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'54 Knights earn place in history

2/23/2014

By RANDY GONZALES

By RANDY GONZALES

rgonzales@dailynews.net

VICTORIA -- The trophy might be gone, but the memories will last forever.

Members of the 1954 Victoria High School basketball team were honored at halftime of Friday night's boys' basketball game between Victoria and Ness City.

The team won a trophy after taking third place at the 1954 Class B state tournament in Hutchinson. But that trophy has been missing for several years, and there has been nothing at the school to honor the team's accomplishments.

Until Friday.

Six of the 13 team members were in attendance and were given a banner, which will go on display.

"That was something to get a standing ovation from the crowd," Paul Schippers, a junior on the 1954 team, said of the halftime ceremony. "We played a lot of basketball. Never got a standing ovation like that."

The team was led by its two big men inside in the double-post offense, senior Joe Leiker and junior Leroy Munk, each approximately 6-foot-3 -- big in those days.

"Our philosophy was Leroy and I would try to rebound. That was our job, to rebound," Leiker said. "What we did, as soon as we got the ball, we had two guys go down the court on the sidelines on the fast break. That's where we scored a lot of our points."

"We moved the ball, passed it," said Lavern Brungardt, a junior guard on the team.

Leiker said it was easier to score inside in those days.

"We had the little, narrow lane yet then," he said. "It was a lot easier to score baskets then."

The team played a tough schedule in the regular season and was 8-10 entering postseason. After getting through the district tournament and winning the regional in Hays, Victoria advanced to state in Hutchinson.

"We'd never seen a gym like that before in our life," Brungardt said.

"One thing that stood out was glass backboards," said Allen Dreiling, a junior guard. "We never saw a glass backboard in all of our years playing basketball, until we got to Hutchinson."

Victoria defeated Howard in the state opener, 59-48, before losing to Partridge 50-44 in the semifinals. Victoria bounced back to beat Baldwin 71-56 in the third-place game to finish 15-12.

The team's regional trophy was on display Friday, but the state trophy is nowhere to be found. It's believed to be the first state trophy the school won in basketball.

Cora (Braun) Schulte, a junior who was the head cheerleader that year, was instrumental in the team being honored Friday, coincidentally, 60 years later.

"The boys just wanted to have some recognition because the trophy was gone," Schulte said.

"I'm humbled that they would take the time to do it," Munk said. "We're glad to be here."

"After that long of time, I thought it was all forgotten, nobody would ever think about it," Dreiling said.

There was a team spirit, too, still evident when the players got together Friday.

"We all liked each other, we played together, everybody wanted to be as good as you can be," Leiker said. "What else could you ask?"

The players gave credit to first-year coach Norbert Schmidt for the historical season.

"He was a first-class fellow, just a great guy," said Ted Crawford, a senior on the team.

"He was outstanding," Munk said. "He was consistent, handled everybody in the same fashion."

Schmidt coached two years at Victoria in a career that spanned approximately 41 seasons. He retired in 1993 after coaching more than 700 games, winning more than 500 of them.

"We really played well all facets of the game," Schmidt, now 88, said in a telephone interview earlier last week from his home in Raytown, Mo. "I basically thought they were going to be pretty good. I didn't dream they would go to state."

Schmidt said he enjoyed coaching his players.

"I really liked those kids," he said. "They were all very good, and they were enjoyable to work with."

Joining Brungardt, Crawford, Dreiling, Leiker, Munk and Schippers on the 1954 team were Bernie Dreiling, Lester Knoll and Leroy Stang, who could not attend. Also on the team but now deceased: Eddie Brungardt, Leroy Brungardt, Neon Leiker and Donald Ruder. There were two team managers: Lawrence VonFeldt could not attend, and Marvin Bellendir is deceased.

"I was a little surprised," Schmidt said of learning the team was going to be honored. "But I was very happy for them."

Now, everybody will know what that team accomplished 60 years ago.

"We just had a will to win," Leiker said. "And that's what we did."