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By Mindy Crandall
Reminiscing is the act of enjoying fond memories whether it be among friends over a cup of coffee or in the silence of one’s own home. It is a look back in time, the mere existence of what was once today or the near future, now only to be told as part of the past. History is the knowledge acquired, or the study of, and the period of time after writing was invented.
The history of basketball is interesting and so is the history of Ava boys basketball. To the players who once played it was a magical time, where the smell of the gym, the roar of the crowd, and the touch of the leather ball took them to a place where the uncertainty of the world was blocked out. The minute they stepped onto the gym floor, all cares were cast away and each player was no longer an individual, but a team playing as one.
Basketball was invented in 1891, by a Canadian physical education instructor, Dr. James Naismith. While under the direction of American phys-ed specialist, Luther Halsey Gulick at the YMCA training school for Christian workers in Springfield, Massachusetts, the idea of basketball evolved. Naismith wanted to create a game that could be played indoors by students during the winter and that required little space. He wanted to invent a game of skill instead of one that relied solely on strength. The first game of basketball ever played was with a soccer ball and two peach baskets for goals. Naismith put in place the first thirteen rules in basketball. These thirteen rules are still used today, but many more have been added over the years. This was the beginning of what most would call – a past time favorite. It is a game that has been enjoyed by many, even Ava students.
There is not much information on the earlier days of boy’s Ava Bear basketball as the world was in turmoil and score keeping and facts were not considered a priority. The earliest documentation of an organized school basketball team came from a 1921-1922 Docomo. They played eight games that year with a record of 3 wins and 5 losses. Clifford Reynolds was head coach and the team only played three teams – Seymour, Mansfield and Hartville. Those listed as players were: Leo Pitts, Earl Hicks, Harle Beason, Berma Clinkingbeard, Emittt Norman, Lloyd Hithcock and Lawrence Croslin.
With a lot of research, not much has turned up for the years leading up to 1945-1946. During this time, yearbooks were not printed due to a poor economy. The United States at this time and in years to follow was experiencing the great depression, the stock market crash, World War II, Hitler was in the rise in Germany and in Europe, Japan was bombing and invading China and other parts of the Far East, Germany took Belgium and invaded the Soviet Union, Stalin remained in power, the first atomic bomb was used, baby boomers were born and lastly, the Korean War. People began to be paranoid about communist, radio was the biggest thing, total segregation was in the south and most of the north and jazz was the music of choice. With all this being said, basketball may have been played, but the artifacts left behind show very few signs of its presence.
It is thought that Ava competed in the South Central Association for several of these years, but due to excessive traveling later dropped out.
Jim Norman’s father, Emmitt Norman, played on the 1922 team and later became the 1930-1931 coach at Ava High. He coached only the one year, but later returned to help assist with coaching during the years of 1937-1938.
During 1945-1946, Ava joined the Altitude League. Games were scheduled against schools much closer allowing travel to be less of an issue. Some of the schools that were included in the Altitude League were Rogersville, Fordland, Elkland, Seymour, Hartville, Sparta, Ozark, Marshfield and Mansfield. This was the first year that Ava reigned as Altitude League Champions with an undefeated record of 9 and 0. They played 42 games that year with a 35-7 record. During that time there was no rule on how many games could be played. They won 15 out of the 17 games scheduled, participated in 7 tournaments, winning three – Cassville, Willow Springs and Ava. They placed third in the early season tournaments in Mansfield and Ozark. This team applied and submitted their record to qualify for the Tournament of Champions now called, The Bass Pro Tournament. It was held at Springfield Senior High, but they failed to place. The state of Missouri had no classification, so to qualify for such tournaments a team had to win sub-regional, advance to the regional to be one of the two finalists to advance in the final 16 in St. Louis.
Members of this winning team were Lyle Clinkingbeard, Don Walker, Don Sallee, Jim Norman, Bud Norman, Sam Wiggins, Ben Dougherty, Wayne Ousley, Herb Sisco and Calvin Sutherland.
One game in particular that year, stands out in the minds of a few players, Jim Norman, Lyle Clinkingbeard and Don Sallee. It was during the Lebanon Regional. During the first round Ava was matched against Owensville. Owensville was considered the favorite to win State Champions. It was a horrible upset as Ava beat them 38-32. During the second round, Ava was to play the Springfield Senior High Bulldogs. It has been mentioned and later confirmed that the game was rigged. An official for the game, Shelby Rainy, an official who is looked up to by many of his peers, was on Springfield’s bus and reassured the bulldogs that he would take care of them. The other official from Fort Leonard Wood never called another basketball game after that. Don Sallee, one of Ava’s leading scorers fouled out shortly after the second half. This was one of the only two times that Don fouled out in his high school career. Springfield had some big, ole’ boys, but Ava still didn’t lose by much. The game was 46 to 52. The game was so out of control that police were called to control the crowd and it was the first time that the Ava players ever saw their coach really upset.
