Remembering a legendary era of Manchester basketball

The team photo hangs just inside the door of Moyer’s Corner Café in South Whitley, a gaggle of young men staring purposefully out of a dead past. You’ll miss it if you’re not careful.

You shouldn’t.

You shouldn’t, because that photo – the 1938-39 Manchester College basketball team -- represents an era of Spartans basketball that it is too long forgotten but forever should be remembered.

“Last two years when they went to the (NAIA) tournament, they scored quite a few points,” says Wendell Beck,  whose older brother, Charlie, was a leading light on those teams of the late 1930s, when recordkeeping was not the obsessively detailed business it is today. “They ran the fastbreak …”

And won, and won, and won some more. Between 1936 and ’39, playing for  legendary coach Bob Stauffer in the old 20-team Indiana Intercollegiate Conference, which included every school in the state except for Indiana, Purdue and Notre Dame, the Spartans went 16-1 in 1936-37, 14-5 in 1937-38 and 16-5 in 1938-39, a three-year 46-11 run.

During that time they went 43-8 in conference play, beating both Ball State and Indiana State in 1936-37 and 1938-39. They also played in two of the first three NAIA Division I National Tournaments, losing to Idaho in the first round in 1938 and advancing to the quarterfinal round in 1939.

And they were almost all Indiana kids. Beck, the 1938-39 senior team captain who had a stellar hook shot, hailed from Syracuse, and there were others, of course: Wayne Strycker and Claude Wolfe and Merlin Eikenberry; Hubert Dubois, Harold Waddell, Bill Milliner and Herm Neuenschwander. Only Eikenberry, who hailed from Dayton, Ohio, came from out of state.

They were, as Wendell Beck notes, an up-tempo, aggressive team that loved to shoot and wasn’t shy about fouling, either.

“Yeah, (Charlie Beck’s) wife had a party one time for Strycker and Charles,” says Wendell Beck, who played at Manchester a decade later and is a member of the school’s basketball Hall of Fame. “Asked me to say a few words. And I said ‘Well, they played on the only team I ever saw who needed two basketballs.’

“Jokingly, of course.”

No joke their team.

By Ben Smith