Fifty years ago today East Noble High School’s first boy’s basketball team gathered after school in the South Side gym for a final practice before opening the first East Noble basketball season on Friday, Nov. 18, 1966, at Eastside High School in Butler against the Eastside Blazers.
There was no girls’ basketball in those days.
The new $2.5 million East Noble High School, a consolidation of Kendallville, Avilla and Rome City high schools, had opened its doors to students for the first time on Sept. 1, 1966. A total of 3,910 students from the eastern part of Noble County attended the eight schools in the new East Noble School Corporation.
There were 750 students in grades 10-12 at the high school; 494 in grades 7-9 at Kendallville Junior High School; 575 in grades K-9 at Avilla School; 609 in grades K-6 at Rome City Elementary School; 187 in grades K-6 at LaOtto Elementary School; 429 in grades K-6 at North Side Elementary School; 224 in grades K-6 at Wayne Center Elementary School; and 627 in grades K-6 at Central Elementary School.
Rivals in sports for many years, students from Avilla, Rome City and Kendallville now blended in the new high school making new friends, joining clubs, organizations and athletic teams.
Varsity basketball coach Gene Racht and assistant coach Chris Stavreti both had coached the Kendallville High School varsity in the 1965-66 season, made their final cut after tryouts and assembled a mix of experienced players from Kendallville, Avilla and Rome City. Their task was challenging with several players having varsity experience from three separate high schools, and several trying out from three separate junior varsity teams. The coaches selected 13 for the varsity team (12 would dress for sectional) and 12 for the junior varsity.
I was a freshman at Kendallville Junior High School and a member of Mac Frymier’s freshman boy’s team. Even though my teammates and I were in the junior high school and removed from the high school, we closely watched the creation of the first East Noble varsity and junior varsity teams, knowing we would join sophomores from Rome City and Avilla the following year in the high school for tryouts.
Racht and Stavreti (neither one taught at the high school) knew very little about players from the newly consolidated Eastside High School, and East Noble players only knew the competitors from playing them in junior high.
Even though East Noble’s consolidation had generated controversy and anger, especially among Avilla and Rome City residents who saw their high schools close, there was excitement and anticipation throughout the school district about the new team. Several local basketball enthusiasts believed the consolidated East Noble would dominate its schedule.
Eleven letter winners (varsity experience) were on the team with seven from the previous year’s Kendallville junior class, one from the previous year’s Avilla junior class, three from the previous year’s Avilla sophomore class and two juniors up from the previous year’s Kendallville junior varsity.
Varsity team members were seniors Rex Emerick, Jim Petrie, Dave Neal, Mike Wilondek, Randy Ackerman, Stan Fraze, Jon Hossinger, Randy Green, Charlie Wolf and Mike Brand; juniors Jim Wedding and Gary Beltz and sophomore Jack Ritchie.
East Noble’s first varsity and junior varsity cheerleading squads were preparing to lead the Pep Club at home games. Varsity cheerleaders were seniors Janet Thomas, Gail Thrapp, Susan Mark, Judy Thrush and junior Ann Fox. Junior varsity cheerleaders were sophomores Chris Garman, Debby Smith, Susan Hile and Jackie Harbin.
Pep Club with girls wearing blue and gold sat in the lower west side bleachers near the doors to the 4,000-seat gymnasium, the biggest in northeast Indiana.
East Noble’s first pep band under the direction of Phil Zent was rehearsing on that day 50 years ago for their first public performance. The band was seated in the lower bleachers at the north end of the gym.
On Friday, Nov. 18, 1966, East Noble lost to Eastside, 70-48, at Butler. Emerick led all scorers for East Noble with 22 points. Kendallville News-Sun sports writer Wendall Jollief described the game as “sometimes rough, sometimes ragged.” Each team made 21 field goals. Eastside was 28 of 40 from the free throw line. East Noble was 6 of 13.
East Noble committed 25 fouls, and Eastside was called for 16 fouls. East Noble took 76 shots to get 42 points while Eastside took 51 shots to get 42 points.
Despite the opening season loss, East Noble followers filled the west side bleacher seats on two levels for the first home game against Fort Wayne Central Catholic on Saturday, Nov. 19. They were curious to see if players from rival high schools could come together as a team. East Noble did that night, beating Central Catholic, 63-58. Hossinger led the scoring with 15 points, followed by Emerick with 14 and Ackerman with 12.
My teammates and I attended all the home games. Not only was it a requirement from our coach, but we had to help high school custodians Clyde Martin and LeRoy Beiswanger remove trash from the bleachers after the game.
That first East Noble varsity team finished the regular season with a 10-10 record, but went on to win the eight-team East Noble sectional, beating defending champion Garrett, 79-77 in the final. In addition to East Noble and Garrett, the other sectional teams were Auburn, Wawaka, Waterloo, Eastside, Albion and Cromwell. At one time the Kendallville sectional had 16 teams, but this was reduced to 14, 12, 10 and then eight by consolidation and the state moving schools around to other sectionals.
The sectional championship was an old-fashioned barn burner with Hossinger scoring the winning basket with seven seconds left, and Fraze stealing a Garrett pass to seal the victory. “East Noble fans blew the roof off the South Side Gym,” is how Jollief described the crowd noise after Hossinger scored. Garrett was hampered by the loss of 6-foot-11-inch center Mike Heitz who fractured his foot in Garrett’s next to last regular season game and couldn’t play in the sectional.
Garrett at 16-4 was the only team with a winning record in the sectional.
When East Noble principal Royal Tritch handed the sectional trophy to East Noble co-captains Wolf and Wilondek, he mistakenly announced Kendallville as the sectional winner.
East Noble would go on to lose to Fort Wayne Snider 79-61 in the regional semifinals at the Allen County Memorial Coliseum.
Racht and Stavreti would go on to coach the 1967-68 and 1968-69 varsity and junior varsity teams. Then Racht left education to join the FBI and Stavreti moved to Fort Wayne Northrop to coach basketball and varsity baseball.
Enter the flashy, sometime controversial but always entertaining coach Jim Calvin.
That first East Noble boy’s team didn’t dominate as some people expected from the biggest school corporation in the area. They expected much more than 13 wins. The sectional championship over the favored Garrett team quieted those doubters.