Jim Capehart recalls the glory days of the middle 40s when his Dad, Ralph, led the Gladiators.

“My dad was a school teacher, English grammar, which explains my language skills, history, and government. He was also the basketball and baseball coach, basketball being by far the most important.  Every coach dreams that sometime in his career he has THE TEAM. From fall of 1943 through spring of 1946 Dad had THE TEAM. You can read about it on the Montgomery County Basketball Hall of fame website,” he said.

“I was the mascot which means I led the team onto the floor and sat with them on the bench. My mother cut down an old uniform with a W on the front so it would fit.  I was so skinny that the W took up my whole chest.   I would lead the team onto the court, dribbling a basketball and taking the first shot. The crowd would cheer. Sometime I missed it, but not very often. I would shoot the ball four or five times more and then sit down so I didn’t interfere with the team’s warming up.  

In 43-44 with four sophomores and one junior, they won all their scheduled games but lost in the county tourney (the eleven small schools).

In 44-45, Dad started four juniors and one senior. They won all their scheduled games, won the county tourney, beat Crawfordsville in the sectional and went on to beat Bainbridge to win the regional.  They went to semi-state with only 16 teams left in the entire state.  Beating Crawfordsville was miraculous.  Crawfordsville was seven or eight times larger than any of the other eleven schools in the county and usually won the sectional.   Crawfordsville fans were furious. A Crawfordsville player stole the net and ran into their locker room. I remember a Crawfordsville cop coming into our locker room throwing the net on the floor and saying here’s your “expletive” net. As we went to our bus the Crawfordsville fans were yelling obscenities and spitting on us. I was very frightened. One of our players picked me up and carried me to the bus. The fans began rocking the bus with the police watching. I thought it would overturn. Finally, the sheriff rescued us and escorted us home to a tumultuous celebration. We had killed the giant,” Capehart added.

“In 44-45 Dad had five seniors. They won all their scheduled games, the county tourney and then beat New Ross in the sectional. They got beat by Covington in the regional.  They weren’t quite as good a team in the 45-46 year as they were in the previous year since they lost Pete Moore, 6’ 4” center, to graduation. I must digress to explain that New Ross was a one-man team. Their star was Howard Williams who later became a basketball legend at Purdue.  A picture of this moment hangs in Mackey Arena. Purdue and Indiana were tied at the end of the game. Purdue shot and missed. Howard caught the rebound then fell.  He threw the winning shot while sitting on the floor.  

As a result of all the tournament victories, and the result that every game during the season was a sell out, and Dad’s athletic fund had several thousand dollars in it. With it he bought the 30 acres of ground behind the school, now the Waynetown Park. 

At the end of the 44-45 season my dad resigned as a coach. He had played all seniors that year and he had almost no talent behind them. He quit while he was ahead,” Capehart concluded his memories.

After Ralph Capehart retired from coaching (He continued to teach until 1953), the Gladiators went through some lean years. Russell Nale took over after Capehart and led the Gladiators to a 15-7 record in 1945-46 winning the first game of the 1946 season running the streak to 52 games before losing to Alamo to end the longest regular season winning streak in the county.  

 Jim Capehart recalled that he had four coaches in his four year career. (1949-1953) They were Vern Piety, freshman, Jim Ruby, sophomore, Henry Sommer, junior, and Cliff Davis, senior.   Cliff Davis returned to coaching and coached at Waynetown for five years.  The Gladiators ended up at 36-61 under Davis.  After several other coaches tried to turn the Waynetown fortunes around, Tom Bowerman, the dean of Montgomery County coaches moved from Alamo to Waynetown and coached for five years. Bowerman coached the Glads for five years, going 12-8 in 1961-62, 10-9 in 1962-63 and 11-7 in 1963-64 before tailing off to 7-12 in 1964-65 and 4-16 in 1965-66.  He then turned the coaching reins over to his assistant, Fred Johnson, a Linden Bulldog star of the 60s.

Bill Boone is a local sports historian who contributes to the Journal Review.

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