By CAREY FOX
Times Sports Editor
As the 12th Annual Pizza Hut Wabash Valley Classic prepares to tip-off this morning at Terre Haute North High School, I thought it only fitting that I share some thoughts and notes from an impressive book that my uncle shared with me over the Christmas weekend. The book, researched and compiled by Dean Kendall, is titled The Wabash Valley High School Basketball Tournament and has already impressed upon me how much intensive research was done to put together the tome.
The book is a wealth of information on the original Wabash Valley Tournament that took place beginning in 1916 and ran until 1972. Kendall's book includes interviews, stats, stories, tourney brackets and box scores from the entire history of the tournament. In just my preliminary perusing of the book, I'm pretty awed at the amount of work that has gone into the work.
I've always been a sucker for statistics and history, which this book is chocked full of throughout, but what I really enjoy about it is the interviews with former coaches, players, team managers and fans. Simply by reading the thoughts of former coaches like Sam Alford (Monroe City 1966), the father of IU legend Steve Alford, impresses on the reader how much the tourney meant to the 188 different schools and communities that ultimately competed over the course of the 57 years. Ultimately, 157 schools from Indiana played in the tourney at least one year and 31 schools from Illinois participated. At its peak in 1947, there were 124 teams in the two-week tourney as the first week served as a preliminary round with teams playing in their area. The 16-team finals took place in the second week, usually in Terre Haute. The eventual winner had to come out victorious in four games, much like the current tourney, to be crowned the Wabash Valley champion.
The tourney was originally the idea of Terre Haute Tribune sports editor, Mr. Ralph H. White. The first tourney in 1916 included entries from Paris, Ill., Vincennes, Rockville, Clinton and Normal of Terre Haute. Rockville would go on to defeat Paris, 24-17 in a game played at the K of C auditorium at Ninth and Ohio Streets in Terre Haute.
Clay County was well represented throughout the tournament's history as eight different squads played. Staunton played in a county-high 47 Wabash Valley Tournaments, reaching the finals nine different times, but never captured the title. Cory (44 years, six finals), Clay City (41 years, 10 finals and the 1926 championship), Brazil (39 years, 25 finals and the 1928, 1943 and 1961 titles), Van Buren (38 years, six finals), Bowling Green (36 years, no finals) and Asboro (31 years, three finals) all participated more than 30 times. Coalmont was a participant in 15 tourneys and reached three finals.
Rockville won the first three championships from 1916-1918, a feat duplicated by Terre Haute Gerstmeyer from 1952-1954. The Terre Haute schools boasted the most wins as State High won once, Wiley won three, Gerstmeyer won three and Garfield won four times.
Clyde Lovellete guided those Garfield teams to wins in 1945, 1947, 1948 with the Arley and Harley Andrews leading Gerstmeyer to titles in 1952-54. More on them a bit later.
The first Clay County squad to capture the Wabash Valley title was a "dark horse" Clay City squad that topped Van Buren for the 1926 title in a 26-12 decision.
Clay City defeated Sandborn (30-14), Montezuma (25-18), Vincennes (27-14) and ultimately Van Buren for the championship.
Understandably, the articles presented in the book, don't always include all players' first names, but there are still some familiar last names in the boxes cores of the finals.
Of note is Clay City's Victor Gibbens, who was the tourney's leading scorer with 61 points, more than double the second place scorer. Wayne Luther was also present on the selected all-tourney team for Clay City with Van Buren's Cash (18 points) and Teany (25 points). Starters for Clay City included: Wayne Luther, Victor Gibbens, Ralph Pipes, Burns and R. Luther. Van Buren's starting quintet included: Starinsky, Wells, Teany, Cash and Price.
Brazil won its first championship in 1928 with a field of 83 competing for the title. Brazil won over Sullivan (28-15), Montezuma (37-19), Clinton (23-21 to reach the title contest and then topped Hutsonville, Ill. by a 30-21 score to earn the trophy.
An estimated 3,000 fans were on hand to see coach Glenn Adams' squad jump out to an 11-4 lead on the way to the victory. Hammerstein led Brazil with 12 points in the title game followed by Goodin with seven, Clift with six, two points apiece from Weaver and Yeager with Lorenz adding one point. Both Clift and Goodin were members of the All-Valley Team voted on by Ralph White himself.
The win was Brazil's 16th straight against no defeats at that point. Hutsonville's loss was its first of the season.
