Column: Madison recalls 1949 almost as well as JasperMarch 1, 2018
By Greg Eckerle
The sting of being beat by the Jasper Wildcats in the 1949 state championship basketball game still weighs on the mind of Spence Schnaitter, the starting center on the Madison Cubs team that lost to the Cats by one agonizing point. Even though he led Madison to a state championship the next year and was later elected to the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame.
“All these years later, I wake up in the night sometimes thinking about that 1949 game,” said Schnaitter, who is still a practicing attorney in Madison. “I think, geez, why did I do this, why didn’t I do that, during the game. Because we should have won the state (championship) two years in a row.”
Schnaitter has been reminded of that at times through the years. He would invariably see a couple people on the street and one would say, “Weren’t you on the team that won the state?” Schnaitter would reply yes, feeling pretty good, when the other person would chime in and say, “Well, we should have won it two years in a row.”
He has sharp memories of those bygone days, including some friendly banter with Jasper guard Bob White, also a member of the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame. Madison played at Jasper the year before, in 1948, inflicting a rare home loss on the Wildcats. Neither Schnaitter or White played in that game, but Schnaitter remembers being impressed by the gym’s size and that it was one of the first high school facilities to have no posts obstructing fans’ views.
The next year, both Madison and Jasper played in a holiday tourney at New Albany. Madison won their first round game, but Jasper lost to New Albany. After the game, Schnaitter recalls a brief, telling encounter with White in a gym hallway. “I said, ‘Well, Bob, I guess we won’t be playing you this year.’ White replied, ‘There’s only one way we can play you and that’s if we play in the state finals. If you’re there, we’ll be there, and maybe we will play each other.’”
As Jasper was a struggling team at that point, White’s prophecy seemed to have little chance of materializing. Schnaitter then remembers as he was warming up before the state title match, the Jasper team ran by, and White jogged near him and said, “We both made it, didn’t we?”
Schnaitter recalled White hitting an early shot from the corner that appeared to go over the corner of the bankboard. “I thought, if the rest of the night is going to be like this, we’re in trouble.” His prophecy came true, too, as White scored 20 points.
White went on to play college basketball at Vanderbilt, while Schnaitter played for Yale. Ironically, they met up again in 1953 when Yale played at Vanderbilt. White, who now lives in Florida, still marvels at that coincidence.
“I walked to center court as the team captain,” says White, “and who walks to center court as the Yale captain but Spence Schnaitter. Isn’t that quite a story?”
Vanderbilt won the game. Schnaitter recalls, laughing, that afterward White told him something like “we got you again.”
In another twist, White said that after he had committed to play at Vanderbilt, Jasper coach Cabby O’Neill told him that Yale had called, expressing interest in White. “Spence and I could have been teammates,” chuckled White.
Yet one more connection to Jasper for Schnaitter happened in the 1950 season. Madison lost only two games that year, the last one at Vincennes during the regular season. Schnaitter was matched up against Paul East, who later coached Jasper. With the game tied with two seconds left, Schnaitter snared a rebound. “(East) was all over my back, he then fell back onto the floor like I had hit him,” said Schnaitter, laughing. “It was a beautiful acting job. It put him on the free throw line, he made it, and they beat us.”
This twisting tale takes one more turn to further connect Schnaitter, White, East, and Jasper’s 1949 title. White distinctly remembers dribbling out the final seconds against Madison and then “throwing the ball as high in the air as I could.” That game ball stayed with Coach O’Neill, who died in 1994. The next year, East published a book on the history of Jasper boys’ basketball. Coach O’Neill’s daughter, Mary Margaret Gurley, helped East with the book and presented him with the 1949 championship ball. East died in 2011, and his widow, Doris, donated the ball to the Dubois County Museum, where it is now on display in the sports exhibit along with uniforms and other memorabilia from Jasper’s coveted 1949 state title.
As White said when contacted last week, “People in Jasper will never forget it, will they?”
Nor will some in Madison.
Greg Eckerle, the Sisters of St. Benedict communications director and Dubois County Museum sports exhibit director, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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