Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Sutton's All-Time Top Sports Story

1922 Championship Trophy engraved with names 
of eight players and Coach Knapple.

How do you pick an all-time “Top” thing? Was the Nebraska football dynasty of 1994-1997 superior to Alabama 2009-2012? What could really prove the question one way or the other?

Our question here is “What is the All-Time top Sutton sports story?”

There are several candidates: the football careers of Johnny Bender or Morrie Kohler, the boxing team as well as an array of championship banners in the high school gym. My candidate is one of those banners, the 1922 Sutton High School basketball team. Follow their story and tell me I’m wrong.

Sutton High won the Class A championship that year. They were Class B champions three years earlier. Visit the NSAA tournament history site at https://nsaahome.org/textfile/bask/bbball.htm if you’re curious about class structure of that era. Spoiler alert: it’ll take some time.

Sutton had a good regular season in 1922 with only four losses. Omaha Central was considered one of the fastest teams in the state beating Sutton 20-13 with Phil Steinhauer scoring 10 of those 13. The trip was a split with the boys beating Ashland on the way home 27-11.

Another loss came at Lincoln High though the local team won the rematch at home later in the season by 23-16. There was a loss to Geneva and a 19-10 loss to Clay Center. Accounts are incomplete and sometimes ambiguous, but there was apparently a 37-1 win over York and wins over Superior, Hastings, Grand Island and Omaha Commerce (later Tech) among others.
The 1922 Class A Championship banner in today’s gym.

We should mention Sutton’s home basketball court of the era. The gym was below the basement of the big brick school building southeast of downtown. If that school were a house, the gym was the fruit cellar, a full flight of stairs below the basement. The east sideline was a brick wall. Court length was scrunched so that the center jump circle intersected the keyhole circles – not just a little. Opponents called it “The Crackerbox.”

Clay Center won the Clay County tournament with a second win over Sutton 26-25 score when a Sutton buzzer-beating shot, didn’t. But their overall record qualified the Sutton Mustangs for the state tournament joining Clay Center in Class A competition.

Sutton defeated Fremont in the opening state tournament game 20-9 (or 22-9 or 30-12 depending on which contemporary account you’d like to use. This kind of research can be as much art as science.) Clay Center went down to Hastings in the first round 19-8.

Sutton’s second game was a rematch with Omaha Commerce who had won the 1921 championship and defeated Central in the first round. Sutton beat them for the second time by 16-2. Commerce became Omaha Tech the next year and won championships in ’23, ’25 and ’26.

The Mustangs reached the finals by beating Grand Island 13-9.

Two hundred and sixteen teams competed in the various classes with attendance well above previous meets. Presentations of trophies for all lower classes were completed before the Class A final game between Sutton and Crete. Crete was a much taller team led by a 6’ 7” standout. The shorter Sutton captured the support of one of the largest crowds in the coliseum to date.

It was a close exciting game led by great team play by Sutton. The Mustangs led by 6-5 at the half led by forward Milton Wieland’s who finished with seven points. Our local team prevailed 13-11 to earn that Class A banner in today’s gym.

You might expect that winning the Class A State Championship would be a fitting end to a glorious season and by itself, would have made this team’s performance competitive to be Sutton’s top all-time sports story, but these fellows weren’t done yet. They now faced a Dakota challenge.

Yankton High School had won the South Dakota state championship and then won a series with the North Dakota champions. Yankton offered a “loving cup” as a trophy for the winner of a three game series with Sutton – challenge accepted.

The Yankton newspaper account of the first game raved of the “fastest and cleverest” game on the local floor in years. It was 10-10 at the half and a final of Sutton 24 to Yankton’s 17. The “Bucks” promised a better second game and delivered in the first half for a 9-1 lead. Sutton recovered to trail 17-10 with eight minutes to go then ripped off eleven straight points to win the second game 21-17.

Two wins secured the loving cup in the best of three series with one more game to play, a game won by Yankton 23-17. The Sutton News pointed out that Sutton players were distracted by news of their continuing season.

