Marshall Basketball Wins the 1947 National Championship-Part 1


HUNTINGTON — While the NIT has already started, as have the CIT and the CBI, and the NCAA Tournament — better known as “March Madness” — tipped off on March 13, Marshall fans would be well served to step back to remember a great date in Herd history. On March 15, 1947 — 70 years ago this year — Marshall Coach Cam Henderson took eight players to Kansas City a week earlier and came back with a Thundering Herd basketball’s only National Championship of the organization that today is National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) by winning five games in six days.

In a two-part story over the next two days, Herd Insider will look back at this championship year. We will, in part one, look extensively at the regular season that would finish with 27 wins against only five losses, plus other notes on Marshall athletics and Marshall University (which was Marshall Academy, 1837-1858, and Marshall College, 1858-1961).

In part two on Friday, we will look at the NAIA Tournament in 1947, explain how Marshall happened to go that year and what happened, game-by-game, on the way to winning Marshall basketball’s only National Championship. Marshall football won two FCS/I-AA National Championships in 1992 (12-3) and 1996 (15-0) and played for the title four more times, in 1987, 1991, 1993, and 1995. The team mascot, Marco the American Bison (now the U.S. National Mammal, as we learned in 2016), won the national championship in 1992. Marshall’s tennis double’s team went to the national finals only to fall just short of a NCAA Championship in 2004 as Jessica Johnson and Ashley Kroh finished ranked 13th in the nation in the Intercollegiate Tennis Rankings after beating teams from Cal, Michigan, Northwestern and New Mexico before falling to UCLA.

Marshall and its athletic program had been in a bit of a holding pattern during World War II, with only basketball continuing throughout the war, but as the war wound down with Germany’s surrender in May 1945, followed by the surrender of Japan in September, things began to pick-up in a big way on the Huntington campus. The influx of former military men, some of them already married and a couple with children, were heading to Marshall College on the new GI Bill.

Marshall had an enrollment of about 1,500 students during the war. By 1946, that had more than doubled to over 3,200 students who were enrolled at Marshall. Trailers for all these new or returning students popped up on the old football field in the center of campus as well as other places in Huntington.

MUBSKB 1946-47 at VAnity Fair

Marshall College played its basketball games at Radio Center, located on Fourth Avenue in downtown Huntington, and won 35-straight games there from 1944-47 and opened the 1946-47 season 17-0. (courtesy Marshall Yearbook from MU Libraries)

Herd football had suspended operations during the war (1943-44-45), but basketball had continued under Henderson. The Herd Coach was recognized as the inventor of the fast-break and zone defense back in his early days of coaching high school basketball. Henderson graduated with a Normal School degree in 1911 from Glenville State Normal School program (becoming Glenville State Teachers College in 1930 with four-year degrees being given out for the first time and today is called Glenville State College), the same degree as Marshall was offering at the time.

Normal Schools were to get a two-year degree to be certified to teach secondary (or common) education (grades 9-12) or primary school (as many women choose to in that era, K-8). Marshall Academy was founded 1837, run by a board of trustees to 1850, then by the Southern Methodist Conference to 1857, who reincorporated the school in 1858 and ran it until 1861. It was renamed Marshall College by the Virginia General Assembly in 1858 (who had also cut off funds to the school in 1850), although it certainly was not a college as we would think of today, teaching high school aged students. There were many academies and seminaries opened statewide from the early 1800s up until West Virginia as a state was cut out of confederate Virginia in 1863 by President Abraham Lincoln — looking protect the B&O Railroad that ran from Baltimore through Wheeling to Cincinnati, a major rail line for moving men and supplies for the Union Army.

