Honoring the past

1971 Linden Bulldogs honored at North game


LINDEN – There is always time to remember the champions of the past.

The 1971 Linden Bulldog team, the winners of the 1971, and final, Montgomery County basketball tournament, were honored before the North Montgomery boys game Tuesday night.

They gathered to remember that day, which the calendar says was a long time ago, but is recent history in the minds of those involved, and the fans that remember. The calendar also showed that is was the same night, January 23 of 1971 when the Bulldogs defeated Darlington for that last County Tournament title.

“It was a great night, but it really was a great team,” said Tom Speaker, who was the coach of the team. “We had passers, shooters, rebounders and defenders. Everyone was always ready to do what was needed to do to win. We also had such incredible support from parents and the school. We didn’t have a home gym, technically, so every game was on the road. We had miles of cars following us to every gym and every game. They followed us back to Linden, and families always had some kind of get-together for everyone after a game.”

Speaker, who coached at Linden for three years and had a 45-20 record, was assisted by Dave White, who also coached the Linden junior varsity to the JV county tournament championship.

White has written a book, “The Last County Championship,” that chronicled that memorable season.

“We went through tapes of radio broadcasts, and talked with lots of the players,” White said. “It was a great group of guys, and the fact that so many of them showed up 53 years later says a lot about them.”

Six players from that team, plus the two coaches, a manager and an honorary member of the team all took the floor before the Chargers game to take the applause of not only the fans, but the players on both the West Lafayette and North Montgomery teams, taking a moment to honor the past before they did battle. Traveling the furthest was Keith Winger, who made it in from Tucson, Arizona for the event.

“We had guys who could do it all,” noted Keith Airey, who was a guard on the team. “We had Clayton (Cunningham) and Carl (Binford) who were our big guys and rebounders. We had Michael Klinker who was our defensive specialist. Jeff Oswalt was our first guy off the bench.”

“And we had Daryl.”

That would be Daryl Warren, who led all scorers, and in fact, still leads all scorers with 2,083 career points, the top mark on the scoring chart in county history.

“Daryl scored all those points, but he also averaged 16 rebounds a game and led the team in assists,” Speaker said of Warren. “It’s not really enough to call him an all-around player. What is also a real shame is that he isn’t in the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame yet.”

Warren and Airey spent a little time at the half looking back 50 years on themselves and 15 minutes back at the first half of the varsity game.

“I really think the team we had back in ’71 could play at the high school level today,” Warren said. “We spent a lot of warmup time just working on passing and dribbling and just fundamentals. We were well-coached by Coach Speaker and Coach White and the other coaches, and I know that those strengths would carry over today.”

Warren, who played before the three-point line was introduced, had only a casual thought about adding that scoring dimension.

“I think I would have had a few more points,” he said with a very small smile.

All others were quick to add their thoughts that it would have been a lot more than a few points, noting Warren’s smooth shooting style.

All the players listed above, except for Cunningham, were present Tuesday. Also in attendance was Tom Faust, a forward on the team, along with manager Neil Barclay and Rodney Cowden, who was the only senior on the 1970 team and is an honorary member of the ’71 team.

The Bulldogs that season finished with an 18-5 record and also won the 4-Way tournament, a holiday event that featured Linden, Waynetown, Coal Creek Central and Darlington.

“We played that at Waynetown,” Speaker said, “and I vividly remember that there were about 1,200 seats there, and they packed about 1,500 people in. “It was a battle every time we played Darlington, and I remember playing them that year. They had some great players and we had to play really well to win.”

What is always remembered, now 53 years ago, is that they played well, and played hard at the right time to take that last county tournament title.

Players from long ago, watching a game that has changed a lot, but not that much in some ways, remembering that cold January night back in 1971.