Mount Pulaski honors the 1936 and 1976 state basketball teams

Send a link to a friend  Share

[January 24, 2017]  Saturday night at the Ed Butkovich Gymnasium in Mount Pulaski two teams featuring what some might call “Hilltopper Legends” were honored.

First, the 4th place state team from 1936 was honored as the team that put Mount Pulaski basketball on the map.

Then, the team that won it all in 1976 and became Mount Pulaski’s first state champions was recognized, and to get the crowd pumped up, a radio broadcast of the last minute of that historic game from Champaign was played over the loud speaker.

1936, the team that put Mount Pulaski on the Illinois basketball map in a one-class system

Family members of the 1936 state 4th place team

In honoring the 80th anniversary of the 1936 team, as there are no surviving members, family members of the players were asked to come to center court Saturday night. Eleven players and a legendary coach, Dolph Stanley, were part of America’s Greatest Generation that made up this team, according to local basketball historian Tim Deibert.

Those players who led the team to the fourth place finish, back in the day when there was only a one class system, were: Harry Martin, Jr., Herschel Hahn, Boyd Hahn, Joe Schroth, Earl Stockton, Carl Wilham, George Connelly, Harry Milner, Darald Staley, Franklin Connelly and Merle Wilham. The manager of the 1936 team was Wilford Scroggin.

According to Deibert, the 1936 team was the first basketball team from Mount Pulaski to ever win a sectional and make it to the state tournament, which included the top sixteen teams in one class from the entire state of Illinois. They finished the season with a 26-7 record.

The state tournament that year was played at Huff Gymnasium at the University of Illinois.

To make their way to state, the 1936 team had to get past the Lincoln Railsplitters in the sectionals. The Hilltoppers defeated Lincoln 32-17 to win their first ever sectional championship.

Once at state the Hilltoppers had to play a much larger Joliet team. Mount Pulaski took down Joliet 22-16 in what many called a perfect game.

The Hilltoppers then moved on to defeat Fulton High School 32-18 in the quarterfinals.

Danville would hand the Hilltoppers their first defeat at state in the semi-finals, taking down the team from the hilltop 36-33.

Johnson City would defeat Mount Pulaski 32-20 in the third place contest and send the Hilltoppers home with the fourth place trophy. A very good finish for the team that many referred to as the surprise team of the tournament.

Both Darald Staley and Harry Martin were named to the all tournament team.

Coach Dolph Stanley would only stay in Mount Pulaski for three years, compiling a 70-18 record. Stanley would go on to coach five different high school teams from throughout Illinois in the state tournament. In 2007 Stanley was named one of the 100 legends of the IHSA basketball state tournament.

1976, state champs

In honoring the 40th anniversary of the 1976 team, some members of that team made it back to the gym Saturday night and were greeted with a huge round of applause as they were introduced. The Varsity cheerleaders who led the fan section were also introduced.

According to Deibert, in 1976 a group of young men from this high school marched into the Assembly Hall in Champaign and proceeded to knock off number one rated and undefeated Eldorado.

The Hilltoppers then beat another unbeaten team, Buda Western.

Finally, Mount Pulaski edged out Oneida Rova 59-58 in the championship game.

It was current Hilltoppers Assistant Coach Jeff Clements hitting the game winning shot as a sophomore in that title game.

After the crowd heard that final minute of the radio broadcast Saturday night, the crowd erupted once again in applause and PA announcer Greg Taylor began introductions.

[to top of second column]

Cheerleaders, players and Coach Ed Butkovich’s wife, Pat, pose by the 1976 state championship trophy as the team was honored as part of a ceremony Saturday night in Mount Pulaski.

First, Taylor called the names of the cheerleaders. Those young ladies were: Ruth Caldwell, Tanya Litterly Conrady, Sandy Cline, Bonnie Caley Irish, Julie Dittus Jaeger, Kathy Jackson Boward, Kathy Wilham Maske and Julie Butkovich Horton. Bonnie and Julie were the only two cheerleaders in attendance. Bonnie has not changed a bit as she playfully pretended to do a cartwheel across the court.

The coaches were introduced next and Pat Butkovich walked out to center court representing her husband, the late Ed Butkovich.

Butkovich coached not only the 1976 state championship team but also the 1977 fourth place team and the 1984 second place team. Butkovich is also a member of the Illinois Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame and in 2007 he was elected as one of the 100 legends of March Madness.

Assistant coaches Jim Copper and Joe Zimmerman were also announced, but neither was able to be in attendance.

Finally, players were introduced. Those 1976 Class A state champions were: Tim Gleason, Lee Holmes, John Olson, Scott Moore, Bob Behle, Gayle Cyrulik, Dan Durchholz, Pat Przykopanski, Gary Helton, David Thompson, David Welch, Jeff Clements, Brad Gibbs and Jeff Anderson.

Gleason, Holmes, Olson, Behle, Przykopanski, Clements and Anderson were the players in attendance. The late David Thompson was represented by his sister, Lori Bobell.

Gibbs and Anderson were the senior captains of the team. Roger Fulk was the manager of the team in 1976.

Jeff Anderson and Jeff Clements lift the state championship trophy from 1976.

On this night, the state championship trophy was on display at center court and after a little prompting from Taylor, Anderson and Clements stepped forward to hoist it in the air one more time.

The Hilltoppers finished that magical season with a 29-2 record and gave the community a lifetime of memories to cherish.

Following the state championship back in 1976 the entire community of fans gathered at the newly constructed Stahl’s Implement, Hardware and Furniture businesses to celebrate. What a party that was!

On this evening in 2017, fans were invited to gather at The Old Brickyard and Pub uptown on the square for food, drink, cake and a video featuring the state tournament games from 1976. It was a nice night for friends to reminisce and catch up.

For many folks the 1936 and 1976 teams hold a lot of special memories. It’s nice to keep those memories alive and introduce them to the next generation of ballplayers.

[Teena Lowery]

Back to top