While this year’s final for the college crown was probably the least spectacular in NCAA history, the two teams that ended up competing, UConn and Butler, did play a terrific semifinals in the Final Four to get to last Monday night’s championship encounter. Butler looked exceptionally strong in beating a good Virginia Commonwealth team by eight points while UConn dominated Kentucky by much more than the final one-point win indicated.
Back to the high school team of St. Anthony Catholic school in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, in 1944. To set the stage it is important to note that the entire student body at St. Anthony numbered 60, with 45 of that number being female. From the 15 male students it was possible to only field one major sports team and that was basketball. Normal turnout for the squad was nine players, which meant the coach, Joe Gusweiler, had to be the fifth man on the second five during practice sessions. Gusweiler himself had shown up at the school at the beginning of my junior year. Prior to that we had had a lanky coach from Indiana whose name has faded from my memory. That first coach had one major problem during my freshman year and that was the school’s brand new gym was still in the process of construction. Consequently, all of our games had to be played in opponents’ gyms and we didn’t win many of them.
The first coach’s Indiana was interesting in as much as the St. Anthony teams he coached were like the fictional Indiana squad that actor Gene Hackman coached in the movie “Hoosiers.” Like that team in the film, St. Anthony’s never played a school smaller in enrollment than itself. We competed against small schools from towns in south Florida like Dania, Hollywood, Pampano, Boynton Beach and Davie. We also ran up against huge schools like West Palm Beach, Coral Gables, Miami and Miami Beach. Our chief rival on the Catholic school circuit was Gesu, located in Miami Beach.
Painting a word picture of St. Anthony, it was a small semi-private institution that occupied a full city block in the northwestern part of Lauderdale, a town on the Florida east coast about 25 miles north of Miami and 40 miles south of Palm Beach. The main school building was an old two-story edifice of Spanish design. There was a new, small two-classroom wooden building a stone’s throw from the main building and not too far from that was an old cafeteria that featured a place to sit and eat your brown bag lunch. The only refreshment served there was regular or chocolate milk. It also had no glass windows but featured large screened openings that were covered by heavy wooden shutters from the outside whenever it rained, which was often. On the far corner of the block was a rather spacious dormitory building in which a handful of Dominican nuns who taught at the school resided.
Opposite that was the new gym which turned out to be state-of-the-art when it finally opened prior to my sophomore year. One of the great features of the gym was it had a stage built into one side, opposite the grandstands, which were built over the two dressing rooms. That stage served for school plays, graduations and eventually Sunday masses.
The most unique thing about the gym were the backboards. Instead of the traditional wooden rectangles, they were fan-shaped and made of sturdy metal. The odd shape and the resounding “clang” when the ball struck them gave us a great home court advantage.
Prior to the opening of that sparkling gymnasium our practices were held outside on a blacktop, makeshift half court where the basket had no netting, which made for better concentration while shooting. That half court facility was very similar to the public half court that was located at the southern end of the beach road in Lauderdale. That was the court we played on year-round when the official basketball season was not in swing. Without refs that was the scene of full contact basketball.
That 1944 St. Anthony squad was unique in that we were taller than any team we encountered all year. The star of the squad was my best friend, Sidney Squires, who played center. He was 6 feet, four inches and weighed some 230 pounds. While his size was impressive, sort of like an early day Shaquille O’Neal, his greatest asset was he was light on his feet and extremely fast going down the court. His claim to fame statewide was, as far as we knew, he was the first High School basketball player to score 50 points in a game, which occurred when we beat Boca Raton, 115 to 21. The 100-plus score was thought also to be a record. The other four members of the starting five included Jim Winterholler, who was a six foot, five-inch junior forward, Dick Marthens, a great defensive player at the other forward and Jim Guilfoyle, my fellow guard, and this writer at point guard. The parish priest in the photo accompanying this article was Father O’Looney. The names of the second team and manager in the top row have faded from memory.
Following that record setting game against Boca we traveled to Coral Gables and beat a team 70 to 12 and followed with a home win of 90 to 7 against Dania. During that contest Coach Joe challenged us at halftime to keep the undersized opponent from making a field goal, which we were able to accomplish.
With a limited number of players one might think that the 1944 St. Anthony bunch would not have very productive practices. Coach Joe solved that problem by having area Service teams show up at our gym at least twice a week. Most of those players were in their early twenties and had played college ball. They routinely beat us because it was men against boys. However, on our weekend High School contests we became the men and our opponents were the boys.
It was a year to remember.
Harry Spencer is a freelance writer in Reno. His column about the past and present of northern Nevada appears weekly in the Tribune.
Editor’s note: Opinions expressed in Harry Spencer’s column are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Tribune.