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Benton Central’s Caleb Dimmich Star Still Brightly Shines 25 years later!

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A fatal day on the farm: Indiana Wesleyan basketball superstar electrocuted 25 years ago

Dana Hunsinger Benbow

Indianapolis Star

The air was muggy, already 80 degrees, when Caleb Dimmich showed up to work on the farm that Monday morning 25 years ago. It was going to be one of those suffocating summer days, no wind, no clouds and temperatures that would reach 95 degrees.

Caleb was used to the heat. He had spent many summer days working on his dad’s Benton County farm, followed by evenings that fell into darkness shooting for hours on the family’s hoop behind the house.

For Caleb, no matter what else there was, there was always farming and there was always basketball.

On that sweltering July day of 1999, Caleb was home for the summer after his junior season at Indiana Wesleyan University where he was the school’s basketball superstar. He held three records, including one he set just months before for the most 3-point shots made in a game. Caleb had drained 11 and scored 43 points.

He was ready for his senior season and ready to set more records. But first, he was enjoying a summer at home, working with his dad.

On the day Caleb died, he had gotten to the fields first. As he started working, Caleb noticed there was a short in the motor of one of the grain bins.

When his dad, David Dimmich, arrived, he told him about the faulty motor and went to work trying to repair it. David was shoveling corn out of a nearby bin when he looked over and saw Caleb leaning in the door of the bin. Then he saw his leg twitching. David’s heart dropped.

He frantically called out to his son, but Caleb didn’t respond. David immediately shut off the power. It was too late.

“He was electrocuted leaning in the door of that grain bin,” David told IndyStar last week. “When I grabbed ahold of him, I could feel a slight shock going through him and so, I laid him down on the ground. He was gone then.”

Still, with the kind of desperate hope only a father can have, David ran to the phone in the shop and called 9-1-1.

“As the ambulance carrying Caleb’s lifeless form sped out our farm lane and rapidly disappeared from sight,” David wrote in a letter after his son’s death. “I knew many of our hopes and dreams disappeared with it.”

His oldest son, J. Caleb Dimmich, was pronounced dead at 10:47 a.m. July 5, 1999, at St. Vincent Hospital in Williamsport. He was 22.

Caleb Dimmich

Caleb died with so many hopes and dreams in front of him that were tragically cut short.

Twenty five years after his death, Caleb still holds three records for Indiana Wesleyan basketball − most 3 pointers in one game (11), most points scored by a freshman in a game (42) and the school’s consecutive free throw record (27).

And that’s after Kyle Mangas, the best player in school history, made his mark.

“Kyle holds every record at Indiana Wesleyan. He broke every single record we had, save three,” said David, “the three that Caleb holds.”

Before he died, Caleb told his parents, David and Kristin, he hoped to be named Most Valuable Senior Athlete and Most Valuable Business Student in his final year at college. Caleb was engaged to Erin Hayworth, his girlfriend of seven years, and the two talked often about their wedding and raising a house full of children.

“After Caleb died, we wondered whether life could ever be good again,” David wrote in 2013. “Our lives seemed to stand still and, in many respects, they still do. But life forces you to move on, regardless of the pain.”

And moving on has come in the most incredible ways for David and Kristin as they have watched their son’s legacy, his Christian testimony and his spirit live on, not only through Indiana Wesleyan basketball but far beyond that.

Caleb Dimmich Locker Room – IWUHoops

The kind-hearted big brother turned assassin on the court

In college, Caleb was known as the 6-1, 175-pound superstar from Boswell, Ind., and also as the guy who seemed to have the world at his feet.

He was handsome with dark hair, a broad smile he flashed frequently and a charm that can’t be taught. Not to mention, he had a huge heart, a kind spirit and a solid faith that only grew as he attended Indiana Wesleyan.

After a record-setting high school basketball career at Benton Central, Caleb got offers from all over the country. He decided to stay in state and went to the University of Indianapolis on a full ride where he was a redshirt.

David said Caleb quickly knew the school wasn’t the right fit for him. The atmosphere was harsh, he wasn’t enjoying being at the practices and that was not Caleb. No matter what, no matter where, Caleb had always loved basketball.

Caleb Dimmich, who died at 22 in a farm accident, was a star athlete at Benton Central High and star basketball player at Indiana Wesleyan University.

He was five years old when he started shooting hoops behind his house on a goal his dad lowered to five feet. From the very start, Caleb was “dramatically advanced for his age,” said David.

He would play on AAU teams, usually a couple years ahead. As an eighth grader, he was the starting point guard on a team full of sophomores who all went on to play college ball. When Caleb got to high school at Benton Central, he graduated as the career leading scorer with 1,216 points.

“A teammate once characterized Caleb this way,” said David. “He said, ‘Off the court, he was the nicest man you could ever hope to meet, but just as soon as he stepped across those lines, he was an assassin.’”

Aaron Willson remembers that side of Caleb very well.

“Caleb had a good competitive edge to him and sometimes it could be misconstrued as maybe temper, maybe a little bit,” he said, “but it was well controlled.”

What Willson remembers most about Caleb is the way he took other players under his wing. Willson was a freshman during Caleb’s final season and considered him a big brother, of sorts, with Caleb showing him what it was like to be a college athlete and encouraging him every step of the way.

“I can also think of a number of other people there that Caleb definitely looked out for because maybe they weren’t used to that environment or maybe weren’t as strong of people,” Willson said. “He had a good heart for sensing where people may have a need and trying to fill it.”

Willson only got nine months with Caleb before his death, but the connection was immediate.

Aaron Willson (right) says he and Caleb Dimmich connected immediately. Willson only got to play one season with Dimmich, who died in 1999 in a farming accident.

