Written by Andrew Ottoson Wednesday, 25 July 2007 06:58
Only three teams compiled undefeated seasons in the 17-year history of Class BB basketball. The other two, the 1957 Tescott Trojans and the 1966 Dwight Rockets, have already been feted by the KBCA.
Now the Hornets are set to take their place in the annals of Kansas high school basketball history.
Coach Dennis Brunner’s team had posted a 20-4 record during the 1961-62 season. And with four returning starters—Lauren Frantz, Galen Frick, Larry Kerbs and Larry Wedel—the team had a strong core already in place.
“Frick and Frantz were interior players, with Frick at center and Frantz at forward,” Brunner said. “Frantz was an extremely good jumper and he pretty much controlled the backboard. Both he and Frick were both excellent rebounders and defenders.”
Kerbs and Wedel played the wings, providing perimeter scoring as well as tough defense.
“Having four scorers made for a very tough combination to beat,” Brunner said. “We could score against anybody. But really, we dominated games defensively.
“The gyms were small and we were big, and that made our defense that much tougher,” he added. “In those days, fans had to arrive two hours early because every game was a packed house.”
The four returning starters teamed with point guards Dwight Negley and Bob Klein to form the team’s top unit.
“Negley was a very good point guard, a good penetrator who dished off well,” Brunner said. “He quarterbacked us, along with Bob Klein.”
Four more players made the Hornet roster complete: Rick Riffel, Warren Weibert, Ken Pankratz, Lloyd Meier and Bob Klein.
“We had six people dominating playing time, and our bench kept us in games whenever we faced foul trouble,” Brunner said.
With Brunner at the helm—he had been on the job since the fall 1961—the team coalesced and took aim at the BB championship.
“Their work ethic was tremendous,” Brunner said. “They were serious in practice and played with purpose—a coach’s dream. In 35 years of coaching, I never had a team that took the game as seriously as those guys,” he added.
“We went to state and got beat the year before. On the way home from Dodge City, the only thing they could talk about was starting to work for the following year.
“You could see their mindset take root then, and it continued all the way through the next year.”
The first road block was a substantial one, a meeting with a Class B team at Hillsboro, then a school with roughly double Durham’s enrollment.
“That win was a big boost for us, and we didn’t really have anything to lose,” Brunner said. “If we got beat, we got beat by a larger school. But when we won, we got a big boost of confidence, and it played a big part in our season.”
After 19 more stops throughout central Kansas—including contests against Hope, Florence, Lehigh, Goessel, Tampa, Solomon, White City, Roxbury and Galva—the Hornets had 20 wins to their credit and were primed for regional play as a No. 1 seed.
“We won several blowout games, and the big thing we had to guard against was overconfidence, to make sure we prepared for every game,” Brunner said. “The focus was to don’t let somebody slip up on us.”
Durham parlayed its top seed into a narrow victory over Cassoday and entered the state tournament as the No. 1 seed in a bracket that featured two other undefeated teams as well as a 22-2 Melvern squad that had claimed the Class B title the previous season.
The other top seeds did not fare well on the tournament’s first day in Dodge City, but the Hornets passed a stern test against Prairie View.
“We played one of the later games, and the team we played against didn’t have the greatest record in the world,” Brunner recollected. “But they had tremendous height—that was something we had not played against. The guys played well, and we pretty much had our way.”
The Hornets hammered Dwight the next day, and handed Corning its first loss of the season in the championship game.
“I was just starting my coaching career, so it meant quite a bit to me,” he said. “Being inducted into the KBCA hall of fame means a lot to me, coming from peers.
“It’s been a long time—44 years—and (the induction) is really great for all of us, and it brings back so many great memories,” he said. “Of course, it’s a great honor to the team.
“To the guys, I know the title meant a lot to them, and to the town, it did wonders for Durham.
And the 1963 state title team continues to bring honor to Durham.