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 Montpelier Magazine

Bluestone Journal

Historic hoopsters

From cross-town contests to the NCAA - 1947 players start the basketball rolling at Madison College

LAST YEAR, THE JMU MEN'S basketball team played in Puerto Rico. When Buddy Showalter ('50) played, the team's longest trip was to Bluefield, W.Va.

Last season, the Dukes took a chartered bus on most road trips. When Showalter played, team members used their own cars for away games.

This past season, JMU had several games televised and played before 7,180 fans at Georgetown in Washington, D.C. But there was no radio or television coverage in Showalter's era, and just a few students came to home games.

How times have changed since the first JMU men's team in 1947.

"I remember driving my own car, and I took four players. We had to take our own cars. We didn't get any gas money," says Showalter, recalling a trip with the hoopsters to Bluefield. "We came back [late] after the game was over. That is how we got started."

The team "has come a long way. I will put it that way," says three-year player and center Chester Bradfield ('62), the day after watching the Dukes at home in January.

Showalter entered JMU in 1946, the year the school began to accept men. He was part of the first class that went all four years to the coed school. Along the way, before the Dukes were recognized by the NCAA in 1969 and became a Division I team in 1976, Showalter and his teammates also made history. They were part of the first men's basketball team at Madison, which played such schools as Shenandoah, Bridgewater, VMI and Randolph-Macon before joining the NCAA.

"It was a much slower game. There were no three-point plays. The game wasn't near as fast," says Showalter, for years a successful businessman in Harrisonburg. "We didn't have anyone who could dunk. The tallest guy on our team was 6-foot-1."

Bob Hummer ('69) was also part of history. He played basketball two years and was a member of the squad the season before the program was officially recognized by the NCAA prior to the 1969-70 season. In the spring of 1967 Hummer says that he and Butch Rinker, who were then teammates at Shenandoah Junior College in Winchester, met with Madison athletics director and former hoop coach J. Ward Long.

"He said he wanted to upgrade the program," remembers Hummer. "The intention was to build [the program] and go NCAA."

Hummer and Rinker helped to do just that. Hummer scored in double figures in every game in 1967-68, and had a total of 281 points. Rinker had a pair of 33-point efforts in nine games. While the duo was recruited by Long, it was Phil Huntsinger who coached the basketball team the two years that Hummer played.

So how did the Dukes get to road games in 1967-68?

"The first year coach Huntsinger drove one station wagon and Butch drove the second station wagon," says Hummer, a salesman who lives in Warrenton and is on the board of directors of the Duke Club. "The second year we had a bus."

Hummer says the team played its home games at Keezell Hall his first season, then played at Harrisonburg High School in 1968-69. In the senior season for Hummer and Rinker, the Dukes got a boast from freshman Steve Misenheimer. He averaged 18.9 points per game, and the team was 13-9 overall.

The team was 11-9 in 1969-70 in its first season at the NCAA level under head coach Charles Branscom. The team lost its first game on the road to Shepherd, 101-83, on Dec. 3, 1969. The Dukes won at home three days later over D.C. Teacher's, 80-77, then lost Dec. 9 at Eastern Mennonite, 58-57, in a cross-town contest.

As Showalter recalls those earlier days on a winter morning at his Keezletown home, he sits underneath a plaque that bears his name as a contributor for JMU athletics scholarships. But be sure: there were no such scholarships when Showalter played. "We didn't even practice every day," he says.

At that time men were day students, and many held full-time jobs. Of course that didn't matter to the late Claude Warren, who was also coaching basketball at Harrisonburg High School. Warren found time to start a men's team at JMU in 1947, when Showalter was a sophomore.

"We raked up enough money to buy uniforms," recalls Showalter. "Claude Warren found out a way to get them."

"He was the greatest man who ever influenced me," Showalter teammate Bill Horne, who lives in Falls Church, says of Warren.

The team played its home games at Reed Hall (now Keezell Hall), above the old indoor pool where Showalter said he learned to swim when he was 12. "We had right many people come to the games," says Showalter, who added that the team played about eight or 10 games a year. "It was something to represent the school."

"The audience was up above you in the balcony," Bradfield adds. "If you had a long pass ... you could [end] up against the wall."

Gymnasiums were not much bigger on the road. Danny O'Connell ('60) remembers playing in a church basement at Ferrum College. "The ceiling was so low that I had to come to the top of the key to do a set shot," he says.

Jerry Walters ('66), the longtime boys varsity basketball coach at Central High in Woodstock, has his own Bluefield story. Walters, who scored a team-high 147 points in 1965, played basketball at JMU under Long. "He was a character to say the least. He had a great time in life," recalls Walters, during a practice last season. "We played down at Bluefield, and he got upset with the officials. He had a clipboard, with all his papers on them. He got mad at the officials and threw his clipboard, and the papers flew everywhere."

By David Driver