It was an exciting time in Florence in March 1911. During that month both the high school boys’ and girls’ basketball teams attended the state tournament in Lawrence. Both teams were coached by H.E Clewell.
The Florence boys won their first game at the tournament (defeating Lansing) but lost in the second round to Winfield.
With the girls, Clewell was ably assisted in coaching by his wife. The 1911 team consisted of Mary Haack, Tina O’Neill, Blanche Coon, Bessie O’Neill, Lillie Cloverdyke and Rose Jeffers.
The girls opened the season with a convincing 42-4 home-court victory over Newton. The Florence Bulletin provided the following commentary.
“The girls’ game was SO EASY,” reported the newspaper. “It took the home girls about three minutes to get going but once they did, they kept the scorer busy marking down points. Bessie O’Neill was strong as the goal scorer and tossed in as many as 18 field goals for her efforts. Tina O’Neill and Blanche Coon were key defenders and whenever Newton did get the ball into the Florence end, the two quickly retrieved the ball and sent it back to the Florence side of the court.”
After such a commanding start, the undefeated season ended in the second game with Buffalo. Florence struggled from both the field and at the foul line and were easily pushed aside, 23-10. Florence continued the regular season and posted key wins over Emporia, Peabody and Fredonia. They suffered a disappointing loss at the hands of a Reno County High School (Nickerson), 13-12. Over the years, Reno County had become a heavyweight contender in girls’ basketball. In 1911, they were again regarded by many as having one of the finer teams in the entire state.
With a final regular-season record of 6-4, Florence attended the Fourth Congressional District Tournament, which was played in Emporia.
“A bunch of fans will be traveling to Emporia for the game,” reported the Bulletin. “Professor and Mrs. Clewell have their team in fine shape, being the kind of coaches who know how to properly develop teamwork and individual play.”
All told, five teams attended. After a first-round bye, Florence destroyed LeRoy, 27-6, and Hartford, 39-7, to claim the district title.
“Florence sent ‘cracker jack’ aggregations to the tourney,” the Florence Bulletin reported. “It was a big advertisement of school ‘get-up’ and spirit. Florence clearly outplayed its opponents and for the Marion County School, decisive victories were a foregone conclusion.”
With the wins, the girls of Florence set sail for the state tournament in Lawrence. Since the tourney had begun in 1908, it had grown in popularity and now 10 teams were in attendance. In addition to Florence, teams from Clay Center, Bonner Springs, Dickinson County (Chapman), Hutchinson, Olathe, Reno County (Nickerson), Wamego, Wellsville and Winfield participated.
Chanute was the defending champion and featured the sister combination of Ruth and Mae Filson. Both were star athletes. Ruth would later become the mother of Ralph Miller, the University of Kansas great and future Hall of Fame coaching legend.
Florence did not survive the first round. In their matchup with Dickinson County, Florence lost 22-19. The Dickinson team was regarded as one of the fastest teams in the state and quickly grabbed an early lead, and did not relinquish it.
In the end, even Dickinson County could not contend with the speed and grace of Chanute, which claimed its second consecutive title. Florence ended its season with a mark of 8-5.
In the next installment, we will continue to visit some of the early state tournaments. The excitement of sanctioned girls’ basketball was about to end, however. A day was fast approaching when the sound of a bouncing basketball would be silenced.
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