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1958 Sectional Victory Rocked Knightstown
February 13, 2008 - In the late 1950s, Indiana high school basketball was a major event every week of the season in communities across the state. At Knightstown High School, there was an even bigger story unfolding.
The 1957 consolidation of Knightstown and Kennard High Schools forced the closure of the latter and placed the children of hardwood rivalries on the same team. A lot of people didn’t know what to expect, not just in the halls of the school, but on the basketball court.
What they got, however, did as much as anything in solidifying the connection between the communities and the families who formed the Charles A. Beard School Corporation.
It was 50 years ago next week that the Knightstown Panthers pulled off the unthinkable and won the New Castle sectional title. The team had to defeat Spiceland, New Castle, Mooreland and heavily-favored Middletown to claim their crown, but they did just that.
It was an event that rocked the community and brought together a school corporation that had still be struggling to find an identity following the consolidation.
The 1958 New Castle Sectional title tied the communities together and gave the people an event to celebrate as one.
Fifty years later many people remember well the massive celebration.
“I’ve never seen so many people celebrating together in my entire life,” said Knightstown resident Don Moore, a member of Knightstown High School’s first-ever sectional champion. “They brought us to the Mattix Restaurant after the game to eat, and the entire town square was just jammed with people.”
Other team members noticed the unusual showing of support for the team.
“I think we were all shocked with the amount of people we saw at the restaurant and then again at the gymnasium,” said Larry Bundy, also a member of the 1958 sectional champs. “When we went over to the gym it was just amazing how many people showed up there.”
The celebration was unlike anything the town had ever seen. But so was the accomplishment in the eyes of many. Knightstown had taken many good teams to New Castle for the state tournament, only to fall short every year.
Heading in to the 1958 boys basketball sectional, Knightstown was thought by most to be the fourth-best team in the field of 10.
The title couldn’t have come at a better time, according to those who were there. Bundy said a lot of students initially had mixed feelings about the consolidation, but got over it long before the adults did.
“There were a lot of adults who didn’t like it, and there were some kids who really wanted to graduate from Kennard,” said Bundy, who was a sophomore on the basketball team. “Most of us didn’t want to go to Knightstown. We were reluctant at first, but we were all treated very well by the Knightstown students and it was a very smooth transition. At first I’ll bet 90 percent of the kids were reluctant, but I think they all felt really good about it fairly quickly. Winning the sectional really brought the two communities together, but as far as the kids at the school, I think we had already come together.”
Charlie Riggs was a member of the team and still lives in the school district. He drives a bus for CAB and is also pastor of the Shirley Gospel Mission. He, as well as Bundy, had thought they were going to graduate from Kennard High School.
Instead, they found themselves playing ball for the Knightstown Panthers and trying to adjust to a school nearly four times the size of the one they had been attending. Despite grumbling among the people of Knightstown and Kennard, he, too said the students handled the transition well.
“As students I don’t think we had that many problems,” Riggs said. “Everyone just kind of blended in really well. Winning the sectional definitely helped get rid of any bad feelings that were out there.”
The basketball team struggled during the season before catching fire and winning their last seven games. The buzz around the team was building and by the time the sectional started, the Knightstown, Kennard and Greensboro communities were in a frenzy.
“Every storefront in town was decorated – every one of them,” said Danny Vaughn, who scored 54 points and had 70 rebounds in the four tourney games. “All up and down U.S. 40 there were signs, windows were painted … it was really something.”
The Panthers defeated Spiceland, New Castle and Mooreland, before whipping Middletown in the championship game. After each win the community became more excited.
The long caravan of cars then left the gymnasium in New Castle and rolled into town, where thousands of people were waiting, according to the Knightstown Banner in 1958. The town square and entire downtown area was jammed-packed with well-wishers. The team was fed a meal at the Mattix Restaurant, and then relocated to the Panther gym, now known as the Hoosier Gym.
“The gym was packed and there were people lined up all the way to the street and all around the building,” Moore said. “There were people just everywhere. We couldn’t believe it. Everyone from every town in the school district must have been at that gym.”
According to the 1958 Banner, rows of fans surrounded the gym and ran at least 25 deep at every point. The Banner said police estimated the crowd on the square at 2,000 and the crowd outside the gym “a lot bigger.” Bonfires were burning throughout town as people attempted to keep warm while celebrating together.
“It was bigger than I ever thought it would be,” said Vaughn, who today is a field superintendent for the general contractor building Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. Vaughn plans to be at the Panther gymnasium Saturday night.
“I remember they rang the victory bell in the gym, and that bell is still in the gym today,” Bundy said. “That’s the only time I remember them ringing that bell. People were everywhere, it was just amazing.”
Following a school consolidation that caught some by surprise, the communities of Knightstown, Kennard and Greensboro were in need of something to unite them. A basketball team gave them that much-needed remedy.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt that winning the sectional helped bring the communities together,” Bundy said. “Everyone was there, celebrating together. It was something else.”
That 1958 basketball team will be recognized Saturday night before the introduction of players for the Knightstown basketball game against Hagerstown. Some of the team members will be there, cheering on the current Panthers 50 years after making history as a Panthers themselves.
“We go to every basketball game, win or lose,” said Moore, who can be seen at many KHS sporting events.
A final list of team members from the 1958 sectional champions who plan to attend the game this weekend could not be compiled by press time, but several have promised they will be in attendance Saturday night.
As Moore said of the history-making team, they are “Panthers to the very end.”
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