an effort to promote educational athletics by showcasing some
of the great teams of past years, the Michigan High School Athletic
Association instituted a program called "Legends Of The Games"
in 1997, which honored this Coldwater basketball team during the
1949 MHSAA Class B Boys Basketball Final was both a beginning
and an ending.
was the end of a decade that began to witness a new style of basketball.
It also was the beginning of statewide acceptance of that new
trend which would forever change the game.
Coldwater High School won
the 1949 Class B title, 49-42, over River Rouge at Jenison Field
House in East Lansing in a classic game, not only for the play
on the court, but for the opposing basketball masterminds pacing
the sideline. Coldwater was coached by Floyd Eby, while River
Rouge was led that night by Lofton Greene.
The game was a major turning
point that proved what Eby was coaching and his players were executing
would no longer be considered a fluke.
What Greene learned in that
defeat changed River Rouge's basketball focus and earned the school
12 MHSAA titles in the next 35 years.
"Lofton told me that
night, and many times after, that we really took it to him,"
Eby said recently from his home on Cardinal Lane in Coldwater.
"He said that he would play our style of basketball from
is not as well known as Greene, and he would rather keep it that
way. But, what Eby taught changed basketball forever.
He is credited by numerous
sources with introducing and popularizing the fast break, the
full-court press, the box-and-one zone defense and the one-handed
jump shot (also developed at Stanford University). In the 1940s,
that style of play was unheard of, but was quickly labeled "racehorse
basketball." The jump shot was developed as players didn't
have time to stop and gather their stance for the traditional
two-handed set shot. To do so would have defeated the entire purpose
of racehorse basketball.
1949 title was Eby's second.
The first came at the beginning of the decade in 1940 at Class
C Williamston, during his rookie season while still a student
at Michigan State University. It was at Williamston where the
radical new style began, particularly the box-and-one, implemented
the first day of practice by accident in an attempt to best utilize
personnel. Thus began a decade of jeers, chuckles and disbelief
for the "new" game, especially by puzzled fans and officials
who couldn't always comprehend what was happening on the court.
Free Press sports writer Hal Schram wrote this about racehorse
basketball 10 years later in 1959: "The offensive theory
is one of basic simplicity. Get to the basket with the shot that
will score as soon as you can. You're only going to sink a certain
percentage of your shots anyway, so the more you shoot, the more
points you'll score. Organized confusion &SHY; that's what they
called it then."
didn't like to hold the ball. But stalling the final 1:20 of the
1949 semifinal game over Grand Rapids Godwin Heights proved to
work in a 36-35 win.
an exciting time it was to be playing for the state championship
before such a huge crowd," Eby wrote in one of his books,
Champions Forever. "At the end of the first quarter we were
ahead 11-10. Midway through the second, I was stunned when our
superstar, Rex Corless (three-time all-stater), sprained an ankle.
He was helped to the locker room. At halftime, we were still leading
22-18. The doctor had taped up Corless' ankle. He said Rex could
play, but that it would definitely cut his effectiveness.
with his bad ankle and against River Rouge's most talented defenseman,
Corless scored 18 points in less than three quarters, which is
comparable to 40 points in a game today. (Max) McConnell went
in and finished the game in great style. In the first two minutes
of the final quarter, we spurted ahead 39-26 and sewed up the
members of the team that popularized racehorse basketball were:
Gene Fry, Eugene Sowles (co-captain), Lawrence Porter, Tom Engle,
Fred Weeks, Marvin Rosenberg, Bernard Hogenboom, James Rhodes,
Robert Simmons, and Carlos Clark (manager). Two players and two
assistant coaches are now deceased - co-captain LeRoy Cox and
Harry Cooper, plus Bert Grigg and Bob Livermore.
While the Cardinal basketball
team helped launch a whole new dimension to basketball, it was
the lifelong lessons of athletic discipline that helped the 1949
Cardinals lead successful lives. The team produced two dentists,
an ordained minister, a teacher and coach, two high-ranking Army
Officers, a pharmacist, a university science professor, two high-ranking
business executives and three successful businessmen.
They also produced great
memories that a small, south central Michigan town has cherished
for 50 years, while helping create basketball as it's known around
the world today.
Tom Lang is a freelance writer
for the Detroit Free Press
Remembering The Title Season:
Gene Fry - Guard: "We arrived at Jenison
Field House early, because Coach Eby wanted us to see the arena
before the fans started to arrive. As we entered the bulding,
we were amazed at the enormity of the court, as well as the seating
capacity for the spectators. Our entire school could fit into
Robert Simmons - Guard: "I remember the intensity
and dedication of each member of the team, and knowing that each
of us had to rise to a higher level to beat a very good and well-coached
River Rouge team. I am now 66 years old, and the thrill of that
day have never left me."
Gene Sowles - Guard &
can still see Gene Fry coming from deep under our defensive basket,
intercept a pass and dribble the length of the court for the winning
basket in out 36-35 win over Grand Rapids Godwin Heights in the
semis the previous night. To the man, everyone felt we had won
the state that night."
Marvin Rosenberg - Center: "1949 was the year
of champions for Coldwater. We were co-champs of the Twin Valley
Conference in football and baseball, and were champions in basketball.
We were a group who played together from grade school up, before
the days of camps and other formal programs"
Bernard Hogenboom - Center/Forward: "The awesome size of
the Michigan State field house and the noise of the spectator
crowd stand out in my mind. I also remember that Coach Eby wore
the same suit and tie that he wore for earlier tournament games
&SHY; his lucky suit."
Rex Corless - Forward/Guard:
excitement and thrill of winning the "big one" in Jenison
Field House stands out, as well as the teamwork, loyalty and respect
we had for one another and for Coach Eby."