|1937 Melrose Shamrocks: The Championship Season|
ten Melrose players stayed in shape in the off-season by playing football
in the local cow pastures.
They started serious basketball practice in late November. It’s doubtful that, after a .500
season the year before, any of the players or their coach dreamed that
they would make it to the State Tournament with a perfect record. However, they did.
started the season slowly with close wins over Bussey (twice) and
Albia. Class A Albia was
surprised by their loss because they considered Class B Melrose to be just
a warm-up game. Beginning
with their fourth game, the Shamrocks started to win by bigger
margins. They probably
started off slowly because their center, Jim Thynne, was out at the start
of the season while his two broken ribs healed. However, with Thynne in their
lineup, Melrose played well and kept adding to their winning streak.
used their number one fan and town priest, Father D.C. Browne, as a scout
on some occasions. However,
he did not always provided the most useful information. Father Browne went to scout a game
in Ottumwa and advised the boys to watch a list of jersey numbers that
added up to nearly the whole team.
Years later, Walt O’Connor noted that as Father Browne kept listing
jersey numbers, the boys said in exasperation, “We’re running out of
numbers, Father!” He also
said that Father Browne “was a wild man when it came to rooting for us,”
and the team’s opponents probably thought the Melrose defense was able to
watch all of the players pretty close.
Shamrocks used a spectacular defense, led by Jim Carr, and a fast paced
offense, led by Thynne and Walt O’Connor, to dominate their Chariton
Valley Conference games. As
they kept winning, the newspaper headlines were constantly noting the
length of the Shamrocks’ winning streak. However, after going 17 - 0, their
winning streak was jeopardized by a non-conference game against the team
led most of the game. It was
ahead of Melrose with quarter scores of 11 - 8, 18 - 16, and 26 - 21. Rathbun kept its lead in the
fourth quarter. In fact, with
1:45 left, Rathbun led by six, 34 - 28. However, Melrose went on a
sensational 9 - 0 run to win the game. Ray Parks started it with a free
throw and a basket. Soon
after, Mike Kasper was fouled.
He jokingly asked Walt O’Connor to shoot for him. Walt replied, “Get up there and
make them both.” He did. With 30 seconds left, Parks hit an
outside shot to give Melrose the lead. Walt recently referred to that
shot as a “Hail Mary.” The
Shamrocks got possession of the ball again and Thynne put one in at the
buzzer. The final score was
37 - 34. Parks led the
balanced Melrose scoring with 9 points. The Melrose rally was helped
greatly by the rules of 1937 that required a center jump ball after each
score. Melrose’s center, Jim
Thynne, was tall at 6 feet, 3 inches, and won all of the jump balls during
went on to win the Chariton Valley Tournament and the first two games of
the Sectional Tournament handily.
Melrose then had to deal with Blakesburg in the final game of the
Sectional Tournament. That
game turned out to be a “fire department” game. Newspapers of the time used the
term “fire department” to describe a close, exciting game.
led Blakesburg for most of the game with quarter scores of 7 - 4, 19 - 9,
and 23 - 19. Blakesburg’s
second half rally continued until it tied the score at 25 - 25 with 30
seconds to go. Blakesburg’s
switch to a man-to-man defense in the second half appeared to enable them
to fight back and tie the score.
In addition, Blakesburg was also helped by the fact that Walt
O’Connor fouled out. Then,
with 15 seconds to go, F. Chisman fouled Ray Parks. Chisman had just tied the score
moments before. Parks calmly
sank his free throw and Melrose held on to win 26 - 25. Thynne led the Melrose scorers
with 12 points.
26 straight wins, Melrose entered the District Tournament. Melrose needed to win three more
games to get a chance to play in the State Tournament. The Shamrocks were up to the
challenge and easily won their next three games. They defeated previously unbeaten
Martinsburg in the final game by a score of 30 - 20. Their next stop was the State
Tournament in Des Moines.
the win over Martinsburg, the Melrose players and fans could celebrate an
unbelievable run of 29 victories.
However, Melrose Coach Hlubek wasn’t looking back at their winning
streak. Instead, he was
looking forward to the games they might have to play. To keep his players rested, he
only practiced for about an hour each day during this time. He hoped that with the extra rest,
his players could continue their winning streak. Only time would tell.