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Sweet Charlie, Dike, Cazzie, and Bobby JoeHigh School Basketball in Illinois
By Taylor H. A. Bell
University of Illinois PressCopyright © 2004 Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe 1940s
Centralia: Winningest Team in History
The Green Grill is to Centralia what Fritzel's was to Chicago, what Toots Shor's was to New York, and what the Brown Derby was to Hollywood. After a basketball game, everybody who was anybody showed up for a beer and burger.
It opened in 1934 on North Poplar before moving to its current location on Route 161 at Route 51 in downtown Centralia in 1936. In the 1940s and 1950s, however, Centralia's great basketball stars, Ken "Preacher" McBride and Bobby Joe Mason, couldn't go there.
"There were about a thousand blacks in the community, 120 in the high school," Mason recalled. "We became aware of racial things that were going on when we went out of town, when we went to eat at restaurants. We had to go in the back door for blacks in Centralia. I couldn't go into certain places, like the Green Grill. At the movie theater, I had to sit upstairs."
Mason, whose retired number 14 jersey hangs in Trout Gym with Dike Eddleman's number 40 and Lowell Spurgeon's number 13, doesn't live in Centralia. He once worked for his former Centralia classmate Roland Burris when Burris was comptroller and attorney general of Illinois. Now he lives in Springfield and is employed by the Springfield Housing Authority's Community Center.
McBride, a three-sport athlete and an All-State basketball player in 1947, settled in Centralia in 1987 after playing with the Harlem Magicians and then working for a YMCA in Chicago for sixteen years and for the State of Illinois for ten years.
"There was a lot of prejudice in the 1940s when I was growing up," said McBride, who started on Centralia's 1946 state runner-up. "When the city built a new swimming pool in Fairview Park, we couldn't swim in it. Segregation was accepted in those days. Now I ask why it was like that. Why did we accept it? What could we have done about it? We had no power."
A sign at one restaurant read: "Colored served to go." But McBride claimed that he found no prejudice at the high school. He credited the coach, Arthur Trout. When some townspeople complained that two blacks were on the 1945 team, Trout said that he would play his best players, no matter what color. "That set the tone," McBride said.
So there was McBride, sitting in the dining room of the Green Grill, enjoying a lunch with Lowell Spurgeon, Bill Castleman, Bob Jones, Bill Niepoetter, Butch Border, and Bill "Pops" Taylor, swapping stories and reliving memories of Trout, Eddleman, Mason, the Wonder Five, 1942, 1946, and 1963.
Spurgeon, looking fit at age eighty-seven, graduated in 1934 with twelve varsity letters. He was a three-time All-Stater in football and a two-time All-Stater in basketball. He held the state high jump record of 6 ft., 5 1/8 in., for twenty-seven years.
McBride's heroes were Spurgeon and Jesse Owens. He built a jumping pit in his backyard. He started to play basketball after his father reminded him that he couldn't play major league baseball because he was black.
Castleman played on the Wonder Five in 1941 but never went to college. He wanted to work on the railroad, like his father. After five years, he joined a private company, then worked for the City of Centralia. He retired in 1985. He has attended games at Trout Gym for five decades.
Jones was born in Ashley, a few miles south of Centralia. He coached at McLeansboro, Norris City, and Metropolis before succeeding Bill Davies as head coach at Centralia in 1962. He coached until 1972 and served as athletic director until 1983.
Niepoetter, a 1946 Centralia graduate, left college when his father was killed in a coal mine disaster. He joined the Centralia Sentinel as a sportswriter in 1957 and retired in 1979. He cofounded the Centralia Sports Hall of Fame with Bob Jenkins.
Border, a 1961 Centralia graduate, has served as president of Centralia's all-sports booster club since 1994. He is also a former president of the Centralia Sports Hall of Fame, which was founded in 1980.
Taylor, a 1962 Centralia graduate, describes himself as "the biggest fan the school has ever had." He also is very active in the booster club and the Centralia Hall of Fame.
