1967 Alices/Hatchets matchup still remembered for referee calls, colorful controversy
Half a century later, Jerry Memering still remembers the names: Charles Sallee and Art Thompson.
While the Indiana Basketball Hall of Famer doesn’t recall a “specific play” from the IHSAA regional championship game between his Vincennes Lincoln Alices and the Washington Hatchets on March 4, 1967, Memering recalls with accuracy the names of the referees from that night.
Regional championships were always a big deal in Indiana high school basketball, but this was something more — a game between the state’s oldest rivals in which the winner got to play in Evansville the following week and the loser stayed home.
Indiana’s oldest rivals
The Alices and Hatchets first played in 1905. In all they’ve met 202 times, with Vincennes holding a 112-91 advantage in the series.
Whether there have been more memorable clashes between the heated rivals is up for debate, but the game contested that March night is likely the one that created the most controversy.
Playing in their brand new, 7,090-seat, palace to basketball, which would come to be known as the Hatchet House, Washington wiped out an eight-point deficit in the final quarter to down the Alices, 56-54. The winning basket came from senior Larry Frye — a 20-footer that ripped the cords — with 33 seconds remaining.
Most considered it an upset, although it certainly wasn’t one of epic proportions as the teams had split two games in the regular season.
Yet afterwards, in the time-honored tradition of losing teams, the Alices cried foul, loudly and publicly.
Sports editor controversy
John Bedford, the colorful sports editor at the Vincennes Sun-Commercial at the time, was at the center of the controversy. Bedford stirred the pot with his column — “Bedford’s Corner” — in the Sunday paper the following day.
Comparing it to the Great Train Robbery and legendary American outlaw Jesse James, Bedford, at times extensively quoting Vincennes Lincoln coach T.L. Plain, ripped into the referees, Sallee and Thompson.
The biggest complaint was that Hatchet players “held, shoved, pushed and scratched” their Vincennes counterparts throughout the game.
For the record, Vincennes was called for 14 fouls and shot 11 free throws that night while Washington was whistled for 11 fouls and went to the line 23 times.
“There isn’t a team in the state of Indiana that can play that kind of defense and commit only 11 personal fouls,” Plain complained in the Bedford column.
Bedford used the term “home cooking” and eventually, made more vulgar insinuations. The 1967 regional tournament was the first one hosted by the Hatchets since 1944.
Washington fans didn’t take kindly to Bedford’s musings. Legend has it that early the following day, they traveled en masse west to Vincennes and bought all the copies of the Sun-Commercial they could get their hands on in an effort to silence the likeable sportswriter.
When asked about the incident a couple of decades later, Bedford, who died in July 2015, admitted that he “probably wasn’t even at the game.”
He’d returned to the Sun-Commercial, he explained, to meet the deadline for the Sunday paper. It’s likely that Plain’s quotes were relayed to him by the reporter covering the game.
Alices’ memories still sting
Roger Benson, now living in the Indianapolis area at age 76, was Plain’s assistant in 1967. He was later the right-hand man for Vincennes Lincoln coaches Orlando “Gunner” Wyman and Gene Miiller, both of whom are now in the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame.
Five decades have done nothing to ease Benson’s pain.
“At that time I felt irritated,” he said. “I felt like the officials allowed them to beat on Jerry Memering, to really get after him.”
Benson credits Washington for being “a good team” and Hatchet coach Kenny Gray for being “a good coach.”
“But I felt like we deserved to win, and we didn’t,” he said. “I don’t want to be a sore loser, but that’s not how the game should have gone.”
Hatchet coach ‘hit the showers’
Mark Gray, son of that Hatchet coach who died in 1997, was only 9 years old at the time. He has vivid memories of the game, though.
“We sat in Section B,” he said. “I was with my mom and I remember her jumping up and down, and I remember everybody rushing the floor.”
Gray also recalls the Hatchet players tossing his father into the showers that night, in celebration of the team’s first regional crown since 1953.
“We had to wait for my dad because they’d thrown him in the showers,” Gray said. “He went home that night wearing a set of those gold Washington warm-ups. That sticks out in my mind.”
Scott Alford, a senior starter for the Hatchets, scored 18 points that night, second on his team to Frye’s 22. His lasting memory is, at 6-1, of getting the better of Memering, a 6-5 sophomore, on a jump ball near the Vincennes basket with just two seconds to play.
“It was a great feeling, winning that game,” said Alford, who was a three-year starter at Oklahoma State, where he played a season for the legendary Hank Iba. “I know (the Alices and Hatchets) had split the series that year, but by all means we were an underdog. We were a team of five guards. I was our tallest player at 6-1.”
Hatchet historian Bob Padgett, a Washignton CPA, says Bedford’s “Great Train Robbery” reference was appropriate, if not ironic.
Padgett notes that the rivalry between the Alices and Hatchets didn’t start on the playing court, but rather in the railroad yards.
According to Padgett, the Ohio & Mississippi Railroad, after operating in Vincennes for years, was in 1885 looking for new shops, closer to the midpoint between St. Louis and Cincinnati.
To compete with Vincennes, Padgett says the city of Washington put up $75,000 and 70 acres of land to lure the O & M to town.
To the dismay of those in Vincennes, it worked.
“In late 1888, O & M’s rail yard started operations in Washington,” he said. “The Washington-Vincennes so-called ‘ancient rivalry’ had begun.”
Half a century has done a lot to soften Memering’s stance. He does, however, appreciate the fact that since then the Alices have built a nice lead in the series.
“I remember everybody being upset about the officiating, but when you think back, every team that loses is upset by the officiating,” said Memering, his school’s all-time leading scorer who went on to play for Bob Knight at Indiana University. “I doubt it was anything like Vincennes people thought at the time. I’m a little more objective about it today, I suppose.”
On top of that, while Washington was about to go into a basketball drought, the Alices were just getting started.
In semistate play at Evansville’s Roberts Stadium the following week, Terre Haute Garfield sent the Hatchets to the sidelines, 68-63. Washington, which finished that season at 18-8, won another sectional crown the following season. But after that the Hatchets wouldn’t win the sectional again until 1976, and would not play in another semistate until 1978.
On the other hand, the Alices were about to embark on perhaps the best two-year run in the history of a storied program.
“My memory is that our record was 16-7 that (1967) season, and that we lost those seven games by a total of 23 points,” Memering said. “I don’t think we quite knew how to close games out at the end. But I think (the 1967) regional helped set us up for the next two years.”
The 1967 regional championship game was Plain’s last for the Alices, after two stints that totaled five years at the helm.
Wyman took over and Vincennes Lincoln produced records of 28-3 and 27-1 over the next two years, with both teams reaching the Indiana High School Athletic Association State Finals in Indianapolis.
“We were a combined 51-4 with two State Finals appearances — it wasn’t called the Final Four yet,” Memering said. “But I don’t know that we’d have been so good in 1968 and 1969 if it hadn’t been for what happened that night.”
Yes, 50 years later Memering still remembers the names of Thompson and Sallee. But at some point, he stopped placing blame.
“We may have gotten more bad calls than Washington did that night,” he said. “But can I say 50 years later that we got robbed? I’m not going to do that.”
Half a century later, the rivalry lives on. Yet if the Alices and Hatchets play for another 112 years, it’s unlikely the atmosphere from that night in 1967 will ever be matched.
By Bill Richardson