BOONE: History of New Ross Basketball – The early days
February 19, 2019
In his book “Big Foot and Other New Ross Stories,” Bob Whitecotton (Class of 1934) recalls that he saw his first basketball game in New Ross at the New Ross school yard in a game between Mace High and New Ross High School. The year would have been 1923, and New Ross, like many other schools in the early days, did not have a gymnasium and played outdoors or anyplace indoors where there was a large open space.
Bob recalls, “I saw my first indoor game in the Odd Fellow’s Lodge hall above Everman’s grocery store. In the 1930s when my brother Pat and I were in high school, we practiced and played our games in the Jamestown Methodist Church annex. This was a small place, but as good as most places.”
Bob also recalled that his mother was the driving force behind the movement to build a gymnasium for the New Ross basketball team. Her influence resulted in the construction of the gymnasium that served New Ross from 1933 to consolidation in 1971. According to the Nu Ross (The school annual of 1935), “The building was dedicated on November 26, 1933. It was a project of the Patent-Teacher’s Association and was made possible through the donations and efforts of parents and friends of the school.”
The Blue Jays had some outstanding teams throughout the 40s, led by the legendary Howie Williams who had the misfortune to come along at the same time that the Waynetown Gladiators were taking on all comers and shaping their place in Montgomery County basketball history in the middle 40s.
Ralph Capehart led Waynetown to an undefeated regular season in 1943-44 and won the county, sectional and regional. They were undefeated again in the regular season in 1944-45 as they were in the midst of a 51 game regular season winning streak. Once again the Gladiators won the County and sectional but lost to a great Covington team in the regional final. Howie Williams led the Blue Jays to a 32-9 record for his junior and senior years, but could never beat Waynetown, regular season or tournament. Williams moved on to Purdue University after graduation where he also starred leading the Boilermakers in scoring his junior and senior years. An All-Big Ten performer his junior and senior year, he is still remembered for his famous “sit-down” shot in 1948 which beat Indiana University 51-49. He remarked after that, “Purdue can beat Indiana sitting on our butts.”
After graduating from Purdue, Howie was drafted by the Minneapolis Lakers in the third round (35th overall), but decided to play instead for the Peoria Caterpillars and was selected as the nation’s outstanding amateur basketball player in 1953. He led the “Cats” to the AAU Championship in 1952 and 1953 making the shot that beat Kansas 62-60 and qualifying for the Helsinki Olympics where he won a gold medal, making him one of only two Montgomery County athletes to win an Olympic Gold Medal. The other was Jim Dunbar of Darlington who won in rowing also at Helsinki. Howard Williams is a member of the Helms Foundation Hall of Fame and is also enshrined in the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame. Even though there were many outstanding New Ross teams and players in the early days, the Blue Jays did not win a tournament until 1954 when the Haffner family began to work its way through the tiny high school. Check back in two weeks to learn more about the Haffner family and the first taste of tournament success for New Ross.
Bill Boone is a local sports historian who contributes to the Journal Review.