1949 Legion basketball team was a national champion

By Steve Sell
February 24, 2017

The McPherson Globe Refiners are generally regarded as McPherson’s basketball royalty, as six members of that team went on to help the United States win the gold medal in the 1936 Olympics in Germany, defeating Canada in the finals and infuriating Germany dictator Adolf Hitler in the process.

The team, in fact, celebrated its 80th anniversary last year with deserved pomp and circumstance.

But sometimes forgotten is another team that established McPherson as a basketball super power, which has continued on today with the high school teams.

The 1949 McPherson American Legion Post 24 basketball team won the organization’s national championship in Beaver Falls, Pa.

McPherson’s Carl Kasey, 94 years young, is the last living player from that team. Harold Wiebe of Hillsboro recently passed away, Kasey said.

Kasey, a longtime McPherson school teacher, has fond memories of that somewhat-forgotten team. 

Kasey, who never played high school basketball at MHS, had played for the McPherson VFW team in 1947 after graduating from McPherson College, where he had joined the team as a walk-on despite his inexperience. Despite standing only 5-10, Kasey was regarded as an extraordinary jumper for his era as he often played center and could dunk a basketball with one hand. “After the war, a lot of veterans still wanted to play basketball so a lot of teams were formed,” he said. “If you could jump, you could help the team a lot.”

He added he got to play center because Vance Carlson had left to join the New York Yankees for spring training.

That team went on in 1948 to play in the Kansas State VFW Tournament and won the championship, which earned it a trip to the national event in Anderson, Ind., where it finished in seventh place.

After that team disbanded as money during that time was tight since it wasn’t that long after the war, Kasey — a veteran of the Navy — joined the American Legion team in the fall of 1948 under the guidance of player-coach Buck Reinecker. The team — which consisted of eight players and two managers — defeated Galva 44-42 for the state championship and that qualified it for the 1949 national tournament in Pennsylvania.

“To make the trip to Pennsylvania, the team was given the use of two used cars from the Miller-Kennedy Auto Company,” Kasey once wrote when asked to detail his experiences from his playing days. “Since finances were low, the team did not sleep in any hotels, but took turns driving while others slept in cars. The car I rode in was a 2-door coupe, which was a little crowded.”

It was quite a sight when the team arrived in Pennsylvania.

“When we arrived in Beaver Falls and checked in at our hotel, we learned that the city was in the middle of a coal-mining area,” Kasey wrote. “There was coal and dust on every windowsill and on the tops of doors. We had to be careful where we hung our clothes.”

Team member Marx Jones was a member of the Episcopal Church and he contacted the Beaver Falls priest so the team could practice at the gym in his church.

Post 24 defeated teams from Michigan, North Dakota and Indiana to make the championship game, where it toppled Illinois 47-40 to win the title as Leo Anderson poured in 18 points.

Kasey, always a gentleman to those who know him, was selected as the tournament’s Sportsmanship Award winner. A Pennsylvania paper later published a picture that read that Kasey was the tourney’s MVP. “I never got any recognition of it, so that may not be true,” he said. “It was to him (the reporter).”

The championship was big news in McPherson and surrounding communities. The Legion Post decided to send several convertibles to meet the team for a hero’s welcome. According to Kasey, though, when the team was getting gas (and “getting our hair fixed,” Kasey said) in Galva before entering town, the convertibles went by on Highway 56 and went on to Canton in search of the team. Finally the team arrived into town and was greeted by several hundred local residents. The team later received honors at a banquet at the Community Building with the Galva team also invited.

The team was still going strong the next year, though Tony Voshell had taken over as coach and Udie Grant was added as he was one of the premier players in his day. “He was a giant in those days,” Kasey said as he stood about 6-4.

Because it won the national tournament in 1949, Post 24 hosted the tournament in 1950. While it didn’t win the championship, it did qualify for the 1951 nationals in Louisiana and went 1-1.

The team went on to compete in other big tournaments in 1952, including the AAU Nationals. The team became an AAU fixture.

Grant went on to be named to the Missouri Valley AAU Hall of Fame and Kasey also went in at a 1962 election.

Finally in 1964, the Legion team disbanded and as Kasey said, “partly because of age of players, but also because of lack of finances and leadership. The team had been an inspiration of many players for 15 years as games were played in Kansas, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Colorado.”

Kasey played town ball for the McPherson USD 418 teachers team and was still active until he was 61. He said Mike Henson was the best shooter, while “Gordon Peck was very, very good and Don Fast was tall.”

Kasey is still a dedicated basketball fan. He has seen a lot of changes in the game over his more than 70 years in the sport.

“I watch it a lot,” he said. “The game is much rougher and much faster. I would like to see them somehow find a way to reduce charging. They need to reduce the physical play by players charging into an opponent.”

Kasey said the game also has changed from his day where big players were the emphasis and it was the responsibility of the guards to get the ball inside.

“They don’t emphasize getting a big man for center anymore,” he said. “They want shooters and 3-point shooters.”

Kasey said in his day the one- and two-hand setshots were the norm and the jump shot started to develop as his career did. “It was a much slower game and scores were a lot lower. I like more discipline and more rebounding. I’d like to see more emphasis on rebounding,” he said.

Kasey says he stays active and goes to as many McPherson games as he can. He’s watched the Bullpup teams enjoy amazing success for more than 60 years.

“More recently it’s the training and practicing year-round,” he said. “When Mike Henson went to Topeka, he said there were no basketball goals in driveways like there are here. It wasn’t important. Another thing for our teams now, there’s very good organization of teams coming up through middle school on up.”

Kasey was a science teacher and knows a lot about math, teaching nearly 30 years. “I was late starting and I quit early,” he said with a laugh. 

He tutors fifth-graders at Washington School. “They keep you on your toes. They taught me something about fractions that I had forgotten,” he said. 

He also helps with his church, works for Save and Share, delivers for Meals on Wheels and serves at the monthly Legion Night dinner at Post 24, where he is the chaplain and serves on the Color Guard for parades and funerals. He belongs to the Kiwanis Club and serves as a song leader.

“I have to re-look at my calendar because there’s so many things on it,” he said.

The local American Legion will be honoring Kasey on April 22 with a dinner at Post 24. More information about the evening will be announced later.