1937 Melrose Shamrocks: The Championship Season

Melrose Advances To The Finals

“I don’t think we thought we would win the State Tournament,
but we always thought we would win the next game,”

......Team Member: Jim Carr



Team Captain Walt O’Connor Poses With The Trophies Won During the 1937 Season

“I don’t think we thought we would win the State Tournament, but we always thought we would win the next game,” was how Jim Carr remembered the 1937 season.  The next game was for the state championship against Marshalltown, a team many of the pundits had picked to win the title from the beginning of the year.  Marshalltown, with an enrollment of 1,077 in a town of 17,367, dwarfed the entire town of Melrose, with 420 people and 66 high school students.  Melrose was definitely the underdog. 

 Even though Marshalltown was picked to win the tournament, Melrose tried to stay relaxed.  One way they tried to stay loose was by not seeing any of the other tournament games.  The first night, though, they went out and watched a movie and stayed up until 11:00 pm.  Walt O’Connor recalled that, “we were going to take a bite out of the Des Moines night life,  ” but they spent most of their time riding the escalator in Younkers or drinking pine floats at Walgreen’s.  Of course, the team couldn’t have too much of a wild time because they were accompanied by their number one fan and town priest, Father D.C. Browne.


Many other teams and coaches from the Chariton Valley Conference came to wish them well.  One of the teams from a nearby town couldn’t afford a hotel room, so the Melrose team let them bunk with them.  Representatives from almost every team the Shamrocks played were at the Drake Fieldhouse that night to see the championship game.  After the second semifinal game, the tickets were sold out within an hour for the championship game.

Melrose had played Rolfe that afternoon at 1:30, and was already shorthanded because Ed Callahan had been injured in the Newton game.  During the tournament, Melrose used Dr. Kramer, then a medical student, as its trainer.  He used a fatigue-relieving rub on the team during each halftime.  He had used the same rub on the Detroit Tigers baseball team during the 1936 season.  As Walt O’Connor recalled, Dr. Kramer always said that “fatigue sets in the gluteus maximus.”  Dr. Kramer timed the rubdowns to be completed right before the team went out to play the second half.  Even with those rubdowns, would the shorthanded Shamrocks have enough stamina to last the whole game against Marshalltown that night?

The stage was set for an exciting battle.  The crowd was going nuts.  Then a roar came as the Melrose team trotted onto the court.  The Melrose team was definitely the underdog in front of this record setting crowd of 7,800.  The team consisted of O’Connor, Thynne, Parks, Kasper, and Carr.  Then the referee’s whistle blew, and the game was ready to begin.

The ball flew into the air.  Then in the opening seconds, Thynne was fouled.  He put through both free throws.  Marshalltown scored next off one free throw.  Then Melrose scored four more points, to lead 6 - 1.  Marshalltown followed with a 7 - 0 run.  However, before the end of the quarter, Thynne made a free throw.  At the end of the first quarter, the score was 8 - 7 for Marshalltown.  In the second quarter, the score was 10 - 10, 11 - 11, and 12 - 12.  Then, just before the half, Thynne scored.  At the half, the score was 14 - 12, with Melrose in the lead.

Even at halftime, the prognosticators didn’t give Melrose a ghost of a chance.  At the opening of the second half, Melrose went on an 8 - 0 run.  Then Marshalltown scored two points.  At the end of the third quarter, Melrose went on a 7 - 0 run to up the lead to 29 - 14.  During part of the second half, Coach Hlubek got so excited that he had a “conniption fit,” and had to be led out of the gymnasium for a while.  He would return during the fourth quarter, in which Marshalltown and Melrose played tight defense.  Marshalltown led in the quarter, 3 - 2.  That is until Parks scored.  Then, just before the buzzer sounded, Thynne scored.  That was it.  Melrose won 35 - 17! 

What were some of the keys to this stunning upset?  Melrose used a sliding zone defense in the second half to hold Marshalltown to just five points for the entire half.  Coach Hlubek had read about the defense in a book that he bought for a dollar.  He used a 1 - 2 - 2 zone defense, with Thynne at the top, and the shorter players clogging up the middle.  While Thynne didn’t get many defensive rebounds, the shorter players, even the 5’7” Ray Parks, “cleaned the boards better than anybody,” according to Walt O’Connor.

O’Connor added, “We just sat back in the zone defense and just dared them to shoot, all of them, Marshalltown the same way, and they just didn’t understand it.  They just couldn’t understand why the ball wouldn’t go in, and as long as it didn’t go in, we didn’t do anything different.”  Once Melrose cleared a defensive board, the zone defense had them in a good position to “start the fast break.”

Melrose also played the same five players the whole game, O’Connor, Thynne, Parks, Kasper, and Carr.  As Walt O’Connor noted, if Coach Hlubek wouldn’t have gotten so excited, he might have at least gotten the second team in to give them a taste of the victory towards the end of the game when the outcome was no longer in doubt.  Even though Marshalltown played ten different players, the Shamrocks were able to play hard due to great physical conditioning.  O’Connor, recalling the Melrose school on the hill, explained that “we were all in pretty good shape just climbing that hill going to school every day.”  The Melrose Shamrocks had become the first undefeated state champions with 33 wins and no losses, and the smallest school to win the State Tournament with an enrollment of 66 students.

How did they win that game?  Some say it was their terrific teamwork.  Some say it was their superb physical conditioning that enabled the same five iron men to play the entire game.  Others suggest it was the luck of the Irish.  Just maybe . . . it was because they always thought they would win the next game.