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365体育投注Sutton Betti, a 1992 graduate of Davis High School and now a bronze sculptor in Colorado, stands by his sculpture honoring the McPherson Globe Refiners basketball team, who made up half of the 1936 Olympic team. The completed monument will be installed in September in McPherson, Kan. Courtesy photo

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Davis High grad helps remember Olympic pioneers

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Members of the first gold medal basketball team at the 1936 Berlin Olympics

By Eric Rice
Special to The Enterprise

365体育投注In July of 1936, James Naismith, the founder of basketball, boarded the S.S. Manhattan with the American Olympic team to compete at the 1936 Olympic games in Berlin. For the first time, basketball was going to be a full-medal Olympic event, having been a demonstration sport in 1904.

Naismith, 74, was going to be honored for his role in creating the sport and present the winning teams their medals. This was going to be the opportunity for the United States to demonstrate on a world stage how basketball was meant to be played.

365体育投注Naismith’s hope for an Olympic showcase didn’t quite live up to his expectations. Basketball had been played for 45 years in the U.S. but was just starting to get popular in the rest of the world, and even though 23 teams made the trek to the Olympics, Germany was not quite prepared to run a basketball tournament.

365体育投注The court was not indoors, but rather a converted outdoor clay-and-sand tennis court. The basketball used in the Olympic final, the so-called “Berg Ball” did not resemble a modern basketball. Instead, it looked like a soccer ball with raised stitching and was lopsided when dribbling. It also was much lighter than a regular basketball and would blow off course in the wind on the outdoor court.

Wind was not the only problem the day of the gold medal game. The game started with drizzling rain and by the second half, it was a driving downpour. The ball became waterlogged and heavy, impossible to dribble and hard to catch.

365体育投注The second half saw four points scored by each team with the United States beating Canada 19-8 to win the gold medal. There were no stands for the 1,000 spectators to sit on and they were forced to stand in the rain for the duration.

365体育投注These are only a few of the odd facts sculptor Sutton Betti, a 1992 graduate of Davis High School, uncovered in his research while working on his latest bronze sculpture, which honors the McPherson Globe Refiners basketball team, whose members made up half of the 1936 Olympic team. He has been working with the city of McPherson, Kan., to honor the team with a monument to their achievements.

Betti has created many monuments around the country including sculptures in the World War II museum in New Orleans, Tuskegee Airman Joe Gomer for a college in Iowa and F.O. Stanley, the creator of the Stanley Steamer automobile at the famed Stanley Hotel in Colorado, to name only a few of his pieces.

The chance to memorialize the McPherson basketball team is another opportunity to ensure history is preserved for future generations.

Team work

The McPherson Globe Refiners formed in 1933, sponsored by the Globe Oil and Refinery company, which built the refinery in McPherson. The team played in the Amateur Athletic Union, which was made up of teams of former college players. Working in the refinery and playing on the basketball team offered them regular employment during the Depression.

During their 3-year run as a team, they finished second in the national AAU tournament in 1935 and won it in 1936, qualifying them to compete in the first Olympic basketball trials to represent the United States.

The Olympic trials included eight qualifying teams: the top two AAU teams — McPeherson and the runner-up in the national tournament, the Universal Studios-sponsored Universals; five NCAA college teams; and the winner of the YMCA national tournament from Pennsylvania. Both the Globe Refiners and the Universals had to pay their own way to get to the Olympic trials in New York.

The McPherson team was told they would not have jobs when they returned if they went to Germany and the Universal team’s sponsor, Universal Studios in Hollywood, did not want to send athletes to the Olympics, either, because of Hitler’s anti-Semitism and in protest to the U.S.’s participation in the Berlin-based Olympics.

The regional qualifying and finals tournament schedule established to determine the Olympic team would serve as the model for the future March Madness tournaments of the modern NCAA basketball tournament. They played these Olympic trial games in front of sold-out audiences at Madison Square Garden.

The Globe Refiners lost 44-43 to the Universals in the final game trials. This was a reversal of the final of the AAU national tournament two weeks prior in Denver, where the Globe Refiners beat the Universals 47-35.

