Editor’s note: This is another column in Bill Boyd’s new series, “The Way It Was,” about growing up in Marysville. Bill continues to work with the Union County Historical Society to obtain information for his stories. With Marysville and Union County celebrating Bicentennial anniversaries in 2019 and 2020, respectively, these articles help depict what life was like in those early years.
School consolidation in Ohio took a leap forward in the 1950s. Before that, Union County had 10 small county schools, each with its own high school. Some of the communities served by the schools were little more than a crossroads, plus a few farms in the area. A graduating class might contain no more than a handful of students.
Consolidation was a good thing, because the larger, better-funded schools could provide more courses and better facilities. So all the students gained a great deal from it.
The demise of the small county schools, however, also brought about the end of the Union County high school basketball tournaments. I liked to watch those tournament games. I started going to them when I was about 12 years old, and I would like to tell you about them.
The tournaments took place every year, sometime around early March. Each school entered a team no matter what their season record had been. The winner went on to play in the district tournament in Westerville.
The schools varied quite a bit in size, and a few of the smallest ones could sometimes field a team of only seven or eight players. I always wondered how those teams could scrimmage in practice. I guess they had to let some of the younger kids participate.
Games were played in the Marysville High School gymnasium on West Sixth Street. The gym was smaller then, with seating only on each side. Both ends of the floor were only a foot or so from the wall.
Although both the schools and the gym were small, the fans could get pretty crazy at times. The ticket line would usually start forming long before the games began. The seats filled up fast. Then, when all of them were filled, Marysville’s athletic director, a man named G. L. Kingsmore, walked to the center of the gym floor to make an announcement.
He would hold up his hands until the crowd let him speak. He asked everyone to pick up their coats that were beside them and put them in their lap. Then he asked them to scoot closer together. It always worked, and it freed up a lot of seats so Mr. Kingsmore could let more people in from the crowd waiting outside.
Then he started standing ticket purchasers along the wall at each end of the floor. He left the space under each basket open, but the rest of the wall space became “standing room” for the fans. Mr. Kingsmore really knew how to pack a gym.
The competition among those small schools was often pretty fierce, especially toward the end of the tournament. I think there’s something about basketball tournaments that gets fans worked up regardless of school size.
In the years I watched the tournament, Richwood seemed to have an advantage, as it was considerably larger than most of the other schools. But I often enjoyed watching Richwood play, not because of the players, but because of their coach.
He was a man named Fetter, and he was one of those coaches who really got excited during a game. He was constantly up and down, waving his arms and shouting to his players. At the same time, he chided the opposition and yelled at the referees. I really liked to watch that guy.
In the years that I went to those games, my favorite player to watch was a boy from Magnetic Springs named Bob Whiteside. He was a really smooth player and a good shooter, and he made some great passes. Years later, when I was playing basketball in high school, Bob Whiteside was a referee. I always thought he was one of the best referees who ever worked our games.
Those tiny schools no longer exist, nor does the Union County Basketball Tournament. I’m glad for the kids, for they are able to get a better education in the consolidated schools. On the other hand, I feel a little sad for those same youngsters because they will never see anything like that county basketball tournament again. It was really pretty special.
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