By Rob Kiser
Piqua Daily Call
Editor’s Note: The interviews for this story were done on Dec. 6, 2014 when the 1968-69 boys basketball team was in town for the 45th anniversary of Piqua’s only district title in basketball.
It was a special time that produced a magical season — one that still ranks at the top of the list of the Piqua High School basketball program.
The Indians only district championship was won on the hardwood during the 1968-69 season, 50 years ago.
Those team and staff included 1968-69 Piqua athletic director, the late Chuck Asher; head coach, Bill Kennon; assistant coach, Ed Purk; assistant coach, Dean Evans; freshman coach, the late Dick Pearson; senior players – Dan Penrod, John Hinsch, Chris Hardman, John Frigge, John Davis, Dave Reed, Anthony Wells and Jim Smith; juniors – Ted Davis, Don Hole, Dave Gallagher and the late Scott Underwood; sophomores – Rick Short, the late Terry Counts and Bill Fogt; and senior Managers – Dave Vosler and Greg Trissell.
And if you want to understand just how special that season was, consider the comments of Dr. Dave Gallagher, one of the starters on that team.
And keep in mind, Gallagher went on to have an All-American career in football, played in several bowl games for the University of Michigan, was a first-round draft pick and had a five-year NFL career where he faced some of the greatest players of the time like Roger Staubach, Joe Namath, O.J. Simpson and Walter Payton to name a few.
He was recently inducted into the University of Michigan’s Hall of Honor.
“I have been blessed,” Gallagher said. “I have played against some amazing players and had some amazing accomplishments. But, and I mean this when I say it, the 68-69 basketball team, winning the district tournament and going to the top of the world — that was as special as any. I think about it all the time.”
And as players talked about that season and what they accomplished — a consistent theme was coach Bill Kennon and the direction he gave the team.
“He understood that you need to plant the seed,” Chris Hardman, another starter on the team, said. “A lot of coaches don’t understand that.”
Hardman, who has gone on to a Hall of Fame coaching career (baseball) like fellow team member Don Hole (softball), knows of what he speaks. Hardman coached Ottawa Hills to a state title on the baseball diamond, along with much success.
And he had a message for his former coach before a dinner five years ago at the Piqua Hotel, as did many of the players.
“None of this would have happened without you coach,” Hardman said. “I don’t think any of us appreciated at the time what you did like we do now and I just wanted to tell you that. I don’t think any of us believed, but you did. That chart you came up with in the locker room was amazing. I have been using it in coaching for 40 years.”
Kennon’s record speaks for itself.
His first season, the Indians were 20-2, followed by a 19-4 season.
Both seasons ended with losses in the district finals.
Keep in mind, back then there were just Class A and AA — not four division like today.
He finished his five years at Piqua with a record of 80-29.
“I always set our goals high,” Kennon said. “My goal was always to win a state championship as a player or coach. As people speak tonight, the one thing you kept hearing was school spirit and the student section and how great there were. It takes everyone working together from the administration on down.”
Kennon planned everything to the letter.
In one of his first seasons with Piqua, the Indians were 13-0 and state ranked.
So, Kennon scheduled a doubleheader at Hobart Arena against some of the best competition, including Lima Shawnee, Chaminade and Troy, who also had a strong team.
“I did it so we would be prepared and see what playing in those types of games was like,” Kennon said.
He also showed that thinking the year before the district championship season.
“I took them down to Cincinnati Gardens (for the regionals),” Kennon said. “I wanted them to see what it was like in case we would get down there.”
Anthony Wells remembers that as a motivating factor.
“The idea of playing on the same floor that Oscar Robertson played on,” Wells said. “That meant everything to me.”
The 1968-69 season did not unfold exactly as planned.
Just before the tournament, Piqua had to forfeit five games, dropping its record from 12-6 to 7-11 and turning it into a Cinderella story for some.
“Was it an upset (over top seed Bellefontaine),” John Hinsch said to everyone. “Not to me it wasn’t. But, then again, the Jets won the Super Bowl that year and the Mets won the World Series. So, maybe it was a year for upsets.”
And it wasn’t to Kennon either.
Before the tournament, he passed out an itinerary to all the players.
It included pre-game meals, when they were leaving for games and who they were going to playing, all the way through the district tournament — even when pep rallies would be held all the way through the tournament.
“He put out this itinerary before the tournament — for the whole district tournament and there were 27 teams,” Dan Penrod, the MVP of the team, said. “He had down every game, who we were going to be playing. The only game he missed is Fairview upset Sidney. I don’t know how he did that.
“It was all coach Kennon and his attention to detail. We wouldn’t have been where we were without him.”
The Bellefontaine paper even posted a warning for the Chieftains before the district championship game.
“There was one reporter from the Bellefontaine Examiner who wrote, beware of the Indians, coach Kennon will have them ready to play,” Penrod said. “We had lost to them one time and beaten them in overtime, but that was one of the games we had to forfeit. So, I felt like we could beat them.”
Hardman gave much of the credit to Wells, who came out of nowhere to score 110 points in the five tournament games.
“The key to the whole thing was me getting mono,” Hardman said. “I was sick and Anthony (Wells) came in and was the best player in Southwest Ohio for those five games.”
Wells remains humble to this day.
“One of the things was the tournament was the first time one of my uncles came to see me play,” Wells said. “I think it was one of those things that just happens when you have the adrenaline going. It is really hard to put into words.”
There was a great celebration back at Roosevelt Fieldhouse after the 55-54 district championship win over top seed Bellefontaine after beating second seed Wayne in the district semifinals.
“When we got back to the fieldhouse, I think coach had this thing, roll them up,” Penrod said. So, everybody had their pants rolled up. It was great. The whole community was there and everybody was going crazy.”
Piqua ended up losing to Chaminade 61-60 in the regional semifinals.
“I think if you ask any Chaminade players now, they will tell you we got a raw deal (from the officials),” Penrod said. “It was a little bittersweet.”
But, it didn’t take anything away form the moment.
“As you get older, you get better than you were,” Gallagher said.
And 50 years later, it is still the “Top of the World” moment for the Piqua basketball program.
Contact Piqua Daily Call Sports Editor Rob Kiser at firstname.lastname@example.org