Merder had historical ’61 postseason tourneyMay 21, 2020
BY COREY STOLZENBACH
Bob Merder enjoyed a steady career with Jasper. He tallied 1,022 points in his career, and remains one of only 13 Wildcats in the history of Jasper boys basketball to eclipse the 1,000-point plateau.
Merder managed to get his points, even with Bob “Chesty” Luegers graduating in 1960 as the leading scorer in team history at that time with 1,189 points. The two helped Jasper to a first of three consecutive sectional championships that year when Merder was a junior.
“We just got along well,” Merder said. “We were good teammates. We had a good ball club that year and nobody was selfish and we passed the ball around. And another thing, we were very fast. We fast breaked a lot and got down the floor, and Chesty could run for a big man.”
The 1959-60 Wildcats were considered one of the best teams in the state that year. They rolled to an 18-2 regular-season record, won 14 in a row at one point and stormed off with a sectional crown following an 84-38 championship win against Winslow.
Jasper was ranked and matched up against Washington in the regional tournament that year. The Wildcats prevailed twice against the Hatchets in the regular season, downing them, 73-45. However, in the first game of the regional, Washington got its payback, upsetting a Jasper team that had been favored by 13 points with a 64-62 score.
Charlie McPherron, the sports editor of The Herald at that time, wrote in his column, “Mac’s Meanderings,” that he had picked the Wildcats to win the state championship. They finished with a 22-3 record that season, largely behind the play of Luegers, who scored 561 points and had an average of 22.4 points.
Now, it was up to the senior duo of Merder and the late Bob Kreilein to try to make something happen in 1960-61, and that they did. The Wildcats may have graduated their all-time leading scorer the previous spring, but Merder didn’t see that as a deterrent.
“I got moved up to the varsity my sophomore year — me and Kreilein,” he said. “He got moved up before I did. I got moved up the last five games of the season of my sophomore year, and I started; and I think from then I had a lot of confidence. I wasn’t nervous. I didn’t let things bother me on the floor.”
Merder put in the time to work on his dribbling and shooting during the summer to get ready for his senior season. He had the ability to dribble with both his right hand and his left hand, and thought he benefited immensely by going to his left.
It was going to be his last season as a Wildcat. He grew up close to what is now the Cabby O’Neill Gymnasium, and cleaned out the gym on Saturday mornings when he was a kid. Merder was allowed to shoot around after cleaning.
“I worked at playing ball since I was a little bitty thing,” Merder said. “I used to have a goal out in the backyard. In fact, my daddy (Lester) took it down because I killed all the grass — I played so much. I worked hard.”
Jasper’s 1960-61 team didn’t quite have the long winning streak, nor the record from the previous year, but it came close. Bob finished with 352 regular-season points, while Kreilein led the team with 353. The former played in 19 games, though, while the latter appeared in all 20, and the Wildcats still went 15-5.
If there was a way to stop Bob in the 1961 sectional, opposing teams evidently missed the memo. The Wildcats flaunted their depth when they had four players, including Bob, go for double figures in a 97-60 win against Springs Valley in the opening round. He led the way with 27, and added another 23 in the second round, a 64-52 triumph against Holland.
Then came Feb. 25, 1961, when he was seemingly unconscious that day. The Wildcats found themselves in a 30-23 deficit against Huntingburg at halftime before Bob’s 33 points propelled the Wildcats into the championship game after a 68-57 win against the Hunters. He added another 34 in the championship against Winslow for an 85-58 championship.
Bob tallied 117 points during those four games, breaking the 95 points Luegers scored the year before. His 34 points were just shy of a then-Jasper record 35 points, also held by Luegers. Bob could have eclipsed this had he not fouled out against the Eskimos.
He had earned the trust of Jasper coach Barney Scott, who gave him the green light at all times, and never chided him over a shot. Bob recalled he earned Scott’s trust, who encouraged him to shoot 25 to 30 times a game.
Bob focused on doing the best he possibly could, and never minded how many points he scored when he played, but he remembers Gregg Sturm, a sophomore on that 1961 team, telling him about his performance after the Wildcats got past the Hunters.
“In the dressing room, he said, ‘You scored 33 points,’ and I said, ‘You gotta be kidding,’” Bob said. “I had no idea. I never kept track of points. I just played. Points didn’t bother me. I mean that sincerely.”
Those 117 points may have been a record, but they weren’t a fluke. Bob totaled 49 points in two regional outings. He notched 21 in a 50-46 game against Loogootee to advance to the championship. Bob also dropped 28 on Monroe City for the 76-75 championship, but his biggest points came in a 73-73 tie, and he came away with a three-point play to put the Wildcats out in front for good.
“I was thankful it was over,” he said. “They were good. They had a good ball club.”
It gave Scott his 100th career win — his 54th at Jasper. He previously won 46 with Hagerstown. Fans packed the gym for a pep rally before the team went off to semistate. It didn’t take long for Scott to get win No. 101. The Wildcats had five players in double digits, with Bob’s 22 points being a game-high in an 86-65 triumph over Corydon.
However, the Wildcats are still waiting for a trip to state since winning it all in 1949. The 1961 team came very close to reaching the Final Four. Bob’s three-point play gave Jasper a 60-59 lead in the semistate championship against Tell City, but Jim Meek scored 10 points in the final quarter, including the final five to help the Marksmen edge out a 64-60 win on a 5-0 run to end it.
Bob thought Jasper should’ve beaten Tell City in that game, though he doesn’t know what the Wildcats would’ve done at state. He was an Indiana All-Star and finished with 559 points on the season, which is still one of the highest single-season totals in Jasper history.
“It was tough,” Bob said. “I didn’t want to let go of it. I think it took a long time for us to get dressed in the dressing room. I still think about when me and Kreilein sat there and bawled for a long time.”
The two Bobs were best friends. If Merder was around, Kreilein was usually with him. The two went their separate ways. Kreilein went to play at the University of Mississippi and passed away in Kentucky in 2014, much to Merder’s devastation. The two remained close and still talked to each other, even in Kreilien’s final years.
Merder briefly played at Midwestern State University (Texas), and has been a mainstay in the Lone Star State. He initially wanted to coach, and did some student teaching in school, but he got into the retail business as an assistant manager, and later was a manager at a store in Wichita Falls. Bob also did some substitute teaching in his later years before he retired, and now resides in McKinney.
“I sort of wished I could’ve coached, but I love the retail, too,” he said. “I love the people and I love the customers, and I got along with the people well. The sales clerks, they were almost all women, and they really liked me. If you got somebody on your side and you like your job, then I just stayed with it, but I made good money.”
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