Sectionals: Drawn and Covered

The state tournament, ‘the second season” as Theo called it, began for the Shortridge Blue Devils, began on Friday, February 23, 1968.  They had a 17-4 record, averaged a school record 77 points a game,  were ranked eighth in the state polls, and by countless hands were expected to at least duplicate the success Theofanis when his “Greek Rebellion” first took root in his rookie season as coach the year before.

George Theofanis, 1968

Because of how the previous season ended, Theo knew the record and ranking we now irrelevant. “This is the half that counts,” he told The Daily Echo as tournament practice began.  He’d been counting on this moment for a year.

Because of how the previous season ended, Theo knew the record and ranking we now irrelevant. “This is the half that counts,” he told The Daily Echo as tournament practice began.  He’d been counting on this moment for a year.

For nearly a year the Blue Devils anticipated this moment, the opening game of the Coliseum Sectional. It was the first step in a hoped-for — dare we say, expected — return to the Indianapolis Semistate where they missed reaching the 1967 Final Four by two points and three seconds.

Whatever the public persona projected from the summer through tryouts through opening day of practice and each game thereafter, there wasn’t a high school coach or player in Indiana who didn’t savor this moment — the when regular season record was wiped clean and any of the high schools in the state had an equal chance to win the state title championship, regardless of previous record or school size.

The Good Draft in ’68

Anticipation for the Sectionals was heightened nine days before when the pairings were announced by Board of Control of the Indiana High School Athletic Association. The blind draw at the IHSAA headquarters was the most anticipated off-the-court tradition in Indiana.  Media reporting of the draw for the 64 sites was the template for today’s coverage of the NCAA’s March Madness or NFL Draft.  A Global Event, seeing as how the world centered around Indiana basketball.  And in Indy, printing the results was old school, old world, collaborative deadline journalism at its finest.  Publishing the pairing was a machine of organization, collaboration, improvisation and perspiration.  Had there been Corporate Olympics, The Indianapolis News would have been the annual winning of the team competition.  #PublishingOnDeadline would have been trending.

While the Associated Press and United Press International wire services provided results of the draw for newspapers throughout the state, locally The News had first shot at the exclusive results as announced.  The only lottery that drew comparable interest was the military draft, still a distant second.

68 Tourney Draw.jpg

Stop the Presses…Really

The drawing began with a photo-op at the IHSAA office. Staffing for The News was sports photographer Leroy Patton, an under-appreciated pioneer of Indiana journalism and African-American history.  Applying speed, dexterity and snap decision-making for the still-essential editions of afternoon newspapers, Patton shot the picture at the early morning session downtown, hurried back to The News office, developed the film, made less than a handful of prints — likely ONE — to be selected by the photo editor — not just for the sports pages, but the front page of the newspaper.

Echo Pix_Linotype
Operator Paul Gakstetter setting Daily Echo copy on the school’s only linotype machine. Imagine half-a-gym of these contraptions clamoring simultaneously.  That was Star-News deadline mode. (Photo:  Daily Echo)

Both city sports departments had their Hall of Fame reporters on site.  While The Star’s Bob Williams collected colorful anecdotes for tomorrow morning’s editions, columnist Corky Lamm poetically dictated the pairings back to The News sports desk for all four of the day’s editions as his colleagues in the office called coaches at schools with the results which took only 51 minutes to complete.  Corky had it in a lead graph.

Getting Twitter-length quotes, the reporters set off the chain by using manual typewriters to bang out short paragraphs on coarse typing paper, to be edited with thick-black pencils, collected as single sheets or stuck together by thick globs of glue, sent by pnuematic tube to the pressroom a floor above, where they were parceled out among the pressmen.  Some would convert the story into readable lettering using clamorous linotype machines while others hand-set bolder headlines as a third group fashioned the photo — now transferred into a metal block — and positioned all the elements into the predetermined available size to be proofread, corrected and sent to the press room to be duplicated, bundled and truck delivered to newsstands and businesses in Metropolitan Marion County for the City (street) edition due by 10 AM.  The word for it today is “digital.”

