Phil Pash's Simply Sports: More golden memories of West High titles

Several reactions to my April 27 “Up & Down The Rock” column, which pointed out 2005 and 2006 are the golden anniversaries of the Rockford West High School back-to-back state basketball championships, significant achievements in Rockford history.

An e-mail from Dick Shouer of Freeport:

“Enjoyed your nostalgic piece on West’s back-to-back Illinois state basketball titles in 1955 and 1956. In the ’55 classic, three of the four teams that Alex Saudargas’ Warriors beat were led by his fellow Illinois High School Hall of Fame coaches: Gay Kintner, Decatur; ‘Duster’ Thomas, Pickneyville; and Bill Chesbrough, Elgin.

“It was also the last all-Big Eight title game, with West winning 61-59, and scoring six points with only one second going off the clock! Phil, the chronology of that achievement bears repeating in your column.

“As a Freeporter, I recall one of the most loyal and vocal rooters for West

High in the ’50s—former Rockford Mayor Ben Schleicher. Ben seemed always to be in the stands at the Pretzel gym whenever the Warriors came to town. It about broke his heart when a talent-laden West team was ambushed on its way to Champaign by Freeport’s Carl Cain and company in the 1952 sectional at Sterling. But then, the best was yet to come!”

OK, Dick, we aim to please. Here is the sequence on the six points in one second: Elgin led 57-51 with 2:19 to play. West’s Nolden Gentry scored a basket (57-53) and was fouled after the shot. He then made two free throws (57-55).

On the throw-in, the Warriors’ Rex Parker was fouled by the Elgin player he was guarding, Gary Siegmeier. Parker went to the line and made two free throws (57-all). Time remaining on the clock: 2:18. One second had elapsed.

The sequence is well documented in the Friends of West DVD So Long … Sweet Sixteen ($15, including shipping and handling; make a check payable and mail to: Community Foundation of Northern Illinois, memo line: Friends of West DVD, 946 N. 2nd St., Rockford, IL 61107. More info: (815) 962-2110, ext. 14, or visit the Web site at

In addition to the two titles, one of my fondest West memories occurred in the old Freeport gym, where I saw one of the greatest long-range shooting exhibitions I ever saw in a prep game. The four guards, John Henry Bell and John Podagrosi of West and Tom Walz and Jim Gorski of Freeport, all scored 20 or more points, with most shots coming from what today would be three-point-land. Of course, I don’t remember the year; I’m lucky I remember that much detail.

West’s back-to-back titles straddle a significant change in IHSA basketball history. The ’54-55 season was the last for 16 teams (the Sweet Sixteen) to go to Champaign and old Huff Gym on the Illinois campus for the state tourney. The Elite Eight was born for the ’55-56 season, with the winners of eight super-sectionals going to Champaign. It’s still that way today.

But Vic Anacauskos of Rockford called to say he remembers an Elite Eight format for the 1940-41 state tourney. He’s right—in a way. The first thing you need to understand is it all transpired only months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

Four quarterfinal tournaments of four teams each were held around the state—at Elgin, Centralia, Pekin and Springfield, undoubtedly because of World War II and maybe because of gas rationing. Rockford East, Freeport, Waterman and Berwyn-Cicero Morton were assigned to the Elgin quarterfinal.

The East team, coached by Jim Laude and including Anacauskos, lost to Morton 46-32 and then lost to Freeport in the third-place game 29-27. East, with an enrollment of 1,746, finished with an 18-7 record. Freeport (1,136 students) finished 16-9 under the direction of Merritt “Phog” Allen.

Morton won the Elgin tourney and advanced to the state tourney at Huff Gym, Champaign, winning the state crown over Urbana 31-21. Centralia and Canton also got to state.

The Centralia team was led by Dwight “Dike” Eddelman, one of the great sports figures in Illinois history. The Orphans would go on to win the 1941-42 state crown. Farrell Benefiel, who later would coach at Freeport, was on the ’42 state championship team with Eddelman.

The IHSA state tourney was not suspended during the war years, like so many other activities were. In fact, after the quarterfinal format in 1941, the tourney went back to having 16 teams at Huff Gym all during WWII.

According to box scores on the IHSA Web site, the names on that Rockford East Jim Laude team were Anacauskos, “Chubby” Calacci, Jim Flood, Pete Kostantocas, Carl Lee, Lundberg, Tony Manne, Bill Sjostrom and Julius Tronske.

From the May 11-17, 2005, issue

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