Beverly Bruins made it big

Nearly everything about the 1952-53 Beverly Bruins basketball team is gone except some of the players, the newspaper write-ups and pictures, the Bruins bear (mascot) and the stories that are still told around town. Five years after the team broke school records, people even questioned the removal of the old Beverly High School that included the gym where the Bruins had gained such fame. They said it had become one of Beverly’s landmarks. But progress rules and the old building and gym were razed. This did not ruin our memories because those boys loved basketball and their story is here to stay.

The 1953 champion Beverly Bruins did what great basketball teams do. They got people talking. And they got people wondering. The Bruins had a better than average season in 1951-52, winning every game at home. People were saying, “Most of the boys are back. What about next year?” And when the 1952-53 season finally came around, Coach Merle Whiting’s boys gave the whole county something to talk about and the village of Beverly something to remember for years. Their story will be covered in three parts. This article covers the 1951-52 and the first half of the 1952-53 seasons. The next article will cover the games from January 1953 through the end of the season. The third part covers the 1953 tournaments. Later in the year there will be three additional articles about the Bruins-two that take a brief glimpse into the lives of these boys who wore the orange and black and one that relates some stories they tell about their remarkable year.

It must be noted that high school basketball was different back then. Schools, named throughout these articles, were smaller and so were their gyms. Home teams had several advantages, including, during the regular season, picking the referee(s). In over half the games there was a single referee. Sometimes games were rough, knock down affairs. For example, The Marietta Times reported the game between Beverly and Bloomfield on December 15, 1950, as “a wild and wooly football-type cage affair.”

In November 1951 people started paying close attention to the team that played at Beverly High School’s gym, now the site of the Lyman Pomeroy Library. Before the end of the year the Bruins had the following wins: Lowell (72-62), Bartlett (56-51), Lawrence (86-53), Newport (60-56), St. Mary (61-55), Salem 67-61, Bloomfield (77-57), Marietta Reserves (59-37), and Matamoras (60-58). During this time they lost only three games. By February 1952 the team had a fourth place standing in the league with seven wins and three losses. They had won every game at home, pleasing the crowds even more. During the first round of the Washington County tournament, the Bruins beat Bartlett (57-42). They were beaten the next game by Matamoras (48-38). By the end of the season, they were 16-6. As everybody knew, it was the team’s youth and height that were even more impressive. The players were: Buddy Sprague, 5′ 10″, junior (5); Don Malster, 5′ 10″, junior (9); Wayne Lauer, 6′ 2″, junior (4); Ronnie Tyson, 5′ 11″, junior (12); Willie Blackford, 6′ 3″, junior (6); Cleaston Flesher, 6′ 1″, junior (10); Lewis Way, 6′, junior; Ronnie Lockhart, 6′, senior; Bob Wiley, 5′ 11″, senior; and Pete Moore, 5′ 10″, senior. The players in a 1952-53 team picture (shown here) can be identified by the numbers in parenthesis. There was a great deal of talk about how well the team would do next year. And when that year came, the Bruins made Beverly proud.

The first game of the 1952-53 season, the one that made the Bruins famous, opened on November 14, 1952. In addition to the players from last year (minus the seniors and Way), four more players joined the team: Dick Adams, 6′ 1″, senior (8), from Roseville; Bob Combs. 6′ 1″, junior (3), from Rienersville; Ronnie Smith, 5′ 8″, junior (11); and Bill Malster, 6′, sophomore (7). The team had a hard-to-stop offensive weapon. Don Malster and Sprague, with the assistance of the big men, Blackford, Lauer and Combs, had a great fast break. They had speed, height and skill-a coach’s dream. In the opener, the Bruins blasted Waterford (106-46). The newspaper noted the “potent Bruins” used the first team only about half the game. The Bruins then beat Newport (73-45), Vincent (64-55), Philo (66-64), Lawrence (90-56), Salem-Liberty (69-67), Bloomfield (109-72), Matamoras (86-70), St. Mary (93-52), and Marietta Reserves (79-34). By the end of 1952 the Bruins were 10-0. The team was getting state-wide attention. An article by Dave Diles in Columbus on December 30, 1952, printed in The Marietta Times, noted, “Beverly in Washington County sports one of the best offensive marks in the state, having averaged 84 per game in 10 straight triumphs.” Soon after this the Bruins were ranked 10th in the state in Class B.

Phillip L. Crane, a Waterford resident and Marietta history teacher for 32 years, will share stories of historical events in the Lower Muskingum Valley.