By David Humphrey
For The Herald Bulletin
---- — ANDERSON — From 1957 through 1966 the Madison Heights Pirates boys' basketball team never won an Anderson Sectional title. But all of that changed when Phil Buck came to town.
During his first year as head coach at Madison Heights High School, Phil Buck led the Pirate team to its first ever sectional championship in the school's 11 year history. In the championship game of the 1967 Anderson Sectional, the Pirates defeated the Alexandria Tigers by a score of 93 to 75. In the two games leading to the sectional win, the Pirates easily handled the Anderson Indians 74 to 59, followed by a 89 to 80 victory over Pendleton High. The following week the Pirates competed in the Anderson Regional defeating Mountpelier 73 to 65 in the afternoon game before losing a tough battle to the Marion Giants 80 to 77 in the Regional championship contest. Earlier in the 1966-67 basketball season, Madison Heights edged out a 76 to 75 win over Marion. The Pirates compiled a record of 17 wins against eight losses during Phil Buck's inaugural season at Madison Heights. All eyes were now focused on that winning team from the south side of town.
With seniors Jack Rector, Jim Regenold, and Rocky Bowers back in the starting lineup, the 1967-1968 season looked as promising as the year before. On Thanksgiving eve, the Pirates kicked off the season with a 70-59 victory over Markleville. They continued to prove themselves the best team in the county by beating Elwood, Anderson, Highland, and Lapel during regular season play. But the Pirates came up one point short in the holiday tourney with a 70-69 loss to the Alexandria Tigers. Though the Pirates ended the year with a losing record of 11 wins and 14 losses, they were still considered the team to beat in the Anderson Sectional. The Pirates did not let their fans down.
In the first game of the Sectional, Madison Heights defeated Frankton by a score of 72-63, but narrowly escaped an early exit from the tournament with a four-point win over Markleville. The Pirates went on to defeat the Highland Scots in the title game and were crowned Anderson Sectional champions for the second year in a row.
The Anderson Indians defeated Madison Heights in 1969 to regain the sectional crown. But the Pirates had back to back sectional wins in 1970 and 1971. During the 1970-71 season, the Pirates were ranked 18th in the state with help from senior stand out Lew Cotton. Juniors Bobby Wilkerson, Clarence Swain, Joe Jessup, and Steve Porter returned to the team the following year, in what many consider one of the greatest Anderson area high school basketball teams of all time.
The Madison Heights High School gymnasium was filled to the rafters when the Pirates began the 1971-72 season, something that fans grew accustomed to at all home games that year. Ranked number four in the state prior to the season, the Pirates defeated the Noblesville Millers by a score of 68-66 in the home opener. The Pirates won the first four games of the season before losing to Muncie North 62-59. Richmond and New Castle also handed losses to Madison Heights, which compiled a record of 17 wins and 3 losses going into the Anderson Sectional. Now ranked 17th in the state, Madison Heights proved they were no fluke when they easily won the 1972 Sectional. In game one the Pirates defeated the Lapel Bulldogs 63-52 before handing an 84-59 loss to the Pendleton Heights Arabians. The Buccaneers had a tough time in the championship game of the sectional when they faced off against Alexandria. But Phil Buck coached his team to a 45-41 win over the Tigers, allowing the Pirates to advance to the Anderson Regional.Though the Pirates never reached the 70-point mark in the tournament, they beat Carmel High School and Blackford County High School for the school's first ever Anderson Regional title. It was then onto the Fort Wayne Semi-State that was played at the Fort Wayne Coliseum.
On March 11, 1972, the Pirates beat Garrett High School 83-71 in their afternoon game at the Fort Wayne Semi-State. They returned to the Coliseum that night and kept their remarkable season alive by defeating Penn 57-48. While the Pirates posed for a team portrait with their Semi-State trophy, fans watched from the perimeter of the gymnasium floor. As did sports announcer Sam Roberts whose colorful commentary thrilled those back home who listened to tournament games on the radio.
The week leading up to the State Finals will never be forgotten by the Pirates team and coaching staff, nor the students at Madison Heights. The hallways of the high school were decorated in red and black with hand made posters adorning the walls. That Friday, a pep rally was held during the last period of the day. Principal Robert Collier informed students that Monday would be a day off from school, no matter what the outcome of the tournament might be. Pirate fans filled the Madison Heights section at Assembly Hall in Bloomington the following day, but the team's unforgettable season came to an end with a 75-67 loss to Gary West. The Madison Heights Pirates had a record of 24 wins and 4 losses that year.
Though the Pirates never returned to the IHSAA Basketball State Finals, they went on to win four more Anderson Sectionals (1975, 1982, 1987, 1988) and two more Anderson Regionals (1975 and 1982). In 1977, Madison Heights starting center Ray Tolbert was named Indiana's Mr. Basketball, whereas Bobby Wilkerson was selected to the 1972 Indiana All-Star team. Both went on to play for Coach Bob Knight at Indiana University. Wilkerson and Tolbert were members of the Hoosiers' 1976 and 1981 NCAA Championship teams respectively, and are inductees of the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame.
Before retiring as head coach at Madison Heights, Phil Buck led his teams to nine sectional titles, two regional titles, and one semi-state title. He was inducted into the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame in 1983.
After Madison Heights High School closed in 1997, it was renamed Anderson High School. The gymnasium is all that remains of the school, where all of those great home games were played many years ago. The Pirate mascot has been replaced at center court by an Indian and the school colors of red and black are gone as well. But to many the gymnasium will always be known as "Pirate Palace" or the house that Phil Buck built.