|1937 Melrose Shamrocks: The Championship Season|
|When the championship game ended with a
Melrose win, the Melrose fans began their celebration. The celebration continued the next
day when the team returned to Melrose for an unofficial victory parade and
ceremony. The celebration
then continued a week and a half later at the official championship
ceremony. Other towns and
groups also celebrated the unlikely champions.
As the fans rushed the court after the final whistle, Walt
O’Connor’s brother rushed up to him and said, “You don’t know what you
did! You don’t know what you
did!” Walt replied, “We just
beat Marshalltown for the state championship.” Reflecting on that moment years
later, Walt said that it seemed to him that it happened, “just like it was
supposed to happen.” Even
Walt was caught up in the moment back in 1937. He told one reporter after the
game, “We’re more surprised than anybody.”
Coach Hlubek, who got so excited that he missed part of the final game, didn’t know what to say after the victory. When speaking to reporters, he said, “My only regret is that we had to beat the finest team in Iowa.” Later, while waiting for a newsreel photographer to take their pictures, he said, “Are we good? Or, was Marshalltown off its form tonight? Anyway, we licked ’em.” Before he could say any more, the Marshalltown team came into the room. The Melrose team immediately went over and shook their hands.
The Des Moines’
Register was also surprised by the Melrose
win. It had roughed out the
front page of the Sports section with a picture of the Marshalltown
team. After the game, they
had to get a quick picture of the Melrose team to use. The Marshalltown team picture
ended up on the back page of the Sports section.
The team stayed in Des Moines that night. The next morning, they attended Mass at St. Ambrose Cathedral. A newspaper photographer snapped a picture as they entered St. Ambrose. One of the players, perhaps Ed Callahan, lost one of his shoes that morning and had to attend Mass wearing only one shoe. The shoe was later found. When they packed up to leave the hotel, a photographer again took pictures. This was quite a change for the team that did not get its picture in the State Tournament program.
Back in Melrose, a crowd started to gather. Since
it was still Lent, the Irish Catholic town decided not to have a formal,
official celebration until after Easter.
However, this didn’t stop the people from coming out to cheer their
When the two cars carrying the team came over the hill into town, dozens of townspeople walked in front of the cars to form an informal victory parade. Father Browne, whom many said was the team’s biggest fan, was so excited that he clung to the outside of the first car as it came into town. The parade went to Haley’s corner at the center of town.
The crowd that gathered was estimated
by various reports to have been between 600 and 1,500 people. They
were all crammed into a town of only 420. Since
Melrose was too small to have its own band, an Albia band and the Chariton
Junior American Legion Championship Band provided music.
Some brief speeches were made.
Melrose Mayor Cummins proudly exclaimed, “We’ll kill the fatted
calf” at the official celebration. The
players and Coach Hlubek tried to escape notice, but all had to make short
speeches and shake many hands. Team
Captain O’Connor said, “You can’t beat us Irish.” The
crowd appreciated that comment, since 80% of the town and team were
Reporters thought that Jim Thynne’s grandmother was the most
excited of all. She
stood up on a chair, so she could kiss her 6’3” grandson.
Melrose partied some more at the
official celebration on the next Wednesday, March 31. An
impromptu stage was built at the corner of Shamrock and Erin streets for
the ceremony. Many
members of the media were present, including a radio station.
Speakers included Father D.C. Browne, town priest; Father Charles
O’Connor, priest in neighboring Chariton; Earl Parks, President of the
Melrose School Board; Charles Miller, an Albia attorney; Dr. T.A. Moran,
the Melrose doctor who had delivered many of the members of the team; and
Melrose Mayor James Cummins. An
estimated crowd of 1,000 to 1,500 people feasted upon 1,000 pounds of
roasted pork and beef during the celebration. The
crowd had two types of dances to choose from, a square dance or the 1937
version of a “modern” dance. The
official celebration would continue into the wee hours.
The townspeople started a petition drive that day for the construction of a community center that would provide a new home court for the state champions. The families of many of the team members, Coach Hlubek, and Mayor Cummins were among those who signed the petition. The Community Center was not completed for the next basketball season, but was finished by September of 1939.
Also during the
official celebration, a newspaper photographer raised a ladder against the
Post Office to gain a high vantage point for pictures. A
group of young boys took this opportunity to climb up to the roof of the
Post Office. One of
the speakers noted that at first glance, he thought the figures on top of
the Post Office were “statuary.”
One of the
highlights of the celebration was the presentation of the championship
trophy to the school by Team Captain Walt O’Connor.
O’Connor had prepared an eleven-word speech that grew by one
“I take great pleasure in presenting this trophy to Melrose High
Beyond the official celebration, the
championship team was invited to many special banquets in their
One very special event took place at the Ritz Theater in Chariton,
where the Shamrocks viewed newsreels containing tournament action. Just
about everybody wanted to play host to the state champions.
Not everybody was happy with the
Melrose team, however. Coach
Hlubek received several “sour grape” unsigned letters from Marshalltown
fans who were not thrilled by the upset victory over their team.
Huron, South Dakota even wanted to take
on the Shamrocks. The
team was thwarted in its efforts. The
Board of Control of the South Dakota High School Athletic Association
decided the challenge would give Huron a preseason advantage over other
South Dakota teams.
Everyone wanted a shot at Melrose now.
The Shamrocks faced an uphill battle in
their next season, however, with the loss of Walt O’Connor to graduation,
and Jim Thynne, who moved to Sac City.
Without their two leading scorers from the championship team, the
winning streak finally ended at 36, with an early season loss at Lovilia.
the odds, the Shamrocks were able to come back and make it to the State
Tournament again, with another close victory over Rathbun, 22 – 20. Jim
Thynne also returned to the tournament with his new Sac City team.
Unfortunately, the Shamrocks lost in their opening round game to
Mitchellville, 27 - 18. Every
Mitchellville player had a height advantage over the tallest Melrose
player, an advantage that was too difficult to overcome.
Diagonal, another Class B school, became the new championship team
in 1938 with a final game victory over Rolfe, 31 - 29.
The two tiny championship schools
decided to battle on a neutral floor, in front of 900 fans in Chariton,
during the 1939 season.
Melrose won the battle of state champions, defeating Diagonal by a
Coach Hlubek summed up his emotions about the championship, stating, “Long after we are gone, this trophy will remain, a lasting tribute to the fighting team of 1937 – one of the greatest outfits ever assembled.” Ironically, Coach Hlubek was proven wrong when, only seven years later, on Easter Sunday, April 9, 1944, the Melrose school burned to the ground. The state championship trophy burned with the school. Fortunately, a replica was made of the trophy, but the original didn’t outlive any of the team members. The old Opera House has long been gone too, replaced by the Community Center.
Even though the town of Melrose has shrunk from 420 in 1937 to 150 today, the town still honors the memory of the championship team. At the 2000 St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Des Moines, Melrose won the state championship again for its parade entry. Melrose marchers in the parade reenacted the 1937 championship game, complete with cheerleaders, referees, a sports announcer, and Marshalltown and Melrose players. Newspaper vendors handed out newspapers proclaiming Melrose’s victory and marchers handed out potatoes and cabbages to the crowd.
The 1937 basketball team is still winning championships for
Melrose EVEN TODAY...
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