Before you could hit, “Retweet,” its 1968 ancestor, “Replate!” was shouted across the newsroom as Corky supplied new copy with localized updates, and other  elements were corrected, rearranged or moved for each of the next three editions which needed to be done by noon in order for newspaper boys to place them on the coaches’ home doorsteps before dinner so they could start sketching potential scouting reports, breathe sighs of relief, or, not forgetting, filling out brackets.   The morning progressed like this:

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After dinner, coaches and fans were free to use the enter tournament pools several newspapers conducted throughout the state for prizes of cash or savings bonds.  And if you wanted to razz a ref, who you knew who was officiating the sites. The final results looked like this:

68 Sectional Draw Full

Such thorough, high-intensity reporting by a newspaper may seem astonishing today when the industry is waning.  The illustration denotes The News’ commitment to competitive reporting even though The Star and The News had the same owner.  The paper often included multi-column ads promoting its 10-man sports staff. One ad the weekend after Sectionals, promoted the paper’s high school basketball coverage with reporters at  11 of the 16 upcoming Regionals.  Five writers would be reporters from other News departments.  Such was the importance of high school basketball and journalism in Indiana.

Significantly, the ad featured a News photographer’s shot of Shortridge fans cheering during the City Tourney.  Such was the contagion of the Greek Rebellion.

Beginning of the End of an Era

There were 488 schools in the state tournament in 1968, 25 fewer than the record-low number of entries the year before, but 25 more than there would be the following season.

Indiana High School Basketball Champions
Stat champions in single-class era. (Photo: Ball State University)

The shifting numbers reflected shifting populations.  More rural communities found economic salvation in consolidation, an emotional issue for many years.  Small towns — many one-high-school communities of which we’ve written — feared loss of personal identity as well as player opportunities and local rivalries by joining up with “the enemy.”At the same time, others feared the union would eliminate opportunities for schools with smaller numbers by establishing big school powerhouses like they had in the cities.   Consolidation, they argued, would make it less likely for the favored Cinderella, David & Goliath outcomes where the little guy knocked off the favored giant and went on to win the fabled title of Hoosier Basketball-land.

The most iconic of such dreams-come-true had last occurred in 1954 when Milan High School (population 1,180) had defeated both Indianapolis Crispus Attucks, whose standout was Oscar Robertson, and Muncie Central, a four-time state champion, en route to the state title.  Milan’s feat was the stuff of dreams, movies and folklore.  Most every year since 1954, each tournament included a story asking, “Could this be the next Milan?”

On Friday, February 23, the question was not, “Could this be the next Milan?” but, “Is this a rerun?

Now a coach, Roger Schroeder (second row, second left) brought Milanesque discipline and mindset against the Blue to start the tourney.

The Luck of the Draw

The 1968 tournament pairings were announced on Wednesday, February 14, Shortridge fans could not be more in love with the result, which Corky Lamm pointed out immediately.  First, the Devils were the last of the eight Coliseum teams whose number came up.  Second, they pulled a first-night bye which meant they would have an extra night of rest and to, perhaps, scout potential Sectional foes for the Saturday games.  Fans were more confident to play Saturday when the second-night pairings were announced.

sectional stub
Three-game Sectional season ticket.

First, previous Sectional nemesis, second-seeded Lawrence Central, was in another the bracket.  “That’s encouraging. Lawrence gave us fits in the Sectional last year,” Theo said to Don Snider of The News.

The ’68 Bears were 10-9 which wasn’t bad news.  There was a potential hitch in the schedule though.  The Coliseum Sectional would start a night later than the rest of the tournament because of an ABA Pacers home game against the Houston Mavericks. Shortridge drew the second game on Friday, meaning a victory would mean a short turn-around before the Saturday afternoon semifinal.

