Honored In Legends Of The Games Program
Click here for 1959 overtime video--56k
Click here for 1959 overtime video--cable
EAST LANSING, Mich. -- March 16 - One of the few schools to ever win back-to-back Class A MHSAA Boys Basketball titles, the Lansing Sexton High School teams of 1959 and 1960, will be honored through the Michigan High School Athletic Association's "Legends Of The Games" program at ceremonies at halftime of the Class A championship game of the 2000 MHSAA Boys Basketball Finals at the Breslin Student Events Center in East Lansing on March 25. The game will begin at 4 p.m. (EST).
In its third year, the Legends program promotes educational athletics by showcasing some of the great teams of past years. At least 23 members of those teams are expected to be in attendance to receive commemorative plaques and a banner to display at the school during the ceremony.
(The story that follows was written for this year's MHSAA Boys Basketball Finals Souvenir Program)
Long before Tom Dempsey made "The Kick;" Franco Harris made "The Immaculate Reception," Dwight Clark made "The Catch;" John Elway directed "The Drive;" and the same year Willie Mays made his "Catch," Bob Davis made his own piece in sports history in Michigan.
Pretenders and wanna-be versions have dotted the landscape in the 40-plus years since Davis' arching, bounding horn-beater. Many have tried (Moulton, Smith, Coles, Conlan, VerBeek) to etch their place in folklore of the MHSAA Boys Basketball Tournament with their last-second heroics, but there hasn't been yet anything which has replaced
Davis' baseline jumper capped one of the most incredible comebacks in a championship game, giving Lansing Sexton the 1959 Class A title; it was the first of back-to-back crowns for the Big Reds; which became only the second team to win consecutive championships in the largest enrollment division of the tournament, and earn them their spot among The Legends of the Games.
The incredibly close-knit teams, with many players still residing in the greater Lansing area, will be honored in ceremonies at halftime of the Class A title game on Saturday. Over 20 members of those teams will be present or represented in the Breslin Center, just across the street from Jenison Field House, where those championships were won.
The 1959 Big Reds were a true Cinderella story - a regular-season record of 9-7, and not a single starter over 6-foot tall. The tournament run that season included wins over Capital Area Conference (then Six-A) rivals Lansing Eastern and Jackson in the Districts; over Benton Harbor and Portage in the Regionals; Adrian in the quarterfinals, and a blowout 73-44 semifinal win over Grand Rapids Central to set up a showdown with second-ranked Hamtramck in the finals, which had disposed of the No.1 team, Pontiac Central, in the other semi.
Hamtramck dominated the early going, pulling out to a 43-26 halftime lead. A full court press did little damage in the third stanza, as Sexton trailed, 60-45, entering the final eight minutes. The lead was still 15 with 3:52 to play at 72-57.
Coach Clayton Kowalk's team scored the last 15 points of regulation, with Davis tying the game with two free throws with nine seconds on the clock to force an extra period.
Hamtramck took its last lead in the overtime with Art Reid making one of two free throws with 17 seconds to go.
Without taking a time out, Sexton came down court with no set play. Davis, who had missed a potential game-winning shot a month earlier against Battle Creek Central, ended up with the ball on the left baseline with time running out and took the fateful shot, which beat the gun, hit the rim twice and fell through, giving the Big Reds the victory, 80-79.
The following season, Sexton stayed atop the heap, but this time the feeling was very different.
"The 1960 game, and season, seemed a little more businesslike, but was very memorable as well," said Doug Herner, a guard on both teams. "I think repeating in 1960 meant just as much but in a somewhat different way. Instead of being Cinderella, we were able to win, while being expected to win, which is often - and usually - more difficult."
Sexton squared off against Pontiac Central in the title game in Jenison, and came away with a 60-56 victory. The Big Reds finished the season with a 22-1 record.
Game details can get lost over time, but what is clearly remembered by players and coaches alike from those teams is the mutual admiration they had for each other.
"It was really special the way the team members felt about each other and it was important the responsibility the coach expected us to have in order to play," said Herschel Milton, a three-year center for Sexton. "The coach was a good guide toward our future."
"I remember the most fondly our trust, our caring, and our respect for each other - not just on the court, but every day," said Art Frank, a forward on both championship teams. "It's something we still share, even though we don't see each other often. That feeling still runs deep and always will. Coach taught us to be a champion no matter what the task."
"I know first hand that the Sexton team of 1959 was, indeed, a 'family,'" said Bob Simmons, a team manager. "Genuine friendships and togetherness developed that cross racial and cultural lines. These friendships continue to the present. Coach Kowalk established an atmosphere of discipline, leadership, organization and compassion."
"We were a team where there were many contributors to its success, and we were fortunate to be coached by one of the best teachers in Mr. Kowalk," said Jerry Sutton, a guard-forward on both title teams. "I could still walk through out offense and defense."
"Both teams can be characterized as hard working, unselfish, and team concept participants who didn't know the word 'quit,'" said Davis. "We were friends who happened to be teammates, working together to achieve our goal."
"There were no jealousies on the team," remembered Chris Ferguson, a guard on the 1959 team. "If you were open, you got the ball. We were a family and everyone worked hard for the good of the team."
"Coach Clayton Kowalk knew what he was doing, so we believed in him and what he was doing and instructing us to do. Therefore, we played our hearts out for him," said Al Freeman, a forward in 1957-58-59. "Our team had a great camaraderie between the guys, a family atmosphere of sorts, and we knew how to hustle. We were smaller than other teams, but fast down the floor. Coach Kowalk would say, 'We may be short, but don't sell us short.'"
"It couldn't have happened to a more dedicated, group of hard-working young men," Kowalk said in return. "It was togetherness. A strong family relationship."
Expected to be in attendance or represented at the Legends ceremony are:
Equipment Manager Karel Taborsky
The MHSAA is a private, not-for-profit corporation of voluntary membership by over 1,300 public and private senior high schools and junior high/middle schools which exists to develop common rules for athletic eligibility and competition. No government funds or tax dollars support the MHSAA, which was the first such association nationally to not accept membership dues or tournament entry fees from schools. Member schools which enforce these rules are permitted to participate in MHSAA tournaments conducted in 12 sports for girls and 12 sports for boys which attract approximately 1.3 million spectators each year.