1954: A memorable year for the Blue Creek Comets
Delphos Jefferson ends tournament ride at districts 52-45
By GERALD SINN
Special to the Progress
Part 7 of 7
The Blue Creek Comets Night of Memory in 1954
It was in 1947 when these Comets prepared for this night of basketball in the Celina Stadium. What they left with was a legacy that would last into the next century. They proved themselves to be champions in one night.
It was a Saturday night at the Divisional semi’s tourney. The game was important. The lively atmosphere was intensifying for the Comets. The shiny hardwoods seemed elevated, like on a stage. The basketballs bounced better, the crowd was electrifying in the Comet’s pre-game warm-ups. The lights, the energy of the cheerleaders, radio broadcasters, and two of the toughest high school basketball teams in Central Ohio were on hand.
(Paulding County teams did not come back to Celina in the past six years, mainly because of the infamous “Celina Referee Scandal of 1948.” The Haviland Wildcats were robbed of their Ohio State Championship bid – the refs and timekeeper ran for their lives at game end under police protection. Lima St. Rose was the benefactor. Paulding County should not have come back in 1954 either.)
On this night, February 27, 1954, the Blue Creek Comets faced Delphos Jefferson, one of the two Delphos, Ohio powerhouses. St. John was ranked #2 in Ohio most of the season – Jefferson had just beaten them in their local tournament the week prior, 49 to 45. So the Comets had their hands full.
The tip-off points worked again – two points in four seconds. The cocky Jeffs were stunned – the giant-sized school was outwitted by the farm town kids. A quick Comets interception from Max, to Walt, to Gerald, to Dennis in the corner added two more points. Blue Creek kept hitting shots, always in the lead.
The Lay-up Shot
“I couldn’t believe anyone in the Celina gym saw how that ball got into the basket,” Gerald said. “It was six minutes into the first quarter. I got my answer of just how good our point guard, Walt Sinn was that year in 1954. It was the play of the year – it demoralized Delphos Jefferson.”
Gerald hit Dennis with a pass in the corner, went in for the rebound. Dennis couldn’t get the shot, he speared the ball back out to Walt on top of the key. Walt saw Gerald under the basket.
“There was no opening, it was full of Jeffs and trees,” Gerald said. “It seemed he wanted to pass to me, but I didn’t expect the ball. I could barely see Walt from Jeffs, but I saw him pass it into the pack. I took another step, now four feet from the basket, put my hands out, but the Jeffs blocked my vision. I felt the sting, a pain I would remember forever. Like trained precision from years of practice, I lifted my hands toward the backboard in a split second. Perhaps it was the toughest thought in my lifetime. I didn’t see the ball in my hands, I just knew it had to be there, the sting told me. In synchronized motion, my hands lifted the ball to the backboard for the perfect lay-up.”
It seemed there was a slight hush in the Celina Stadium that night, at that moment. The fans couldn’t believe how that ball got through the Delphos defense and into the bucket. Nor could the Jeffs’ stars believe it. What a demoralizer it was for Jefferson. They were still standing in place, their jaws on their chests. They didn’t know how the ball got past them into the basket. They didn’t see it. How could they stop what they couldn’t see?
Blue Creek scored only two points, but stopping Jefferson with something they couldn’t see was worth enough to win the game by 15 points. The Comets proceeded to show the huge crowd they were capable.
Walt Sinn had passed through the most microscopic hole in high school basketball. Because I was an experienced senior athlete I was able to sink this impossible shot. The shot put the Comets ahead by double-digits. The top state-ranked Jeffs had come to realize they were in a battle at the Ohio state divisionals. The winner of this district tourney will be playing in the 1954 state championship game.
On the very next trip down to the Jeffs’ basket, Gerald said, “I went up for another rebound, a Delphos player hit me in the air. It was clearly a Delphos foul. An eye-popped referee moved three feet in front of me. He blew his whistle like a possessed maniac, pointing into my face, as if I were the devil himself. It was the second foul he called on me, and not even the first quarter had passed. I’d only fouled out in one game all season. Something else strange was happening. Coach Jay should have pulled me after my second foul, he didn’t do it. It wasn’t like him, he pulled me for sneezing during the season.”
First Quarter: The Comets’ defense was winning this game. They held the bewildered Jeffs to only nine points, Comets 14 Jefferson 9.
Second Quarter: The Comets were rolling. Their speed on defense was making a difference. They never gave up the lead. Something noticeable, foul issues were bothering Gerald, Walt and Max, but Coach Jay wasn’t showing concern. We needed a time-out from Ned – we didn’t get it. The Delphos Jeffs had a well balanced team, they had three double-digit guys – capable of four. Their 6’8” center was having problems, it seemed Ken Z was standing on his toes a few times – knocking out his timing. The ref only gave Ken a warning, or he’d be out of the game early. The Comets were leading the whole first-half, though the Jeffs were only one short – Comets 24 Delphos 23.
Half-Time: Ned was quiet in the locker room. We brought up points and he agreed – he may have said, “watch out for the fouls.” He wasn’t revealing an urgency. He was not coaching. Ken Zimmerman had reinjured his hand – shooting foul shots left-handed. But most important the Comets were winning.
Third quarter: The Comets got their two points in four seconds. Dennis Doster was hitting long shots and foul shots. The whole first five was scoring, stretching the lead. Blue Creek’s defense was even better. The Jeffs were held to only three points so far in the third.
Gerald and Max put on a short press. Gerald intercepted a Jeffs pass on the half-line. It was clean, no touching. But a whistle blew! It was in front of everyone. There was no foul. There was booing from the Comets crowd. This was Gerald’s fourth foul – none were actual fouls. Walt had three fouls, same thing. (Coincidence – Walt and Gerald were the top scorers in the prior Wren game, the radio broadcast built them up – they became targets.) These were dirty referees and this game was fixed.
