Tindley wants to add basketball state title to strong academic reputation

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INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) - The entryway walls at Tindley Accelerated School are covered with the college acceptance letters of students.

“For a long time Tindley actually was that stereotype, really smart school and they were like really bad in sports,” said Tindley junior Hunter White. “But now the last couple years, all the sports have picked it up and now we're a really good athletic school."

Tindley is a small open-enrollment charter school with 272 students. The school opened in a former grocery store in the Indianapolis Meadows neighborhood in 2004. The Tigers play in their first state final in any sport Saturday at 10:30 a.m. against Lafayette Central Catholic for the Class A title at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

“I think that it shows that we are building our athletic department to try to match a blue ribbon level of achievement that we've done here with our academics,” said Tindley head coach Robert Wonnell. “We want our young men to be genuinely happy for other people when good things happen. That's easy to say, but hard to do. I think our group has really bought into that.”

Tindley does not apologize or waver from its motto. “College or Die” is painted on the wall just outside the school gym. 100% of Tindley students are expected to go on to a four year college.

"If you don't go to college, first of all you're missing out on a whole different world,” said White, who lives in Pike Township and has aspirations to be a doctor. “That world is basically dead if you don't go to college.”

“We graduate and we get to college,” said junior Eric Hunter, not to be confused with fellow star Hunter White. “What you do at that point is on you or that person. That's just what we live by here."

Hunter came to the Tindley schools as an 8th grader. He believes Tindley put him on a path to future success he was not on previously.

“The tight knit family environment, everybody knows everybody,” said Hunter. “There's not much drama. There's none of that.”

Tindley students wear uniforms with a strict compliance code. Using profanity could result in a five-day suspension. Students essentially finish high school requirements by their sophomore year and take college level courses after that.

“The things that we go through, the things that they put on us, builds character and it also gives us life lessons to become better young men,” said Tindley junior KJ Coleman.

The tiny Tindley gymnasium has just a few rollout bleachers on both sidelines and holds 360 people.

“As you can see, there are no banners in here,” said Hunter. “We would love to be the first."

Hunter was just named the Tindley's first junior Indiana All-Star. He leads the Tigers at 26.1 points a game, 7th in the state in scoring. Hunter shoots 54% from three-point range and also grabs 7.1 rebounds a game.

“We definitely like to get up and down,” said Hunter. “You've probably seen that. We're very unselfish. Nobody's really worried about points.”

“His demeanor and the way that he carries himself and the way that he treats his teammates, that's number one,” said Wonnell about Hunter. “That's what makes him special. When things are going great, he is the loudest cheerleader for everybody. When things are going bad, he doesn't look any different. He doesn't look like he's stressed. He doesn't look like he's worried. I think that sets the tone for our guys.”

Wonnell has built a winner at Tindley during his decade as head coach and seen the athletic department grow to 11 varsity sports. The Tigers hope to put a boys basketball state title trophy on display with all those college acceptance letters.

“It's really special,” said Coleman. “It's like building a legacy basically. From 10 years ago, people didn't even really know who Tindley was. Now look at us. We're on the way to the state championship."

“That's just terrific,” said White. “It's like really special. It's something you think about growing up. It's surreal that we're doing it right now.”

The Tigers (23-5) have won 10 straight games going into Saturday’s matchup with number one ranked and three-time state champion Lafayette Central Catholic (22-6).

“That's the program that's the model,” said Wonnell. “That's the example that we all want to be at that sustained consistency that they've had; sustained excellence, not just consistency. Every year they're right there for a state championship. They're the model that we're trying to be like.”

The Tigers have been driven this season by the disappointment of losses in the regional the past two years.

“We're really hungry,” said Coleman. “We held a grudge because of last year. We were heartbroken and crying in the locker room. A month from when we lost, we came right back in the gym and started going hard.”

“These guys are gamers,” said Wonnell. “They love to play against the best on the biggest stage and the brightest lights, so I anticipate us being excited and ready to roll.

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