365体育投注The Globe Refiners’ loss in the trials final meant the Universals would have seven players on the Olympic team and the head coach, and the runner-up Globe Refiners would have only six. A single college player was added from the third-place University of Washington team. This was the precedent for adding one college player to the 1992 Olympic dream team.

The Globe Refiner players who made the team were Joe Fortenberry, Francis Johnson, Willard Schmidt, Tex Gibbons, Bill Wheatley and Jack Ragland; their coach Gene Johnson would be the assistant coach for the Olympics. One Globe Refiner, Vernon Vaughn, although qualified, chose an oil refining career over a chance at playing in the Olympics.

Innovators

The Globe Refiners used a fastbreak approach of running the ball up and down the court, breaking with the traditional controlled and methodical way teams had played since the game’s inception. They were accused of playing “bad and aggressive” basketball. They thrived by being innovative.

The team was anchored by 6-foot, 8-inch Joe Fortenberry who was tall and quick. He could also jump. Fortenberry was almost single-handedly responsible for the future goaltending rules. He would often park himself in front of the basket and simply swat away or catch the shots at the basket.

365体育投注In the Olympics, there was no three-second rule. The three-second rule had only recently been implemented in the U.S. leagues for the express point of making sure players did not just stand in front of the basket and block shots.

In addition to swatting away balls at the goal, Fortenberry is often credited with being one of the first to dunk the basketball. The term “dunk” was first coined by Pulitzer-prize-winning New York Times columnist Arthur Daley, who upon watching the team in the tournament wrote that Fortenberry “left the floor, reached up and pitched the ball downward into the hoop, much like a cafeteria customer dunking a roll in coffee.”

365体育投注The ability of Fortenberry to swat away the ball at the goal and then charge the basket in the Globe Refiners’ fastbreak offense, finishing with a dunk, was enough to intimidate any competition.

Another change to the rules provoked by Fortenberry involved the jump ball. In the original rules, after each basket, there was a jump ball. This was done away with when Fortenberry would win every tip-off. One wonders how Naismith felt watching his original rules being made obsolete by the tall men of basketball.

In the Olympics, the U.S. team dominated as expected, even though the Olympic committee tried to blunt the obvious advantages of the United States team at the last minute. They tried to change the rules to not allow players taller than 6-feet, 2 inches — which was more than half the American team of 14. The Americans managed to keep this rule from being passed, but a rule was passed to allow only seven players on a roster for each game.

365体育投注Because of this, the American team was split into two squads, one consisting of the seven Universals players and the other of the Globe Refiners and Ralph Bishop, the collegiate player.

365体育投注Another stark reminder how turbulent the times were when they played these Olympics: The first game against Spain was a forfeit as the Spanish team did not travel to the Olympics because of the commencement of the Spanish Civil War. The Americans had no trouble advancing to the finals. For the final gold medal game, on Aug. 14, 1936, James Needles, the head coach, selected four of the Globe Refiners, two of his Universals and Bishop.

In the finals, the Canadian team had hoped to match the U.S. team with their own brand of fastbreak basketball. Unfortunately for Canada, they never got the chance to move as the game started in a drizzle on the outdoor court that soon had each team covered in clay-colored mud from standing water on the court.

365体育投注The first half ended with a 15-4 U.S. lead. As the second half started, the drizzle turned into a full-on downpour. With no shot clock, it became an exercise in passing the ball around for a final score of 19-8.

Fortenberry scored eight points in the game — as many points as the entire Canadian team.

Memories

The city of McPherson recently renovated the McPherson Community Center, including the home court the Globe Refiners played on from 1933-36. To make sure the story of this extraordinary team and effort are not forgotten, the city has funded this effort to create a memorial in their honor.

365体育投注Betti’s monument to the team consists of a 13-foot-wide laser-etched black granite wall with a life-size bronze relief sculpture of the team. The sculpture will highlight the history of the team and will be installed outside the community center where the Globe Refiners used to practice in the 1930s.

The creation of this piece has been a labor of love for Sutton who specializes in creating monuments ensuring that nobody forgets the efforts and activities of everyday heroes. He strives to ensure their deeds are commemorated for future generations to continue to learn and remember forever.

This McPherson Globe Refiners monument is scheduled to be installed in McPherson, Kan., in September 2020.

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