The Real “Cheese” Behind the Fictional One: Covington High School Coach and Olivet Nazarene University grad, Kent Chezem

Looks like Hoosiers Jimmy Chitwood?

In my novel Love on the Big Screen, the protagonist Zuke has a sort of love rival named “Cheese.”  It’s a name I took from real life from my friend and former teammate, Kent Chezem.  I remember that one of the coaches at Olivet Nazarene University where we were teammates used to always call Kent by the name “Jimmy,” as in Jimmy Chitwood from Hoosiers.  Kent was an excellent basketball player, the all time leader at Olivet Nazarene University in assists, and now he’s the head basketball coach at Covington High School in Indiana.  Kent has been a head coach in Indiana for seventeen years and last season he recently won his 200th game.  I asked him the following question about an event that I once witnessed when we were teammates: 

When I was on the Olivet Nazarene University basketball team, you became the all-time leader for assists.  I remember that when you broke the record, lots of students threw cheese slices onto the floor.  Was that the first time the students did that?   

Bill Torgerson Kent Chezem Love on the Big Screen Covington High School St. John's University Frankfort, Indiana Jimmy Chitwood

Looks like a young Coach Chezem?

No, I guess it actually started my freshman year before you arrived at Olivet.  As an ONU grad, you know that the best and worst part of being a freshman is living in Chapman Hall.  As much as I hated living in that old run down dorm, some of my fondest college memories originate from there.  Some of my friends in Chapman decided it would be cool to start throwing cheese when I was introduced during starting line-ups.  They stole the idea from Cleveland State whose student section did the same thing for their starting point guard:  Kenny “Mouse” McFadden.  Mouse McFadden had become famous for leading Cleveland State in an upset win over Indiana University and Bobby Knight in the NCAA tournament back in the 80’s.

What started out as a nice and simple gesture by a group of my friends (about 25 Kraft singles) grew quickly into a campus-wide fad.  Within a few games, it seemed like everyone was bringing cheese to throw during introductions.  By the end of the season, each home game started out with a “delay” prior to tipoff so that Godam Sultan (Birchard custodian) could clear the floor of cheese.  As much as I enjoyed the attention, the mess on the floor was really starting to become a problem.  At the end of the season, the conference instituted a rule declaring that a technical foul would be called at all future games where fans threw objects on the floor before or during the game.  That was the last of the cheese to be thrown in Birchard, at least that’s what I thought.

Bill Torgerson Kent Chezem Love on the Big Screen Covington High School St. John's University Frankfort, Indiana Jimmy Chitwood

Celebratory Confetti or Dangerous Projectile?

My buddies did bring back the Kraft singles one last time my senior year.   They knew that I was very close to breaking the school’s career assist record, so they came to the game armed with a “Cheese-O-Meter” to countdown the assists, and a whole bunch of Kraft singles.  After my roommate Mike Carr missed 3 consecutive chances to give me the record, David Grasse finally hit a jumper to push me over the top.  The student section let ’em fly.  As  expected, the referees did call a technical foul, but luckily we were well enough ahead that it didn’t have any bearing on the game.  I still remember having a conversation with one of the opposing players during the technical free throws about why our students were throwing cheese onto the floor during a basketball game.

Olivet was a pretty conservative place.  Am I right to remember that you got in a lot of trouble for painting a speed bump to make it look like a candy cane? 

Bill Torgerson Kent Chezem Love on the Big Screen Covington High School St. John's University Frankfort, Indiana Jimmy Chitwood

Candy Cane Speed Bump Prank?

Painting candy stripes on a speed bump would have been a funny prank, but you are giving me credit for something I didn’t do.  I am guilty of setting off fireworks in the quad, dropping water balloons out of dorm rooms, and among other things…dressing up in a gorilla costume and stealing candy from the girls’ dorms at Halloween.  I even remember a night that started with a bunch of my buddies, a few dozen water balloons, and a pickup truck.  It ended up with us getting hauled in to jail and Grover Brooks (Dean of Students) picking us up from the police station at 4 am!  That fiasco got me kicked out of the honors dorm for the remainder of the semester, but it was one of the funniest nights of my life.  Luckily nobody got hurt and nobody was formally charged with a crime.