University of Chicago coach Amos Alonzo Stagg (a character himself) had a vision of a national high school basketball championship tournament. His 1917 effort kicked off that dream before World War I intervened. His ’20 and ’21 tournaments gained ground and in 1922 he moved the meet to April to accommodate state champs. Sutton businessmen contacted Stagg, raised funds and Sutton was one of twelve state champs among the 32 team field.

The Mustang’s first opponent was the Illinois state champion from Canton. Again, Sutton fell behind 16-10 at the half before Gilbert Wieland and Harvey Schwarz led a spurt to a 27-23 win. Mt. Vernon, Ohio defeated Sutton’s friends from Yankton to become the next opponent.

Sutton lost to Mt. Vernon in that second game. The Sutton News story was headlined, “Cagers Get Measles” describing that the team had gotten sick before the game. The Sutton yearbook mentions fatigue from travels and the effects of Dakota water. Philip Steinhauer’s memory supported the second option – the team had a collective serious digestive condition that forced them to play with only three men on the court for a time.

Yes, it was a Great Run (pun intended.)

Who were these fellows?
The Starting Five of Sutton’s 1922 Class A Championship team – l to r: Milton Wieland, forward; Herbert “Piggy” Spielman, guard; Team Captain Philip Steinhauer,forward; Coach Frank Y. Knapple; Gilbert “Gibb” Wieland, guard and Harvey “Blackie” Schwarz, center.

Forward Philip Steinhauer was team captain. He became a successful farmer just north of town and served on the county board of supervisors for many years.

Milton Wieland was the other forward, later a Lincoln dentist.

Harvey (or Henry or “Blackie”) Schwarz was the center and team captain in 1923. He later lived in Oceanside, California.

Herbert “Piggy” Spielman was a guard and became a coach in Pilger and Minden by 1940.

Gilbert “Gibb” Wieland, Milton’s cousin, was the other guard and became a dentist in Sutton.

The bulk of playing time went to the five starters. Three reserves earned engravings on the state trophy. Earl Vauck was usually the first sub – later Sutton businessman and mayor. Edwin Wieland, Gilbert’s older brother, served for a time as Clay County School Superintendent. The third substitute was Milton Grosshans, an Alliance pharmacist in 1940.

A pre-season news article listed Alex Kahm, E. Rauscher, C. Wolfe, Leo Grosshans and Fred Schultz as trying out for the team.

Sutton’s second year coach was 25-year old Francis Y. (Frank) Knapple of Lexington. He had played four years at Cotner College in northeast Lincoln and was the basketball coach at Omaha Central about 1950. Knapple was the Douglas County School Superintendent in 1963.

The post-season exploits of the 1922 basketball team is my candidate for Sutton’s All-Time Top Sports Story. Do you have a better one? Lemme know.
Local newspaper headline from March 17, 1922
for the Class A State Basketball Champions.

This article first appeared in the February, 2013 issue of Sutton Life Magazine. For further information about this publication contact Jarod Griess at 402-984-4203 or neighborhoodlife@yahoo.com.



Anonymous said...

Great read! I enjoy this style of BKB history. Am researching 1922 national tournament and must point out factual error ...
Canton never got close to winning the Illinois state championship; it was defeated 24-23 by Watseka (my school!) in the first round of sectional play @ Peoria; Centralia was state champ. Canton won a district championship in the tournament's opening round.
Watseka lost in the sectional finals, and was also invited to play in Stagg's tournament, beating Greely (CO) on Thursday, then losing to Mount Vernon (OH) on Friday.
BTW, Mount Vernon placed 2nd, Rockford 3rd.

Sutton Historical Society said...

Thanks for the comment. And for the correction. Sources of the era, at least those available out here on the flatlands do not always describe the same stuff the same way. In fact my most recent post: http://suttonhistoricalsociety.blogspot.com/2014/04/what-do-we-know-and-how-do-we-know-it.html

tries to speak to the uncertainty of writing this type of story. You're always evaluating the probability that you're dealing with "wrong" facts.

On the plus side, this is a hobby.