A hero’s welcome home

web1_WhizKidsWith four seconds on the block Gene Dudley’s 15-foot shot from the corner dropped through the net. After a desperation shot from the Middies fell short, bedlam erupted as Coach Harry Strobel and the Redmen won their first state championship.

Possibly the greatest aspect of that 1945 team; however, was not what they did on the basketball court — it was that each man went to college. Dudley and Bob Green graduated from Bowling Green University. Fred Friend attended Notre Dame and John Carroll universities; Charles Hickman, Florida State University; Vince Schlicht, Ohio Wesleyan and Ohio State; Bob Smetzer, Tiffin Universityl Dale Campbell, Joe Disandis, Elvin Ferres and Norm Eger all graduated from Bowling Green. Student managers Bill Serraino and Bob Todd were also college graduates.

The Middletown Middies succeeded the Redmen as state champions. The middies won in 1944 and 1946 and lost only in the finals to Bellevue in 1945. In fact, that loss to Bellevue was Middletown’s only defeat in 70 games.

Fred Edwards, former Gazette sports editor, described the scene in Bellevue as the town turned out to greet the state champions on their triumphant return:

“Returning from their thrill-packed victory in Toledo, the championship Redmen, the best team in the state of Ohio, received the best the town of Bellevue could have given them — a magnificent parade witnessed by thousands of jubilant fans, mass meetings offering the team the key to the city, confetti-filled air as they were given rousing ovations, speeches of praise to the champions and banquets feting them for weeks following the victory.

“Not to be forgotten was the sight of co-captains Bob Green and Gene Dudley sitting on the fenders of the bus, and holding the sign the entire town was repeating months later — We Are The Champs. And no one will ever forget the victory grins on the faces of the team.

“Bellevue truly went crazy with joy Sunday, March 25, 1945. First of all came the wonderful parade. Led by police cards and fire engines, with sirens going full blast and the band and drum corps adding their joyful music to the gala occasion, the bus painted from roof to hubcap with white wash broadcasting their great victory, rolled its way through the yelling crowd. Following marched the American Legion, and following them was a procession of cars that stretched for two miles.

“The parade ended at the high school, and there the doors were thrown open to admit the cheering crowd for a mass meeting. The happy fans heard speeches by town and school officials, by neighboring well-wishers and coaches, and by the state champions themselves. When the meeting was over, the team were the proud owners of lipstick-smeared faces as their feminine fans energetically offered their congratulations.

“The celebration didn’t stop there, however. The following morning found the students in another mass meeting, a school assembly, continuing the festivities of a championship town. Then the students heard Dr. H.K. Shumaker, president of the school board, proclaim a three-day victory holiday.

“Banquets continued for the Redmen. At the annual basketball banquet congratulations were heard from Governor Frank Lausche and Representative Franklin Pierce, who had entertained the team in Columbus a few days before, and gave the team copies of the congratulatory resolution passed by the Ohio Legislature. Coach Strobel and Assistant Coach Al Alvaraz were presented gold watches by the Bellevue fans. Later Bellevue citizens raised a sum of money also to give watches to each of the 12 boys on the varsity team. It was announced each would received his varsity letter, regardless of the number of quarters played.

“Individual players, even before they were state champs, were placed on honorary teams. All of the “first five” were named on either the first or second team of the All-Northern Ohio League; Bob Green, Gene Dudley and Fred Friend on the first and Charles Hickman and Vincent Schlicht on the second. The I.N.S. picked Green as first team All-Ohio and Dudley as third team All-Ohio. The A.P. named Green to first team All Ohio and Dudley, who was barley nosed out of first team, to second team All Ohio. Then at Toledo, both Green and Dudley were given first team positions and Friend, a second team position on the All-State tourney team.”