I have always been intrigued by two banners hanging on the wall of Lima Senior High School’s gymnasium. They honor the trips made to the boy’s basketball state tournament by Central and South High Schools, the two institutions that later merged to form the current Lima Senior High SchoolS. The fact that the two schools earned a berth at state in the same year, 1935, was difficult to comprehend because both schools were in the same classification. A little research cleared up the mystery.
The country was just climbing out of the Great Depression in 1935 and high school basketball bore little resemblance to the current game. But Lima was experiencing a growing passion for basketball and the South Tigers and Central Dragons were about to take the community on a ride that would make history.
Both teams returned veterans and entered the season with optimism. Central, under the direction of head coach, Howard “Cappie” Scheuerman, made it to state four years earlier and returned five lettermen, including their Captain, Gib Lewis, and talented center, Tom Sawyer. South’s head coach, Charles Gaskins, returned his two leading scorers in Ralph Rentz and Tom Cremean.
Both teams used South gymnasium as their home court and the rivals squared off twice that season. South atoned for their loss to Central in their annual Thanksgiving football game by winning both basketball games by the slimmest of margins, one point. Both schools finished the regular season with double figure wins and four losses.
At that time, the OHSAA post season basketball tournament had only two classifications, A and B. South and Central headed to Findlay High School gymnasium for the opening round of the Class A tourney. The teams were seeded in separate brackets. South beat St. Mary’s, Fostoria and Bucyrus to advance to the Districts and Central knocked off Bellefountaine and Kenton to also move on. It was the first time in history that both schools made it to District play in the same year.
In that Era, eight teams qualified for State, not four as is currently the case. Because South and Central were seeded into different brackets at the District level, it meant it was possible for both teams to qualify to State without meeting, and that’s exactly what happened. Central knocked off Bowling Green and Toledo Woodward to make State and South defeated Defiance and Ashland for the right to join their rivals in Columbus.
Lima, shaking off the blues of the Depression, found a reason to celebrate. A joint rally between the two schools was scheduled for Memorial Hall before the teams left for Columbus and the standing room only crowd stretched down the grand staircase and out to Elm street. According to the Lima News, “The rivalry between the two schools has been replaced by civic spirit.”
On Monday of State week, athletic directors and coaches for all eight teams met in Columbus at the OHSAA headquarters. A blind draw was held to fill the brackets that determined opponents. When Akron North pulled Akron West as their first-round game, the meeting turned to chaos. It was the third consecutive year that the two power-house programs had to play each other in an opening game at State. Their coaches stormed out of the meeting threatening to boycott the tournament if the rules weren’t changed so that teams could be seeded.
Published reports described the meeting as a “mess” as the commissioner of the OHSAA, H. R. Townsend, pleaded with the other teams to make last minute alterations in order to satisfy the Akron
demands. Once the dust settled, the Akron teams still had to play each other in the first round, but the controversy sparked major changes in the state tournament format that were applied the following year.
One of those changes was increasing the field of teams at state to 16 squads per class, a revision that lasted until 1944. (I’ve suggested that the OHSAA adopt this rule change and apply it for the recent COVID affected 2019-20 season and reward all those schools who advanced to regional play last year with the official designation as a “state qualifier.”)
In other matters, the OHSAA provided 50 cents for player meals and one dollar per player for hotel accommodations. The cost for admission to State games, which were played at the Columbus Fairground Coliseum, was set at 50 cents.
South, on a 13-game winning streak, drew Columbus Central in the afternoon game. They fell short, losing 34-26. Cremean led the Tigers in scoring with 9 points. South also lost the next day to Akron West in a consolation game. Their captain, Ralph Rentz, was named to the all-tournament team and later selected as All-State.
Central faced off with Greenfield McClain, one of the tournament favorites, that evening. Chick Oen’s 9 points in the 2nd half allowed the Dragons to stay in the game and force over-time. A new rule, enacted just that year, decreed that all OT’s at State were to be sudden death, meaning the first team to go up by two points was the winner.
With the crowd of 3,500 on its feet and at full throat, the two teams combined to miss their first ten shots in the over-time. “All of the efforts rolled around and off the rim,” the Lima News reported, leaving the fans from both teams emotionally exhausted after each attempt.
Finally, Tom Sawyer, Central’s lanky big man, was fouled and stepped to the free throw line. He had missed all three of his free throw attempts earlier in the game. But with the pressure on, Sawyer dropped both free throws and the Dragons advanced to the semi-final as one of the four teams left in the tournament.
The next day, after being held scoreless for the first twelve minutes of the game, Central fell to Coshocton 24 to 11. The Dragons Forrest “Bus” Moore led Central with 9 points despite his right hand being heavily bandaged due to several stitches he received in an accident at school the day before leaving for Columbus.
Akron North captured the state title the next day, hammering Coshocton 47-15.
In his popular Lima News column, “Snypps Sports Snacks”, Bill Snypps summed up the feelings of the community in writing, “Our Lima teams performed capably, and the city can still lay claim to having two of the best squads in the state.”
Their success contributed to Lima’s growing love affair with basketball, one that continues to this day.