On March 31, 1953, the front page of the El Dorado Times read “El Dorado Honors National Champs: Two-Day Celebration to Fete Junior College Basketball Squad is Launched; Tuesday Night Dinner, Talks by Allen and Gardner Feature.”
On March 31, 1953, the front page of the El Dorado Times read "El Dorado Honors National Champs: Two-Day Celebration to Fete Junior College Basketball Squad is Launched; Tuesday Night Dinner, Talks by Allen and Gardner Feature."
According to the article, "... the town is undergoing a series of celebrations which is due to last until Tuesday night. "Starting off the outbursts of joy-making was the mob scene at the arena immediately after the game was over when everybody swarmed out over the floor to congratulate the new champions – the first from Kansas ever to take top honors.
"More celebrating was in order yet Saturday night when the team was met at the west edge of town on the return trip and with a police escort was taken to the El Dorado theater for another round of lusty cheers and speeches."
That team from El Dorado Junior College was the first Kansas team to win a national tournament, bringing home the title of 1953 NJCAA Champion Basketball team.
The 60-year anniversary of that accomplishment was recognized recently with a ceremony at Butler Community College, then later by the Kansas Senate.
Among the members of the team being honored were El Dorado residents Larry Maus, team manager; Jack Wickers; and Jerry Evenson.
They were first recognized during half time of a Butler basketball game.
Then in March they traveled to Topeka where there was a luncheon held in their honor, and after lunch there was a ceremony before the senate. Sen. Jeff King had arranged for the presentation because his father had played on the Ark City team.
A resolution was presented congratulating the El Dorado team on the 60th anniversary of winning their title. It also recognized one of only two times in history two teams from the same state met in the NJCAA National Tournament Championship Game. El Dorado faced Arkansas City Junior College.
"I was surprised when they first contacted me that they wanted to do something like that," Maus said.
He said it was nice to have someone remember the event.
"It was a neat thing," added Wickers. "I'd been injured the last game in Dodge City so I was on crutches. It was a great team and a good time."
He recalls just being excited they had won, saying it took a while for it to sink in.
"Those are just good times, all around good times," he said.
While at the State Capitol, they got to sit in the seats of honor as guests of the Senate while they read the resolution.
"After 60 years, it brings up some fond memories," Wickers said. "After 60 years it's nice to have it come up again. It was a real honor to get to go up and be recognized."
Some of those memories it brought up was the fact they had been known as the Cinderella team.
"We were called the Cinderella team, so we went from the bottom to the top," Evenson said.
They got that name because they were the team who had lost the least number of games when a California team couldn't make it to the tournament, so they got to go.
In fact, they had been beat by Ark City in the Regional.
Evenson recalled going back and forth to the games every day, being the only team that didn't just stay in town.
"They put us in the same dressing room," Evenson said of them and the Ark City team. "When they came in they had 'national champs' on their jackets. We kind of laughed and said that isn't going to happen."
El Dorado and Ark City, now Cowley County Community College, had met three times in the regular season, with Ark City winning twice.
In the final game, a game that heavily favored Ark City, the Grizzlies were down by about 20 points at half time and four of their five starters had four fouls. At the end of the third quarter they were within about six or eight points of each other, and that last quarter they played all subs.
They were able to turn it around and won 82-64, which remains one of the wider margins of victory in NJCAA National Tournament History.
The Grizzlies finished the year 22-6.
Other team members included Richard Smith, Mike Girrens, Bill McAdoo, Ray Reep, Jerry Wilson, Dave Ellis, Gary Silor, Eldon Eisenhour, Bill Elliott and Fred Fuller. Deceased members include Len Wilson, Dick Rippee, Pat Kinney, John Gragg and Danny O'Brien.
Maus said all of the players but one was from the Butler County area. They were coached by Dave Weatherby.
Wilson and Smith were named NJCAAA All-Americans and Gragg and Girrens were honorable mention All-American.