Katie Hupfer wins 2024 IndyStar Sports Mom of the Year

PENDLETON — Katie Hopfer, formerly Hanold, grew up here in Pendleton, about two blocks from downtown, four blocks from the school and five from the park. There was a house next door to hers that had an empty lawn perfect for playing baseball or kicking a ball or something.

“As long as we mow the lawn and cut the grass, we can exercise,” she said.

There were 15 to 18 neighborhood kids who would join Katie and some of her siblings (four sisters and two brothers). Virgil Mabry, who is the same age as Katie and in her graduating class, once told her oldest son, Kyle Hopfer, that his mother could throw harder and run faster than any of the boys. “Your mother would do anything you wanted in sports,” Mabry told him.

Mabry knew too. He was the leading scorer on Pendleton’s basketball team as a senior. But for Katie, who grew up in the 1950s and early 1960s, there were few opportunities for girls to play sports. In high school, like other girls her age, she was limited to sporting opportunities provided through the Girls’ Athletic Association (GAA). It was better than nothing.

But not much.

Katie Hopfer, IndyStar's 2024 Athlete Mother of the Year, smiles for a photo, Thursday, May 9, 2024, at her home in Pendleton.

This was still a decade before Title IX was passed by the United States Congress to ensure that institutions that received federal funding provided equal opportunities for men and women. Katie played the old-fashioned 6-on-6 basketball game that was popular in Iowa in the 1990s.

“They thought girls were so fragile,” Katie said. “So, they weren’t used to having all the girls running up and down the court. They had two on one end, two on the other, and two rovers. And obviously you can see how basketball has evolved and come a long way since then.”

Hopfer, 78, often had a front row seat. IndyStar’s 2024 Mother’s Day Athlete of the Year has traveled thousands of miles — “I’d love to know how many miles,” said her daughter, Angie Bosnak — tracking her four children, and now her grandchildren. These kids and their classmates know her as “Memaw” who is always on time for her Rice Krispie bowls.

But Meemaw is not nice. Her husband, Clarence, calls her “old school.” When it came to sports, she expected her children to fight their own battles. She wanted them to fight through their own struggles without parental interference. One time, when eldest son Kyle came home after a game and said, “Well, I was bad tonight.” His mother’s response? “Yes you did.”

“I think one of the mistakes parents sometimes make is they try to make everything easier for their kids,” Katie said. “I think it’s okay for kids to have things that don’t go right and they have to confront those things. … That’s part of everything in life. Things don’t always go the way you want them to go.”

Katie lost her father, Fred, at the age of 53 in 1972. One of his favorite pastimes was going to basketball games on Friday nights. His sons, Phil and Fred, were standout athletes who played basketball and ran track in college at Indiana Central.

“He had a fancy radio so he could follow all the games when my brothers played,” Katie said. “He wasn’t going to miss any games. He loved being here when my kids were playing.”

Katie also graduated from Indiana Central in 1968. Her mother, Ruth, was an elementary teacher in Pendleton from 1951 to 1982 and six of her seven children earned degrees in education, including Katie. She taught math and physical education at Beech Grove in her first job out of college, then stepped back from teaching to raise her children.

Clarence Kyle got his start playing basketball at an early age in Anderson, where he played in leagues for the Wilson Boys Club. One day, when Katie brought Kyle to Anderson for practice, longtime coach Willie Turner asked Katie if the girls would sign up, too. Megan was a sixth grader and Angie was a second grader.

“He looked at Megan and said, ‘What about her?’” Katie recalled. I said: What about her? She was playing some “Y” ball and stuff but he said, “You need to score it.” I had to change my whole thinking about women’s sports and girls playing sports because it wasn’t available to us. It was almost by accident that we brought her into it.

Accidental, perhaps. But a smart move. Kyle, who has grown to 6-7, averaged 26.5 points per game as a Pendleton Heights senior in 1990-91. He signed with North Carolina Greensboro before moving to Manchester after one season to play for Steve Alford. Hopfer went on to score 1,152 points at Manchester and helped the program to the Division III national championship game with a 33-1 record in 1994-95.

“My mom didn’t pamper me, she was always very encouraging,” said Kyle, who went on to become an attorney, business owner and former state Republican chairman. “The coaches were always right. I think her mother was too, so that’s where I got it. But where my daughter was able to coach and dribble and different things at a young age, I didn’t start doing things like that until later. She was encouraging that my time would come and that’s what It happened to me I was on the B team in middle school and then became one of the top players my senior year in high school.

Megan was only one year behind Kyle in school. At the high school girls’ games, Katie noticed that the concession stand wasn’t open. “I went to (management) and said, ‘We want to sell franchises,’” she said. “They said, ‘You have to clean the gym if you do that.’”

For eight years, Katie bought franchises to sell girls’ toys. The Hopfers, at the time, lived directly across the street from the school.

