Cleburne girls once ruled the court

A quick Kansas geography question: Where is Cleburne, Kan.? Don?t bother checking a current Kansas map: It ain?t gonna help you!

How about a clue: Today, Cleburne is literally ?up a Creek without a paddle!? Did that help? While you think about it, let me relate to you some girls? basketball stories from the aforementioned town. Those girls from Cleburne played some kind of ball in their day.

Cleburne was a Swedish settlement and the high school teams were nicknamed ?The Swedes.? The school played basketball from the earliest days and in fact, Cleburne sent a boys? team to state in 1922. That team lost to Fort Scott in the first round of the state tournament.

It was a highlight year for boys? basketball, but many seasons were not. In more games than can be mentioned, the boys from Cleburne were quite often manhandled, such as in 1950 when Green High School thumped the Swedes104-41. Green star Neil Richter poured in 50 points while teammate Robert Friederich added 43.

While the boys? teams struggled, the girls of Cleburne were a different story. In the late ?40s and early ?50s they, not the boys, were the team to watch. ?People really came out to watch us play,? said Carolyn Peterson Toburen, who was a key member on several of these teams. ?We played an exciting game (six on six) and had some real high-scoring battles. Olsburg was one of our key rivals. Once we played them in a game and won 72-70. LaVera had 56 in the game. Later we played them again and won 102-91. LaVera had 67 in that one. I have the box scores.?

LaVera was LaVera Fritzon Webster, who was a prolific scorer for the team in 1950.

?I was around five feet nine inches, which was big for the time,? she said recently. ?I learned the game as a freshman, and as a senior the papers reported I averaged 36 points per game. Once the girls finished their games, most fans went home. They came to watch us and not the boys.?

Another dominating Cleburne Swede was Darlene Holt Merceron, who was two years younger than LaVera. She had several games in which she scored more than 50 points and averaged 30 points per game in both her junior and senior seasons. She scored well over 1,300 points in her career at the school.

?I learned the game by playing ?h-o-r-s-e? with my Dad and also playing against the boys in my class,? she said. ?It was really fun traveling around the area playing those games against other schools.?

Teammate and classmate Laurine Johnson Catt was much more descriptive. ?Darlene was around 5-5 but could out jump most boys,? said Catt. ?She was incredibly athletic and could compete with anyone, including the boys.?

Cleburne continued girls? basketball until the school closed in the mid-50s. Carolyn Toburen is glad she saved her school memorabilia. ?I kept this stuff and am glad I did,? she said, laughing. ?I can prove I scored 30 in a game against the Irving Wildcats. That?s pretty neat even today.?

Back to my question: Where is Cleburne, Kan.? The answer: Cleburne is partially underwater. The town was located in extreme northeast Riley County and was removed from the map with the construction of Tuttle Creek Reservoir. If you closely study a map of Tuttle Creek, you will see ?Cleburne Park Road,? which leads to the location of the town site.

All that remains today is a small park along the Big Blue River as it meanders toward Manhattan. Although the town is gone, the Cleburne Swedes live on in ?Kansas Hoopla.? They played some great girls? basketball at Cleburne, and Carolyn Toburen has the box scores to prove it!

The Swedes are another remarkable story from the basketball courts of Kansas Hoopla.

Ideas, questions or questions: Contact smf2guard ? 2010 by Steven Michael Farney. All rights reserved.

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