Basketball Memories, Part 1
Wed, 02/03/2021 - 12:58pm admin
The old WSHS gymnasium has always reminded me of a swimming pool, a natatorium of the 1930s, set below street level and surrounded above by concrete bleachers with backless, slatted seats. Reprising the lines of the school song, it was “a place of many blessed memories.”
With the smell of FFA popcorn in the air, and the cacophony of fans and cheerleaders yelling for the Bear hoopsters, men named Munford, Ledgerwood, Copeland, Shanahan, Scott, and Martin coached teams there in the last century.
The old gym has some unique synchronicities, or crossing of paths, worthy of noting. One, for example, is coach L. Joe Scott and one of his players, Billy Shanks (WSHS, ’66). Both received all-Ozark and all-state honors, but also hold records for individually scoring over 50 points in one high school basketball game.
It’s fair to say that no basketball coach ever arrived in Willow Springs with a pedigree matching that of Joe Scott. As a three-year letterman at the University of Missouri (freshman were not allowed to play on the varsity), captain of the team, and all-Big 8 selection, he set the Mizzou single game scoring record, tallying 46 points against Nebraska his senior year in 1961. Moreover, he scored 1,128 career points, which ranks him number 35 for career scoring at Mizzou.
His single game record still stands, and this was before the 3-point shot. Based on Joe’s shooting range, one teammate suggested if there had been a 3-point line back then he would have scored closer to 60 points. A highlight film of that remarkable shooting display can be seen online.
Joe was no stranger to the Ozarks. He went to high school in Gainesville, Missouri, where he led his basketball team to the “final four” in the Class M state tournament in 1957. According to the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame website, he averaged over 30 points a game his senior year, with a career total over 1,100 points, and earned first-team all-state and first-team all-Ozark honors.
Nor was Joe a stranger to Willow Springs basketball. On February 19, 1957, the Bears played Gainesville. Recently, I spoke with Willow’s favorite son, Wendell Bailey, who said, “I have some personal knowledge about that game. I rode with coach Johnny Ledgerwood on the yellow school bus to Gainesville. We played in the old gym, that I called a ‘cracker box’ of a small gym. That is where you put one foot behind you on the wall to throw in the ball.” [I played in that gym in Gainesville, and Wendell does not exaggerate.]
Of that game, Wendell says, “I was a junior and L. Joe Scott was a 6'4" senior, called the ‘Gainesville Gunner.’ Joe would take the ball out of bounds, throw it in and take a pass back and shoot one of his noted jump shots. I told the Springfield newspaper that I did a pretty good job guarding Joe, and he ran in 58 points that night.” Missouri State High School Athletic Association statistics indicate that Joe Scott had 41 field goal attempts that night, which ties for ninth place in Missouri high school records.
As an aside, Wendell noted that Coach Ledgerwood had experience with high scorers. Before coming to Willow, he coached J. D. Boyer at Winona who later scored 92 points against Freemont in October 1958, which is the record for the most points scored ever in a Missouri high school game. Boyer also holds the record for the most field goals attempted (53) in a game. Incidentally, I posted a Facebook query on a Shannon County group, and J.D. Boyer is still remembered and held in high regard.
Another interesting coincidence: Richard Beavers, who played on Scott’s Willow team, became a successful area high school basketball coach and was named 2A Coach of the Year in 1988, after taking Liberty (Mountain View-Birch Tree) to second place in the state tournament. Richard started his coaching career at Winona.
Joe Scott arrived in Willow Springs in 1962, along with his fiancé, Judith Wangelin, the summer before he became the basketball coach in the fall. Joe coached the summer league baseball teams, which is where I first met him. One word described him—cool. Six-foot-four, movie star-handsome, and loaded with confidence, a trait he imparted to his teams.
That summer, fiancé Judy lived with Allen and Hazel Frazee and taught swimming and lifesaving lessons at Smokey Stover’s covered swimming pool. I took intermediate swimming and junior lifesaving from her. In one of the classes, she made us swim one mile to pass—it must have been 60 lengths of that pool.
The 1962-63 Willow basketball team only had two seniors, David James and George Stanton. Juniors, Mike Warning (the tallest player at 6’5”) and Richard Beavers (a ferocious rebounding forward) and sophomore shooting guard Truman Grogan rounded out the starting five. Although the team only finished fifth in the SCA Conference, David James led the SCA in scoring, with 269 points.
A remarkably talented athlete, David James could shoot with either hand and had great jumping ability. Driving in for a layup, he could leap toward the basket from near the free throw line, and while in mid-air, flip the ball from one outstretched hand to the other before shooting. And although not the tallest player on the team at 6’3”, he “jumped center” at tipoffs.
Surprisingly, four players on that team played basketball in college: David James at William Jewell; Richard Beavers at Southwest Baptist College, and later, at Arkansas College (now, Lyon College); Bill Shanks at the University of Missouri at Rolla, and as I recall but can’t confirm, Dennis Warning played at Southeast Missouri State.
A couple weeks ago, I chatted with Joe Scott, now a Poplar Bluff attorney, and he remembered his time in Willow fondly. He inquired about several of his former players, and then asked me if I remembered the knee socks that we wore as part of our uniforms. I told him I did and recalled how proud we were of them—at the time they were uber-cool. Then, he told the backstory to the stockings.
Halfway through the season, the Bears had lost five games in a row, when Joe and Judy went to Poplar Bluff to visit relatives. While there, Joe visited a local sporting goods store and had a conversation with the owner who told him the team needed a jumpstart. He said the maroon and white-striped tube socks on display in his store would be just the ticket. Poplar Bluff High School has the same school colors as Willow Springs.
Joe liked the socks, but said he couldn’t afford them, and did not have authority to purchase them on behalf of the school. The owner said, “I’ll give you an invoice, and if the school doesn’t want to pay it, tell them I’ll donate them.” Joe didn’t say, but I assume superintendent T.G. Munford coughed up the money.
After Joe told the story, he laughed and said, “I was over-coaching at the time. I had a play for every situation. But after I got the socks, I quit coaching [so hard] and we won three games in a row.”
To be continued.