Area Teams Achieved Enviable Cage Heights

 Editor's Note: This is the second installment of a four-part series on the history of high school basketball in the Times-Union coverage area. This week the author will highlight some of the area's top teams throughout the 80-plus years of high school basketball from schools that are now, or eventually became part of, the Manchester, Whitko, Tippecanoe Valley, Triton, Wawasee and Warsaw school systems. Attention will also be given to the gymnasiums that were the sites of some of the best games ever played. The installments will be printed each Saturday with the final piece of the series appearing March 12. The final two parts of the series will feature the players who graced the hardwood and brought the noise made by cheering crowds to a fever pitch. This series is dedicated to the decades of athletes who have blazed the trails for the cagers of today.

by Phil Smith, Times Union Sports Writer

In days gone by, the young men huddled together in the middle of the floor and planned their next move. Talking to the coach was only allowed during quarter breaks and halftime. Today, anxious young eyes stare at the coach as he gives last-second instructions and gives the order on who will be hitting the final shot.

The faces of high school basketball have changed year to year since 1911, when the Indiana High School Athletic Association began its first state tournament. The look has gotten almost anachronistic. In the more conservative years during basketball's infancy, jersey trunks, sometimes called "Marilyn Monroes," were short and form-fitting. Today, when just about anything goes, trunks are loose and can sometimes drape down around the knees.

Team spirit has changed little however, and a handful of area squads has given fans something to cheer about since the 1920s. In 1921, the Syracuse Yellow Jackets, led by shooting ace Emery Druckamiller, was the first area team to break out of the regional and into the "Sweet 16" state finals (Indiana instituted semistates in 1936).

A 20-17 win over Crawfordsville clinched the regional crown for Syracuse. The Yellow Jackets lost to Huntington 20-16 in the state finals. Syracuse's success seemed to open the flood gates. The Atwood Greyhounds, a team without a home gymnasium, clinched the regional the following year by topping Culver 13-10 in the sectional and upsetting regional foe South Whitley 30-10 to advance to the state tourney.

The Warsaw Tigers advanced to the Sweet 16 when they captured their first regional by defeating Milford 23-9 in 1923. But the Milford Trojans wouldn't have to wait long. Former Atwood standout Dan Anglin said he knew he would have to be in shape for any game he played against Milford. "You want to talk about fastbreak, that was Milford's bread and butter," said Anglin, who played for Atwood in the late 1940s and early '50s.

"Back in those days, the referee didn't have to touch the ball after the whistle. He would blow the whistle, you could grab the ball, jump out of bounds and throw it. That was up and down the court."

The Trojans had been running for years, starting in 1925 when they defeated the Pierceton Cubs in regional action. Milford became the fifth area team in as many years to advance to the state finals, getting ousted in the first round by Vincennes 45-23.

North Manchester Central's Trojans advanced to the Sweet 16 in 1924 and became the area's first team to fight its way to the Elite Eight. The [town?] Yellow Jackets took another trip south to the state finals in 1926 after defeating Warsaw in the regional 27-11, but were once again eliminated at the state with a 33-22 loss to Bedford.

Area basketball fans didn't follow an area team to Indianapolis for the state finals for seven years, until a group of scrappy young men from tiny Beaver Dam heisted the imaginations of everyone by grabbing back-to-back regional titles in 1933 and 1934. Gene Marshall, 78, of Akron was on both Beaver Dam teams and remembers all too well what it was like playing on a championship team.

"That first year (1933), a lot of us were sick because during the regional, we got locked out from where we were supposed to get dressed, and it was cold outside," said Marshall. The Beavers won straight regionals and lost their state tourney debuts to teams that remain perennial basketball powerhouses to this day --Fort Wayne North (1933) and Richmond (1934).

"I still remember those shot-blockers from Richmond," said Marshall. "You'd put up a shot, and they'd slap it right back to you." Maurice Dorsey of North Webster said he remembers playing the Beavers. "We had the misfortune of drawing Beaver Dam in the sectional tournament and we didn't fare so well," Dorsey said. "We got whipped."

"About the most exciting finish I ever saw to a game was when Mentone and Beaver Dam both had really good teams (1934) and it was a foregone conclusion that whoever won that semifinal game would win the tournament," said Dorsey.