Marshall College was closed during Civil War. The grounds were sold to pay creditors (but not the buildings) and was purchased by Miss Salina C. Mason for $1,500, who eventually allowed the school to buy the note from her on a payment plan. Marshall was designated the first West Virginia State Normal Schools (created by the Legislature in 1867) for the new State of West Virginia at Marshall in 1868, when the school reopened under Principal Samuel R. Thompson, bringing its buildings and some additional grounds to the new beginning. Marshall began issuing four-year degrees as a real “College” in 1920, although the Herd still had some high school students on campus for another half-century. The names (and dates) of those principals of Marshall from 1837-1911 are on current and former buildings like the first principal John Laidley (1837-38) Hall (scheduled to be torn down soon), the James E. Morrow (1873) Library, Thomas E. Hodges (1886-1895) Hall (the dorm was torn down in the last five years) and Lawrence J. Corbly (1896-1911) Hall.

Other Normal School branches included Fairmont State (1869), West Liberty (1870), Glenville State, Concord, and Shepherd (the final three opened in 1872). This was a time in the new state’s history where the State Education Department also ran WVU in Morgantown, branches of WVU at Keyser (Potomac State) and Montgomery (WVU Tech), reform schools for girls (Salem) and boys (Prunytown), the Normal Schools for African-Americans in Bluefield and Institute, and the W.Va. School for the Blind and Deaf.

All Normal Schools (except Fairmont) started as, more or less, as high schools but they were leaders in pushing changes in the W.Va. education system. They Normals established a three-year extension beyond the elementary grades (K-8) in 1877 and grew quickly — in 1879-80, there were only 360 students in the Normals, but by 1908 there were 2,592 students in the Normals. Bluefield State in 1895 became the first Normal for African-Americans, followed soon by WV State that same year. In 1905, the Normals began to concentrate on teacher training courses, and Marshall began to have the first primary, then secondary students taught on campus in a lab school for training it’s teaching Normal students.

Marshall got the OK for 4-year degrees in 1920, the other Normals in 1931, and all but Marshall were renamed as State Teachers Colleges in ’31. The high schools on campus — lab schools for hands-on training for young teachers — began to disappear over this period.

Marshall, which had taught students from eighth-to-12th grades from 1837 into the Normal School era, kept its Marshall College High School lab school in Old Main (1896-1924), then in a two-room frame school built in 1924-35 (and an annex building for labs, home economics and physical education), and at Jenkins Hall (built by FDR’s “New Deal” WPA) from 1935-1970 while other normals got rid of their lab high schools. The Marshall High students who were playing athletics were called the Marshall Generals and competed through the 1960s.

Erickson, Toothman battle for rebound in KC Auditorium

Marshall basketball had a long history, but 1946-47 would be very specials for Herd fans. (courtesy Marshall Yearbooks and MU Libraries)

Marshall basketball as a competing college sport started in Dec. of 1906, with a single game loss at the Charleston Taw Club, 11-5. Marshall had some good seasons over the next 30 years, but until the 1933 – when Marshall joined the Buckeye – would now have a chance to compete for championships. Just two years later, in 1935-36, new Head Coach for Basketball and Football/Athletic Director Camden Eli “Cam” Henderson arrived on the Marshall campus just as all of that was beginning to change.

Marshall basketball had continued during the war years under Henderson, who by 1946-47 had been at Marshall over a decade. After having a losing season in his first year in 1935-36 (6-10, 1-8 in the Buckeye), Henderson turned Marshall basketball and football into teams that drew statewide and national attention with “The Old Man” at the helm.

Marshall basketball won the Buckeye Conference basketball title three years in a row, going 21-8 in ’36-37 (9-1 Buckeye); 28-4 in ’37-38 (10-0 Buckeye); and then 22-5 in ’38-39 (8-1 Buckeye), beating teams like Dayton, Cincinnati, Ohio University, Miami-Ohio, and Ohio Wesleyan. The league disbanded after the 1939 season, in part because Henderson was (privately, never publicly) accused of bending rules and paying recruits, and the Herd had won one football, three basketball, and three baseball titles between 1933-39.

