BHS BASKETBALL: The Other No. 1 Team
By LISA BRITTON
Bob Ott gingerly turns the pages of his scrapbook, pulling out a gold "B" embroidered with the words "1938 State Champs."
Each page holds memories of that Baker Bulldog basketball season, which ended on March 19, 1938, with Baker's first and until last weekend, only basketball state championship.
That was also the year when a T-bone steak dinner cost $1.25 documented on a menu from Schapp's Restaurant in Salem, taken 65 years ago and tucked into Ott's scrapbook.
The 1938 team won 24 and lost 5 en route to the state title. Wally Sowers was the tallest player at 6-foot-1-inch.
"We beat La Grande five times that year," Ott said. "We lost to Pendleton once, we lost to Ontario once, we lost to the Oregon frosh once."
Baker played the University of Oregon freshman team to raise money for the Kiwanis Milk Fund Benefit.
"We took a drumming that night, too, something like 40-something to 20-something," he said.
Neither Ott nor Felton "Don" Huntsman of Seattle who, along with Orville Ragsdale of Baker City are the only living members of the team remember much that was remarkable about the regular season.
Except, perhaps, for their coach, George Allison.
Huntsman recalls the discipline that Allison enforced with his team, even down to what food they consumed during the state playoffs.
"The ketchup came off the table. I can remember him not letting us have ketchup," he said. "He was like an old mother hen, running around and keeping track of us boys."
"We didn't get to go to any of the (other) games," Ott said. "(Allison) had a guy down there who took our urine samples and tested them every day."
While the team of eight were working their way through the 19th annual state tournament in Salem, support grew in Baker City.
Fans stuck in Baker weren't deprived of the action many ventured to the high school gym where they could at least hear the game.
"They rented a telephone line and broadcast through the phone line to speakers in the gym," Ott said.
Marge Haynes, class of 1938, remembers those audio games in the gymnasium.
"That was the next best thing," she said this week as she looked through Ott's scrapbook.
When Baker beat Klamath Falls on Wednesday, the win prompted students to abandon all thoughts of schoolbooks and classes, said Carl Kostol, a 1940 graduate.
He said they stayed out of school on Wednesday and Thursday, then went back for half a day on Friday at the request of the principal.
"He said if we stayed in school until noon, he'd give us the rest of the day off," Kostol said.
On Saturday, the day of the championship game, Wayne Phillips and three of his buddies were determined to make it to Salem on time.
"I went with Gordon Smurthwaite, and he got the car from his dad a model A Ford," Phillips said.
The tires were bad, and they'd used their only three spares before Pendleton.
"As we were going down Cabbage Hill, we got the last flat," he said.
Clean out of spares and determined to see their team play two of them rolled the tire down into Pendleton to get fixed, then hitched a ride back to the car to continue their trip.
Their trials were worth it Baker beat Amity 27-18, the fourth and final state game.
"We didn't hardly know what hit us," Ott smiles, remembering that after they won, Coach Allison let them eat whatever they wanted.
Amity was actually the champion of the B league (now called 1A), which gave them a spot in the state basketball championship for the larger schools.
Baker brought home other awards in addition to the big trophy Orville Ragsdale and Waymon Colson made the all-star first team, and Wendell Coleman won the outstanding sportsmanship award.
Scotty Haskell, 1938 graduate, said that on that next Monday the day the team was driving home several students manned the doors, stopping those on their way into school.
"They talked everybody into getting up when the first bell rang," she said. "I don't remember a single teacher trying to stop us."
"They couldn't do anything everybody left," Kostol added.
Only one student stayed behind.
"There was one student who didn't skip Annabelle Colson she was the superintendent's daughter," Haskell said.
Dick Temple, the drum major for the BHS band, took the lead as the students marched through town in celebration of the school's championship.
In the meantime, others were going out of their way to greet the hometown champs.
"They went out before (the team) came and painted Welcome' on the highway with whitewash," Phillips remembers.
Huntsman remembers that state police troopers met the team in Haines to escort them into town, along with about 50 other cars crammed full with enthusiastic students.
The team, coach and all their supporters from the community congregated at post office square to celebrate going all the way.
"I think we had a pretty good team," Ott said. "It doesn't come around often."
Editor's note: This story originally appeared in the Baker City Herald March 23, 2003.