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November 26, 2012

Oneonta STC basketball resumed after World War II

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The Daily Star

---- — Sometimes when a new or re-established sports team gets started, fan patience becomes a prerequisite. On a professional level, the 1962 New York Mets come to mind. In 1976 and 1977, the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers lost their first 26 games.

Eventually these teams went on to be much better, including a couple of World Series championships and a Super Bowl title, respectively, and their fans are glad to have them around.

In Oneonta, such was the situation in 1947 at the Oneonta State Teachers College, or STC, as an intercollegiate basketball team was re-established, having been placed in mothballs when the U.S. entered World War II. By now, the male student population had markedly returned to campus, and the female students were probably quite happy about it.

“With the formation of an Athletic Board of Control and Student League approval of a basketball team, State Teachers College yesterday launched its first formal intercollegiate athletic program since 1942,” The Oneonta Star reported Thursday, Oct. 9, 1947.

The year before, the “cage Dragons” were coached by Athletic Director Milon J. Bundy and played an informal schedule. They played in the city’s recreational league and occasionally faced a college team.

For 1947, a 16-game schedule was planned, and the new coach was Assistant Athletic Director Warner Griffin. Additionally, a cheerleading squad was organized under the direction of Miss Esther Morgan.

Practices began in early November, and 30 men tried out for the team. Griffin said after cuts, 15 were selected, nearly all of them war veterans. Consider at the time that Oneonta had 70 male students out of 410. 

The games were played at the Oneonta Junior High School. Back then it was on Academy Street, in the area of today’s Lettis Apartments. This was considered to be a good place to play, second best to the state armory, across the street.

To those who didn’t know the gym at the old school, it was like playing in a swimming pool without water. The seating was above the court, and you accessed the playing floor by stairs. The walls surrounding the court were about three feet from the boundary lines. In other words, you never went leaping to save a ball from going out of bounds, for fear of injury. This venue was a vast improvement over the STC basketball court, which had a few big support posts along the center of the court, in the basement of the Old Main building, once found at the top of Maple Street, next to today’s Bugbee Hall.

Oneonta played its first game on the road in Potsdam on Saturday, Dec. 13. Only a short item in Monday’s Star reported that Oneonta had taken a drubbing, 50-26, and that “no details of the contest could be learned.”

The next game was at home against Potsdam on Friday, Jan. 9, 1948. The day before, there was a special assembly held in Old Main’s Alumni Hall during the seventh period of the school day. 

The assembly was a pep rally. A recently organized band gave a preview of the music for the game. The cheerleaders led the audience in cheers listed on sheets distributed to the students. Coach Griffin introduced the players.

The State Times of Jan. 20 had an article about the rally and the game, but no score. Oneonta lost. However, “The school was jumping, the walls were shaking, even the chandeliers were alive,” read the description given of the pep rally. 

As for the game, “The gymnasium was packed, the sides were bulging, and the air was tense.” The article said when Oneonta was ahead, the band played and spirits soared. When Potsdam went ahead, the band stopped and spirits sank.

Apparently the players “carbed up” before the game, as many athletes do, with a pasta meal, courtesy of Coach Griffin’s wife.

“Even though we didn’t win, our team certainly put up a grand fight, and accepted their defeat only after they gave their all. Oh well, for those people who just hate to think defeat, there is always Mrs. Griffin’s spaghetti, that might be held responsible for the tragedy,” the article, with no byline, concluded.

As of early March, one learned in a short article in The State Times that the Dragons had a record of one win and 11 losses. Better days were ahead, but the students were glad the team was back.

This weekend: An unforgettable barbecue in South Kortright in 1940.

City Historian Mark Simonson’s column appears twice weekly. On Saturdays, his column focuses on the area during the Depression and before. His Monday columns address local history after the Depression. If you have feedback or ideas about the column, write to him at The Daily Star, or email him at simmark@stny.rr.com. His website is www.oneontahistorian.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/marksimonson.