Two nights before Caleb died on the farm, Willson got a call from him. Caleb wanted to remind Willson that before they had left Indiana Wesleyan for the summer, Willson had borrowed Caleb’s basketball and never given it back. He teased Willson about it, the two laughed and promised the ball would be returned to the rightful owner.

Two nights later, after an evening out with friends, Willson walked into his Michigan home and saw his parents sitting on the couch waiting for him. He knew something had to be terribly wrong.

“You need to sit down,” they told Willson. Then they told him that Caleb had died.

“It hits you right away because it makes you realize your own mortality, because at that age you think you’re invincible,” said Willson. “Then you also think of the loss of a friend that’s not going to be there anymore.”

After Caleb died, Willson held on to his basketball until 2010 when Indiana Wesleyan held its annual Caleb Dimmich Memorial Tournament. Willson was finally able to make it back. There, he gave Caleb’s college pickup basketball to David and Kristin. It was a bittersweet, heart wrenching moment.

Caleb Dimmich with his mom, Kristin.

That is just one of the many incredible, unexpected things that have happened since Caleb’s death, said David, but first they had to fight their way out of the overwhelming grief.

‘Our cheers would turn to tears’

There were times the Dimmichs weren’t sure if they would make it through the loss of their son. David soon began to write about Caleb. It was therapy for him. It somehow helped David hold onto his son.

One poignant piece David wrote was about the night Caleb set the single game 3-point record at Indiana Wesleyan. It was Nov. 14, 1998, eight months before his death.

“The game’s color commentator, former coach Mike Rohrbach, is about to lose his cool and his mind,” David wrote. “As Caleb scores one 3-point field goal after another, Coach Mike shouts his customary, ‘Pow’ into his television microphone.”

During the post-game television interview, all of Caleb’s family members were “incredulous about what we had just witnessed,” David wrote. “Little did we know that in a few short months our cheers would turn to tears.”

Caleb Dimmich

Caleb’s younger brother, Zachary, also wrote through his grief in a poem titled, “Cabie.”

“It’s hard to know just where to start with so much weighing on my heart. So hard for me to understand how this is all part of the plan,” Zachary wrote. “Until the day I’ll see your face, I’ll run the race and keep my pace. Your time on earth came to an end, but you’ll always be brother — best friend.”

The news of Caleb’s death hit everyone hard, not just his family but the town of Boswell, the Benton Central community and the Indiana Wesleyan campus, leaving many in disbelief that the larger than life basketball superstar was really gone.

“He was a just a great human being,” Nelson Bane, who was Caleb’s high school basketball coach, said at the time. “It just makes you realize how uncertain life is. But my heart goes out to his family and everybody because this is a loss for the whole community as well.”

While Caleb was a popular kid at school and a phenom on the court, he never had an ego, said Bane. “He was so mature for a kid his age. He was a kid, but you knew you could talk to him like he was an adult.”

Before Caleb died, his high school scoring record was beaten by his best friend, Ben Anderson, who said Caleb was like a brother to him. The two would go fishing, play basketball and work on David’s farm together. They had even talked about becoming business partners and owning a farm later in life.

“He was a role model for me,” Anderson said after Caleb’s death. “I couldn’t ask for a better best friend. Caleb was truly a man of God.”

The Dimmich family, from left, Zachary, Kristin, David and Caleb.

Caleb was just a kid when he accepted Christ the first time, his dad said, but he rededicated his life once he got to Indiana Wesleyan.

“Indiana Wesleyan made a big impact on his life and prepared him to go home, no doubt,” said David. “We’re convinced of that.”

When David talks about Caleb’s death, he doesn’t say his son died. He says, “He went home.”

“Caleb was a believer and our entire family is a believer. And much of what happened after he passed was because of his faith and as a result of his faith,” David said. “So many people have been impacted because of the faith.”

Caleb’s funeral was held at Benton Central’s gym, the only place big enough to hold the more than 1,500 people who attended. Caleb’s uncle, who was a pastor in Muncie for 43 years, preached the service. Another pastor in attendance was so touched by those words about Caleb’s life and testimony that on the following Sunday, he preached them at his church of 4,000 parishioners in northern Indiana.

After that service, more than 130 people made a first-time commitment to Christ, said David.

The Dimmichs have lost track of how many people have given their lives to Christ because of Caleb. They have also lost count of how many babies were named after him. At last count, there were 14.

The season after Caleb died, his locker remained untouched. “Nobody took his locker,” said Willson. “We just kept that Caleb’s locker.” In 2013, Indiana Wesleyan renamed the facility the Caleb Dimmich Memorial Locker Room.

There have been golf outings in Caleb’s honor to raise money for scholarship funds and Indiana Wesleyan also started a scholarship in his name that continues today.

In October 1999, three months after his death, Indiana Wesleyan held a campus-wide memorial to honor Caleb’s life, the first time in the then 80-year history of the school they had ever done so to honor a student who had died.

In November, the university held the first Caleb Dimmich Memorial Basketball Tournament, an event the school has held annually since. At the first tournament, Caleb’s No. 3 jersey was hung inside the entrance of Luckey Arena.

For Caleb’s locker room at Indiana Wesleyan, a dedication inscription was written.

A screenshot of the video played at the dedication of the Caleb Dimmich Locker Room at Indiana Wesleyan University.

“As impressive as his statistics are, they do not reflect the true legacy that Caleb left at Indiana Wesleyan University. ‘I Am Third’ has become the philosophy of the IWU basketball program. It means putting God first, others second and oneself third in actions and attitude. Caleb exemplified that lifestyle, and it is no coincidence that he also wore No. 3 on his IWU basketball jersey.”

Follow IndyStar sports reporter Dana Benbow on X: @DanaBenbow. Reach her via email: dbenbow@indystar.com.

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