"With 10 seconds to go in the game and the score tied 10-10, they threw the ball out to that tall (Gerald) Bidelman. He shot a one-hander out there way past what would be, a 3-pointer today and by golly it went in and Beaver Dam went on to the state."

The Mentone Bulldogs were known as the "Wonder Five" in 1935 and defeated Columbia City 41-15 in the regional to advance to the state dance. Louise Paulus Kinsey of Mentone was a cheerleader with two brothers playing for the Wonder Five. "It was real team play," she said. "They would throw the ball the length of the floor. It was so exciting."

The retired teacher remembers leading cheers in Butler University's Hinkle Field House. "What an experience it was for me as a cheerleader to lead cheers in that field house." The Bulldogs succumbed to Michigan City 35-24 in the Sweet 16.

The Warsaw Tigers, the area's winningest team, made it two in a row in 1935 and 1936. In the 1936 state tournament, the Tigers fell to New Castle 18-15, but Warsaw advanced to the Elite Eight the following year by downing semi-state foe Wabash 31-26, before falling victim to Fort Wayne 37-22.

The area went on an 11-year drought before the Chester Panthers of 1948 advanced past the regional in 1948. Glen Beery of North Manchester played for Chester when they were still nicknamed the Cornhuskers. The Chester program had yet to reach its championship level of 1948. "We drew Wabash in the (1932) sectional and I looked over at their bench. Their three best players never even put their shoes on," said the 78-year-old Beery.

"A lot of times, the games would be 12-10 or 16-14 --something like that. If any one player scored 10 points, he was nearly always the high point man."

Chester, Laketon and North Manchester Central consolidated to become Manchester High School's Squires by 1962. Following Chester's 1948 run at the state, the area hit a dry spell until the towns of Tippecanoe, Etna Green and Bourbon came together in the 1960s to form Triton.

The Trojans won the school's only regional crown in 1965 and defeated Cloverdale 70-67 in the semistate opener. Gary Roosevelt sent the talented team packing with a 103-61 rout in the finals.

In 1976, Warsaw had a stellar year. The Lady Tigers led by Miss Basketball Judi Warren, captured the first girls state championship and the Tiger boys captured the regional title. Since that magical year, the Warsaw basketball programs have built a veritable area dynasty.

The Lady Tigers repeated as state champs in 1978, won regional titles in 1980 and 1981 and earned state runner-up honors in 1991. The Tiger boys returned to the semi-state in 1980 and 1985, earned Final Four bids in 1981 and 1992. Last season, Al Rhodes led the 1993 Tigers past the opening round of the South Bend semi-state to achieve Elite Eight status. But it was 1984 that will not soon be forgotten.

Sparked by the talent of Mr. Basketball Jeff Grose and standouts like Marty Lehman and Steve Hollar, the Tigers won the state championship in 1984.

The Wawasee Lady Warriors won the Regional in 1984 and battled their way to the state runner-up spot the following year. Whitko boys coach Bill Patrick led his squad from South Whitley to the Final Four in 1991 with upsets in the sectional, regional and semi-state.

There were teams who came close, like the undefeated (regular season) team from North Webster in 1953, or the unscathed Manchester Squires of 1991 who were nipped in the sectional by Patrick's Wildcats. But, as former Silver Lake star, Valparaiso recruit and high school coach Tom Sittler points out, the concept of "team" may not only translate into wins, losses and championships.

There was a Silver Lake team in the late 1930s that found a way to win even though it had lost every basketball game. Silver Lake had a really weak team," said Sittler. "They lost and lost and the fans lost interest. Finally, Maury Reed, who owned the tavern in Silver lake told the guys, 'If you can win a game, I'll give everybody on the team hamburgers and french fries,' and that was a big treat. They were playing Etna Green and the result was about as usual. Etna Green beat the heck out of them. They were coming home and on the way, they got to thinking, 'Well hey, nobody followed us over here and nobody was at the game, so they don't know whether we won or lost.'

"When they got to the city limits of Silver Lake, they all hollered from the bus, 'We won, we won, we won by golly we won'. They went right by the tavern and on to the school about a block away. They went back to the tavern and there were hamburgers lined up all along the bar and the guys at the bar drinking beer had moved back to the back.