Still, as if the IHSAA powers were cupid, the Devils were paired against John Marshall, the first-year school with a 7-10 record.  Besides that,  the Patriots’ record was 7-10, and they had no players taller than 6-0, a distinct advantage after weeks of being pounded on the boards by Washington, Tech, Connersville and Anderson.  There was one other reason Shortridge fans oozed confidence.  The Devils had already beaten Marshall, by 10 points, in the City Tourney. However, because of that game, Theo was more cautious about the Patriots.  That 10-point spread was deceptive.

“All I’m thinking about is Marshall,” he told Snider.  “They gave us a good game the last time.”

Proof is in the Composure 

A week after the draw, the night before the tournament began, Theo explained more concerns to Snider’s colleague Dick Denny, The News reporter assigned to the Coliseum Sectional.  Denny’s assignment was noteworthy. It further denoted the place of Indiana high school basketball in general and the Blue Devils in particular. Denny’s primary beat that winter was the first-year Pacers.

Denny’s preview of the Sectional began beneath this backdrop:

Shortridge_Marshall Headline_Denny

“It looks like it’s the field against Shortridge,” says Scecina coach Larry Neidlinger in appraise the Coliseum Sectional that opens tomorrow night with the 17-4 Blue Devils as defending champions and overwhelming favorite to keep the title.

Denny continued, “As good as Shortridge is, however, none of the seven coaches who will battle coach George Theofanis is conceding the championship to the Blue Devils.  And certainly Theofanis isn’t looking any further ahead than Friday night’s game with Mighty mite Marshall, which played the Blue Devils basket for basket almost all they way before bowing, 80-70, in the tournament.”

The Sectional preview in The Daily Echo recalled a particular Patriot who could be problematic again.

“And one remembering the Shortridge-Marshall game…should remember little Jim Skaggs (5-8, 132, guard) who scored 22 points and gave the fans at Arlington something to sigh about with his fine dribbling and shooting exhibition.”

“We’re not afraid of anybody,” Theofanis said, “but that doesn’t mean we’re cocky.  The score of the Marshall game doesn’t even tell how close they came to beating us.


The Echo preview also  contained a the beat reporter’s view of reality spin and the coach’s upbeat assertion..

“Shortridge’s 17 victories were close, runaways, scary, shaky and a few times sloppy. However, the Satans topped the 90-plus bracket five times this season while placing three players among the top 25 scoring leaders in Indianapolis.”

“This is the half that counts,” Theo said.  “You can’t think negative and get positive results.”

Marshall was equally positive, as Dick Denny pointed out. “(Coach) Roger Schroder realizes that Shortridge has the potential to go all the way to the state title, but he still has plans to show up Friday Night.

“We’re foolish like everybody else.   We think we can with the state, too.  We’ve set our goals high all year and the season isn’t over yet.  George has some advantages and we’ve got a few.  I think we can do the job if we play up to our capabilities the Indiana history book shows it can be done.”

Denny stressed that Schroder not only knew Hoosier hardwood history, “he helped create some of the finest” moments.  Schroder was a member of the state champion Milan Indians, and reached back in time that Friday night.

Tipoff was 8:15 pm.  Within two hours of their first night, the Blue Devils’ second season was seconds from being over.

Epilogue: Brother Leroy

As the ’68 part of the season climax, coverage of the Blue Devils coincided with astonishing world events or individuals many of us were too basketball-focused to recognize, but which had affected us greatly by the end of the school year.  Among those six degrees of Kevin Bacon encounters was Indianapolis News photographer Leroy Patton.

Patton was a quiet, yet notable presence at many news and sports events in the period; notable, often because he was among the few Negroes among the media.  He was a skilled, capture-the-moment lensman.  He captured many classic Shortridge moments, and his (above) picture of the state tourney draw was not his only photographic intersection with Shortridge in ’68.  A few months later, a few blocks away from where the Blue Devils were having dinner, Patton took an iconic photo that appeared around the world, and jettisoned him to a new globetrotting career as a photographer for Johnson Publications,  creators of Ebony and Jet magazines, and acclaimed Hollywood cinematographer.


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