is a small concrete monument that states “Former site of Tampico school 1923-73.”
There is one night in 1962 that some residents remember like yesterday. It was the night when the Tampico Bobcats, coached by Bob Robison, defeated Brownstown High School in the Seymour Sectional. Going into the sectional, Brownstown was considered the favorite, having won the Jackson County tourney just a few weeks earlier.
At the end of the regular season, Tampico had finished with a winning record at 12-6, but few gave the Bobcats, a school with an enrollment of around 50 students, much of a chance against Brownstown, a school with an enrollment just more than 300.
Playing in front of 3,000-plus fans at the old Shields High School gym in Seymour, Tampico turned in one of the biggest upsets in the history of the Seymour Sectional. Led by Bart Maxie and Bob Peters, Tampico outscored Brownstown 44-32 in the second half to pull out a 68-54 victory.
For the game, Maxie scored 21 points, and Peters was the game’s high scorer with 23 points. Brownstown was led by Don Sovern’s 19 points. At the time, Sovern was one of the biggest stars in southern Indiana and was the first Brownstown player to score 1,000 points in a career.
Even though Tampico has not had a high school since the end of the 1963 school year, the victory is still a special memory for those who can remember.
Maxie, one of the Tampico stars that night, easily remembers the game played more than 50 years ago.
“No one really gave us much of a chance, but coach Robison had us believing we could beat them. When we did, it was a really big deal to a lot of people,” Maxie said in early 2013.
Maxie still follows high school basketball closely, and even though he played in one of the greatest upsets in the history of the Seymour Sectional in non-class basketball, he favors a class system.
“I really do like class basketball,” he said. “It was so hard for a small school to win during the tourney, so I think class basketball has been a good thing. It gives the smaller schools a chance to win.”
For the record, Tampico finished with a 13-7 record that season while playing their home games either at Vallonia or Crothersville, as the Tampico gym burnt down in the late 1940s.
Peters remembers the time as a special part of his life.
“It was a great time for all of us that played,” he said. “Since we didn’t have a gymnasium at Tampico, we practiced at Crothersville. Every day at 11:30, we ate lunch at Tampico, got on a school bus and went to a two-hour practice at Crothersville right in the middle of the school day, and sometimes, if everything went well, we got to stop at the doughnut shop in Crothersville. It was a great time to be a basketball player in Indiana.”
The following year, and Tampico’s last season, Robison led the Bobcats to a 12-7 record.
Meet the 1961-62 Tampico Bobcats
Coach: Bob Robison
Players: Harlann Peters, Barton Maxie, Richard Peters, Woodrow VonDielingen, Richard Gambrel, Robert Peters, Merrill King, Robert Gambrel, Dale Barkman, Norris Kovener, Melvin Tatlock, Richard Tormoehlen and Donald Wessel
Cheerleaders: Norma Lee, Donna Stuckwisch and Peggy Gambrel