Shelby County has another team headed to the state basketball tournament. Even though it’s become somewhat common, it’s still so very special.
This weekend it’s the Jackson Center boys. Last weekend it was the girls from the same school.
Fifth-three years ago a Shelby County team got to go for the first time ever. That, too, was the orange and black of Tiger Country. The landscape of Ohio high school basketball was very different back then when Fritz Gross took his team to St. John Arena in Columbus.
A girls state tournament was still 13 years away. There were over a thousand boys squads placed in only two divisions. Today about 800 schools compete for four titles in each gender.
In 1963 I had just turned nine years old but I recall what a big deal it was when Jackson Center closed down the town and headed to the state capital. Zack Crusey told us in the Sidney Daily News that this was a new experience for a team from our county. Many of us listened to the action “live” on the Piqua radio station.
The Tigers won the semifinal but lost a heartbreaker to Dresden-Jefferson in the championship. The team came home to a special reception that cushioned some of the disappointment. Over time, the magnitude of their accomplishment was embraced throughout the county.
Despite growing up in Sidney, I was very familiar with Jackson Center in my early years. My family often traveled through on the way to Indian Lake, sometimes stopping at Sprague’s grocery for some “Mel-O-Mix” ice cream. If I was spending time with my mother’s parents, we often ended up at the “Feed Bag” restaurant on the western edge of town.
Not long after the local boys returned from Columbus, a team picture was displayed near the eatery’s cash register and remained there for many years. I often gazed at the hometown heroes and thought about their unique accomplishment. Years later I got to know many of them with several becoming close friends.
To this day, whenever a Shelby County team makes the state basketball tournament, my first thought is of that special photo from 1963 next to the cash register where I used to eat with my grandparents. Those guys started a great legacy for Shelby County basketball.
Dave Ross is a local sports historian and regular contributor to the Sidney Daily News.