Several of the Salem high school basketball players were my close friends. So when the 1930-31 season began I joined the squad trying out for the team. Our coach was John “Cracker” Wilks. He was a Salem College graduate whose athletic success was outstanding–especially in basketball. I was privileged to watch him play throughout his college career. “Cracker” Wilks and Sammy Kistler teamed up as forwards to make the Salem College basketball program formidable during their collegiate years. Sammy Kistler was my physical education instructor and coach in college.
The progress I made in the basketball practices pleased and surprised me. When the large squad was divided, I was included on the A squad. It was a thrill to be issued one of the fifteen first squad uniforms and sweat suits. I made the trip to Clarksburg for the game with Victory High School. My first game experience was with Pennsboro High School where I played briefly.
Our Salem high school team was winning its games and was in contention for the Little Mountaineer League championship. I was competing for the position of substitute guard with another senior, Francis Bouffioux. Joe Davis and Harold Zellar were the regular guards–Joe very fast and an excellent ball handler, Harold big and athletic.
I learned what it’s like to play “hurt”. In one period during the season the tendons in my heels became very sore and tender. It was painful to run but I practiced and played through that agony. I would have walked through fire for coach “Cracker” Wilks.
A crisis came for our team late in the season. Harold Zellar cut his hand badly while working in his father’s glass plant. He was out for the season. It was obvious that Francis or I must step into the lineup.
The next game, against West Union High School on their floor, was crucial. We had defeated them by one point in Salem. I played briefly in that game. Our championship was on the line in this contest. I was torn between wanting desperately to play and being fearful the coach would take his chances with me.
I did get the call to start the game and what an unusual game it was. West Union scored eight points in the first quarter to zero for us. They scored eight more points in the second quarter and we scored sixteen to tie the score at the half. (I believe I scored the first field goal for two points.) The second half the lead changed several times and with time running out we had a one point lead when I fouled Carl Christie. His first free throw was good tying the score, but he missed the second foul shot. Joe Davis took the rebound and raced down the floor where he was fouled near the basket. He made his first free throw, giving us the winning point, and when the gun went off ending the game he threw the ball straight in the air. (Carl Christie became a college classmate and starred in football, basketball and baseball.)
The final score of that game was 23-22, I believe. It’s surprising how low high school and college basketball scores were in those years. Our team did win the championship of our league and went to the state tournament. I did not go to the tournament with the team because the first game was on Friday (Sabbath Eve)–a very tough decision for me. Our team roster was: Nelson Tully and Bob Wise, forwards; Joe Davis and Harold Zellar, guards and Bud Murrow, center. I replaced Harold Zellar after his accident.
Here is an interesting “side” story in my basketball experience. At some point during the season my locker was broken into and my basketball shoes and sweatshirt were stolen. Some days later as I was walking up the steep sidewalk to the high school I looked down to see the boy in front of me wearing my shoes. Stopping him I said, “Sit down and take off my shoes”. He begged that he couldn’t go to school without shoes so I said, “Bring my shoes and my sweat shirt at noon or I tell Mister Tesch”. He insisted that he didn’t have my sweat shirt but I said, “Bring it anyway”, and he did.
For our high school senior class picnic we went to Blackwater Falls. it was a wonderful day. I was thrilled to have my girl friend, Madeline Watts, with me. Our seniors from the basketball team were wearing our sweaters with the coveted S. Madeline and I rode with Nelson Tully and his girl friend in his model A Ford.
Sometime during the picnic fun I waded across the Blackwater river not many yards above the falls. The water was about waist deep and very swift. A slip on the rocky bottom would most certainly have carried me over the falls. How many times do foolhardy experiences like that one end in tragedy?
There were fifty-eight graduates in our 1931 Salem High School class. I wrote the Class Prophecy for the graduation exercises and sent a copy to be read for the class reunion in 1981.