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The Blue Creek Comets of 1954 - Part 1
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Thursday, February 06, 2014 4:23 PM

By GERALD SINN

Special to the Progress

Part 1 of 7

On a snowy December morning in 1947, the loud roar of an engine on a Latty school bus woke up Kenny Z. He had only five minutes to catch a ride, to throw on some clothes, wash out his eyes and cop a donut. He grabbed his gym shoes, books, lunch bag and was out the door. The school was 10 blocks away. It was a long walk in four inches of new snow.

He rushed across the street in time to see Coach Dick Holmes in the driver’s seat. The bus engine was warming up for the route. The colorful bus lights were on, at dawn. Snow had already been whisked off the windshield and hood.

One block from the school they saw a kid walking along the street. They knew it was Max Pease, but they still didn’t pick him up. Max knew it was them. He thrust his fist into the air, but only Ken caught the nasty gesture from the 11 year old.

The custodian had already opened the front doors and fired the school furnaces. The Coach and Ken went directly to the gym door. “Hey, Dick,” Ken candidly asked, “Can you let me in first?” You’d think there was an explosion. Dick immediately slammed things he carried on the wide window sill next to the door. He turned and shouted, “Don’t you ever call me, Dick, again. I am either Mr. Holmes to you, or Coach Holmes. You got that?”

Young fifth grader, Ken Z., not only got the message, he never, ever forgot the words – even into the next millennium. Word spread on the team and in the class rooms, don’t call this guy, Dick. His claim for respect was supreme.

The coach opened the door to the Latty High School gym. The radiators were steaming, heat was rising. The light of daybreak pierced through huge windows, it hovered over the baskets and backboards. Sunbeams glared off the brilliant, shiny floor across the gym. A half dozen basketballs laid silent on the hardwoods.

Ken Zimmerman was the first kid to see this magnificent sight that morning. He quickly stashed his stuff under a seat in the stands, then put on his gym shoes. He was ready. He walked on the majestic surface, this “stage” leading to championship teams. He reached to pick up a basketball. He bounced it. The ball returned to his hand, it felt good – the leather, the grip, the touch. Then there was the sound of the bouncing ball in the awesome gym. He dribbled at high speed toward the basket, and sank the lay up. Echoes from the empty seats were astounding. To this fifth grader, it was the sweetest sound he’d ever known. It was a glow that would stay lighted for a lifetime.

Max Pease came into the gym no more than five minutes later. He shared the luster of the shiny hardwoods. He couldn’t get strings on his gym shoes tied fast enough. He moved with a ball, zigzagging, dribbling fast. Practice on these hardwoods would someday make him one of the best in the county at ball-handling and shooting. The gym was the smallest in Paulding County, but it had character; the players liked it. It was the home of the Latty Lions basketball team. It was the smallest high school in the State of Ohio with 44 students, 22 were boys.

By 7:50 a.m. the buses dropped off the Sinn twins, Gerald and Harold from Briceton (three miles west) and Dennis Doster from Broughton, (two miles east). They were all there, the TEAM. They all had the same vital force for the game: for winning. These were the boys on the team of 1954. They all loved the game, basketball would be foremost on their minds in the next seven years. These boys had already played together since the third grade. In all their years though, they’d never seen their Latty Lions win a Paulding County Championship. That would change.

An important link for these “young Lions” was they would have direction on how to play the game. They got a new coach in Latty in 1947; he was interested in these fifth graders. How far they could go was up to the boys. But what Coach Holmes had in mind was this group of basketball players would be the best in the State of Ohio. His success wasn’t proven until they became the Blue Creek Comets of 1954. Now let’s see how the basketball will fall for these young Comets.

THE PLAYMAKERS NOTES

To be good basketball players, the boys had to put themselves in practice games – on the street, in farmers’ hay mows, on driveways, at Philpot’s Ford garage, wherever a basket and backboard could be found. At school they practiced at recess, mornings before class and noon hour in the gym – for seven years.

Once in a while, Coach Holmes opened the gym on Saturdays. The young Lions scrimmaged, he would referee, blowing the whistle telling what was wrong, then how to do it right. Do that enough for 11-year-olds and they’ll learn the game.

The coach pulled them out of their sixth grade classroom one day, took them to the gym. The 1948 varsity Lions awaited them. The Coach gave the boys a ball, told them to set some blocks and roll-offs to show the varsity how he taught them. That’s the kind of learning this young team had, it would turn into wins by the 1950s. The varsity guys came out on the floor with them and gave them an ovation.

One noon-hour Max Pease and Gerald got into a scramble on the half-line near the seats. A crowd gathered. One of them stole the ball from the other. He would dribble about five steps, then it was stolen back. There were about six or seven turnovers, screechy rubber soles and sweat. Max’s face was red so Gerald knew his anger was touching him. It wasn’t at Gerald, he was angry at himself. He wanted to take the ball and run, but Gerald wanted the same thing.

Can you imagine two scrappy guards like these guys out front in a zone defense – on the ’54 Comets. Their interceptions were frequent – their opponents’ points were low. There was one game in Melrose, in a small school and very small gym, when twin Harold took a long shot from half court. The ball hit a ceiling light bulb, it exploded glass over the whole floor. There was a timeout for clean-up. They were probably fifth graders then.

THE YOUNG LIONS

This team started playing games at other schools in the fifth grade. A scrapbook from the 1950’s showed they played Van Wert, Paulding, Union, Convoy, and others; 21 games in junior high, at a dozen towns. They had winning records in seventh and eighth grades; 14 wins, 7 losses. Scored 19.2 points per game in 1949 and improved to 27.3 ppg in 1950. Coach Holmes stayed right with them. Learning the game from him, for these boys, was a privilege. It became an experience that prepared them for major high school sports.

Next week: Otis, an American hero. From soldier to custodian.

© Gerald Sinn 2014

e-mail: jerpro@msn.com