“I’ll get all the waivers and set them up,” she said. “Other parents got involved, too. After the games, the parents would take out brooms and stuff and sweep the gym. It’s hard to imagine now. But someone has to take that step and put in the work and make it easier for the next group to join.”

Angie remembered those trips to Sam’s Club to pick up candy bars and Coke to fill the concession stand. After a volleyball game, she hopped into the minivan after everything was packed and got her leg stuck in the car. She looked at her bleeding leg and said to her mother: “I think this is hospital time.” But first things first.

“We need to unpack these compromises,” Angie recalled her mother responding.

By Megan’s senior year, she was one of the best players in the state. The 5-11 Megan was the first Pendleton Heights player to be named an Indiana All-Star after averaging 21.7 points and 12.0 rebounds. She set school records for career points (1,074), rebounds (638) and single-game scoring (38 points).

“There was a healthy competition at home between us brothers,” said Megan McCluskey, who lives in Newport, Ky. “My mom, both our parents, believed we worked hard and things would pay off. If there was a problem with the coach, they wanted us to step in and deal with it.” With it and we are responsible for ourselves.

After Megan graduated from high school, it was the height of divide and conquer for Clarence and Katie. Megan played college basketball at Kentucky’s Morehead State for four years, earning all-conference honors and averaging 13.6 points and 7.5 rebounds during her career (ranking No. 12 on the school’s all-time list with 1,444 points scored and 10y In rebounds, 792).

By 1995, Kyle was a senior at Manchester and Megan was a junior at Morehead State. Angie was already a star as a junior at Pendleton Heights and youngest child Ryan was a freshman in high school. But through all the travel, it was also a special time for Katie, who was often accompanied by her mother, Ruth, who died in 2011 at the age of 95.

A framed photo of Katie and Clarence Hopfer's grandson leans against a wall, Thursday, May 9, 2024, at Katie Hopfer's home in Pendleton.

“No matter what, she will do it,” Katie said. “I remember driving with her in the fog coming down from Kentucky. She would eat where she ate, and stay where she stayed. She never criticized anything. No matter what, she would do it. When Kyle played in the national championship in Buffalo in 1995, she flew out there. I’m the same way Now with our grandchildren I think I’ve kind of learned from her how to handle things, not just in sports but in life as well. She’s always been a good example for me.”

Angie is arguably the biggest basketball star of the four kids, although she said Ryan is her “favorite.” She was the team’s most valuable player at Pendleton Heights all four seasons, leading the program to its first three single-division sectional titles in 1994, ’95 and ’96. She broke her sister’s all-time scoring records with 1,455 career points and 798 rebounds.

Angie went 5-11 to play at St. Joseph’s College, where she scored 2,510 points in her career and led the nation as a junior with a 30.6 point average.

“Now that I have kids, I understand everything our mother did to support us,” said Posnak, who has three children and lives in Greencastle. “My dad too. But my mom was the one who drove us everywhere, made sure we got everywhere. I have a much better appreciation for the time and effort she put into everything.

Ryan, who was 6-7, was also a standout basketball player at Pendleton Heights, averaging 19.9 points as a senior in 1997-98 before moving on to play at the University of Indianapolis, where he was the first player to be named the ‘ Scholar Athlete of the Year. By the Great Lakes Valley Conference and his portrait hangs in Nixon Hall.

Athletic genes were passed on to grandchildren. Madison, Megan’s eldest daughter, was a standout high school player at Newport Central Catholic and earned a four-year scholarship to Division II Ashland University (Ohio). Her younger sister, Riley McCluskey, won a state championship as a junior at Notre Dame (Ky.) Academy in 2022 and was runner-up last fall. She is committed to the University of Memphis. Mason McCloskey will graduate this year after being a four-year athlete at Newport Central Catholic in football and soccer. He will play football on scholarship at Division II St. Thomas More (Ky.). Reece McCloskey, also a three-sport athlete and Riley’s twin, is also a prospective college athlete and a member of the National Honor Society.

Closer to home, Kyle’s daughter Ada is a 6-3 freshman who has averaged 10.6 points and 11.3 rebounds this season. I got my first section late last month from the University of Indianapolis.

“I always stressed to the kids that they were lucky to get to play,” Katie said. She called them their “days in the sun.” There are a lot of people who don’t get anything.”

This includes Katie. Twelve years after graduating from high school, Judy Warren led Warsaw to its first state girls’ basketball championship and was named Miss Basketball. Opportunities have grown from her children’s generation to her grandchildren’s generation. But she is most proud of what her children have been able to do after playing athletics. All four children excelled in academics and had successful careers.

“It comes down to expectations, I guess,” Katie said. “A lot of people worry about keeping kids happy rather than anticipating what they should do. You can’t put a value on exercise. …But you see that the way they deal with life situations, it comes from teamwork, fulfilling commitments.”

Contact Star reporter Kyle Niedenreib at (317) 444-6649.

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