Football had its first Associated Press “Little” All-American first team selection, Bill Smith, in 1937, when Marshall was Buckeye champ with a 9-0-1 record (first season without a loss since 1919). Jule Rivlin led the Herd in scoring for those Buckeye title years and was Marshall basketball’s first AP “Little” All-American (Little All-Americans were selected from small colleges of the era). Another standout who played for Marshall is a MU HOF member from that era, Harold McLeod.

During this period, Henderson played all comers in basketball. The start of the 1930s era team’s season was 7-to-10 games on the road, either two touring cars or trains, and the Herd played people like Loyola (of Md., Pa. and NY), Long Island University, George Washington University, City College of New York, John Marshall (New Jersey), Roanoke (Va.) College, St. Francis (NY) and Scranton (Pa.), teams he had also played at Davis & Elkins College. The “Scarlett Hurricane” (a nickname of the Senators with their red jerseys) of D&E with Coach Henderson ruled the gridiron (83-33-6) and hardwood (220-40) with the against national teams until the Great Depression knocked the money out of the small school in remote Elkins, W.Va. in the mid-1930s.

When the D&E President was hired at Marshall for the outgoing — and beloved —  Marshall President Morris Purdy Shawkey, new Marshall President Dr. John Edward Allen brought Henderson with him to the largest town in West Virginia, with over 80,000 living in Huntington at the time. He also booted Roy “Legs” Hawley from the Athletic Director chair, which Henderson would hold in name mostly, and fired him as baseball coach at Marshall, after he was coach for the Buckeye champs in 1933-34-35, featuring John “The Sheik of Seth” Zontini, who he hid from Tennessee, WVU and Notre Dame by getting the high school All-American as summer job in Huntington in 1931. Hawley would avoid playing the Herd from that point until his death as the long-time WVU Director of Athletics in 1954, a policy followed for two more decades before rearing its head again recently in men’s basketball and football.

Hawley’s time at Marshall was impressive, however. From 1927-35, he oversaw the building of the new Marshall football home, Fairfield Stadium, had put the program’s three big sports (football, baseball and basketball) on the air on Huntington’s new radio station, WSAZ-AM (today’s WRVC-AM), in the fall after the station moved to Huntington from Ohio and had upgraded the Herd to the Buckeye Conference.

MUBSKB 1930 Cam Henderson coaching at D&E

Cam Henderson had great success at Davis & Elkins College (shown coaching there) and brought that success to Marshall in 1935. (HI file photo)

Henderson continued to win at basketball during the war, although the loss of boys in the war that he had coached was very hard on him, boys from D&E and Marshall. In 1939-40, Henderson was 25-4; 1940-41, 14-9; 1941-42, 15-9; 1942-43, 10-7; 1943-44, 15-7; and 1944-45, 17-9, when the program topped 100 points for the first time, beating Salem College by 119-55. He was back in business in 1945-46, going 25-10, and reestablished the football program in 1946 as well.

Henderson’s 1946-47 team was going to be a nice mix of boys who had been with him during the war, like former Washington and Jefferson College transfer and senior 6-1 guard Bill Hall, who had a bad right knee with no cartilage that preventing him was serving in the war as a soldier. Hall would only run down the right side of the court, with a kind-of-skipping run with the bad knee away from the court, while handling the ball with his left hand towards the center of the floor. The Herd beat W&J in 1943-44, so Hall was with Henderson for the next three seasons. Coming in for the 1945-46 season was a junior called Andy Tonkovich, from Wheeling, who was 24-years old and a 6-1 guard. Coming back for 1946-47 was Jimmy Bakalis, a 24-year old sophomore guard who was all of 5-9, and Marvin Gutshall, a Marine who had been involved with a lot of combat in the Pacific. Gutshall was the oldest player on the team at 25-year old, a 5-11 forward and tough as they came, and he had played 1940-41 and 1941-42 before the Marines called.

