Jasper to honor '70s sectional dynasty

Herald File Photo
Members of the Jasper boys basketball team celebrate the fifth straight sectional championship for the Wildcats after outlasting Forest Park, 75-74, in triple overtime.

By COREY STOLZENBACH
sports@dcherald.com

JASPER — Some of them haven’t seen one another in almost 50 years, but when they are recognized Saturday, memories will be flowing back with the history they made all those decades ago.

Jasper will be honoring the Wildcat teams that won five consecutive sectional championships from 1971-1975 Saturday when the current team hosts Heritage Hills at Cabby O’Neill Gymnasium. The Wildcats had not won a sectional championship since 1962 by the time the 1970s rolled around. They got to the sectional championship game in 1967, but didn’t get to cut the nets down that year losing to Holland, 62-52. It looked like Jasper was in prime position to start the new decade off right, finishing the 1969-70 season with a 17-3 record. “Goodoldcatsareback” signs went around the area that year, according to the March 1, 1971 edition of the Dubois County Daily Herald, but this is the sectional we’re talking about, and the Wildcats were still stuck on their 19th sectional crown when Holland upset them 52-47, in the semifinals. The sectional champion that year was Huntingburg, who went 10-10 in the regular season.

“That was a real crushing blow to all the fans and to everybody else,” former Herald sports editor Jerry Birge said about the 1970 sectional loss.

“They controlled the tempo,” said Dave “Slick” Webber, a 1972 Jasper graduate. “We had height. We had shooters. We had speed. We had defense, but they controlled that tempo in that Saturday afternoon game from start to finish, and unfortunately, we could not get past the hump.”

Coach Ed Schultheis added Webber to the sectional roster when the team made it his sophomore year in 1970. It tore him apart that he disappointed the Jasper fans. He spoke of critics talking about the Wildcats choking at Huntingburg Memorial Gymnasium. Webber was born in 1954, but could not remember Jasper winning a sectional championship at that time. He had no recollection of the 1962 championship, as he attended his first sectional at age nine. Webber had a chance to change all of that, finding his way into the starting five in 1971. Senior Jim Van Huysse and junior Tom Nicholson manned the forward spots, while senior Wayne Bailey was the man in the middle. Senior Jim Wenzel and Webber consisted of Jasper’s back court.

“I was never very good going to my left,” Webber said. “I always worked on going to my left a lot. My ball handling ability was pretty good. I was a pretty good shooter, a fairly good shooter, probably had to get more tenacious. I played with Jim Wenzel...he’d steal the ball from his mother. I needed to be more like that. I needed to be more aggressive, and I think a lot of Jim Wenzel rubbed off on me to help me get to that point.”

Herald File Photo
Jim Wenzel (left) and Wayne Bailey helped deliver Jasper the 1971 sectional championship, its first since 1972 and first of five in a row.

The Wildcats went 15-5 during the regular season, and they dispatched all three of their opponents en route to sectional crown No. 20. They avenged the previous year’s loss to Holland, 71-45, and a 77-53 triumph against Ferdinand in the semifinals. Jasper then ran away with an 86-65 win against Northeast Dubois in the championship game. Bailey scored 29, Webber 10, and the drought was over.

“Once we got playing, it was quite obvious that we were going to dominate that sectional,” Webber said.

Those players were heroes to Jim Schultheis, Ed’s son who graduated in 1976. Jim was a regular mainstay at those practices back then, watching the teams that came before him.

“I didn’t really talk to those guys, being older than me, but I would watch them and learn from them,” Jim said.

What was about to follow from 1971 was a level of success not seen in Jasper basketball since the 1940s, and some of the younger players coming through that program believe that 1971 team helped build a foundation.

“When I was a freshman, I played JV ball,” said Mike Luegers, a 1974 graduate. “I remember sitting on the bench, watching varsity play, and it sets a tradition. It is tradition, seeing teams come before you, seeing how excited the crowd is, the band playing, just the extreme noise during the game — a lot of clapping. It’s an experience that anybody who’s played in the old gym can never forget.”

