Editor’s Note – The is the third in a series of four stories featuring the 2017 inductees into The Times-Gazette Highland County Athletic Hall of Fame. The inductees will be honored, along with nearly 30 high school senior scholar-athletes, at a banquet scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday, June 22 at the Ponderosa Banquet Center in Hillsboro. The public can reserve tickets for the event by calling 937-402-2522.
Eighty-nine years ago a team from tiny Marshall High School accomplished something that no Highland County team before or after has ever matched in any sport. The Red Flashes won the 1928 Class “B” state basketball tournament.
And they didn’t even have a gym to call their own, playing their home games in the Hillsboro Armory.
“Sometimes they practiced at the Armory, at Hillsboro High School some, but mostly it was wherever they could, even outside sometimes,” said Bob Patton, a Marshall graduate and the unofficial historian of the community. “A lot of times people used to say that they ran to Hillsboro to practice, but I’m not so sure about that.”
Regardless, the Red Flashes’ feat has never been matched and for that reason they are being inducted into The Times-Gazette Highland County Athletic Hall of Fame.
It all started in 1927 when the school hired Noah “Snag” Emery as its basketball coach. According to Patton, Emery had played two years of minor league baseball in the St. Louis Cardinals’ organization and he put together a really good Marshall team right away.
Marshall won the 36-team district tournament and made it to the semifinals of the eight-team state tournament that first year. Edgar Post was the star of that squad and was a first-team all-state selection. With basically the entire team returning for the ‘28 season everyone expected the Red Flashes to be a powerhouse, but then Post was not allowed to play his senior year due a dispute in his date of birth.
That would have been a deadly blow to most teams, but it must have only served to light a fire under the Red Flashes. They went 25-4, winning eight straight tournament games to claim the title from among more than 1,000 Class “B” teams in the state at that time, before the little county schools merged with larger schools.
According to Patton, the Red Flashes handed six previously undefeated teams their first loss that year and at one point consecutively defeated 10 county champions. They also became the first team in the state to claim back-to-back district titles, and almost made it three in a row in 1929 before losing to Pomeroy by a single point in the district championship game. That means that in three years Marshall won 18 tournament games.
The 1928 tournament run reached a fever pitch when Marshall was matched in the state semi-finals against Marysville, the heavy favorite to win the state title. Patton said all five of Marysville’s starters were over 6-0 tall.
“In those days that was really something and they hadn’t had a close game all year,” Patton said. “Few people gave Marshall any chance.”
It looked like those people were correct when Marshall fell behind by several points in the first half, but it rallied to pull to within two points by halftime.
“Nobody knows exactly what coach Emery said to the Marshall boys at halftime,” Patton said. “Whatever it was, it worked. The Red Flashes came out in the attack mode. They were smaller and quicker, and they defended the Marysville team like a swarm of hornets, all over the floor. A large group of Marysville fans looked on in disbelief as the Red Flashes held the Monarchs to a grand total of two points in the entire second half to win going away.”
According to historical accounts, the Marysville coach joked with reporters after the game, saying: “Were there really just five of them out there? I would have sworn there were seven or eight.”
In the championship game Marshall defeated Manchester 30-27 to claim Highland County’s lone state championship.
The Red Flashes forte, Patton said, was speed and defense. He said they were well-coached, played confidently and attacked.
To this day, Janie Shoemaker, a former local minister, has the small, gold-plated, basketball-shaped pendant her father, Lloyd Chestnut, and other players on the team were awarded for winning the state championship. On one side it says, “OHSAA 28” and on the other side it says “Class B.”
Other members of the team included Olen Brooks, Hubert McCoy, Joe “Shorty” Vanzant, Archie Gilletly, Ray Brooks, Lowell Smith and Kenneth Bumgardner.
In the three state tournament games, Smith led the Red Flash offense with a total of 27 points. He was named Most Valuable Player of the tournament. Vanzant and Brooks were named to the all-state team. McCoy and Chestnut were the other starters, according to Patton.
When the Red Flashes returned home, Patton said there was a big banquet put on by the Hillsboro Business & Professional Association (Hillsboro also made the state tournament that and the two squads reportedly became the first two teams from the same county to make the state tournament in the same year) then another banquet was laid out by the women of Marshall.
“So many people became interested in Marshall basketball – back in those days people usually didn’t pay a lot of attention to it – that they started having big crowds then in a couple years they built the gym that’s still there today,” Patton said.
Basketball remained popular for years in Marshall. From 1926 to 1960, Marshall won seven Highland County basketball tournaments and finished runners-up seven more times. The school also produced some outstanding girls teams that won the Highland County Tournament five consecutive years from 1935-40 (there was no girls tournament in 1939) and were ranked fifth in the state in 1940.
“You go into a district tournament where there’s 30-plus teams and the odds of winning five games in a row are pretty non-existent,” Patton said. “They did it two years in a row, and almost three times.”
Reach Jeff Gilliland at 937-402-2522 or [email protected]