Bill Toothman, a Huntington product, who was 21-years old as a sophomore, also returned. The late Ernie Salvatore, the former sports editor of the Huntington Advertiser and The Herald-Dispatch, thought Toothman and Cebe Price (1953-57) were the best “middle” man on running the Henderson fast break. Gene “Goose” James was a 6-5 sophomore center from Charleston’s Stonewall Jackson High School who played for Henderson in 1942-43 before going to war. Bob Wright (two years in the Navy) was a 20-year old frosh from Elkhorn City, Kentucky, while Dick Erickson played at Marshall in 1941-42, now was a 6-2 forward from Tiltonville, Ohio, and 22-years old.

Other members were Fred Altizer (who played 1943-44), junior Ed Little (on 1945-46 team), Albert “Babe” Mazza (who played 1941-42 and 1942-43, and who’s brother Frank played on Herd football’s 1948 Tangerine Bowl team), and one-year player Jimmy Van Zant, who came on board a few games into the season. It was a tall team, with experienced players who had gone from serving their country to playing ball for the “Old Man,” as Henderson was known among his players — but not to his face.  The team started in December of 1946 after a 2-7-1 record in football.

MUMBSKB 1947 Bill Hall, Capt. and All-American

Bill Hall was a great player for the Big Green and was a co-captain of the 1946-47 National Championship team that was 32-5 for a MU record for wins still never topped. (courtesy Marshall Yearbooks collections of the MU Libraries)

While Henderson had always liked opening the season with travel games, his 1946-47 schedule had four games at home before going to the Midwest Tournament. Henderson’s Herd came out of the games with wins over Kentucky Wesleyan on Dec. 7 (76-53), rival Morehead State (Dec. 13, 54-50), Xavier (Dec. 16, 56-47) and 6-1 Murray State (Dec. 20, 68-59) to start 4-0. The Bills – Toothman and Hall – were at guards (Toothman was the “middle-man” in the fast-break, today called a point guard), Mazza was the center and while “Goose” James and “Tonk” Tonkovich were at the forwards. The now 11-man team had Dec. 21-22 off after a great start then were back on Dec. for three days of practice (including Christmas, much like these days for men’s and women’s teams, after arriving in Terra Haute) before traveling to Indiana for a big tournament.

The trip to Indiana was for the Midwest Holiday Invitational Tournament at Indiana State Teachers College (today’s ISU) in Terra Haute, Ind. Teams coming into play included Drury College, Southeast Missouri State, Southeast Oklahoma and Evansville in the tournament that started on Dec. 26, so the Herd hit the train to Indiana, with Van Zant having made the trip as well as a new team member. Also going new graduate manager in H.C. “Twenty” Lantz, who would take over for Herd legendary player Jackie McKown on Jan. 1, 1947 (think a “Director of Basketball Ops” these days).

Lantz had coached Barboursville High (1926-40), then Huntington East High (1940-46). He was a 1928 graduate of Morris Harvey College and was working on a Masters degree at Marshall, so he had a head for business involving sports. Johnny Wellman, the muliple-year student-manager for Henderson — before and after the war — was going to the tournament this time. That would not be true of the postseason run for either Wellman or Lantz.

The Herd beat Eastern Illinois (67-60) in game one Dec. 26, then beat the legendary John Wooden (who would win 10 NCAA Championships with the UCLA Bruins) and his host Sycamores (66-58) on Dec. 27. Finally, Marshall beat Xavier the second time in 12 days to win the tournament with a 75-58, 17-point win. Gutshall was named the MVP of the tournament, scoring 48 points in three games, and Mazza averaged 10 points per game, leading the team in scoring overall on the season.

The Herd returned home and hosted the University of Toronto (1-of-2 teams the Herd played from outside the 48-states of the United States in 1946) in a Dec. 30 game that drew 3,500 to the Radio Center for the 84-40 win. The team is 8-0, and have won 31 games in a row at home, chiefly at the Radio Center. The Herd would have a break for New Year’s, as game nine versus the Blue Jays of Creighton is on Jan. 3. Mazza, Henderson tells reporters after the 54-46 win, has a slight back injury after the game “not serious,” said the coach. Mazza knew better, and so did his teammates.

