1937 Melrose Shamrocks: The Championship Season

The Cast Of Characters

1937 Melrose Shamrocks
Front row (from left): Jim Carr, Jim Thynne, Walt O’Connor, Ray Parks, and Ed Callahan

Back row (from left): Robert Parks, Bernard Lee, Ray Navin, Mike Kasper, George Pavlik, and Coach Ad Hlubek


Before the 1937 season, the ten Melrose basketball players were so unknown that newspapers covering the tournament didn’t spell their names correctly, radio announcers pronounced “Hlubek” four different ways, and the Melrose team was one of only three teams that didn’t have its picture in the State Tournament Program.  After the tournament, the team was invited to numerous banquets and parties.  Just a few years later, Walt O’Connor was named the Outstanding Iowa Amateur Athlete for 1940, Jim Thynne was playing for Creighton University, and Coach Ad Hlubek was a coach in high demand.  Things sure had changed.......

Coach Ad Hlubek – Melrose was coached by Adolf (“Ad”) Hlubek (pronounced “Loo-beck”).  He claimed to be only a student of the game of basketball, and said that he learned all that he knew about basketball from a rulebook that “only cost 10¢.”  If you asked him where else he got his ideas, he would tell you his tip-off plays were from Michigan, his set offense was from Wisconsin, and his sliding zone defense was from a friend in Kansas. 

Hlubek was both the basketball coach and the Superintendent of Schools at Melrose.  The Official Program for the 1937 State Tournament referred to him as “Klubek.”  Ad Hlubek came from Fort Atkinson.  He went to Columbia College in Dubuque.  He coached at Fort Atkinson and Exline before Melrose.  Melrose was the first basketball team he coached past the Sectional Tournament.  Hlubek started coaching basketball at Melrose in 1933.  Hlubek was colorful and got excited easily.  After one game during the regular season, he said to the crowd, “Let’s give three cheers for the referee.”  After the final game of the 1937 State Tournament, he said that he “felt faint,” and quoted a popular radio show of the time, proclaiming “Hello Ma, hello Pa!”  After Melrose won the championship, he also said that the Marshalltown team was the “finest team in Iowa.”  He often paced the sidelines with a stopwatch, because he didn’t trust the official timekeeper.

After the championship season, he brought the Shamrocks back to the State Tournament in 1938, without their two biggest stars from the title season, O’Connor and Thynne, but Melrose lost in its first round game.  Hlubek left Melrose after the 1939 season.  He coached at several schools in Illinois, and taught English at Camanche, Iowa.  Years later, he said that he only coached the small schools, where he also served as Superintendent, because “that way I could run the whole show the way I wanted.”  Ad Hlubek was an extraordinary man who kept in touch with the members of his championship team for the rest of his life.

Walt O’Connor – Walt O’Connor was a starter and floor leader for the championship team.  The press dubbed O’Connor as “Wee Walt” because he was not quite 5 feet, 10 inches tall.  Even at that height, he was taller than most of the Melrose starters, except Jim Thynne.  He was a 17-year-old senior when Melrose won the championship.  O’Connor played forward or guard, depending on the situation, and served as the team captain.  O’Connor scored 31 points in the State Tournament, and was named to the all-tournament basketball team and the first team of The Des Moines Register’s all-state team.

O’Connor went on to play at Drake University, where he earned seven letters in three different sports.  He played basketball, football, and baseball, and was named the Outstanding Iowa Amateur Athlete while at Drake.  His Drake basketball coach wondered why they called him “Wee Walt,” since O’Connor was taller than the coach.  While playing at Drake and on the way to a game at Tulsa, the team stopped in a restaurant in Pittsburgh, Kansas.  In the restaurant, the Drake coach introduced O’Connor to James Naismith, the inventor of basketball.

O’Connor was a college All-American in basketball, and went on to play minor league baseball in the St. Louis Cardinals’ organization after college.  In his first minor league at-bat, O’Connor got a hit against Warren Spahn, who would later have more major league wins than any other left-handed pitcher!  In 1943, his professional baseball career was interrupted with his participation in the service of his country during World War II.  In 1970, Walt O’Connor was inducted into the Iowa High School Athletic Association (“IHSAA”) Hall of Fame.  He was an outstanding athlete.

Walt O’Connor made the news again on St. Patrick’s Day in 1997.  O’Connor was driving his car in Des Moines when his heart stopped.  Ironically, a basketball coach and a restaurant employee who knew cardiopulmonary resuscitation, or “CPR,” resuscitated him.  The newspaper story at the time noted that while at Mercy Hospital, O’Connor was retelling the tale of his at-bat against Warren Spahn when his nurse rushed into the room.  She was trying to find out what he was doing.  When she found out that he was reminiscing, she ordered him to stop by telling him, “it’s making your heart race on the monitors out there.”

