Written by Hillsboro Free Press Tuesday, 17 April 2012 14:59
The boys of Burns High School made just one trip to state, but they made that one trip count in 1953.
The team was coached by Harvey Loy and featured Eugene Graves, Ron Kirkpatrick, Richard Hubman, Donald Nightengale, Danny Stucky, Bob Brenzikofer, Marvin Nightengale, David Carlisle, Elwyn Fink and Jack Heyman.
Graves, Kirkpatrick, Hubman and Don Nightengale were seniors and had been major contributors to the 1952 team that ended the year with a mark of 17-5.
From top to bottom, the 1953 Burns Hornets were an athletic bunch, as was attested on the football field. In fall 1952, Burns claimed the football title in the McPherson County League with a perfect record of 8-0.
With another sport came similar expectations—but in a different league. In basketball, Burns was part of the 11-team Butler County League.
Coach Loy visited with me often as I wrote my book, “Title Towns: Class BB Boys Basketball Champions of Kansas.”
“We were smaller than the ’52 team,” Loy said, “but we were faster. I wanted to use that speed with our full-court press. The faster the game, the less size would factor into the game.
“Our team was pretty deep and we could afford to be aggressive on defense. This was how I thought we could best play.”
The Hornets broke from the gates and won their first 11 games before Walton inflicted a 54-52 defeat.
“We had just won the Butler County League Tournament for the first time since 1942,” Loy said, “and it was a big deal. I felt the boys were a little flat after the tournament and Walton made us feel a lot flatter! Still, the loss might have done us some good.”
The Hornets would lose only one more time (Elmdale) and concluded the regular season with an 18-2 record. In the postseason, Burns first attended the Lehigh District Tournament along with Lost Springs, Lincolnville, Durham, Lehigh, Ramona, Tampa and Walton. Burns was the top seed and dispatched Lost Springs and Durham before edging Walton (45-41) to claim the district crown.
The Hornets then moved on to the Salina Regional, which included Elmdale, Paxico, Lorraine, Enterprise, Alden, Assaria and Walton. It was a heavyweight crew and Coach Loy remembered having concerns.
“Walton and Elmdale were there and both had already beaten us,” he said. “Enterprise (just east of Salina) was the top seed and had lost just one game (to Assaria).
“For Burns it would be a long trip for our fans, but for the fans of Enterprise and Assaria, it was so close. I was worried about how we would play in their backyard.”
Loy need not have worried. The Hornets defeated Alden, Assaria and Enterprise to capture the title and advance to the Class BB Boys Tournament in Hutchinson. Joining Burns were Fall River, Coats, Irving, Deerfield, Michigan Valley, Simpson and Edson.
With the exception of Deerfield, none of the schools remain in their original form but it goes even further than that. Case in point: Where is the town of Irving? Don’t bother checking a map, it won’t help. Irving no longer exists; it’s part of Tuttle Creek Reservoir.
Michigan Valley has its own story. The school was perhaps one of the only schools in the state’s history to not have a mascot of any kind. Go team!
In the first round, the Hornets made quick work of Irving, 61-48, before a real struggle with Edson.
“We were behind at half and in foul trouble,” Loy recalled. “At halftime I decided to gamble: Let’s speed the game up. Despite the fouls, I had the boys get after it defensively and we forced many turnovers and finally won, 54-47.”
That set the stage for the title game against Simpson (Mitchell County). Burns won in overtime, 60-56, in a championship game that featured 55 fouls, the most in the history of a state title game.
After the book “Title Towns” was released in 2006, one of the referees of the game (Jack Ward) contacted me. He knew the inside scoop on the game.
“You got it right in the book,” Ward said with a laugh. “Before the game I met the other referee, who was Gib Webb. He told me he was more comfortable officiating football and that he had worked maybe only 10 basketball games all year.
“At first I was kind of shocked to hear him say that,” Ward added. “After all, this was the state title game and not some junior varsity or freshman game. I just hoped he was joking, but he wasn’t. Webb never blew the whistle more than 10 times all night.
“At times it was like a football game out there. He was letting almost anything go and I was afraid someone was going to be killed. In the end I think he whistled 10 fouls and I called all of the rest. After the game my whistle was shot and my lips hurt like hell from blowing it so much.”
With the win, Burns claimed the title. The school would never again return to state but they grabbed it all in 1953.
Before he died, Loy was still proud of his team and the season.
“There are coaches in Kansas that never get to state, let alone win a title,” he said. “I got there and got a title and that was largely due to my players. I had the privilege of coaching some of the finest boys.
“Yeah, they were ornery at times, but they did what I said and we got it all in 1953. After all of these many years, I still couldn’t be happier for them, the town and the school. What a season!”
Next stop, off to state with Centre High School.
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