History of Wingate Basketball: The Homer Stonebraker Era
January 23, 2019
Much has been written about the great Wingate teams that won back-to-back State basketball championships in 1913 and 1914 and rightly so. However, not enough has been written about the 1920 Outlaw team that won the National Interscholastic Championship. After the powerful 1920 Crawfordsville and Wingate teams had been banned from the IHSAA for recruiting violations, both teams embarked upon independent schedules that pitted them not only against each other but also some of the best high school, independent and semi-professional competition in the nation. Both teams entered the Tri-State Tourney (KY, IN, and OH) in Cincinnati won by Crawfordsville and both teams played in the National Interscholastic tournament in Chicago won by Wingate.
This is part one of a two-part series. Part one will discuss Wingate’s state title teams in 1913 and 1914, while part two will tie in the 1920 National Interscholastic Championship team.
Wingate High School watched Crawfordsville win the first IHSAA State Tournament in 1911, followed by Lebanon in 1912, and then dominated the basketball world in the state of Indiana for the next two years. Wingate was led by 6-4 Homer Stonebraker who took his snow shovel and cleared the path to New Richmond, six miles away, so that he and his teammates could practice in a real gymnasium one day a week. The boys traveled by horse and buggy, in Model T’s, or simply went by foot in those eventful two years.
According to A.H. “Tuck” Williams writing in his book The Big Bang of Basketball…there was a grade school farm boy who put up a small ring on his woodshed in his barnyard near Wingate. Homer Stonebraker’s hoop was about half the size of a regulation goal. He used a rubber ball about the size of a tennis ball to practice shooting. His relentless practice prepared him for a high school, college and professional basketball career that put him in the same class as other all-time basketball greats from Indiana. During his junior year at Wingate, 1913, Stonebraker led Wingate to a 22-3 record with a single game in which he scored 80 points. Wingate had an enrollment of about 60 and their Indiana State Championship run against much larger city schools created tremendous interest, enthusiasm, and participation in the sport throughout the Hoosier state.
The state finals that year were played at Indiana University in the Old Assembly Hall. Wingate defeated South Bend in an overtime game 15-14 as Forest Crane hit the winning field goal before a packed house of 2500 fans. Jesse Wood was the coach of the Wingate team. Wingate had to play five games in one day to win the championship. The members of the championship team were Leland Olin, Forest Crane, Homer Stonebraker, Jesse Graves, John Blacker, McKinley Murdock, and Lee Sinclair.
Wingate followed up its initial championship season with the first repeat championship in the now basketball-crazy state of Indiana. Wingate’s enrollment had dropped to 48, but they still had Homer Stonebraker and four other returning players in Leland Olin, Lee Sinclair, Jesse Graves and John Blacker. In order to win the tournament, Wingate had to play two games on Friday and a grueling four games on Saturday. Stonebraker scored the first 20 points for his team in the championship game as they defeated Anderson 36-8.
Stonebraker moved south to Wabash College after graduating from Wingate where he was named three-time All-American, leading Wabash to 51-15 record during his career there. He was a star on the “Wabash Wonder Five” in his junior year which had a record of 19-2. During that amazing year, Wabash defeated Purdue, Illinois, Indiana, Notre Dame, and the famous semi-pro team, the Indianapolis Emroes.
In his book, Indiana High School Basketball’s 20 Most Dominant Players, Dave Krider observed that
“Homer Stonebraker was Indiana’s first authentic high school basketball superstar.”
After brilliant high school and college careers, he played professional basketball for ten years with the first professional basketball league, the American Basketball League. He played for the Fort Wayne Hoosiers (a team he helped found) and the Chicago Bruins. The Fort Wayne team was referred to as the Caseys. In a book entitled “Pioneers of the Harwood, Indiana and the Birth of Professional Basketball,” by Todd Gould. Gould quotes Hilliard Gates, a Fort Wayne sports broadcaster who recalled one of Stonebraker’s legendary performances in a game in the annual series with the Huntington Athletic Club.
Gates wrote, “They were down by a point, and the opposition took a shot and missed. Homer realized that time was running out, and he didn’t have time to dribble very much. He just had to let it go at the opposite basket. The ball went over two beams near the top of the roof of the gym and went through the basket perfectly and they won.”
No wonder fans and sportswriters alike called “Stoney,” the Paul Bunyan of basketball. During and after his professional career, Homer Stonebraker coached basketball at Hartford City and Logansport and served two terms as Sheriff of Cass County.
He was named as a member of the All-Century Team in 2010, honored in Conseco Fieldhouse as one of the 50 greatest players ever to play in Indiana. He was honored as a charter member of the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame in New Castle and has been enshrined in the Wabash College Athletic Hall of Fame and the Montgomery County Basketball Hall of Fame.
Wingate remained a powerhouse even after “Stoney” departed for Wabash College. The IHSAA went to a sectional format for the 1915 season and for the first twelve years, the Crawfordsville Sectional was won by either Wingate or Crawfordsville.
Bill Boone is a local sports historian who contributes to the Journal Review.