Indy Church Youth Sports Program Turns 90

Celebrity worship: Tabernacle has an all-star roster of alums.

Tabernacle Presbyterian Church’s youth sports league, started 90 years ago this month at 34th and Central, broke racial barriers before Kenny Washington and Woody Strode suited up as the first black men in the NFL, before Jackie Robinson smashed Major League Baseball’s color line, and before the NBA integrated in 1950. Early on, Tab’s community leagues were open to everyone. “Race was never really an issue,” claims John Byers, who headed the program for 20 years until 2006.
Perhaps the inclusion explains why Tab became a sports powerhouse. At the outset, its football and basketball teams traveled throughout the Midwest to compete, not unlike today’s select youth soccer and baseball squads.
“We were one of the biggest and best church-sponsored programs in the country,” says Byers. As word spread, so did enrollment. In Tab’s heyday, “the near-northside was such a great location,” Byers says. “There weren’t any middle-school athletic programs or others like us—we were it. And Tab had a good, contagious feel about it.”
Since its inception, 100,000 kids ages 4 to 14 have competed in the league that now offers eight sports. Next year, Tab Rec will dedicate a $1 million mini-stadium to go along with a current football field outfitted with NFL-caliber turf. Nearly 2,000 children participate annually, and some have gone on to notable careers in sports and beyond. You’ll probably recognize a few.
Pictured (clockwise from top left):
George Hill, Indiana Pacers guard
Mitch Daniels, Former governor and president of Purdue University
Liz Turner Suscha, NCAA director of championships and alliances
Greg Ballard, Mayor
Rosevelt Colvin, Won two Super Bowl rings with the New England Patriots
Mickey Maurer, Chairman of the National Bank of Indianapolis
Not pictured:
Sam Summerville, Chicago Bears scout
Will Higgins, The Indianapolis Star reporter
Mark Clayton, NFL Pro Bowler with the Miami Dolphins
Illustration by John Ueland