Cassoday, Burns game highlights quirks of old Kansas ?playpens?

From 1920 until the early 1950s, the state of Kansas could boast of nearly 600 high schools. In each and every county, nearly every town, no matter its size, had its own school that served as the social epicenter of the community.

Almost every school fielded a basketball team and for each team, there came an almost equal number of sizes of each gymnasium. Some were regulation-sized courts and state-of-the-art for the time. Others were so small that today they would barely qualify as a half-court gym.

Many of these quaint gyms were labeled as ?cracker boxes? and the name was no accident. They earned their reputations each and every game.

Despite the many variations, it was a glorious time for high school basketball in the state. Not only did teams need to prepare for their opponents, but they also had to prepare for their opponent?s ?unique playpen.? In the 1950s and early 60s, the Butler County League was one such league with its share of these unique gyms.

The league was comprised of schools from Andover, Potwin, Rosalia, Latham, Cassoday, Whitewater, Towanda, Benton, Rose Hill, Douglass and Burns (which is in neighboring Marion County).

?The league had some unique gyms,? recalled former Cassoday Longhorn star Ted Pankratz Jr. ?Our gym at Cassoday was real tight. On one side, a wall (with a stage) ran the length of the court and it was out of bounds. On the other side, a balcony ran the length of the court and part of the balcony hung out over the court. If you had the ball, you did not want to get trapped under that balcony.

?The ceiling was so low it made it almost impossible to shoot or pass when you were under the overhang. The gyms in Rosalia, Towanda and Burns also had balconies, but really almost all the gyms in the league were unbelievably small by today?s standards. They each had their own quirks. Everyone used a press and it became quite a challenge each night.?

Some challenges became greater than others. The Butler County League was routinely home to some of the largest victory margins in the state. If you doubt it, look no closer than Exhibit A: Burns vs. Cassoday. On Dec. 6, 1961, the Cassoday Longhorns ?edged? the Burns Hornets 179-24! The 179 points is still the most ever scored by one high school team in a game against another state-sanctioned school.

From all accounts, it appears that the Hornets spent a lot of time under that balcony, and that was definitely the wrong place to be. It?s another remarkable story from the basketball courts of Kansas Hoopla.

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Ideas, questions or comments, contact smf2guard@yahoo.com. ? 2010 by Steven Michael Farney. All rights reserved.

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