Jim Thynne – The Shamrocks’ center was “Thin” Jim Thynne.  He was 16 years old when Melrose won the championship and was a sophomore that year.  Thynne was the tallest player on the team at 6 feet, 3 inches.  When Thynne was a freshman, he was less than six feet tall.  Luckily, he grew four inches between seasons. 

His height helped Melrose control their games, because he could often win the jump ball after each basket.  Thynne was the leading scorer in most games, including the championship game, in which he led Melrose with 16 points.  In the State Tournament, he scored 46 points.  Thynne also joined O’Connor on the all-tournament team, and was named to the second team of The Des Moines Register’s all-state team.  The next school year, Thynne moved to Sac City.  In the 1938 season, he averaged 12 points and led Sac City to the State Tournament, although they were eliminated in the early rounds.  He went on to play at Creighton University.  Jim Thynne also joined O’Connor by being inducted into the IHSAA Hall of Fame in 1972.  Thynne lost some of his height during World War II after he was shot in the heel.  Jim Carr noted years later that “now he’s 6-foot on one leg and 6-3 on the other.”

Ray Parks – Ray Parks played guard on offense and forward on defense.  He was a 16-year-old junior during the championship season.  His best play of the season came during the State Tournament.  Parks made the game-winning shot against Geneseo and scored seven of Melrose’s 20 points against Newton.  Against Marshalltown in the final game, he scored eight points for a tournament total of 31 points.  He was on the all-tournament team in 1937, and also was named to the third team of The Des Moines Register’s all-state teams in both 1937 and 1938.  During the 1938 season, Ray Parks was the Melrose captain and the star of the team.

Jim Carr Jim “Ladd” Carr, a 17-year-old junior for the championship team, was a defensive standout for the Shamrocks.  Carr alternated between forward and guard, depending on the circumstances, but played the entire championship game at guard.  One of his primary duties for the team was to stay back on defense and stop the fast break.  He also started for the team in 1938, which was knocked out of the State Tournament in the first round.  Jim Carr is my grandfather and I am proud of his accomplishments both on and off the basketball floor.

Mike Kasper – Mike Kasper, ironically, was nicknamed “Irish Man,” even though he was the only Slavic member of the team.  During the championship run, he was a 17-year-old sophomore.  Kasper transferred to Melrose from Bucknell for the 1937 season, and played forward.  While at Bucknell, his team played Melrose and lost horribly.  Mike Kasper came in to replace Ed Callahan after his injury in the second-round game against Newton, and played extensively in the last two games of the State Tournament.

Ed Callahan – Ed Callahan was originally a forward in his freshman year, but played at guard frequently in 1937, as a 16-year-old sophomore.  He was often a starter during the 1937 season.  Callahan sprained his ankle in the second round of the State Tournament, against Newton, and had to sit out the last two games of the tournament.  In 1938 and 1939, he was the star “floorman” for Melrose, because of his ability to run up and down the floor.

Ray NavinRay Navin was backup center behind Jim Thynne for two years.  He also played forward sometimes.  Navin was an 18-year-old senior during the 1937 State Tournament.  He played in the first-round cliffhanger against Geneseo, and in the semifinals against Rolfe, to rest the starters before the finals that same evening.

George Pavlik George Pavlik, a small, but capable, player was a reserve guard.  He was an 18-year-old senior who saw some action in the regular season, but did not appear in the State Tournament.

Robert Parks – Robert “Red Bob” Parks was a reserve forward at Melrose for two years.  He was a 17-year-old senior when Melrose won the state championship.  His only tournament action was against Rolfe, in the semifinals, when he and Ray Navin saw action in order to rest some of the starters before the championship game that night.  During the regular season, he was a proficient scorer.  Robert Parks was Ray Parks’ older cousin.

Bernard Lee – Bernard Lee, a 15-year-old, was the only freshman to make the varsity squad for Melrose during the 1937 season.  He joined the team midway through the season, when Dan Ryan quit the team to fulfill duties at home.  Although Lee did not see action during the State Tournament and rarely played during the regular season “unless someone fouled out,” he showed promise as a guard.  His father, Bob Lee, was nearly as infamous as his son for his actions during and after the final State Tournament game.  In jubilation after the clock ran out for Marshalltown, Bob Lee threw his hat into the air, never to see it again.  The next day, a bareheaded Bob Lee held the flag and led the parade that greeted the team on its return to Melrose.


Even though only about half of the players are still living, the story of the 1937 Melrose team keeps being retold.  Every few years, an Iowa newspaper runs a story about the team.  Some coaches also tell their players about the giant killers from Melrose.  However, the real excitement of the 1937 championship is in the stories that get passed down to the children and grandchildren of the players.