He had been a star for Henderson in 1942-43 team, then joined the Navy in the war, and was leading the team in scoring as they moved to 9-0. Marshall and 5-0 West Virginia are getting some notice among the undefeated teams nationally, not bad for the small state both resided in.

On Monday, Jan. 6, Mazza is not available as the Herd hosts its biggest rival, Morris Harvey College. The school which began playing Marshall 1907-08, right after both began basketball, and the rivalry even heated up when the school moved to its current home in Charleston, W.Va. in 1935 (as the Capitol City did not have a college) and eventually became the University of Charleston.

Without Mazza, the Herd still beats the Golden Eagles 86-65, to go to 10-0 on the season and runs the home court winning streak at Radio Center to 33 consecutive wins in Huntington. Radio Center, a.k.a. Vanity Fair, was the home to WCMI-AM first, then later WHTN-TV 13 (today’s WOWK) and located at Fourth Avenue between Sixth and Seventh Streets in downtown Huntington.

Gene James (left) and Dick Erickson were on the Intramural Volleyball champs

Gene James (left) and Dennis Erickson were big men for the 1946-47 Herd, and they were also part of the Intramural team that won the volleyball championship. (courtesy Marshall Yearbooks collections of the MU Libraries)

Game 11 the Herd would travel to the University of Akron to meet the 8-3 Zippers (named after a Goodyear-made rubber boot for snowy walking, it pulled over your normal shoes and zipped up), and Mazza returns but with a back brace. Marshall sneaks by the Zips, 63-61, and are 11-0.

Game 12 was against Concord College on Jan. 13, but has to be moved to the Huntington East High School gymnasium with a boxing show at the Radio Center. With only 1,100 seats, Marshall ropes off an area for its 200 season ticket holders, tells students they can only buy standing room only and the Herd destroys the Mountain Lions, 86-47, for a 12-0 mark and 34 consecutive home wins.

The Herd hit the road next with another meeting with Xavier University, this time in Cincinnati, Ohio, on Jan.17. The Herd makes it 3-for-3 with a 53-41 win over the Musketeers. The Herd is at the University of Dayton a day later for a meeting with the Flyers, who belonged to the Buckeye with Marshall in the 1930s. It goes to overtime before the Herd puts away at 65-61 win for a 14-0 start.

The top teams in the nation include 14-0 Marshall, but Seton Hall is tops at 15-0, while Kirksville (Mo.) Teachers College (today, Truman State) is 13-0, Duquesne and Eastern Kentucky are both 11-0, the University of Alabama and Wheaton College are both 10-0, and Mankato (Minn.) State is 9-0 (yes, the college where the TV show “Coach” was based on as Minnesota State — more on them on day two’s story). WVU and Washington and Jefferson, where Hall transferred to Marshall from, are both 7-0.

Game 15 is at Concord on Jan. 20. The Herd wins easily, 86-47 (scoring one point less, and giving up two more than the win in Huntington) to go to 15-0 . Mazza is unable to continue playing due to his back pain, so James has moved to center, or the “post,” for the Herd. By this point of the season, Hall leads the team with 188 points, 12.5 per game. Next is “Tonk” with 180 (leads with 12.9 average), James has 166 (11.1), Gutshall 158 (10.5) and Mazza with 131 (10.9). The team is averaging 69.3 points per game.

Game 16 is on Jan. 24 down Route 60 west to Morehead, Ky., to battle the Eagles of Morehead State. MSU had actually belonged to the WVIAC (1929-33), and the hour trip between Marshall and Morehead State has made them ready rivals, as both would also join the Ohio Valley Conference in the coming year (Herd left for the MAC in 1953, MSU still in OVC). Eagles star John “Sonny” Allen had scored 253 points on the season coming into the game, but Marshall goes to 16-0 with a 69-65 win.

Allen would end up with 1,923 points (20.8 per game) in his MSU career, and after an Air Force interlude, would go 226-137 as baseball coach of the Eagles, winning OVC titles three times, and Sonny Allen Field is where MSU plays baseball since then. Allen finished a great career at Morehead State as assistant AD from 1976-84.