Still there was nothing from Ned Jay, why wasn’t he pulling his players to save fouls? That’s an elementary step for a coach – and Ned was far from being elementary. He had to have been threatened. They would torch his house, hurt his family, take his life, whatever they do.
“They fixed it so our coach was not coaching,” was Gerald’s interpretation. “He looked scared.”
Gerald’s fifth foul was called with two minutes to go in the third quarter. The Comets were leading as they did the whole game, but now they had their biggest lead – Comets 37 Jeffs 26. The Jeffs had only scored three points in this third quarter – a strong defense wins in tournament play. There was no question about the Comets winning this game – fairness would stop this game now.
Fourth Quarter: The dirty refs fouled Walt out at two minutes in the fourth quarter. Max was out at five minutes. Sixty percent of the Comets’ first-five star-defense was out the rest of the game. The fateful Jeffs got to score 20 points in the final quarter. Final score Delphos Jefferson 52 Blue Creek 45. The newspapers said, “Coach Ned Jay’s Comets forced Jefferson to the limit to win – Jeffs were trailing all the way. Comets led as much 11 points until the Sinn boys went out on fouls.” Now you’ve heard the rest of the story.
Delphos Jefferson made it to the Divisional finals, but the fixers were not going to let the Jeffs beat Delphos St. John’s at Celina. The Jeffs beat St. Johns the week before, leading all the way, score 49 to 44. The game was not fixed.
Synopsis: Delphos St. John went to the Ohio state finals game. They lost to New Lexington, St. Aloysius 65 to 63. Looking at the statistics: we know that Delphos Jefferson could beat St. Johns in a fair game 49 to 44. The Blue Creek Comets would have beaten the Jeffs by 15 points in a fair game. Then isn’t it reasonable to believe the Blue Creek Comets should have been the 1954 state champions by as much as 12 points over New Lexington?
How many Paulding, Defiance and Van Wert county high schools experienced the same frustrations as the Comets of 1954? Their must be a large number of untold stories waiting to be written.
How disgusting it was for the Ohio state government and/or the Ohio state athletic agencies to allow gambling on Ohio high school sports, (or were they responsible or could they control dirty refs?). Young people worked so many years to get a chance to make a better life for themselves by reaching the ultimate goal to be Ohio state champions. That seven years of preparation could be wiped out illegally in 32 minutes on an Ohio high school basketball floor was so anti-American.
AFTER THE GAME
Immediately after Gerald left the locker room he saw Ned Jay standing alone next to the bleachers watching the next game. He approached him without hesitation. He said, “Ned, we didn’t lose this game, those refs were crooked. Walt and I never fouled out of games.”
He answered with no uncertainty, “Yes, you guys were the winners, Gerald, not Jefferson. The Comets had the best team on the floor tonight.”
“It was a short conversation. I don’t remember what else he said, but I never asked if he or his family were threatened. Nor did I ask 50 years later at our alumni luncheon in a Van Wert country club,” Gerald recalls. “I would have asked in July of 2009, though he wasn’t at his home. It was a medical problem at some hospital. I guess there would be another time, I thought.”
The Comets of 1954 were Coach Dick Holmes’ most successful team to date. He is to be recognized as a man that made a difference. He was interested in the young Lions in 1947, with ideas to make them the best in the state of Ohio. When his young Lions became Ned Jay’s team in 1954, they grabbed the attention of Ohio state rankings. This set a precedent for the farm boys basketball players of Paulding County, Ohio (not withstanding the Lions of ’47 and the Haviland Wildcats of ’48, who deserved more).
Coach Dick Holmes taught young athletes how to play basketball and baseball throughout the years in the 1950s. He became principal of Blue Creek North and continued coaching junior high. His basketball players would last through teams of 1955-58.
Intramural high school sports: At noon on the day the BC seniors took on the Blue Creek junior boys in the finals of boys intramural basketball play-offs in the Haviland gym at year end in 1954, something interesting came out of it. It was a knockdown, drag-out battle; the student crowd was really into it. Coach Ned Jay was the referee. The game was decided in overtime, but it was the juniors that came out as winners. Ned Jay was simply ecstatic.
“It hadn’t occurred to me before the game,” Gerald said, “but would this be a sign, could the Blue Creek Comets of 1955 be even bigger winners than the Comets of ’54?”
To PFC Otis Pease
U.S. Army 85th Infantry Po Valley, Italy and his wife Doris, and Paul, Max, Darrel, LaDonna, and Sharon.
Recipient of the: Combat Infantry Badge, Purple Heart, Victory Ribbon European Africa Middle Eastern (EAME), Good Conduct Medal with attached Three Bronze Stars.
World War II-1945 and a friend of the Blue Creek Comets of 1954.
My Life in the Ski Troop by George H. Rosenfield/2nd Bn 85th Infantry Division World War II.
Joy of Basketball – Defiance County by Dick Baldwin
Notable achievements by the Comets
• Paulding County league champions 1951 through 1954.
• Paulding County tournament champions 1951, 1952, 1954
• Comets beat Wren – Van Wert County champions – twice in 1954.
• Comets broke Ohio state scoring record (“first-five” scored in double-digits twice in same season). Four Comets scored in double-digits in 12 games, in same season.
• Blue Creek Comets 1954 was the most victorious team in Paulding County at 19-4 history / 19-4 record – still the smallest high school in Ohio, with 27 boys.
• The “Young Lions,” plus one Wildcat placed all Blue Creek first-five players on the top-12 scorers list in Paulding County in 1954: points recorded – #1 Ken Zimmerman 318, #2 Dennis Doster 317, Walt Sinn 271, Gerald Sinn 151, Max Pease 130.