Basketball Memories—Part 2
Wed, 02/17/2021 - 3:03pm admin
In the previous article, I mentioned connections, in various “degrees of separation,” between the old Willow Springs gymnasium and high-scoring basketball players in the Ozarks. One example was Richard Beavers (WSHS 1964) coaching at Winona, the same school where Willow Coach Johnny Ledgerwood had coached, and J.D. Boyer set the Missouri single game scoring record.
After reading my article, Richard contacted me and shared information about another high-flying performance. “I also coached a young man at Winona who scored big. Jackson Lloyd is 18th in the MSHSAA [Missouri State High School Activities Association] individual scoring in a game with 61 points in 1969.”
Willow had its own record-setting scorer—a teammate of Richard’s and mine—Billy Shanks (WSHS 1966). I saw Billy Shanks for the first time when my junior high basketball team played Pomona. I’m not sure which team won, but I do recall the game provided a greater challenge than anticipated. Perhaps we wondered how little Pomona could compete against the mighty Cubs. Well, Pomona seventh-grader Billy Shanks showed us how. After the game, Coach Buddy Bennett said “That Shanks boy really has a soft touch.”
Two years later, playing on the same team with Billy, reinforced Buddy Bennett’s description of his shooting. When David James or Truman Grogan took shots, the basketballs ripped through the net, as if they had been thrown. When the ball left Billy’s hands, it ascended with a high arc floating toward the goal before descending with a whisper through the net.
Bill had significant accomplishments off the basketball court. Elected class president as a junior, he was also chosen student council vice president the same year. Among many academic accomplishments, he scored in the upper tenth percentile in the Missouri State-wide Aptitude Test. It isn’t surprising he parlayed his studies at the University of Missouri at Rolla into a successful career as an engineer. Bill had natural athletic ability and could have excelled at other sports, but he focused on basketball. His junior year, he was selected first-team all-SCA. As a senior, he again earned first-team all-conference status, as well as being named SCA’s Most Valuable Player. Moreover, he achieved honorable mention all-Ozark and all-state honorable mention. He earned a varsity letter as freshman under Coach Joe Scott, but he secured a starting spot for the next three years with a new coach, Bob Martin.
After coaching for two seasons at Fair Grove, Missouri, Coach Martin arrived in Willow the summer of 1963, with his wife and two infant sons. Like many new coaches, he ran the youth baseball programs.
A product of the Ozarks, Bob Martin lettered four years in high school at Lockwood, Missouri. After high school, he played basketball and received an associate of arts degree at Southwest Baptist College in Bolivar. He finished his undergraduate education at Southwest Missouri State (SMS), where he played basketball.
Basketball wasn’t the only highlight of his college days. He sang his way onto the cast of the SMS production of the Broadway play, “Finnian’s Rainbow.” The production was selected for a seven-week USO tour to entertain troops in Europe in 1961. Martin says, “I was offered the chance to go on the USO tour, but I got married in June following graduation, and the tour overlapped the wedding date.”
Coach Martin could definitely sing. He sat next to me in the tenor section of the First Baptist choir. He once joked that if God didn’t let sing him bass in Heaven that he wouldn’t sing in the choir. But in a recent conversation, he laughed and told me his position has softened.
Coach Martin had insight that transcended diagraming plays, and offered encouragement to players to expand their vision. As the assistant track coach my junior year, he challenged me to join the track team. I wasn’t a fast runner and didn’t see much opportunity, but he guaranteed me a medal at the conference track meet if I would throw the discus.
I took his challenge as a dare and agreed to participate, in part, to prove him wrong. He won the challenge. I came in second place in the SCA meet and got a silver medal. He saw potential in me that I didn’t see in myself. That’s what a good coach does.
With three returning starters, plus Shanks, the Bears won 13 games against 12 losses in Martin’s first season, with two significant accomplishments: a second-place trophy at the Cabool Tournament, and beating archrival West Plains for the first time in 28 years.
Oddly, the next year in the ’64-’65 season, the Bears reversed the wins and losses from the previous season, with a 12 and 13 record. Highlights included Shanks racking up two 30-point games and being the only junior named to the first-team, all-SCA. Johnny Jones and Truman Grogan (both, WSHS 1965) received honorable mention all-SCA honors.
But the pinnacle of the Coach Martin/Billy Shanks era, may have happened at home in the 1965-1966 season when Shanks set the school and conference single game record with 51 points (70% of the Willow 73 points) against Houston. John McGlynn and Johnny Jones, two of my 1965 classmates, attended that game on January 25, 1966, and had seats behind the Houston bench. McGlynn says, “Houston had one guy pick up Bill at half court, and a second player when Bill was at the top of the key. And if Bill started to drive to the basket, a third guy joined in, and Bill ate their lunch.”
In a recent phone conversation, Coach Martin recalled that game when there were only a few seconds left on the clock. “We were down by three points, with Shanks at the free throw line shooting two. I told him to make the first shot and miss the second so we’d have a chance at the rebound. I told him the way to miss the second was to shoot the ball with a flatter trajectory. He made the first. The second bounced off the back of the rim and over the head of our guy in the middle.” The game ended with a Houston win, 75-73.
I contacted Bill about his recollection of that night. “I don’t remember a lot about the night I scored 51 points other than I had a somewhat normal first half and then got hot in the second half (one of those times when everything went in). The Houston players seemed to get frustrated in the second half and started fouling a lot, which made for some easy scores.” Fouling Bill wasn’t a good idea, since he was a 90-percent free throw artist. Apparently, the Tigers didn’t learn their lesson because in the return match at Houston in February, Bill sank 25 foul shots, which ties for third place in the MSHSAA records for free throws made in a single game.
For every time there is a season. French Lick had Larry Bird; Gainesville had Joe Scott; Winona had J.D. Boyer; and Willow was blessed to have Billy Shanks.