By David Humphrey
For The Herald Bulletin
The 1961-1962 Orestes Cyclones may not be the most well known basketball team from Madison County. But they may very well be one of the best teams ever to play in the area.
Under the leadership of coach Whitey Ellis, the Orestes Cyclones had 11 games scheduled for the 1961-62 season in addition to the Orestes Invitational Tourney and the Alexandria -Monroe Township Junior High Tourney.
Ellis, a former Anderson College student who played halfback on the Ravens football team, was well-liked and respected by the Cyclone players and members of the community.
Born in Wevaco, Va., Ellis told his players stories about growing up in the small coal mining town. As a young man, Ellis drove an ambulance for a funeral home and told of driving down a dark road one night with a corpse in the back of the vehicle. The dead body let out a groan, much to the surprise and dismay of Ellis.
The story left the ballplayers wide-eyed and wanting to hear more, but Coach Ellis felt the boys should practice to help keep their then-winning streak alive.
The Orestes Cyclones A Team included Steve Eden, Larry Allen, Neil Spooner, Dave Stinefield, Dave Wilson, Greg Clock, Ernie Ryan, Bill Reid, Steve Frix, Steve Deines, Joe Remington, Tony Hocker and John Goodman.
Cheerleaders were Charlotte Ellis, Frances Ryan, Nancy Swisher, and Diane Richardson. Team managers were Bennie Teague, Chester Ellis and Steve “Red” Goodman. Arthur Gooding was scorekeeper for the team.
Ingalls first to fall
The Cyclones undefeated season began on a Thursday evening, Nov. 2, with a victory over Ingalls.
Steve Eden led the Cyclones with 16 points followed by Tony Hocker (13 points) and Larry Allen (eight points). Duck Creek Boone of Elwood visited Orestes the following week and fell to the Cyclones 45 to 18. Every seat in the Orestes gymnasium was filled for the Cyclones’ home game including the team’s number one fan Mary Gooding, who cheered louder than anyone at the game.
As with the week before Steve Eden was the team’s top scorer with 22 points, nearly half of what the entire team scored against Duck Creek Boone.
Alexandria St. Mary’s came to Orestes with a losing record and left town later that night with another loss. The Alexandria St. Mary’s Rockets scored only one point during the first half of the game due to the Cyclones playing a well crafted zone defense. Coach Ellis sent in his substitute players for third quarter action, allowing the Rockets to put 13 points on the scoreboard. The Cyclones’ five starters finished the game putting win No. 3 in the books for Orestes.
Tony Hocker scored 12 points for the Orestes home team. After a six-day break The Orestes Cyclones returned to action and did not let the hometown crowd down. Coach Ellis once again utilized the same zone defense that the Cyclones used against the Alexandria St. Mary’s Rockets. Only this time the team on the losing end was Jackson Township. Final score of the game was Orestes beating Jackson Township 43 to 26.
On Dec. 5, the Cyclones travelled to Ingalls for the team’s first away game of the season. Though Orestes defeated Ingalls just a month earlier, the Cyclones narrowly escaped with a three-point win during the second match up of the season. Steve Eden was leading scorer for the Cyclones in their 29 to 26 victory over Ingalls. Orestes went onto defeat Alexandria and New Lancaster taking a record of seven wins and no losses into Christmas break.
Back from break
With the holidays over, classes resumed at Orestes School as did basketball practice and scheduled games. After-school practice for the Cyclones included wind sprints, passing, shooting, dribbling using both hands, and jumping rope.
Players Tony Hocker, Bill Reid, and Larry Allen would each spin a basketball on the tips of their fingers while walking around the perimeter of the gymnasium floor. Steve Eden kept in shape by working out on the punching bag and speed bag.
Orestes defeated Fall Creek and Duck Creek Boone before heading into the Eighth Annual Orestes Invitational Tournament. During the tournament, the Cyclones beat Curtisville 42 to 18 in the afternoon match up and defeated Duck Creek Boone during the Championship game that night. Members of the Orestes Invitational All-Tournament team included Orestes players Steve Eden and Dave Stinefield. Dennis Leisure of Duck Creek Boone, Rod Colson of New Lancaster, and Curtisville teammates John Knotts and Morris Stansberry.
Orestes Cyclone Steve Eden received the tournament’s Sportsmanship Award. Less than a week after winning the Orestes Invitational Tournament, the Cyclones closed out January with yet another victory. Leach School battled Orestes until the final buzzer but wound up losing by a score of 40 to 32. Steve Eden once again led the Orestes offense with twenty-two points. The Cyclones took their perfect record into February, the last month of their basketball season.
Slick as glass
Alexandria St.Mary’s lost badly to Orestes on their home floor on the first day of February. The Cyclones defeated the Rockets 38 to 8. Now with 13 wins and no losses, the Cyclones were favored to win the First Annual Alexandria-Monroe Junior High Tourney. And win big they did. In the afternoon game Orestes defeated Cunningham by a score of 30 to 20, while the Alexandria Bulldogs beat St. Mary’s 27 to 14. The two teams faced off later that evening for the championship. Orestes came out on top 37 to 27 for the team’s second ten point victory margin of the day. Cyclone Tony Hocker scored thirty-three points during the tournament, the most of any player from the four competing teams. Cunningham won the consolation game with a 50 to 17 win over the St. Mary’s Rockets.
Later that week, Orestes traveled to Curtisville where the Cyclones described the gymnasium floor as “slick as glass.” It was a tough win for Orestes narrowly defeating Curtisville 39 to 35. During the last few minutes of the game Orestes held the ball to keep it out of the hands of the fiery Curtisville team. Tony Hocker, Steve Eden, and Bill Reid scored 37 of 39 points for the Cyclones.
Orestes was only one win away from an undefeated season with a road game against Summitville on Valentine’s Day. Summitville was easily handled by Orestes 64 to 40 giving the Cyclones a perfect record of seventeen wins and no losses for the 1961-62 basketball season. After the final game, family and friends of the Cyclones went on the gymnasium floor to congratulate the team on their monumental achievement. Coach Whitey Ellis was hoisted in the air by members of Cyclone team and led into the locker room. The fully clothed Ellis was placed beneath the shower as part of the celebration. Though he was drenched from head to toe, the beloved coach savored that special moment with the Orestes Cyclones.