Gene James, Andy Tonkovich and Dick Erikson (L to R)

Gene “Goose” James (left) was from Charleston, Andy Tonkovich (middle) was from Wheeling and Dick Erickson was from Tiltonville, Ohio, (near Wheeling) and they were all important parts of the national championship team. (courtesy Marshall Yearbooks collections of the MU Libraries)

Game 17 for the Herd is back at the Radio Center, with West Liberty College coming to town.  Marshall had scheduled WV Wesleyan for Jan. 27 and there on Feb. 4, but the Bobcats had canceled the games, so West Liberty was a replacement from the WVIAC. The Hilltoppers were probably wondering why they played this game, as Marshall extends to home win streak to 35 in a row in a rout, 94-44, to also go 17-0 — matching Seton Hall’s top mark in the nation.

Game No. 18 would feature another old Buckeye rival, the Cincinnati Bearcats, who were 10-5 on the season. UC has joined a new conference, the Mid-American, and is 4-1 so far in the first year of MAC play in a league that including Ohio University, Butler University, Wayne State University and Western Reserve (today’s Case Western Reserve). There is even an older history between the Herd and the Bearcats, as Marshall Coach Boyd “Fox” Chambers (the “Tower Pass” coach in football, who also coached baseball and basketball) coached at Marshall from 1908-16 with a great deal of success, then went to UC and coached the Bearcats nearly as long before getting into sporting goods sales in the 1920s and officiating games.

The Bearcats have a dominating 6-foot-6 center in Bill Westerfeld, who has scored 228 points in 15 games (15.2 per contest) and will become the first player in UC history to top 1,000-points in his career. The team also has 5-8 speedster Al Rubenstein, who has scored 199 points (13.3). In front of an audience well over 3,500-seats, the Bearcats stop the win streak for this season and end the home win streak that goes back for three seasons with a 66-54 win over the Herd on Jan. 31.

The Herd did bounce back with a win at Kentucky Wesleyan on Feb. 1, 61-53, to go 18-1. Marshall next goes to West Liberty on Feb. 4 and wins a closer game, 72-49, and now sits at 19-1. But while the Herd is hot on the court, it is a terribly cold winter in 1946-47. Across the Midwestern United States, over 50,000 factory workers are sitting idle as a shortage of natural gas puts a ban on its use except to heat homes, apartments and hospitals. On Feb. 5, the temperature drops to 2-degrees in Huntington, and for over a week it is never warmer than 15-degrees in the Tri-State region.

On Feb. 7, the Herd hits Rt. 60 west again and will meet the Cardinals of the University of Louisville, who are scoring 65.1 points per game (the Herd averages 61.5) and boasts a line-up with players at 6-6, 6-5, 6-3 and two at 5-11 each. James has a bruised arch he is playing with, and Tonkovich is having some issues with his vision (fitted for what are called “Guarded Spectacles” for the game, with rims of plastic instead of common wire rimmed glasses). No matter, the Herd gets a big win over the Cardinals, 62-55. On Monday, Feb. 10, the Herd travels to the Capitol City of West Virginia to play Morris Harvey. Like always, it is a tough win, 44-34, over the Golden Eagles and the Herd is 21-1, one of the best starts in school history.

Bill Toothman 1946-48

Bill Toothman was a Huntington product who was a 21-year old sophomore in 1946-47 after serving in World War II. He was the middle man in the fast break. (courtesy Marshall Yearbooks collections of the MU Libraries)

On Monday, Feb. 10, the Herd travels to the Capital City of West Virginia to play Morris Harvey. Like always, it is a tough win, 44-34, over the Golden Eagles and the Herd is 21-1, one of the best starts in school history. Game No. 23 is back at home with DePauw University, who is 12-1. It is a “Sweetheart” win for the Herd the day after Valentine’s Day on Feb. 15, 73-58, to move to 22-1.