Luegers slid into a starter role when he was a sophomore. The 6 foot, 8 inch tall center took over from Bailey on the 1971 championship team, and ended up as Jasper’s all-time leading scorer at the time of his graduation with 1,306 points, and is still fourth all-time. Luegers does remember the pressure of wanting to uphold the Jasper tradition the first time he took the floor his sophomore year, but those nerves later subsided. He fit in rather well as the lone underclassman in a starting lineup that featured four seniors: Nicholson, Webber, Kevin Manley and Al Seng. His average of 14.6 points per game during the regular season was second only to Nicholson’s 15.3.

Feb. 26, 1972 proved to be twice as nice for the Wildcats as a closer, but nonetheless victorious margin of 61-53 against Forest Park sealed the deal to walk out of Huntingburg with a second consecutive sectional crown.

The graduation of a senior-heavy lineup in 1972 meant new people breaking in for 1972-73. One of those people was senior Tom Berger, who had been highly touted dating back to his sophomore year. However, he had some setbacks along the way, never managing to be a staple in the Wildcats lineup until his senior season. Berger promised to give Ed 110 percent for his senior season.

“He stuck and stuck with it, had a good work ethic and finally his senior year, (it) paid off,” Birge said.

It was that 1973 sectional that Luegers felt was the toughest to win. Five consecutive championships was very close to not happening. Jasper trailed late in the game, on the verge of losing to Southridge in the championship. Berger played with his now brother-in-law Mike Keusch, a 1974 graduate. Keusch took the ball out and asked Berger if he wanted a timeout. Berger adamantly refused, just wanting to get down the floor and do something. Berger said no play was drawn. The man whom people had high hopes for for so long, having difficulties cracking the Jasper five, was now about to forever etch his name into Wildcats lore.

“(Keusch) gave me the ball,” Berger said. “I took it down and I was really hoping to find somebody underneath the bucket, but they had it blocked off pretty well.”

Berger took a shot, burying it from 15 feet with nine seconds to go and giving the Wildcats the lead.

“I was yelling at everybody to get down the floor, there’s still time left,” he said. “I really was surprised that (Southridge coach Joe) Todrank didn’t call a timeout. He had plenty of time to really set something up if he wanted to, and I don’t know why he didn’t, but they threw the ball in bounds and (Steve) Opel intercepted the in bounds pass, and he threw it to me right away and the game was over then. I just remember the Jasper fans going crazy. It was one of the loudest things I’d ever heard in my life, I think.”

"In the summertime, Tom Berger and I would always go to the Cabby and play one-on-one against each other just to get us better,” said Stan Giesler, a 1973 graduate who led that year’s sectional with 56 points. “Things like that make it all worthwhile.”

Herald File Photo
Tom Berger (center) became a Jasper basketball legend with his championship-winning shot in the 1973 sectional final against Southridge.

Berger’s shot helped keep the good times rolling at Jasper, as the Wildcats rolled off a fourth in a row in 1974, taking down Perry Central rather easily, 73-49. Such a large margin was relieving for Luegers, as any team can sneak up on somebody in a sectional. He was the second leading scorer with 54 points that sectional. Keusch led with 55.

“I didn’t even know I did that,” Keusch said with a chuckle. “I assume they were concentrating a lot on Luegy underneath because he was just a big guy and could dominate the inside, so that gave me a lot of opportunities outside.”

They went through adversity to reel off a third straight sectional win in 1973, but the 1975 sectional title game also tested everything Jasper had. The Wildcats came very close to not cutting down the nets in 1975. Regulation was not enough to decide this one, nor overtime, nor a second overtime.

Jasper held a 54-50 lead in regulation before the Rangers came back to tie it on a 10-foot shot by Mike Becher with 33 seconds to play, and a 15-footer from Brad Voegerl, a 1976 graduate, did not go in the final seconds. Terry Tucker, a 1975 graduate, fouled Forest Park’s Jim Mehling as time expired. However, the official scorebook showed Jasper only had four fouls and did not put the Rangers in the bonus, thus forcing the first overtime.

“The coaches had that told us that they weren’t in the bonus,” Tucker said. “So, it was of no concern whatsoever. The coaches had told us. Coach Schultheis, Coach (Rex) May told us, ‘Go for the ball. They’re not in a bonus.’”