Senior, Don Sallee, was third high scorer in the “400 Club” during 1946 with a season total of 739 points and a per game average of 18. Back then scores were low, for him, this was quite a feat. He made the Ava High basketball team all four years. Don contributes his freshman playing time to the fact that so many boys had to leave for war. During his senior year, Don also was noted by a St. Louis paper to be one of the top five players in Missouri, this being the only form of All-State during this era. There have only been two others in Ava history to be recognized for All-State – Bob Victor in 1952-1953 and David Norman who received Honorable Mention in 1959-1960.
H. “Smitty” Smith managed the town’s athletic teams at the time. He worked as a field service man for Kraft Foods and came to Missouri from the CCC Camps with not much of a high school education, but when all other coaches were off at war, Smitty was persuaded by superintendent Chester Parker to take over the job. Judging from his record as coach, he did just that. Mr. Smith had no set plays or format, it was more freelanced. He coached for one year and was followed by Lawrence Barnes in 1947.
The players obtained most of their skills through playing basketball together in their own backyard. Most children had basketball courts in their backyard.
The game of basketball was much different back then. A player rarely ever dribbled the ball. The game was slow, a deliberate game more about passing. Most shots were two handed. Knee guards and black Chuck Taylor Converse were worn and the game ball was the only new ball that existed. Practice balls were old and covered with several patches and uniforms were used for more than a decade at a time before being replaced. Players were responsible for their own transportation. Lyle Clinkingbeard’s family often hauled the players in their suburban used for the family funeral home business.
The focus of practice was on shooting and scrimmage. It has been rumored the boys broke into the gym for extra practice or if they were lucky enough to find an open window to climb into. The all zone defense was used. Job tournaments were still being played. This was a tournament only played by freshman and sophomores after the season and districts, as a preview to the coming year. Ava had one of the finest courts, sporting the usual narrowing lane and double center line. Ava was followed by many fans, the gym was often times so packed that two rows of chairs had to be brought in.
Later on, the Altitude League dissolved and Ava joined the SCA in 1950.
David Hedgepeth, Joe Summer and John Weiser were a few of the coaches who later joined the coaching staff between 1949-1952.
Don Sallee left for college and the army only to return as head coach in 1953-1954 when Coach John Weiser left. He led the Ava basketball boys to two SCA Championship wins, the first year as Champions and in 1954-1955 as Co-Champions. His most eventful memories were of these two championships. The first year Don says, “We played West Plains, who was an outstanding team. We beat them the first year only to have them return and beat us the following year for Co-Champions.”
Players of the 1953-1954 team were: Jack Vinson, Jack Jenkins, Charles Mason, Neil Sellers, Weldon Sanders and Joe and Jerry Hart.
The 1954-1955 team had several returning players. They were: Jack Vinson, Joe Hart, Jerry Uhlman, Weldon Sanders, Jerry Hart, Bob Cooper and Gerald Stephens.
Don commented by saying, “A lot of my success as a coach was due to Joe Summers. He conditioned the players to be fundamentally sound. They played great zone defense and the full court 3-1-1 zone press.” Don’s most highly college recruited player at the time was John Potts. He was 6 foot 9 and could handle the ball well for a big guy and was very mobile.
Don later took over the family car business, but returned in 1980 to coach again. He eventually gave up coaching in 1985.
I was not born of this era, so listening to the details of how much the game has progressed was amazing to me. The only insight I had to the earlier and mid 1900’s was through history books and they do not do it justice. I have a new love for this game and the young men who played.
As a child I can remember watching the movie, Hoosiers, with my older brother. Even though I spent most of my time fighting with him, this movie some how allowed us a time to bond. Popcorn in hand, I remember how that movie made me feel. I cant’ help but think that bonds like this were formed in Ava during Ava’s reign as Champions. I know for the players who experienced it all, there is that connection.
I thank Don Sallee, Jim Norman, Lyle Clinkingbeard, Larry Silvey and Dwain Moore for the opportunity of bringing back those feelings. Basketball is history.
History can never erase the memories and they are all worth remembering. The sport of basketball will continue to change, however, the spark in the eyes of future players is the same spark held by players in the past. For every player who walks onto the gym floor, the feeling is the same, it is for the love of the game.