Up next was a rematch with the UC Bearcats, in a doubleheader at the old Cincinnati Gardens also featuring Miami-Ohio taking on Loyola (Ill.) on Feb. 18. Once again, the Bearcats do what no one else has in ’46-47 as they beat the Herd again, 53-42, to drop Marshall to 22-2. UC will go on to win the first of five straight MAC titles before leaving the league in 1953, just as the Herd was becoming a member.

Cincinnati was having a really good athletic program in this era. The 1946 football team wins nine games for the first time, and beats Virginia Tech in the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas, on Jan. 1, 1947, and UC also went to the 1949 Glass Bowl for legendary football coach Sid Gillman. They won the MAC basketball title in 1947 with a 17-9 mark, then also won in 1948, 1949, 1950 and 1951, when the team got into its first-ever NIT bid. UC Basketball Coach John “Socko” Wiethe led the Bearcats to 106-47 in his six seasons and he motivates his team – with food. When his team won a road game, they ate steaks and potatoes afterward. When UC lost away from, he gave every player 50-cents and told them to “go eat a hamburger” until a Bearcat athletic department person put an end to the burger-or-bust program.

Marshall is back at basketball at it the next day, this time facing the Redskins of Miami-Ohio but at Louisville, Ky. doubleheader. Morehead State beats Loyola in the first game, 60-50, but the Redskins upset the Big Green, 62-56, to drop the Herd to 22-3. Miami-Ohio will finish with a 15-7 mark in Oxford, Ohio, in the final year as an independent (since the Buckeye folded in 1939) before they join the 1-year old MAC for 1947-48 through today.

Marshall returns home from the back-to-back losses to a full house at the Radio Center, with only standing room only tickets left for the Saturday, Feb. 22, game with Dayton. Marshall wins 79-51 over the Flyers and moves the record to 23-3 on the season for the Herd. Next up is a 4-game trip through Indiana and Illinois. Hall explained at the team’s 40th reunion the worst thing you could do on a road trip was to get in the car with Henderson.

“The Old Man would get in the car, and immediately turn off the radio,” Hall said. “All he wanted to do, for 8-10 hours, was to talk basketball. Once you were an upper class man, an experienced player, you made sure to get in the car that Coach was not in.” Hall, also during that weekend, told of Henderson giving each player a $1 per day to eat on — not terrible in the days of a 65-cent blue plate special for dinner — but recalled he lost over 20-pounds during the season.

Hall also said there was no laundry on the road. “We would put the uniforms in the corners, near the radiators, to try and dry them out, because we would also practice in those between games. On a three or four day trip, those suits would stand up in the corners themselves, and they were so cold and clammy when you put them on for practice or a game.”

Henderson also had a trick Hall saw many times in his three years with the Herd, while traveling the nation. “Coach would watch for smoke coming out of a chimney at a school as we were driving from one game to another,” Hall said. “That way, he knew the janitor or somebody was firing up the furnace to heat the school the night before classes started the next day. He would go up, pound on the door, announce the Marshall team was here to practice, ‘as arranged,’ and the person at the door would, likely as not, let us in and turn on the lights in the gym, though they often had a puzzled look on their faces.”

Marshall hit the road to Evansville University for a game in Indiana, No. 27, on Feb. 24. The Purple Aces, always tough at home, beat the Herd 73-69 and Marshall dropped to 23-4. Next was a game at Concordia on Tuesday, Feb. 25, and the Herd managed to get by the eventual 5-10 Cougars in Chicago, 62-61, and Marshall is 24-4.

Next was a trip to play the Bradley Braves on Thursday, Feb. 27, in Peoria, Ill. The Braves would finish the season 25-7, just two years before joining the Missouri Valley Conference and making the NIT it its first season in 1948-49. Bradley beats Marshall for the Herd’s fifth loss (and what turns out to be the last loss as well) of the season, 61-52, to drop Marshall to 24-5.

