|1937 Melrose Shamrocks: The Championship Season|
“I don’t think we thought we would win the State
“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.
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
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
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.