They have a lot to be proud of. Few schools in Illinois can match Centralia's winning tradition. A state sign on the outskirts of the Marion County community proclaims that Centralia is home to "the winningest high school basketball team in the United States."
Until recent years, Arthur Trout was the winningest coach in Illinois history with 809 career victories. He also won three state championships (1918, 1922, 1942). Dike Eddleman is generally acknowledged as the greatest male athlete in state history.
Centralia was a thriving community in the 1940s. It owed its prosperity to the railroad, coal mining, and oil. At one time, the Centralia oil field was the largest in the world. Now the population has dipped from eighteen thousand to 14,500. Marion County has the second-highest unemployment rate in Illinois.
Trout was the most revered man in Centralia. Jones was in heaven when Trout and the Wonder Five showed up at his eighth-grade basketball banquet. "That's why I became a coach," he said.
Every year, Spurgeon makes a trip to Bruceville, Indiana, Trout's hometown, to place flowers on his former coach's grave. "He did more things for this community that people didn't know about," Spurgeon said.
Trout claimed that he invented his famed "kiss shot" because high school players have small hands and can't shoot one-handed. He said that he could tell that the shot was executed correctly if he saw dust on a player's lip. The higher the trajectory of the shot, he said, the better chance it would go in the basket.
"He was a legend, and you don't talk back to legends," McBride said.
Trout's 1941 team, dubbed the "Wonder Five," with Eddleman, Castleman, Jack Klosterman, Harold Wesner, and Bob Michael, was heavily favored to win the state title. But they lost to Morton of Cicero 30–29 in the semifinals and settled for third place with a 44–2 record.
"It was a terrible feeling. I am going on eighty, and I haven't forgotten it yet," Castleman said. "You never forget the game, the guys, the town. Trout said every team has one bad game a year regardless of how good it is. That was our bad game."
In 1942, Castleman was gone, and Eddleman was the only returning starter. Mount Vernon with Junior Kirk was the preseason favorite, but Centralia upset the Rams in the sectional final. Eddleman fouled out midway through the fourth quarter, but Farrell Robinson keyed the victory.
In the state finals, Eddleman, Robinson, Fred Pearson, and Jim Seyler carried the team. They rallied from a thirteen-point deficit in the last five minutes to stun unbeaten Paris 35–33 for the crown. Eddleman was the tournament's leading scorer with seventy-two points in four games.
In 1946 McBride was a junior. After experiencing a 6–24 season in 1943–44, the worst in Trout's career, which included a 60–20 loss to Pinckneyville, Trout promised seniors Colin Anderson and Don Schnake that they would play in Huff Gym in March. Anderson missed twelve games with a bad back, and Centralia lost eight of them. But they finished with a 24–13 record and reached the state final, finishing second to Champaign.
"There has never been another Trout," said Schnake, who published a book on his former coach, Trout: The Old Man and the Orphans, in 1992. "They were junior high school coaches compared to him. He was bigger than the game. Other coaches were about strategy and fundamentals. He went beyond that. He hit an area that others didn't."
After Trout retired in 1950, Jimmy Evers produced some outstanding teams in the 1950s (he was 105–22 from 1951 to 1955), and Bill Davies coached 29–2 and 29–3 teams in 1961 and 1962. Rich Rapp, an All-Stater on the 1961 team, said that old-timers still insist that the best game ever played was Collinsville's 66–64 victory over Centralia in the 1961 supersectional at Salem.
But as long as the game is played in Centralia, they will remember Jones's 1963 team, the 32–2 powerhouse that was top-ranked in the state but lost in the state final to Chicago Carver 53–52 on Anthony Smedley's dramatic last-second steal and game-winning shot. "That loss still haunts the community more than any other game in school history, even more than 1941," Castleman said.
