Beech Grove alumnus Bob Wonnell looks to further his basketball coaching career in Kokomo after a slam-dunk year at Tindley
After 10 years as the varsity basketball coach for Charles A. Tindley Accelerated School and four years as its athletic director, Bob Wonnell is prepared for a change.
He and his family will soon relocate to Kokomo where he has taken a job as a U.S. history and geography teacher as well as the varsity basketball coach. This will be the first time, aside from his college years, that he won’t reside on the Southside of Indianapolis.
Wonnell grew up in Beech Grove, graduating from the high school in 1996. He played football, basketball and baseball through his time there. His interest in athletics grew when his father began taking him to watch ball games while he was in middle school.
“I developed my passion and my love for basketball at Beech Grove,” Wonnell said. “Going to those games and seeing how much it meant to a community probably sold me on the idea of high school coaching. It’s about relationships. It’s about mentoring, teaching and serving. Your life should be about trying to help people and give back, help young people become good people. You’re not thinking about those things as a middle schooler watching the varsity team, but you are thinking, wow, look how big of a deal this is. Beech Grove definitely sold me on that.”
Wonnell credits his coaches for setting a good example that he tries to model today.
“Wendell Crook and Richard Peak were two guys that meant the world to me,” Wonnell said. “Both of those guys were family men. When I was going through this, they had young kids. They were always around. I thought that was neat. I thought that’s what I want. Our most important job as a coach is to be a good mentor and citizen. Those guys modeled that.”
Wonnell played basketball at Marian College for two years, and two years at Earlham College. He finished up his degree in history at the University of Indianapolis. He started serving as an assistant basketball coach for Cardinal Ritter while working full time as a case worker for the state of Indiana. He was an assistant coach for seven years in different high schools. What he truly wanted was to be a varsity coach, so he returned to school for a master’s in education.
In 2017, he learned that Tindley, a public charter school in Indianapolis, was looking to branch out its athletic programming. He applied to teach there and lead the basketball program.
“I didn’t know exactly what I was getting into with a public charter school,” Wonnell said. “Before I took the job, the team was 0-18. They had been beat by 100 multiple times. It’s an academic school. My first couple of years, we had some really strong kids that were able to listen.”
Wonnell worked hard to build the basketball team into a competitive 1A program. Four years ago, he was offered the opportunity to become the school’s athletic director and remain head basketball coach. At the same time, Indianapolis Public Schools was going through a struggling time and needed to let go of some of its schools. Tindley was given the right to operate Arlington High School. This ultimately made Wonnell the athletic director over Tindley’s high school, middle schools and Arlington for four and a half years.
“Our last three years, we could compete with 4A schools,” he said. “We’re just a really good team.”
Wonnell finished his 10th season as basketball coach on a high note this year. Tindley won its IHSAA State Championship against Lafayette Central Catholic.
“That group of kids that won the state championship, they were special,” Wonnells aid. “They care more about the good of the group. We have great players, but they were great kids and team-oriented… It was a great feeling of group effort.”
Throughout the years, Wonnell has kept in contact with many of his Beech Grove mentors through the occasional email, text or chance encounter.
“Bobby Wonnell was an excellent student and fantastic athlete while attending Beech Grove schools,” stated Richard Peak, who now teaches at Beech Grove Middle School. “He had the ability to play anything and be good at it. However, Bobby’s best attribute was that he was a great person to be around. He was very respectful to his teachers, coaches and his peers.”
He continued, “I was so proud when Bobby got into coaching and athletic administration. I knew he would do a fantastic job. He proved this by achieving a lifelong dream by winning a state championship in basketball this year. I am proud to have been one of Bobby’s teachers, coaches and most of all friends over the past years.”
The job has been more than a full-time task, and Wonnell said he wanted to make a change to have more time available for his family. Wonnell, his wife Monica, and children, Bobby, Rilyn and Russell will leave their Franklin Township home at the end of July and relocate to Kokomo where he will coach the 4A program.
“I’m ready for a new challenge, educationally,” Wonnell said. “I’m recharged to get back into the classroom. Being a varsity basketball coach is my passion. If you relate it to college basketball, I look at Kokomo as a Duke or IU. It’s an unbelievable opportunity. Running a program is plenty of responsibility for me. I’m excited to throw myself fully into it.”