The Wildcats trailed by four, 62-58, with 13 seconds to play in overtime. It looked like their run was going to be snapped, barring a Houdiniesque sequence of events. Jasper controlled the tip on a jump ball after missing a shot. Voegerl got a bucket and the Wildcats called a timeout with six seconds to play.

“(Ed) is really calm and he explained what’s going to happen,” Jim said. “To this day, I can’t believe this happened, but it did.”

Ed told his son to go to the ball and find Becher because he was going to get the pass. Becher stood at midcourt. Jim turned around, ran and intercepted the ball. He took a shot from 15-feet, it did not go, but there was Tucker, who tipped the ball in at the gun and they were headed to a second overtime.

“That’s coaching when you can project what’s going to happen and it happened,” Jim said, preferring to downplay his moment for his father’s coaching. “Now, it might’ve been a little luck, but he told me what to do. I did it and there was the ball.”

Tucker, meanwhile, down played his tip in and praised Jim in that sequence.

“He made the defensive play that kept us in the game,” Tucker said. “The pass that he intercepted, that play, was significantly more difficult and was a lot bigger than anything that happened after that because if Becher catches that ball, or if whoever they were inbounding to, if he catches the ball, the game’s probably over.”

However, Jim felt Tucker saved him when he missed that shot.

“I just remember so well running towards the bench and the bench running towards us because we had a second chance,” Jim said. “...People are falling down the bleachers. It was that exciting, and you know what? The game wasn’t over.”

The second overtime brought more thrills when Becher went under to shoot for Forest Park with 13 seconds to play, but there was that man again. Tucker swatted him down, giving the Wildcats the ball.

“I don’t really remember the play all that well other than it was a clean block,” he said. “He just sort of turned into me. He was left handed and was coming off the baseline and turned back towards the middle, and when he went up, the ball was there. It was just there. I had left my guy, I think out on the wing some place, and had slid back inside a little bit, and when he turned into me, I had an opportunity.”

Jeff Bawel, a 1975 graduate, sank two free throws to give the Wildcats a 74-70 edge in triple overtime, but a Mehling layup five seconds later trimmed their lead down to two. Jim went to the free throw line with 10 seconds to play, making his first shot, but missing his second, putting Jasper in a 75-72 advantage.

“Another good thing was it was on the Jasper side,” Jim said. “So, there’s 2,000 fans behind rooting for me, not against me. The first one went in, (the) second one I should’ve hit. I missed it.”

There was no 3-pointer then. The Wildcats had to get back on defense and not foul. Becher made another shot and the Rangers called timeout. Bawel grabbed the inbounds pass as the final second winded down to secure a 75-74 win.

Jim recalled his father not making a big deal of the win because the Wildcats were on their way to regionals.

“He didn’t talk a lot about basketball after hours to me,” he said. “I think he protected me from that, but he just said, ‘Hey. That’s a game people will remember,’” and they sure have. People still talk about it to this day.”

However, the Rangers denied Jasper a sixth consecutive championship in the 1976 opener, getting revenge from the year before in a 58-42 game.

“That still hurts,” Jim said. “I think about it every week.”

He credited how well Forest Park played in that game and thought the Wildcats put some pressure on themselves in the fourth quarter, but he likes to think of the wins instead of the losses.

The Wildcats also two won two regional championships during that run, winning in 1972 and 1973. An appearance in the state championship game has eluded them since going all the way in 1949, but the Ed Schultheis era brought about loads of success. He is the third winningest coach in Jasper history with 160 victories. The Wildcats have won eight more sectionals since the five-peat, but none of those championships came two years in a row, let alone five.

“It wouldn’t have happened without him,” Birge said of Ed Schultheis.

“When I look back at that string of winning five, that’s pretty tough to do because there are a lot of good teams,” Luegers said. “In sectionals, things can go wrong. There have been a lot of good teams over the years that never made it out of sectional that had really strong teams. To put five together, coming out of Southridge there, is really quite a feat for everybody that was involved there.”

Jim is excited for the Cabby reunion. He said if Ed was still alive that he would be excited and would attend, as he loved his players.

“My understanding is we’re going to sit under one of the goals and get to watch the game,” Jim said. “I can’t wait.”




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