Florence first county school to send a team to state tournament

As recounted earlier, the first state basketball tournament was in Lawrence in 1908. The event, known as the Inter-Scholastic Basketball Tourna?ment, was the creation of Dr. James Naismith.

Locally, the first team to go to the state tournament was Florence in 1911. The team was coached by H.E. Clewell and team members included Ray?mond Gear, Henry O?Neill, Clifford ?Chief? Williams, J. ?Cotton? Garrison and Whitney Starr.

Basketball practice began quite early for the team. As was noted in the Florence Bulletin, the high school elected to not play football and instead threw all of its attention into basketball.

It was an ambitious schedule and by the Christmas break the team had fashioned a record of 4-1. The only loss had occurred at the hands of Buffalo. That game was played on Christmas Eve, 1910. The local boys lost the hard-fought contest in Buffalo 26-23.

?The team was hardly in shape to play the game,? the Bulletin reported. ?The boys had only three hours of sleep the night before. Had they gotten a good nights? rest they would have won by a good score. This was our first loss and it isn?t the most pleasant thing to wake up on Christmas and find Buffalo tracks all over your anatomy!?

Immediately after Christmas the team embarked on a holiday tour and played five games in five nights. The boys of Florence were victorious in all of the games. After the tour, Florence continued the regular season and played against Wichita, Osage City, Arkansas City and Newton. All were wins for Florence.

In February, Florence prepared for three supreme tests: Lawrence, Clay Center and Buffalo. On Feb. 10, 1911, the local boys began the three-game odyssey with a trip to Lawrence to play the boys of Lawrence High School. The game had caught the attention of the Lawrence Daily Journal.

?The boys of Lawrence are prepared to meet the very good team from Florence,? the newspaper reported. ?The Florence aggregation is considered the strongest and fastest team in the state. Florence is planning to attend the state tournament in a few weeks and are looked upon as winners in this goal tossing game.?

Lawrence entered the game with one loss but they would get their second on this night. Florence pushed aside the home team, 34-27.

?The boys of Florence gave our local team a taste of that bitter drug of defeat, a taste that our Lawrence team has been serving up so recklessly,? reported the Daily Journal. ?Florence plays a whirlwind style of basketball with some fast-paced play.?

Next, Florence hosted the defending state champions from Clay Center and won, 35-31.

?This was by the far the best game of the year,? reported the Florence Bulletin. ?It was one of those games that makes the fans slide in their seats, jump up and yell, shriek and stamp their feet so much that the fans are almost as tired as the players once the game is over.?

Finally, Florence claimed some sweet revenge and defeated Buffalo, 33-30. Buffalo had inflicted the only loss Florence had suffered.

Just prior to the state tournament the wins kept coming and Florence captured the Fourth Congressional District Tournament, which was played in Emporia. As best as can be determined, the team entered the state tournament with a record of 16-1.

Traveling to Lawrence, the local boys were joined by 21 other teams: Anthony, Arkansas City, Atchison, Baldwin, Buffalo, Clearwater, Dickinson County (Chapman), Fort Scott, Halstead, Iola, Lawrence, Mankato, Clay Center, Newton, Olathe, Topeka, Wellsville, Washington, Lansing, Norton and Winfield. Clay Cen?ter was the defending champion.

Given its impressive record, Florence was an early favorite as was Buffalo, Clay Center and the hometown crew from Lawrence. Florence opened the tournament strongly and easily dispatched Lansing, but was edged by Winfield, 43-39, in the second round. With that loss, the team concluded the season with a mark of 17-2.

Lawrence, the team that Florence had beaten earlier in the season, eventually claimed the state title by defeating Topeka.

In the coming years Florence would field other outstanding teams. The 1935 squad advanced to state and in the first round defeated Turner High School (Kansas City) before losing to Oxford in the quarterfinals.

In 1958 Florence (led by Don Turner) finished third at state. That team was edged 52-49 by Natoma, which went on to claim the title for Hall of Fame Coach John Locke.

But for fans of Florence High, it should always be remembered that their March tournament madness began 100 years ago in 1911. Next, we will travel to state with the boys of Marion High School.

? 2011 by Steven Michael Farney. All rights reserved. Ideas, comments or questions: contact smf2guard@yahoo.com

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