1968 Tribune photos

Plainsmen never say die...50 years later

Fifty years ago, the Plainsmen claimed the 1968 Class C Boys State Basketball Championship by defeating Elkhorn St. John, 67-60.

In the March 14, 1968 Grant Tribune story, “Plainsmen Never Say Die, Win Class C Crown,” Bill Long wrote, “I saw it happen, but I still can’t believe it. I remember looking up with tear-filled eyes at the big scoreboard clock hanging in the center of the coliseum court and Grant was trailing Elkhorn St. John 44-30 with four minutes left in the third quarter, and when I came out of my trance, Grant was crowned the Class C state champion.”

Long explained that no one had a clear idea of what happened, but the closest explanation was when the 800 Plainsmen fans yelled “GO! GO! GO! GO,” the team responded. 

Respond they did. According to Long, Larry Todd began to find his range, Gregg “Bear” Chrisman began to “growl under the basket” and John Mathes started to develop a hot hand. The Plainsmen led 50-44 by the end of the third.

With 2:21 left in the game and the Plainsmen trailing 58-57, Bill’s son, John Long, sank two free throws to put them in the lead, where they remained. 

Chrisman’s 3-pointer “iced the ball game,” wrote B. Long. 

The Plainsmen won their last game to end their 25-2 season. They lost their first game of the season to Julesburg by three points, 69-72; and their third game by four points to Holyoke, 55-59. 

While Coach Larry Pritchett claims his memory keeps him from remembering what he went into the bathroom to do, he’s able to rattle off the scores and even the number of turnovers to basketball games played that season 50 years ago. 

It was Pritchett’s first year as head coach and Dick Thurin’s first year assisting. 

Chrisman was the only player with varsity experience. He had transferred from Elsie and it was his first year playing for Grant. 

The rest of the players  previously played JV. 

Coming home from Holyoke after losing two out of three games, and wondering what he had gotten himself into, Pritchett said to Thurin, “I don’t think we’re going to win another game.”

The bus driver, Bob Uehling, turned around and said to Pritchett, “It’s gonna get better.”

“I thought he was nuts, but we didn’t lose again,” said Pritchett.

He said despite their lack of varsity experience, the players continued to improve and they always played hard and they played well together. There was always someone to fill in a gap. 

“They didn’t get mad and quit if things didn’t go exactly like they thought it should. Their attitude was super.”

To even get to state, the team had to win four games, and Class C consisted of 128 teams. That was the first year gold medals were awarded.

Thurin said Pritchett was “just a little superstitious.”

“He made me wear the same corduroy suit every game and it was pretty bad by the time the state tournament was over,” Thurin said. 

Right before playing their second game at state against Wausa, Pritchett realized he left his lucky red towel at the hotel. The sports ambassador arranged a cop to take them “red lights and siren” back to Clayton House to get the towel for the game. It must have worked.

The 1968 Class C Champions returned home to a pep rally on Central Avenue, with several vehicles escorting them home from Madrid. 

Bill Long held a sign that read “Pritchett for President” while another message read “Conde Sargent eats crow”. Sargent, then Omaha-World Herald sports writer, featured both in a photo with a follow-up story after predicting the Plainsmen would lose.

50 years later 

Pritchett, Thurin, nine of the 10 players, and one of the two student managers gathered during the weekend of June 15’s Perkins County alumni banquet to relive their glory days. 

The team includes Steve Aten, Chrisman, Mike Frerichs, Robert Gloy, John Long, Mathes, Paul Shellabarger, Larry Stohler, Marvin Tickle, Larry Todd and Student Managers Jim Armbruster and Gary Erlewine. Aten and Erlewine were unable to attend the reunion.

Long and his wife Kris of Grant hosted the team for dinner on Friday evening, June 15.

The evening consisted of many stories and learning what everyone has been doing for the last 50 years. Some of them hadn’t seen each other since graduation. 

“There was a lot of retirement talk,” said Pritchett.

John Long said it was an excellent weekend and they all had a great time. 

Looking at the basketball hoop, Long said they had jumped up 100 times during practice and touched the rim. He asked Chrisman if he could do that now. 

“I don’t think so,” said Chrisman. “I just had hip surgery.” Long didn’t think he could either. Shellabarger showed them up and jumped up and touched the net. 

Todd sent Long a note thanking him for getting the team together. 

“Off the court we all went on different journeys—some good and some not so good.”

It was a “farewell tour” all will cherish. 

* Click here for before and after photos of the 1968 Nebraska Class C Basketball Champions. 

The Grant Tribune-Sentinel

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