By Christian Schneider
Taken from The South Bend Dispatch written March 4th, 1954*
*This is not a real paper. I made it up.*
Well, that sure hurt bad. What people in South Bend were calling "The Dream Season" came to a heartbreaking ending tonight on the floor of Butler Fieldhouse, as our beloved Bears from South Bend Central were beaten by underdog Hickory High 42-40 on a last second jumper by Jimmy Chitwood, ending the Bears' dream of a state title. A late surge by Hickory in the closing minutes stunned the favored Bears and sent South Bend fans home stunned and despondent.
The Bears led 40-34 with one minute remaining, but careless ball handling resulted in several costly turnovers that led to Hickory's extraordinary comeback. And the timely shooting of Jimmy Chitwood still didn't hurt either. It was an bitter defeat for a team that has so greatly inspired this community over these last few months.
At moments like this, it is better to embrace the good and look back fondly on what has been a remarkable year not only for this team, but for South Bend as a whole. And boy do these boys deserve it.
When the South Bend School Board announced its plans to integrate the inner city school system in the Spring of 1953, it was met with trepidation. This decision would make South Bend Central the first fully integrated public high school in the state. White students and Negro students studying and, more importantly, playing basketball together seemed little more than a happy fantasy.
If the decision to integrate was met with trepidation, the decision to hire Elliot Raymond as the head coach of the Bears was met with outright alarm. Raymond's would make him the first Negro coach in Indiana AA Conference history. His success at all-black Central Valley Academy notwithstanding, his ability to to unify a locker room with both whites and Negroes was called into question. How would a Negro coach remain impartial in the selection of his team?
But these doubts were swiftly put to rest by the character of Raymond, 63, who deserves recognition as one of the finest leaders of young men high school basketball has ever seen. His faith-driven equanimity, his love for his players regardless of color, and his positive, encouraging approach to coaching vindicates the School Board's decision to give him the job.
"The best player will play," Raymond assured us all. "Race won't matter."
And so, with a starting five that included four Negroes and one white player, South Bend Central embarked on an unprecedented run of victories that carried them to a State Championship Game and into the hearts of an adoring community. They played exciting, unselfish, beautiful basketball. They did it with class. And by the end of the season, the South Bend community saw not Black and White, but Blue and White.
The same cannot be said for their conquerors. The State of Indiana has rallied around little Hickory High in these last few weeks. Hickory has been embraced as the champion of small-town virtue and traditional basketball values as they made their unexpected run to the final. It has been noted by few in the press (this journalist among the few) that this overwhelming support of Hickory over South Bend may in fact stem from the public's resistance to seeing an integrated team hoisting the State Championship trophy. Hickory, famously, fielded a roster of seven white players.
The public's open support of Hickory and its clear opposition to South Bend eventually came to effect some of our young players.
"Coach Raymond told us 'Just play basketball and the rest will take care of itself'" said senior guard Louis Brackett, who ended the title game pounding the floor in frustration and despair as Hickory's jubilant fans stormed the court. "But...I dunno...it's hard to know that so many people are rooting against you because you're black and the other guys are white. It hurts to lose on top of that."
Seemingly forgotten during its State title run were the numerous controversies and incidents that marred Hickory's season. Lost in the groundswell of underdog euphoria was the fact that Norman Dale, in his first year as head coach, conducted himself in a disgraceful manner throughout the season.
Dale, you might remember, was originally the Head Coach at Liberty College, before he was fired and suspended from coaching for breaking one of his student-athlete's jaws during a practice. Dale, a former military man, imposed his will with a discipline so psychotic that two of his players quit just moments into his very first practice (Buddy Walker later returned to the team). Dale's rigid coaching strategy was such that he benched one of his stars, Rade Butcher, for abandoning Dale's notorious "4 Pass Plan" and trying to lead a comeback in the season opener. Butcher's benching left Hickory playing with only four players and being soundly beaten. "My word is the law." Dale said afterward.
Twice, Dale was ejected from games. Twice, his team was involved in all-out melees with Rade Butcher infamously punching out Cedar Knob forward David Aiken, during a confrontation between the two teams. Later in the season, Everett Flatch instigated a brawl by punching a opponent in retaliation after a hard foul.
Flatch's father, "Shooter" Flatch, was another controversy of Dale's. The hiring of the local drunkard as an assistant coach convinced many in the conference that Dale had taken leave of his senses. Dale claimed that one of the stipulations of Flatch's hiring was that he remain sober. However, Flatch arrived at one game visibly intoxicated and drunkenly berated the officials before being removed from the arena. Incidentally, this was the same game his son Everett began the fight.
During the season, these incidents did not go unnoticed. The Hickory community held a public referendum on Coach Dale and his status as head coach. They voted, quite rightly, to terminate his employment by a vote of 68-45. However, just as the votes were read, Jimmy Chitwood, the local basketball hero, announced his intention to join the team upon the single condition that Dale remain on as head coach. Upon this announcement, the Hickory community demanded a revote and reinstated Dale by acclamation.
Hickory's decision to value winning over the well-being of their student athletes was sadly vindicated when Chitwood (who dodged eligibility questions regarding his lack of a try-out and legal guardian for athletic permission release) led Hickory on it's unexpected title run. As 14-year-old Bobby Knight will say a couple of decades from now, "Winning Isn't Everything: It's the Only Thing."
Hickory won. And we lost. That hurts tonight. It'll hurt in the morning. It'll hurt all year. But Coach Raymond, as only he can, offered some words of consolation to his crestfallen players and to all of us as well:
"One day, people will remember us and what we did. And they'll see us as heroes too."
Article by Dustin "Dusty" Springfield