Brazil returned to champion status in the 1943 edition with a championship victory over Ellettsville (46-35) and reached the final by defeating Oaktown (44-27), Palestine, Ill. (26-23) and Linton (42-34). Members of that Brazil squad included: J. Bridgewater, Mac Danhour, Bill Hayes, Jimmy Johnson, Ray Kunkel, Jack Mercer, Bill Powell, Robert Procter, Jack Scofield, Jack White, Joe Krieble and Robert Orman and was coached by Harold "Babe" Wheeler.
Powell did yeomen's work in the championship game to offset Ellettsville sharpshooter, Johnny Hynds, who had a tourney high 74 combined points in four games.
Danhour, the center for Brazil, scored 23 points in the title game on the way to earning All-Valley status along with Powell, who had 14 in the final contest. Hynds was also an all-tourney performer with teammate Paul Hudson and Plainville's George Bateman. Plainville knocked off Duane Kleuh's State High School team in the round of eight.
Brazil would return to the finals the following season, knocking off Ellettsville, Gerstmeyer and Switz City before falling to Robinson, Ill. in the finals by a 54-47 score. The loss ended a 30-game Wabash Valley Tourney winning streak for Brazil.
Of special note is that Bridgewater and Kunkle each took their physical exams after being drafted for military duty at Fort Ben prior to the Red Devils topping Ellettsville. The duo returned in time to help their team defeat Gerstmeyer later that night.
Terre Haute Garfield saw the beginning of the Lovellette era in 1945, though his stats were minimal in the team's championship. However, his force was evident in titles in 1947 and 1948. Garfield rolled to double-digit victories in each game of the 1947 tourney, culminating with a 51-38 victory over Spencer on Jan. 25.
Lovellette had a combined 31 points between knocking off defending champion Linton in the semifinals and the "Cops" in the title game. The Eagles' Ronnie Bland tallied a tourney-high 65 points with Lovellette third with 51.
Garfield would go unbeaten through the entire season before being upset in the state championship game by Shelbyville.
The next season it was another Garfield title, the third in four years, as the Eagles defeated a tough Attica squad by a 55-49 decision.
Lovellette came into the tourney averaging 25 points per game and was mostly held in check with 12 points in a win over Clinton (47-29). Wiley upset Brazil's 14-game win streak led by 6'7 John Scott's 15 points.
Lovellette would break lose in the semifinals and title games as he rocketed Shelburn for 21 points before the 6'10 center drilled Attica for 35 points in the championship.
As many already know, Lovellette would go on to star for the University of Kansas under legendary coach Forrest "Phog" Allen.
The local product would star at Kansas alongside future legendary coach Dean Smith. Lovellette would lead the nation in scoring in 1952 as Kansas won the NCAA title and was a three-time All-American and went on to win a gold medal in the 1952 Summer Olympics in Helsinki, Finland.
In the professional ranks, Lovellette would win titles in Minneapolis (1954) and Boston (1963 and 1964) while averaging 17.0 ppg. and 9.3 rpg. and was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1988. For the youngsters out there, he is featured on the 1950's All-Star roster on NBA Live 2007.
The final Clay County championship for Clay County came from the 1961 Brazil outfit led by guard Dave Bussing, Tom Grissom, Randy Green and center Ted Whitaker.
Brazil knocked off Avon 51-39 and Plainfield by a 55-47 score led by cumulative totals of 90 points from Green and 66 from Grissom.
In the semifinal it was Joe McGuirk's free throws that handed defending champion Bloomfield a 52-50 loss that propelled the Red Devils into the championship.
Coach Jim Hannah's Red Devils had to handle Bloomfield's 6'7 Dan McGhee, but got 15 points from Grissom and 14 from Whitaker.
In the championship, Brazil topped Sullivan by a 46-38 count as Grissom had 14 points and McGuirk added 10. Bussing had eight and R. Green had six.
Grissom was First Team All-Wabash Valley with Whitaker and Bussing earning Second Team honors.
The tourney's final season came in 1972 as a 14-team field participated and the final four ironically came down to a pair of Illinois squads and two from Indiana. North Central and Sullivan lost their semifinal games to Marshall, Ill. and Casey, Ill. The Lions would come away with the final title, 70-58, led by All-Valley efforts from Howard Johnson, Tom York and Joe Ferris.
Fittingly, the new edition of the Wabash Valley Classic has provided its share of great memories to players, coaches and fans alike. So come out and create some new memories and discuss some nostalgia from the old tourney. A special thanks to Mr. Kendall for creating some a fine source of history for basketball fans everywhere.