Certainly, March has its strengths with St. Patty’s Day and the first day of spring. And, for basketball fans, of course, no time of year is better than March.
Now that this year’s high school champions have been crowned and the tears of defeat have dried on the cheeks of others who, in time, will realize there are worse things that can happen than losing a game, let me take you back to the mid-1960s for one final March Madness story.
Recently, during my work putting together a two-part series on Coach Gary Duhaime’s first Shawnee basketball team in 1964-65 that saw the Indians finish 25-1, the best record in the state with the lone loss coming to Cincinnati St. Xavier at St. John Arena in the state semifinals, the former players and head coach I interviewed all made reference to the support from the community both during the season and especially after that lone loss in Columbus.
As for that community support, well, it began on Sunday morning when the team bus returned from Columbus and drove to a designated spot on Lima’s outskirts, where coaches, players and cheerleaders were put into convertibles and escorted to Lappin Gym, where a reception was held. That’s where the trio of Don Bruns and Dick Bruns and Danny Haynes sang a parody of “The Ballad of Davy Crockett” with lyrics they changed to acknowledge each team member so each could be recognized.
Later that evening, it was on to the Alpine Village for a banquet, with the tab picked up by a group of anonymous Indian boosters as their way of saying thanks for the thrills provided by the Class AA’s top-ranked team in the polls for much of the season.
Now, surely that was enough, right? Well, actually it wasn’t, not by a long shot. Several days later, the Ford Motor Company also made its feelings known just how much it appreciated the Indians’ effort, and smack dab in the middle of the muscle-car era when young men with newly minted driver’s licenses knew every word of songs like The Beach Boys’ “409” and Jan and Dean’s “Drag City,” it was a gesture not easily forgotten by so many to this day.
Since local history is the most difficult to fact-check and my eyes grew weary of rolling microfilm for March of 1965 searching for a newspaper story covering it, I’m going to rely on the recollections of three of the players on that team — Bruce Burden, Rick Snider and Jeff Miller — and their coach, Gary Duhaime.
According to Burden, there was a classmate, Dwight Kadar, whose father, Steve, was a local Ford exec and helped arrange for 15 cherry-red brand new experimental Ford Mustang Fastbacks to be given on a two-week lease to the coaches and to the mothers of the players, the later recipients being rewarded for washing all those uniforms and scheduling dinners around practices and doing all the other things Moms do to make sure their sons can chase their dreams. The cars were presented when a curtain was drawn revealing them lined up side by side as the final act of another appreciation banquet, this one given by Ford.
Recalls Duhaime with a laugh, “It didn’t take long for those sons to wheedle those car keys from the Moms! Not long after the boys began driving those Fastbacks around town, I got a call at school from the Shawnee Township police asking me to talk to the boys and tell them to slow down!”
Burden recalls the time vividly. “Hot cars, springtime and being seventeen! Could it have been any better?”
As for Jeff Miller, he remembers he and teammate Greg Monroe picking up friends and heading out to Wonderlick Road, where it was well known which two telephone poles marked off a quarter mile, the automotive equivalent to a football player’s 40-yard dash.
“Wow, we ran that Mustang back and forth from pole to pole, and while I don’t remember the speeds, I do know it was a whole lot faster than my ’54 Ford three-speed!”
Miller also remembers one of his first solo trips in his ‘Stang was to Kenilworth Avenue to the Seggerson house to pick up his competitor on the basketball floor and pal off it, Bob, and take him for a spin. Laughs Miller, recalling the intensity of the rivalry between LCC and Shawnee in the ’60s, “If Father Herr had known Segg took that ride with me, he’d probably have expelled him!”
During those two weeks, a special section of the school parking lot was marked off so the Mustangs could line up equine shoulder to equine shoulder. Recalls Rick Snider, “Needless to say, all those Mustangs lined up side by side was a sight none of us had ever seen before in a school lot.”
I’m sure, all too quickly, the two weeks came to an end but, of course, the memories have endured a lifetime for those who walked the halls of Shawnee at that time.
And, if anyone wants to remember what Bruce Burden’s hot cars looked like in the Shawnee High School parking lot, just grab a copy of the1965 Shawnee yearbook, turn to Page 157 and check the Ford “Congratulations to the Class of ’65” ad, the one that shows all those Fastbacks lined in a row right above the words, “Ford Mustang…The Official Car of the Shawnee Basketball Team.”
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at email@example.com.