BOONE: The History of Waynetown Basketball: Early success and girls basketball
July 22, 2019
Waynetown High School must have started playing basketball around the turn of the century, but the first picture we have found so far is a picture of the 1909 team. In that year, Waynetown played baseball, basketball and football. The 1909 yearbook, The Aceria, referred to the basketball team as “The Old Gold and Black,” and called the baseball team the Waynetown Tigers.
Andy Biddle recalls that his grandmother, Opal Lewellen, class of 1919 always said she was the first girl cheerleader at WHS.
By the middle 20s, Waynetown had adopted the nickname “Gladiators,” and changed the colors to red and white. Waynetown didn’t play Crawfordsville until the 1913-14 season, so given the closeness of the two schools, the Waynetown schedule must have been pretty limited in the early days.
The most successful teams of the early days were the 1924-25 team which had a record of 20-3 under Coach Ralph Powell, the 1923-24 team which had a record of 18-5 under Coach J.W. Hogg and the 1921-22 team which recorded a 16-9 record under Coach W.M. Boyd.
Don Proctor is one of the last surviving members of the Ralph Capehart coached teams that ran off 51 straight regular season wins and won two Montgomery County tourneys, two sectionals and a regional. Don remembers playing in the old gym.
He said, “I played in that gym all of my career; it was small with balconies on both sides and the front end. The south end of the floor was right up against the south wall; you could hardly step out of bounds to throw the ball in. We had wrestling mats tied to the walls at both ends to cushion you if and when you ran into the wall, which was more frequently than you would think. It was about half the size of a playing floor today.”
WHS also had girls’ basketball teams in the 20s and went 5-3 in 1921-22 and 4-4 in 1924-25. In the later years, the best record was recorded in 1947-48 as Vern Piety led the Gladiators to a 17-1 regular season record only to lose to Linden 47-42 in the final game of the county tourney and to Crawfordsville 57-39 in the final game of the sectional. Piety’s charges ended the season with a 21-3 record.
The glory days of Waynetown basketball were in the early 40s. Ralph Capehart had taken over the reins of the athletic program in the 1930-31 season and quietly began developing a powerhouse on the hardwood. It all came together for Capehart and the Waynetown Gladiators early in the 1942-43 season. After losing to New Market in the second game of the season on November 13, the Gladiators reeled off 15 straight victories. (They lost a game to Ladoga in December, but the Canners had to forfeit that game because it was revealed that they had used an over-aged player.)
In 1943-44, WHS was 18-0 in the regular season and won the county, sectional and regional. In the regional, they beat Bridgeton 54-33 in the afternoon game and Bainbridge 46-45 in two overtimes in the night game. They went on to the semi-state where they lost to Whiteland 46-37. They were undefeated during the regular season in 1944-45 and were ranked as high as 16th in the state. They won the county and sectional before losing in the regional at Attica to a very tough Covington team 32-28. From 1942 to 1945, during the course of three seasons, the Gladiators won 51 straight regular season games. It was generally accepted that the best player in the County in those years was Howard (Howie) Williams, but he had the misfortune to arrive on the scene at the same time as the best team, the Waynetown Gladiators.
There is one interesting note about the 1944 sectional that didn’t make the papers, but made the memories of many County basketball fans. In the early days, the IHSAA did not award a sectional trophy. The winner of the sectional got to cut down the nets and keep the basketball. After the 1944 sectional which Waynetown won over Crawfordsville, one of the Crawfordsville players took the ball to the Crawfordsville dressing room. Harvey “Cocky” Luse, one of the stars of the 1944 and 1945 teams was not only cocky, he was fearless. He went into the Crawfordsville dressing room and came out with the trophy.
Bill Boone is a local sports historian who contributes to the Journal Review.