"They sat down and began eating hamburgers and french fries. They told (Reed) who the high scorer was and the score of the game, of course it was backwards. Maury began adding things up and said, 'Now that doesn't add up right. You guys didn't win, did you?" Well, maybe not the game.

Tom Sittler and Dan Anglin talked recently about "the Good Old Days." "Dan's all right," said Sittler with a chuckle. "His sense of space was a little bad. He believes he didn't step back out of bounds down there at Silver Lake."

"That's still a tough one for me," replied Anglin, referring to an Atwood/Silver Lake game when Anglin was called for stepping on the line. "The official said I stepped out of bounds," said Anglin as Sittler piped in with 'which he did.' "Yeah, the only reason Sittler said that is because I stole the ball from him --the invincible. I got the ball to Dick Swanson and he laid it in. It was probably the only basket he (Swanson) got all year -- and it didn't count. At that time, they didn't stop the clock and we stood there arguing while the clock ran out.

"I told the official, 'I hope that call haunts you the rest of your life," said Anglin with Sittler chuckling not far away. Anglin, Sittler, Patrick and former Beaver Dam cager and North Webster coach Don Butts agreed --comparing basketball of yesterday to today is pretty difficult.

The one common denominator is the esprit de corps of the team --and the thrill of the game.

"We had some real dandies, I'll tell you, said Butts, who led North Webster for 11 years as coach. Patrick agreed. "I'm not sure the game's better (now)," said Patrick. "It's pretty hard to beat the '50s and '60s in this county for basketball and probably the '40s too."

Jerry Miller was the manager of Warsaw's 1967 team that contributed both Charlie McKenzie and Ben Niles to the Indiana All-Star team. He said that team was living proof that talent is not the only ingredient for success. "Talent-wise, I don't think there's any doubt that we just didn't accomplish what we should have," said Miller. Miller said Rhodes is the important missing ingredient to Warsaw's bid for victory.

Gyms of Old -- Big on Spirit, Not Square Feet

by Phil Smith
Like wild mustangs that used to roam the western plains, they have become rare. In some, painstaking workmanship decades ago allowed the tongue and groove planks to stay married together through hundreds of pounding footsteps --and the thump, thump, thump from thousands of basketballs.

The old gymnasiums are steadily dying off --razed by developers, torn down by those who care not for nostalgia. But few remain. Legends of area basketball love to relate the challenges of playing in gymnasiums that were as small as match boxes.

"That Atwood barn," said former Beaver Dam player Don Butts. "Sometimes you'd be dribbling down the floor and hit a bad board. The ball would go flat --it just wouldn't come back up."

Whitko coach Bill Patrick remembers having to deal with the special little quirks of different "facilities."

"The first year I coached at Sidney, said Patrick, "we were playing at the (Warsaw) Armory. "We hit (the back of the backboard) three times. We threw it in and hit the back of the basket on the inbounds. That was out of bounds and they got the ball back. We lost, but we had the game won. We threw the ball in."

Butts said playing at Sidney was no picnic either. "Sometimes kids would sit up there (on the stage) and put their feet on the supports. You'd go to shoot a free throw and look up to find the basket moving back and forth. The kids would be swinging it with their feet."

At Burket, the gymnasium was heated by a set of pot-bellied stoves, located at half-court, just out of bounds. "Burket had about a nine-foot high ceiling," said former Times Union sports writer Curtis "Gabby" Garber. "You couldn't arch a shot at all, you had to shoot it point blank. My senior year (1940), Mentone had a stove at the side of the floor, which you'd run into if you weren't careful."

Former Silver Lake player and coach at Pierceton and Warsaw, Tom Sittler, said his team (the Pierceton Cubs) was hosting the Warsaw Tigers at the Pierceton gym in the early 1960s when spectator space became very valuable.

"Seats were at a premium when we played Warsaw there," said Sittler. "Late in the fourth quarter, I happened to look down the bench and there was a middle-aged guy sitting on our bench that I'd never seen before in my life. That was the only place he could find."

Burket's gymnasium is still intact and contains a time-capsule on its western walls. Students have scrawled their names on the ancient planks dating back nearly as long as the gym has been in existence. In Sidney, the old high school is now owned by John Collins of Sidney, who says he plans to restore the entire school, including the gymnasium which is still intact and serves as Collins' site for flea markets and garage sales.

Warsaw Times Union Saturday February 26, 1994