Induction stirs hoops memories for retiree

He?s received his share of awards during a long career as an auto dealer in Hillsboro, but Irv Schroeder and five surviving Buhler High School teammates recently were honored for their basketball achieve- ?ments more than 60 years ago.

The 1940 Class B state championship Crusader team was inducted into the school?s athletic hall of fame Dec. 17.

?I?m not too great on accepting honors really, but it was an honor to have been a part of that team,? said Schroeder, now retired and living at Parkside Assisted Living in Hillsboro.

Four of his teammates are no longer living, and the surviving six showed evidence of the passage of time.

?I thought it was kind of interesting because two of them were in wheelchairs, and one had to walk with crutches because he had a knee put in,? said Schroeder, who himself has taken to using a cane in recent weeks.

During the 1939-40 season, the Crusaders made it to the state tournament with a 24-4 record, then defeated Mayetta, Erie and Powhattan to reach the championship game against Menlo. The team then secured the school?s third state title with a 24-22 victory.

Schroeder said what makes the team?s accomplishment all the more significant is that Kansas high schools were divided in those days into only two classes, A and B.

?It seems like there were 500 to 600 Class B schools in Kansas at that time,? he said. ?A lot of very small towns had a basketball team. In fact, the team we beat in the finals, Menlo, was a very small town that isn?t even in existence anymore, I don?t think.?

Today, Kansas has six competitive classes, each with its own tournament, and the total number of high schools has dwindled to 265 through consolidation and urbanization.

While the basics of basketball have continued over the decades, the rules have evolved since 1940.

?The biggest change, in my opinion, was that we had to jump center after every two points that were scored,? Schroeder said. ?Of course, that slowed down the game very much, and if you had a very tall center, that was quite a benefit.?

Winning the state title remains a fond memory for Schroeder, but it doesn?t top the list for his athletic career.

After graduating from high school, Schroeder went on to play at Bethel College for two seasons. While there, he and other students helped build Memorial Hall, an auditorium that doubled as a gymnasium.

As part of the open house celebration when the building was completed in 1942, Schroeder?s coach, Otto Unruh, invited coach Phog Allen to bring his Kansas Jayhawks to North Newton for an exhibition game against the Threshers.

Allen, who had coached Unruh as a player at KU, agreed to come.

On the day of their arrival, Unruh asked Schroeder to go with him to greet the KU coach and team at the Newton railroad depot.

Before bringing the team to the Bethel campus, Unruh treated the team to a soda or cup of coffee at the depot?s Harvey House eatery.

Schroeder said he found himself sitting at the table not only with his coach, but also Allen and his All-Ameri?can star, Charlie Black.

Schroeder said, ?Phog Allen kind of looked at me after we talked a while and said, ?Who?s this little guy? Is he your team manager?? Otto Unruh said, ?No, he?s my starting forward.?

?That kind of brought the house down, because Phog Allen couldn?t imagine anybody that small being a starter.?

The game went on as scheduled before a capacity crowd, with KU winning something like 22 to 18, as Schroeder recollected it.

?The KU boys had fun doing it because they were playing like cat and mouse?they were putting the breaks on pretty good with us,? Schroeder said. ?But I made the first field goal in that auditorium. I felt pretty honored about that against those big guys.

?That?s one of the highlights of my life, I guess.?

More from Hillsboro Free Press