Willie Rentmeister, Linda Tendick Collier, Gary Schmidt, Bob Cardoni, Larry Bowles and Pat Butkovich.


Mount Pulaski Honors the 1965 Hilltoppers

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[February 24, 2015]  MOUNT PULASKI - Mount Pulaski High School honored the coaches, players and cheerleaders from the 1965 Hilltoppers Basketball Team on Friday night at the Ed Butkovich Gymnasium. This team won the 1965 Regional Championship over Clinton 58-51 during Ed Butkovich's first year coaching, at what was then called Mount Pulaski Township High School.

The Hilltoppers would lose to the Pekin Chinks 69-45 in sectional action at Peoria's Robertson Memorial Field House, ending their spectacular season with 21 wins and 6 losses. For those folks who were either on the court or in the stands of the "New Gym" back in '65 many memories still remain of that first season under a young Ed Butkovich and his staff, which featured assistants Don Olson and Lloyd Eggers.

Gary Schmidt, a junior on the team and current Lincoln resident, remembered the season quite well. "What people of today have to realize is that there was no three point shot and we played in a one-class system in those days. All of us could shoot the long ball and I can't imagine what the scores and individual averages would look like today.

Larry Bowles got hot often and one night he went wild with scoring, I think 35 or so points. Today it would have easily been in the 40's.

All four of the starters that year scored in double figures, with Willie Rentmeister leading the way.

I think Coach Ed Butkovich was happy with our progress from the beginning of the year to the end but we knew when we made mistakes in games we had to pay a price the next practice...run, run, run, walls, walls, walls. But we didn't care. We just wanted to win."

For many of the players, cheerleaders and fans one of the highlights of the '65 season was beating Lincoln not once, but twice. Early in the season Mount Pulaski defeated Lincoln in a tournament but then on February 10, 1965, the Railers came to town and it was a moment still fresh in the minds of those on the court and in the stands.

Eddie Pharis of Mount Pulaski was a nine-year-old boy in the new gymnasium that night and he remembered the moment the Toppers defeated the Railers. To set the stage for the excitement, Mount Pulaski was trailing Lincoln by one point, with two seconds on the clock and their best free throw shooter was at the line in Larry Bowles. According to Pharis, "Larry was shooting a free throw and the ball came off the front end of the rim and it was like Willie was the only one up in the air and he put the ball back in and the place went crazy."

Mount Pulaski had won 46-45 on that last-second basket by Rentmeister. As announcer Greg Taylor recanted that win to the packed gymnasium Friday night, the crowd erupted in a round of applause for the folks from 1965, who were standing at mid-court.

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24 Feb., 2015 LDN: The '65 Hilltoppers, "Where Are They Now"

Cheerleader Linda Tendick Collier even turned to Rentmeister and asked, "Do you remember that basket?" He smiled and answered, "Every time I come into this gym." When Bowles was asked if the story was true that he missed the free throw on purpose so that Rentmeister could tip it back in, he smiled and quietly answered, "No."

What is true is that in 1965 Mount Pulaski was a little school and since there was only one class of basketball, the Hilltoppers played the big schools, too, like Springfield's Lanphier and Feitchens (Southeast); Decatur's Eisenhower, MacArthur and Lakeview; Lincoln and Pekin.

Gary Schmidt also noted, "I didn't realize it as we were playing, but we played very big schools for a small town school with 200 students. We were competitive in all and beat most of them. We did lose five games during the season and the hardest to take was a one point loss to Hartsburg-Emden."

Schmidt also recalled victories over McLean, Mason City and Elkhart that season. "I remember the first game of the season in Elkhart's very small gym. Coach decided to press and our defense was great as we stole the ball over and over. Steve Schilling was their hot shooting guard but in the end we won by a point."

Fast forward to the final game of the 1965 season and Schmidt offered these vivid memories playing in the sectional game against the defending state champions, the Pekin Chinks, "Pekin had a particularly good team with Rhoads, Golden and Miller. We gave our best but their guards were too quick and they employed something we really hadn't come up against in the use of the offensive charge. Consequently, Larry Bowles and Bruce Dannenberger were in foul trouble early on. I had a very good game against them, but we lost by quite a bit to end our awesome 1965 season."

It was truly a spectacular season they played in 1965 and what a nice evening to honor those involved in making Hilltopper basketball history. It was evident that in the hearts and minds of those young men, the memories still live on after 50 years.

[Teena Lowery]

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