By John Gillis
With a population of 11,612, Washington, Indiana is located in the southwestern tip of the state. It is the home of Washington High School, which has an enrollment of 746 students in grades 9-12.
With seven Indiana High School Athletic Association (IHSAA) boys basketball state championships to its credit, the Washington Hatchets ‑ as they are known – are tied with Marion High School for the second-most boys basketball state titles (Muncie Central High School leads the way with eight). The Hatchets play their home games in a gymnasium befitting one of the state’s top programs appropriately called the “Hatchet House.”
With a seating capacity of 7,090, the Hatchet House has been the site of many memorable games and events. Among others, it is the yearly home for IHSAA sectional and regional basketball tournaments. The original Hatchet House, which is now the junior high gym facility, was constructed in 1925 and was home to three state championship teams in 1930, 1941 and 1942. Today’s Hatchet House opened in 1967.
Originally called the “Old Gold and Black,” Washington’s nickname was changed to the “Undertakers” in the early 1920s due to the fact that the father of the top player from that season owned a funeral home and provided the funeral home’s cars to transport the team to out-of-town games. Many of the local townspeople didn’t feel that to be an appropriate nickname.
A local newspaper columnist for the Washington Democrat, Harold Brouillette, had begun a campaign to change the name of the team. In several of his articles about Washington’s games during the 1924-25 season, he made a point to mention that “Washington’s team cut through the opposition just like George Washington’s ‘hatchet’ cut through the cherry tree.”
In the summer of 1925, Washington hired a new basketball coach named Burl Friddle. Friddle was aware of the “name” situation and in October 1925, he called the basketball players together to discuss an official nickname for the team. The basketball team chose the name “Hatchets.”
One of the more notable events that occurred at the Hatchet House took place in February 1968. Richard Nixon had agreed to speak at the Daviess County Republican Party’s Lincoln Day Dinner. In the days prior to the scheduled speech, Nixon had announced his candidacy for President of the United States. As such, the speech Nixon gave in the Hatchet House turned out to be the opening speech of his campaign for the Presidency.
Another notable event was the hosting of the Soviet National Junior Olympic team’s game with the Indiana All-Stars in 1979. The Indiana All-Stars were led by Indiana’s Mr. Basketball, Steve Bouchie of Washington High School. The Hatchet House has also hosted several exhibition games for the Indiana All-Stars and collegiate all-stars over the years.
Among the notable figures who played at the Hatchet House were current and former NBA players Larry Bird, Damon Bailey, Calbert Cheaney, Steve Alford and Craig Neal. In addition, coach Jack Butcher (former Loogootee High School boys basketball coach and Indiana career victory leader with an 806-250 record), and NCAA championship coaches Bob Knight and Roy Williams also were in the Hatchet House.
Over the years, the Hatchet House has also featured many standout Washington High School athletes including girls basketball player Julie Helm, the 1995 IHSAA Mental Attitude Award winner who later played for the University of Missouri; Bouchie, who was 1979 Mr. Basketball and is a member of the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame; and Neal, who was a 1983 All-Star, a former NBA player and coach, and a current associate head coach at New Mexico.
However, perhaps the most famous and biggest (literally) names were the three tall and talented Zeller brothers ‑ Luke, Tyler and Cody ‑ who have been the bane of existence of opposing teams for many years.
Luke, who is the oldest of the three, graduated from Washington High School in 2005. At 6-foot-11 and 245 pounds, Luke was the model of consistency in his four years as a Hatchet. During his freshman season, he averaged 15.3 points and 8.0 rebounds a game. His next three years were nearly identical as he averaged 18.1 points and 8.3 rebounds as a sophomore, 19.8 points and 9.4 rebounds as a junior, and 19.6 points and 8.9 rebounds as a senior.
During his senior year, he led Washington to a 27-2 record and to the IHSAA Class 3A state championship. In that 2005 title game, Luke nearly recorded a triple-double with 27 points, nine rebounds and 11 assists. Adding frosting to the cake, he hit the game-winning shot from midcourt as time expired in overtime. A four-time all-conference and all-state selection, Luke was chosen Indiana Mr. Basketball and was named a McDonald’s All-American following his senior campaign. In addition, he was co-valedictorian of his class and lettered two years in cross country.
Next in line was 7-0, 250-pound Tyler Zeller, who graduated from Washington High School in 2008. During his four years there, Washington won four sectional titles and the Class 3A state title during his freshman and senior years (2005 and 2008).
During his senior year, Tyler averaged 33.1 points and 11 rebounds per game, and he also shot 69 percent from the field and 82 percent from the free-throw line. In his final high school game ‑ the 2008 Class 3A final against Fort Wayne Harding ‑ Tyler scored 47 points, which broke the Indiana boys basketball championship game scoring record that had stood since 1970.
In addition to being a standout basketball player, Tyler also played on Washington High's tennis team for three years, and finished his high school career with a 3.99 grade-point average on a 4.0 scale, good for third in his graduating class. Following the 2008 season, he was named Indiana’s “Mr. Basketball” and was also named a McDonald's All-American.
The youngest of the three brothers is Cody, who is currently a 7-0, 240-pound sophomore basketball player at Indiana University.
In his freshman year of high school, Cody averaged a modest 2.4 points and 1.4 rebounds per game as Washington won the 2008 IHSAA Class 3A state championship. During his sophomore season, he significantly upped his averages to 15 points and 6.8 rebounds per game. As a junior, Cody led Washington to the 2010 IHSAA Class 3A state championship, averaging 20.5 points and 11.4 rebounds per game. Following that season, he was named an Indiana Junior All-Star.
During his senior year, Cody averaged 24.6 points, 13.1 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game while leading the Hatchets to the 2011 IHSAA Class 3A state championship, the third title of his career. Cody led the Indiana Senior All-Stars to a two-game sweep of the Kentucky All-Stars.
Following his senior season, Cody was named Indiana Mr. Basketball. He was also chosen to play in the 2011 McDonald's All American Game, in which he collected 10 points, three rebounds and three assists. Other honors Cody won during his high school career include first-team All-State honors from the Indiana Basketball Coaches Association, Gatorade Player of the Year accolades in Indiana, and Parade All-American.
John Gillis is the associate director of publications and communications of the NFHS. If you have any comments or articles ideas, please forward them to Gillis at firstname.lastname@example.org