No one thinks about it more than Herb Williams, the two-time All-Stater who had the ball stripped from his hands in the closing seconds, setting the stage for Smedley's winning shot. "To me, the game was the summation of a career," Williams said. "I wasn't only playing for myself but for my big brothers ... Rich Rapp, Russell Coleman, Chuck Garrett, Mel Blackwell, Wendell Meeks, the guys on the 1961 and 1962 teams who had worked so hard. I was totally crushed. It is one of those things you never get over. But you accept it. My disappointment wasn't so much for myself but that I felt I let so many people down. You realize you did the best you could, but it wasn't meant to be."
Dike Eddleman: The Greatest Athlete of All
It is a love story that Hollywood missed: the peppy cheerleader and the star athlete. They were married for nearly fifty-six years. He achieved success in three sports and won the hearts of many during his years as an athlete and business executive, and his wife was with him every step of the way.
Thomas Dwight "Dike" Eddleman lived on the West Side of Centralia. He was an outstanding athlete in a sports-crazy town who had a marvelous two-handed shot but absolutely no ego. In fact, he was downright embarrassed by most adulation.
"No one ever said anything bad about him," said Bill Castleman, a teammate on Centralia's famed Wonder Five of 1941.
"He handled his fame at a young age like no other," said Bill Niepoetter, a 1946 Centralia graduate who was a sports reporter for the Centralia Sentinel from 1957 to 1979.
Teddy Georgia Townsley lived with her grandparents on the East Side of Centralia. Her grandfather was a Chicago Cubs fan and listened to their games on the radio. Teddy wasn't much of a sports fan. Cheerleading, she said, was her only claim to fame.
As a sophomore, she was walking through the gym with a friend, Marge Hoyt, when Eddleman, a year older, asked her to go to a movie. Teddy said no. "I wasn't that impressed," she said. Two weeks later he asked again, and she accepted.
They sat on the swing on her front porch or went to a movie at the Illinois Theatre. They'd sit in the front row so Dike could dangle his long legs on the railing. Jitterbugging was the rage, but Dike preferred the two-step. They began going steady during Dike's senior year. Although he was very private and unpretentious, he also had a jealous streak. He got mad whenever Teddy got calls from gentleman admirers.
While Dike made a reputation that attracted sportswriters from Chicago and national magazine writers from New York to the tiny Marion County town, Teddy recalls that her most memorable moment came when coach Arthur Trout, who was admired and respected but feared by one and all, asked someone to tell her during a game: "Don't turn flips in front of the bench."
Eddleman became the most celebrated athlete in Illinois high school history. He became a cult hero. Fan mail was addressed to Eddlemanville, Illinois, but the post office always delivered the letters to Dike. Tom Siler of Sport magazine said that Eddleman was "the most sought-after athlete in America." Look magazine published a seven-page spread with pictures.
"I believe my father's story forever will be unique," said Diana Eddleman Lenzi, who published the book Dike Eddleman: Illinois' Greatest Athlete in 1997, "because of the diversity of his accomplishments, the humility he maintained, and the fact that it all happened in a magical era gone by."
After Eddleman scored an unprecedented 969 points as a junior, Paramount Pictures approached his coach about making a movie about the seventeen-year-old. The proposal was rejected. After he graduated from the University of Illinois with eleven varsity letters, he was offered the leading role in a Tarzan movie.
"He was a good-looking guy, and I wanted to go out with him," Teddy recalled. "His three sisters didn't like me. They didn't want him to be tied down. Dike didn't talk about it. We were just two young people falling in love."
There wasn't much time, however. Trout didn't permit his athletes to attend dances, and Teddy loved to dance. Dike was so busy training for football, basketball, and the high jump that he scheduled only one date each weekend with Teddy.
"I only have about ten years for basketball and other athletic competitions," he told the sportswriter Donald H. Drees of the St. Louis Star-Times in 1942. "I have the rest of my life for girls. I limit my dating to one night each weekend. Just so I won't go stale."
In football, he joined Trout's team as a senior and was named to the All-State team. Later, he was a record-setting punter on Illinois's 1947 Rose Bowl championship team.
