Butch recalls story of the “County Keg”

In the late 1950s, the Montgomery County Coaches Association came up with a “traveling trophy,” similar to the Indiana-Purdue “old oaken bucket.” In 1957 the Sportsman Shop donated the money, and a small wooden nail keg was purchased at a local hardware store. It was lettered “Traveling Keg,” and the metal trim was painted in the various colors of the small county schools.

The rules for possessing the keg were simple. A team had to beat the owner of the keg during the regular season, which included the County Tourney, but not the Sectional. No team outside Montgomery County . . . or Crawfordsville . . . could claim the prize, and the school that owned the keg at the end of the season could cherish it until the next basketball season rolled around. To determine who would first own the keg, the names of all of the nine county schools were placed into a hat . . . and Alamo became the first recipient on Nov. 1, 1957. Little did they know it at the time, but that was the first and last time that the Warriors would possess the trophy. Three weeks later, Alamo lost to Darlington, and the Alamo teams never possessed it again up to the time the little schools closed in 1971.

Each time a school won the keg, they decorated it with ribbons of their school colors and paraded it around before each game. A metal plate, with the school’s name and the date they won it, was permanently attached. During the 14 years that the keg was around, it changed hands a total of 30 times. New Ross won the keg six times . . . the most of any school, while Darlington, New Market and Linden each won it five times. Coal Creek won it four times, Waveland and Ladoga twice, and Waynetown once. The longest stretch in which a school owned the keg was two years and 10 months by Darlington in the late 1960s when the Indians went undefeated for two years. The New Ross Blue Jays owned it for two years and two months in the early 1960s when Keith Greve was their coach.

The shortest time that the keg was held was seven hours . . . by Darlington. I know all about that, as I was on that team. We beat an undefeated New Ross team in an afternoon game at the County Tourney on Jan. 16, 1965 . . . and promptly lost the keg to the Coal Creek Bearcats by a score of 47-45 in the championship game that evening! However, three weeks later we won it back from Coal Creek in a regular game. I knew we could keep it the rest of the year and into the 1966 season, as the only team we had to face was Waynetown, who had just an average team. But fate was not on our side. One of Waynetown’s players gave me a deliberate uppercut to the jaw during the first quarter, causing me to be out of the lineup and down in the locker room for nearly the remainder of the contest. We lost the game and the keg. That same Waynetown player swooped up the keg from our cheerleaders and ran around the gym, whooping and laughing. We were not happy campers!

Darlington owned the keg when the little schools closed in the spring of 1971, and they were allowed to keep the keg in their trophy case. A few years later, it was decided that the keg should be in the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame at New Castle, and that is where it can be found today. It would be impossible to say how much that little wooden keg meant to all of the players, cheerleaders, students, and fans who were involved in Montgomery County basketball during those 14 years that it was in existence. Nothing else has evoked more emotion . . . be it tears of happiness or tears of sorrow . . . than the “county keg.”

Oh yes . . . that player who elbowed me in the jaw in 1965 . . . he was a prisoner at the county jail after I had been elected Montgomery County Sheriff in 1994. He requested to be a trusty, an inmate worker with his own private cell. But as they say in a certain board game . . . “SORRY!”

John “Butch” Dale is a retired teacher and County Sheriff. He has also been the librarian at Darlington the past 32 years, and is a well-known artist and author of local history.