Cage Pioneers Cast the Mold
Stars of old went extra mile to play the game
Players: 1900 - 1950

 Editor's Note: This is the third 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 players through the first four decades 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. The installments have been printed, with the final piece of the series appearing March 12. The final two parts of the series feature the players who graced the hardwood and brought the noise made by cheering crowds to a fever pitch. The featured players were nominated by a special panel of former players, fans and coaches. 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

The game even sounds different today.

Close your eyes during a heated basketball game and hear the thousands of tiny little squeaks, as if a mouse is doing a cheesy machine gun impression. Long before $100-plus sneakers created friction on highly polished hardwood floors, kids who were lucky to even have shoes dribbled rough, leather balls on pavement, stones or even hay-riddled dirt barn floors.

The game of basketball was young when an Indiana lad named Emery Druckamiller began sneaking into an abandoned school house in Syracuse and shooting baskets.

"I drew chalk lines on the floor and wouldn't move to another spot until I hit five in a row," said Druckamiller, 92, who lives in Angola with Emma Druckamiller, his wife of nearly 66 years. "Then, I'd shoot 100 free throws. I practiced for hours and hours and hours. After awhile it becomes automatic."

Druckamiller was one of the first legitimate high school basketball stars from the Times Union coverage area. After quitting school for three years at the age of 15, Druckamiller was persuaded to go back to high school. He had already made a name for himself as a crafty cager. But there was a time when Druckamiller was a victim of basketball stereotypes --even in a day when 6-foot players were as rare as 5-foot, 3-inch guards are now.

"When I was in 6th grade, we were all lined up to try out for the basketball team," said Druckamiller. "When I got ready to go through the door, the coach took one look at me and said, "Druck, you're too small to ever be on a basketball team." I went home and bawled, because what he didn't know was I could have beaten anyone he was letting through the door."

Druckamiller went on to star at Syracuse, leading the Yellow Jackets to the IHSAA state finals in 1921. Syracuse was the first area team to advance past the regionals and into the state finals.

During the 1919 South Bend Sectional, Druckamiller, then a freshman, scored 32 points in a 52-20 win over Ligonier. He was named Most Valuable Player and was the only underclassman to be named to the all-tourney team.

Following his four-year varsity career at Syracuse, Druckamiller was recruited by Indiana University, where he lettered for four years and was named team captain his senior season (1926).

From I.U., Druckamiller went back to Syracuse to coach for two years before landing a coaching job at Angola. He retired from Angola in 1962, having taught history and health for 35 years, as well as serving 30 years as basketball coach.

He laughs when he talks about a valuable lesson he learned at Angola. "They key for you," he said, referring to the smaller county schools who always pump themselves up to oust the county seat. "When I was at Syracuse, sometimes it didn't matter how you did all year, as long as you beat Warsaw. They all want you. Every team takes a little bit out of you. When I got here, I found out what it was like on the other side."

Druckamiller, who has narrowly missed induction into the Indiana High School Basketball Hall of Fame on several occasions, has thoughts about many of the basketball players competing today. "They won't pay the price," he said. "They're satisfied if they can just be on the team. If you can't put any more into it than that, you shouldn't do anything."

Basketball was popular in the area when Druckamiller was growing up, but it was a team on the fringe of the area that made the biggest impact on basketball in Northern Indiana during the early years.

The Rochester Zebras were one of the first small school powerhouses in Indiana high school basketball, despite never winning a state title. The stage was set early on for Rochester's 13 regional championships by 1943. Three years before the first IHSAA state tournament, Guy Barr of Rochester scored a record 97 points in one game during a 139-9 blowout of Bremen. The game was played Dec. 11, 1908.

Basketball evolved at a steady rate during the decade following Druckamiller's prep reign at Syracuse. The evolution of the playing places was slow, however.

In the early years, even when they went to the state finals in 1922, the Atwood Greyhounds had no gymnasium and had to practice and play at other locations. Even without a gymnasium, Atwood gave starts to such cage mainstays as Floyd Miner and the legendary Carl Burt. Burt played at Atwood until the early 1920's, before going on to a brilliant college and administrative career at Manchester College. He was also the Superintendent of Schools at Warsaw High School for many years. The football field at Manchester College bears his name.

Some teams played on outdoor courts. But some were lucky to have access to tiny little gymnasium in hardware stores, dance studios, armories, lodge halls or church buildings. The Burket High School gymnasium, still in existence, was so tiny that former players brag about being able to set up a zone defense across the width of the floor with only three players extending arms to the side.

One former player even complained about having to shoot over the old style rafters in order to arch a shot into the basket. Because of the low ceilings in many of these places, players years ago shot underhanded. And some became very talented shooters, even if they had to bounce shots off the ceiling.

At Beaver Dam, where a proud legacy was established in the 1930s, the gymnasium was cramped --to say the least. Just a few feet from the baseline was the wall, and double doors leading to the outside. "I went sliding out those doors one time on my elbow," remembers 78-year-old Gene Marshall, who played on both the 1933 and 1934 state final teams from Beaver Dam.

