Written by Hillsboro Free Press Tuesday, 01 May 2012 15:23
The boys of Centre High School first attended the state tournament in 1962.
The team was coached by Lawrence Lowery and team members included Jerry Meirowsky, Bob Lehman, Donald Brunner, Don Zinn, Max Bernhardt, Grant Rehder, Larry Peterson, Byron “Sam” Hedstrom, Steve Schild, Dee Kolzow, Douglas Miller and Raymond Martin.
Zinn, Brunner, Bernhardt, Miller and Rehder had all played varsity ball in 1961 on a team that had ended the year with a record of 16-2. That 1961 team lost to Herington (63-51) in the first round of the district tournament. With the defeat, the season concluded.
The 1961 team had graduated six seniors, but even with those departures the 1962 Cougars were recognized as one of the state’s best Class A teams. In fact, in preseason media polls the Topeka Capital-Journal ranked the Cougars as high as No. 2.
Centre played well early in the 1962 season, but suffered two defeats (Hillsboro and Council Grove) before the season was barely half-completed. Those losses dropped the team from the state rankings.
Part of the problem was that Grant Rehder, a two-year letterman, had suffered a broken finger in the last football game of the year. He was finally cleared to play at the Christmas break, and once he rounded into shape the team would lose just one more game (Herington) in the regular season.
The Cougars concluded the regular season with a mark of 15-3, a second-place finish in the Cottonwood Valley League and a No. 9 ranking in Class A.
In postseason play, the Cougars first went to the Class A district tournament in Salina. Joining them were teams from Herington, St. John Military, Belleville, Concordia, Lindsborg and Sacred Heart. Herington was the clear threat: The Railers had already inflicted one loss on the Cougars, but that game had been played much earlier in the season.
In Salina, Centre defeated Belleville, Concordia and then easily dispatched Herington to win the district crown. Both Herington and Centre next advanced into the Buhler Regional. Centre first defeated Moundridge before battling Herington once again, this time with a state tournament berth hanging in the balance. The Cougars, led by Schild and Brunner, edged the Railers (50-47) for their 10th straight win. Centre was off to state.
With a record of 20-3, the Cougars traveled to Hutchinson for the state tournament. They were joined by teams from Ellinwood, Immaculata (Leavenworth), Valley Center, Colby, Council Grove and St. Marys (Pittsburg).
Immaculata entered the tournament as the only unbeaten team left in Class A. With a spotless record of 23-0, they were attempting to make history and become just the third team in Class A (37 years) to complete the season undefeated.
In the first round Centre pushed aside Ellinwood, 38-31. Ellinwood had hoped to slow the game down but was unsuccessful from the opening quarter. The Cougars hit eight of their first 16 shots from the field (most from long range) and grabbed an early 16-8 advantage. Now with the lead, Centre could “call the shots” and they controlled the tempo the rest of the game. Ellinwood was unable to recover from its poor start.
In the second round, the Cougars’ dreams of a state title ended at the hands of Immaculata, 46-45. Centre led by six at the half before Immaculata finally claimed its first lead (31-30) with 2:54 left in the third quarter.
The teams traded baskets until 55 seconds remained in the contest. With the ball and trailing by one point, Centre planned its final strategy. The Cougars played for the last shot, but Don Zinn’s corner jump shot fell away and Immaculata survived. The Leavenworth school eventually defeated St. Marys in the title game and completed its march to history as an undefeated state champion.
Centre lost the consolation game to Colby, 61-38, and settled for a fourth-place finish. The Cougars ended an outstanding year with a record of 21-5. After the season, Don Brunner was named as an all-state player by both the Topeka Capital-Journal and the Wichita Eagle and Beacon.
The boys of Centre would return to state in 1979 (placing third) and 1985 (placing second), but the 1962 team led the way. It is quite an accomplishment: The school has sent just three boys teams to state but all three brought home trophies, treasured hardware to be proudly displayed.
Next, it’s off to state with the boys of Goessel.
© 2011 by Steven Michael Farney. All rights reserved. Ideas, comments or questions: contact firstname.lastname@example.org