In basketball, he was a three-time All-Stater who became the first player in state history to score more than two thousand points in his career. He led Centralia to the 1942 state championship after finishing third in 1941. Later, he was named the Big Ten's most valuable player on an Illinois team that finished third in the NCAA tournament in 1949. He also played five years of professional basketball.
In the high jump, he won three state championships in a row. Later, he was a standout on Illinois's 1947 NCAA outdoor championship team and qualified for the 1948 Olympics.
"I covered a golden age of sports that featured championship teams from Centralia High School and the University of Illinois," said the former Champaign News-Gazette sports editor Pat Harmon. "Dike Eddleman was a central part of my stories about those teams, and I have never forgotten his achievements. He followed his athletic career with a record of service to his school. He is the greatest."
Curiously, Eddleman had an idol, someone he admired more than any other athlete. Lowell Spurgeon, a 1934 Centralia graduate, was the town's most admired athlete before Eddleman. He won twelve varsity letters, was a three-time All-Stater in football, a two-time All-Stater in basketball, and set a state high jump record of 6 ft., 5 1/8 in., that stood for twenty-seven years. Later, he was a three-sport star at the University of Illinois.
"Much of my success as a high jumper can be attributed to Lowell Spurgeon," Eddleman said. "I tried to emulate him as a youngster."
Eddleman left big footprints. Don Schnake, who played on Centralia's 1946 state runner-up, saw Eddleman play for four years and was in awe.
"He was a god," Schnake said. "Everyone wanted to be like him. You couldn't believe you were playing on the same floor as he did."
Eddleman's athletic feats were extraordinary and legendary, especially in basketball. After the famed Wonder Five of Eddleman, Castleman, Jack Klosterman, Harold Wesner, and Bob Michael had to settle for third place in 1941 after losing to Morton of Cicero 30–29 in the semifinals, Eddleman was devastated. He was determined to come back in 1942 even though he was the only returning starter.
In his book Trout: The Old Man and the Orphans, Schnake details the closing seconds of the 1942 state championship game as Eddleman rallied his Centralia teammates from a thirteen-point deficit in the last six minutes to upset Paris 35–33, snapping the Tigers' thirty-nine-game winning streak: "Eddleman, with a fury-filled drive through the Paris team, brought the Orphans within two. [Jim] Seyler, fouled by Nate Middleton, hit two free throws to tie.
"Dave Humerickhouse, fouled by [Bernard] Schifferdecker, dropped two through and Paris regained the lead.
"As the clock turned red and seven thousand fans turned insane, Eddleman exploded down the side and attacked the basket with all-out determination. [Max] Norman fouled him to prevent the score. The clock stopped—along with many hearts—at fifty-five seconds as Dike approached the line. He made two clean shots and it was tied again.
"An overanxious Warren Collier missed everything. [Bob] Wham recovered the errant shot. Centralia had the ball and thirty seconds to break the tie. Wham to Seyler to Eddleman. But he missed.
"Humerick house rebounded—but couldn't hold on.
"Eddleman pounced on the loose ball and dropped it in at the buzzer. Champions! Champions! Champions!"
Even after playing in the Rose Bowl, the Final Four, the Olympics, and the NBA, Eddleman considered the victory over Paris to be his greatest thrill in sports.
"He never talked about what he did unless he was asked," Teddy said. He was proud of his achievement in 1942, but he never forgot the disappointment of 1941. He died of a heart ailment in 2001. He was seventy-eight.
He always remembered his roots. In 1963, after another favored Centralia team had lost a heartbreaking last-second decision to Chicago Carver for the state championship, he entered the locker room and asked Centralia coach Bob Jones if he could speak to the team.
Excerpted from Sweet Charlie, Dike, Cazzie, and Bobby Joe by Taylor H. A. Bell Copyright © 2004 by Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois. Excerpted by permission of University of Illinois Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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