One game was left on this 1-2 road swing, as Marshall headed to Illinois Wesleyan for game No. 30 in Bloomington. The Titans and the Herd had their, to now, only meeting as Marshall won on Feb. 28 by 70-60 to move to 25-5, and had a quick ride home for a home game in Huntington — two games, it turned out.

Mgr John Wellman

Johnny Wellman was a multi-year basketball manager for Cam Henderson, who called him “my right arm.” He was not allowed to travel to the National Championship, but Henderson made sure Wellman shared in the glory, getting most of the swag the players got. (courtesy Marshall Yearbooks collections of the MU Libraries)

Henderson had booked the University of Hawai’i for a game on Monday, March 3, at the Radio Center. Coach Bert Chan Wa brought his first team since 1941-42 to Huntington near the end of a 9-8 season, and the Rainbow Warriors were a very nice win for Marshall, 84-57, on Senior Night for Bill Hall. The Marshall program also accepted a bid to the NAIB Tournament in Kansas City that night as Marshall improved to 26-5.

But it wasn’t the final game before the tournament. Fort Knox, in Kentucky, had won the championship of the Second Army and the team of men in the US Army was looking for additional games. They were led by Gene Rhodes of WKU, who was an All-Tournament pick for Fort Knox the following year and drafted by the NBA’s Indianapolis Olympians in 1952. Rhodes later coached the Kentucky Colonels of the ABA.

Henderson didn’t like the idea of his team sitting from March 3 to March 10 when the tournament started, so the Old Man brought Fort Knox into the Radio Center for a game not scheduled. Normally, the students used a student fees books for entrance to games but since this was an extra game, their books were not accepted, although they could buy any non-season ticket for the games.

Marshall students and other fans paid to get a ticket to the Friday night affair, the final night the team won in Huntington, 85-62, to finish 27-5 for the season, tying Henderson’s 1938 team for wins as they posted a 27-3 regular season mark. The 1937-38 team ended the year with a record of 28-4, most wins in Marshall basketball history, after going 1-1 in the NAIB Tournament at the end that great year.

Now is was time to get to Kansas City, and Marshall left on the train on Sunday morning for the Monday night game. WSAZ 930-AM radio announced Sam Molen of KMBC in Kansas City will be doing all the Marshall games in the NAIB Tournament. Molen would become president of a two-station group in the television era who would create a long-running TV show, “Bowling with Molen” that ran in the KC market). But in the 1930s and 1940s, Molen wrote a nationally read column and broadcast a national sports show on the radio, he was 17-year sports editor of KMBC and authored two books on sports, one of the legendary figures in the Kansas City sports scene who lived to be 91 when he passed away in 2008. The Herd checked into the Robert E. Lee Hotel in Kansas City and got ready to amaze the fans.

Coming up on Friday in Part 2 of Marshall Basketball wins the 1947 NAIA National Championship — Marshall must win five games in six days to win the title, and what it meant to Huntington.

About Woody Woodrum

Senior Editor and columnist/writer for Herd Insider since 2003, with Kindred Communications on radio for Marshall football/men's basketball pregame and postgame shows since 1996 and with First Sentry Bank Sportsline (Also Scott on Sports, Sideline Sports and Herd Insider Sportsline) since 1997. Married to Liz (12-22-1990) and one son, Tre' (11-7-1997). National Sportswriters & Sportscasters West Virginia Broadcaster of the Year winner for radio, 2000; won W.Va. Broadcasters Best Talk Show in 2013 with co-host Paul Swann and W.Va. Broadcasters Best Play-by-Play in 2015 with Jason Toy (Huntington at South Charleston, state AAA semifinals). Member of (College) Football Writers Association of America, (College) Basketball Writers Association of America and National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association. Color commentator for Marshall football (1999-2000), for Marshall basketball (2004-2016) and Marshall baseball (2004-2016). Color for high school football at Spring Valley (1999-2008), Cabell Midland (2009-2012) and Huntington (W.Va.) High School (2013-2016).

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