Butch remembers “the County Tourney”

In the fall of 1931 the principals and coaches of the small county schools instituted the Montgomery County Tourney, and for the next 40 years, it assumed a level of popularity and competitiveness that could not be matched anywhere else in the state. Unlike the Sectional tourney, Crawfordsville was excluded from playing, although the Athenian B-team was allowed to participate the first four years, prior to the IHSAA forbidding their entry.

Tourney time united the residents of the “little towns,” and from the time the pairings were announced, the students and fans found it difficult to concentrate on anything else. No matter what a team’s talent or record might be, every team had a shot at the title, and each boy played his heart out to help his team win. The experience of playing before a capacity crowd in the Crawfordsville gym was an experience never to be forgotten. I could barely sleep the night before my team played in the tourney!

Every possible offensive and defensive strategy was used by the coaches to win the tourney. In addition to superb talent and well-executed play, a lot of pure luck often made the difference in the final outcome of the games. Upsets were a regular occurrence during the week long tourney, but only one team came out on top. When my Darlington team entered the tourney in 1965, we had a record of 5-6, with no starter 6-ft. tall. In our first game had to play New Market, an outstanding team with a record of 9-2. We fought hard and won the game 58-52. In our second contest we faced an undefeated New Ross team, who had the longest winning streak in the state. We played our hearts out, and by some miracle, we won 49-45 to reach the championship game. We faced Coal Creek, who had a record of 5-6…and we lost 47-45…a last second shot bouncing off the rim . . . our championship trophy gone!

New Ross had to wait 25 years before they won the County Tourney in 1956. The fewest points in a title game was in 1932 when Wingate beat New Richmond 16-14. The most points in a championship game came in 1968 when Darlington beat Coal Creek 100-78. There were two championship games that went into overtime . . . In 1950, Waveland beat New Market 40-33 in overtime . . . and in 1964, Linden defeated Ladoga 68-67 in the overtime period. I saw that game, and it was one of the most exciting games I had ever witnessed.

During its 40 year run, each school won at least one time, with the New Market Purple Flyers claiming seven titles, the most of any school (1939, ’40, ’42, ’43, ’58, ’62, ’66). Linden was a close second with six championships (1937, ’48, ’52, ’60, ’64, ’71). Alamo won four times (1934, ’38, ’46, ’57), as did Darlington (1954, ’68, ’69, 70), New Ross (1956, ’59, ’61, ’63) and Waveland (1950, ’51, ’53, ’55). Wingate won three times (1932, ’35, ’36). Three schools won twice . . . Coal Creek (1965, ’67), Waynetown (1944, ’45), and Ladoga (1947, ’49). And New Richmond won only once in 1933, along with Bowers in 1942 . . . before their schools closed because of consolidation.

The winningest coach by far was Jack Hester, with six victories under his belt . . . five at New Market and one at Ladoga. Cliff Davis’ teams won three times . . . Linden in 1937 and Waveland in 1950 and 1951.

The County Tourney meant a lot to the people of Montgomery County. The Crawfordsville gym was always packed, and schools often had to have drawings to see who would receive tickets. Sections were cordoned off for the students and fans for each school, and all you had to do was look at the colors of the clothing to see where each school was located. There was electricity in the air as the National Anthem was played, and the announcer said, “Good evenings, ladies and gentlemen . . . welcome to the Montgomery County Tourney!” As a player and later on as a fan, I always got goosebumps as I entered the gym, which seemed enormous compared to our gym at Darlington. Many years later, when I was in that Crawfordsville gym, it seemed so small . . . compared to the gyms today. In that quiet and empty gym I could still see the players, the coaches, the students and the fans . . . and hear the cheers . . . of one of the oldest and most exciting basketball tourneys in the state of Indiana.

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.