News From Terre Haute, Indiana

January 16, 2009

Thumbing through a real history book

By Mike Lunsford

TERRE HAUTE — My wife and I invest a bit of our time on the occasional Saturday wandering through antique stores and junk shops. We do more picking up and putting down than shelling out and loading up, but I was convinced that I couldn’t have made a better investment last fall when I laid down $7.00 for a history book; at least it’s a history book to me.

It’s a “J.C. Higgins Official College Basket Ball Score Book,” a 5”x8” glance at the past made expressively by Sears and Roebuck & Co. of Chicago, and it was purchased and used for the 1924-25 high school basketball season by tiny Judyville High School.

I kept a scorebook for two local schools years ago, and I enjoyed my time at the scorer’s table. It’s the best seat in the house, and there’s a sense of accomplishment that comes from keeping an accurate and orderly scorebook or getting a thumbs-up from two appreciative game officials or a slap on the back from a coach who is happier with your neat columns of 2’s and completely filled 0’s than he is with his team. Judyville’s coach was, in all probability, more pleased with his scorekeeper, one Francis Regan, than his team in the winter of ’24-’25. His squad, most likely called “cagers” since they weren’t too far removed from the era when a wire cage occasionally enclosed the playing floor, went just 2-5, and one of those victories came by forfeit.

Like so many whistlestops from the glory days of Indiana small towns, Judyville still exists today, but more in theory than reality. Tucked away in Warren County’s Liberty Township, the burg actually grew because founder John Finney Judy (originally spelled Tschudi) owned a prosperous farm. Founded in 1903, the town eventually had its own telephone company and, according to an Internet encyclopedia entry, actually minted a “local form of currency known as ‘Judy Money,’” which was accepted throughout the county. Judyville grew as it gained both a trunk line of the old Eastern Illinois Railroad and a post office.

I couldn’t find much of anything about the school there, but the proof that one existed, and that it had a basketball “five” came in the form of that yellowing scorebook that I picked up nearly 85 years after the fact. I’m pretty certain that Judyville High never won a sectional; I have no idea what the team nickname was.

The scorebook is an open window on old, old school Indiana basketball. Since the book never lists a game being played at Judyville, it is probable that the school had no gym, an obstacle that many Indiana schools faced in those days.

The first game recorded in the book came on October 10, 1924: the Judyville team facing Ambia’s Wildcats at Ambia and losing 46-12. Regan listed the five Judyville players by positions, referring to them as right and left forwards, a center, and a back and front guard. Only one referee was used, Glen Farrel.

County rival Williamsport followed four days later. The Bombers apparently lived up to their nickname, handing Judyville a 54-4 loss; Williamsport’s Robert King scored 24 points. All of Judyville’s points came on free throws: two in each half.

On Nov. 1, Judyville traveled north to Boswell in southern Benton County and picked up its first victory of the year despite playing no game; the Blackhawks couldn’t field a team, and Judyville was declared a 2-0 winner. Six days later, it was back to Ambia and another loss, 35-15, despite the fact that two more names appeared in the scorebook for Judyville.

It took a little over a month before Regan made another entry for a game, and it involved a first team from Judyville defeating a second team 27-19; the additional players Judyville had picked up in the interim apparently made no difference. Three days later they faced the Bombers at Williamsport again, and this time the host school showed no mercy in crushing them 98-10.

The second Williamsport game and its score was much more common to old-time Indiana hoops than is often believed. Most of the individual and team scoring records in the books in this state come from the earliest era of our basketball heritage. For instance, Judyville’s old nemesis, Robert King, tossed in 49 of the Bombers’ points, while teammate H. McCosky added 35 more.

Williamsport had a 40-7 halftime lead, but the Bombers’ coach apparently had no intention of asking his team to take it easy; the Bombers scored 58 in the second half.

Keep in mind that it was probable that Judyville rarely touched the ball while scoring only 3 second-half points; in those days a center jump was held after every score, and a team with a dominant player could almost always keep control of the ball at their end of the floor.

In February, Judyville’s squad headed to Boswell; the Blackhawks actually had seven players on their roster by then, but the visitors took their measure anyway in what must have been a real barnburner, 17-16. At least Judyville had won a real game. In an interesting caveat to the game, I found an “I.H.S.A.A. Eligibility Certification” from Boswell’s principal, Edgar Burnette, paper-clipped to the inside cover of the scorebook. It listed the seven eligible Boswell players, including Zerma Trimble and Wilbur Odle.

It is just an old scorebook, but I couldn’t help but see in my mind’s eye, albeit in grays and blacks and whites, a group of farm boys who just wanted to play ball. I can see them in their “Ralph Jones Professional Basket Ball Shoes,” also made by Sears, and I can see them running up and down country roads and gravel highways in Model T’s to play in barn lots.

Basketball is different now; it’s a faster game with more skilled players who use better equipment. But what the game has become all started for us in places like Judyville.



You can email Mike Lunsford at hickory913@aol.com, or can write to him c/o the Tribune-Star at PO Box 149, Terre Haute, IN 47808. His book, “The Off Season: The Newspaper Stories of Mike Lunsford” is available in several local stores; learn more about it or order it online at his Web page at www.mikelunsford.com. Lunsford begins work on his second book this spring.