Marshall played forward for Beaver Dam and, even in that day, was considered physically slight for his position. But he could shoot. this was determined the first time he stepped on the court as a varsity player. "We were playing Leesburg," said Marshall, who lives in Akron with his high school sweetheart wife. "The coach called me up and told me to go out there, fake a lot and shoot long shots. I went out on the floor and hit a shot from half court. I like those long shots. If there had been a 3-pointer, I would have nailed them."

It took the Warsaw Tigers a few years to pry Marshall's nails loose after the 1934 sectional. The spry Beaver Dam forward hit 11-13 field goals for 22 points in the Beavers' sectional championship win over Warsaw. Marshall followed that up by nailing the game-winning free throw against Ligonier in the regional to thrust his team into its second-straight state finals.

The 1930s were full of noteworthy players. Just one year after the two-year state final run by Beaver Dam, Walt Songer and Garth Underhill led the Mentone Bulldogs to Butler's Hinkle Fieldhouse with a regional victory over Auburn. Joe Gerard of North Webster is part of the "Spartan Connection," a group of six area players who went on from high school to play at Michigan State University.

Gerard graduated from North Webster in 1938, and highlighted his high school career with 26 points in his second-to-last game -- a 51-23 North Webster win over Burket in the sectional's first round on March 3, 1938.

The McFarland brothers, Clair and Bill, were considered to be tough competitors from Beaver Dam, along with fellow Beavers Gerald and Dennis Bidelman. And with the graduation of players like Gerald and Marshall, the McFarlands and Bidelmans, the 1940s brought new stars into the limelight.

Lew Speicher of Milford left a lasting impression on players, fans and coaches.

The quality players were remembered by 1940 Warsaw High School graduate Curtis "Gabby" Garber, who went on to serve as Times-Union sports editor for many years. "I'll say this," said Garber, "They keep more stats now than they ever did. Why, they have a stat for just about everything." Garber recently shared his views on some of the significant rule changes during his time.

"They used to let you refuse to take a free throw and take it out of bounds instead," said the former scribe. "That was important as the devil. I'm still wondering if they shouldn't still have that."

"And you know why they threw out the center jump, because the danged referees couldn't throw it up straight." And there were players in the 1940s who could score until the opposition couldn't see straight. Michigan State swallowed up two more area players -- Bob Stevens of Sidney, who played for the Spartans in 1948 and 1949 as a 5-foot, 11-inch forward; and Jim Snodgrass of Pierceton, a 6-foot, 1-inch guard who wore the green and white of Michigan State from 1949-1951.

The 1940s and 1950s converged during a time when many eyes were focused in the direction of Bourbon. There a tall well-built basketball player with movie star good looks and a $1 million smile graced the home court of the Comets. Keith Stackhouse was a farm boy who loved livestock judging nearly as much as playing basketball. But when he stepped on the hardwood, there were no moos --or boos.

Stackhouse became the most famous player in the Triton school system until former Triton Trojan and Chicago Bull Rich Rhodes in the early 1970s.

Stackhouse averaged more than 19 points per game as a junior and finished off his senior year (1950) with a 24.4 clip, good enough to make all-state and the Indiana All-Star Team.

"He was pure shooter, boy oh boy," said Garber, who watched the Comet sensational play. "He didn't start the (Indiana-Kentucky All Star) game. I remember staying at home and listening to the game and he was hotter than the devil." Stackhouse canned a record (at that time) 26 points in Indiana's 70-57 win over the Kentucky All-Stars and was named Star of Stars for the game. The Bourbon native was 10-22 from the floor and canned 6-7 free throws.

The performance of the UPI honorable mention All-American raised the eyes of college scouts and Michigan State University recruited yet another area player into its ranks. But Stackhouse was more than just another former Sparton. He tallied 604 points over his Spartan career, a number that put him in the No. 3 spot in school history at that time.

From Michigan State, the Hoosier went on to medical school at Northwestern University and eventually became a cardio-vascular surgeon in Michigan. On Sept. 4, 1987, throat cancer ended the young life of Stackhouse at 55. But as his sister, Betty Higgins of Warsaw said, Stackhouse's memory is engraved in the minds of basketball fans, and especially the thousands of former patients in Michigan.

Former patients and colleagues named a scholarship after the farm boy from Bourbon who was gifted with a scalpel, but could also hit a jump shot like nobody's business. "He was outstanding or he would not have won the Star of Stars award," said the proud sister. "He was a dedicated surgeon and family person. His patients were his greatest concern. He was dedicated and they trusted him. He was as a doctor like he was when he played ball. He gave it his all."

Mrs. Higgins remembered watching Stackhouse stack the house against his cage opponents. "To watch him was scary," she said. "I was his sister and he always got the ball when the game was close. Sometimes, I couldn't bear to look, so I wouldn't I just waited to hear if the crowd roared." Betty also described her younger brother as someone who knew what he had to do in order to shine. "He wasn't what you would call a natural athlete," she said. "He practiced for hours and hours and hours in an old barn."

In next week's installment of "Hoosier Historia," the series will be propelled into the final five decades of area basketball history. The players will be featured from 1950 to the present.



Warsaw Times Union Saturday March 5, 1994