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Are you familiar with Puxico?

Posted on: January 25, 2017 at 11:29:17 CT
FIJItiger MU
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18.35 yrs
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A BASKETBALL EARTHQUAKE In the winter of 1947–48, the first rumblings of a basketball earthquake were felt in Stoddard County, just above the Missouri Bootheel. Early tremors gave way to fearsome shockwaves persisting for six years, beginning in southeast Missouri but quickly spreading across the entire state. The epicenter was in tiny Puxico, some 150 miles south of St. Louis where the Puxico Indians went on a victory spree from 1947–48 through 1952–53 that was unparalleled in state basketball history. The force that ultimately quelled the upheaval was the Burroughs Bombers, in the Class B state championship game of 1953. Burroughs, meanwhile, established a titanic basketball program of its own. The destinies of the two schools became inexorably linked with a four-game struggle in the seasons of 1951–52 and 1952–53, pitting what by then were two of the premier prep teams in the state. The final count: two victories each, one state championship each. The magic of Puxico began with its rhythmic name. The allure was heightened by the small-town, predominantly farming roots of its adherents. The city numbered a mere 1,000 inhabitants and its high school had no more than 200 students in grades 9 through 12—a bit smaller than Burroughs. The Puxico story is contained in a book titled My Name Is Mr. Ryan, referring to Puxico Coach Arnold Ryan, written by Matt Chaney of Cape Girardeau in 1994. Over the six-year span, the Indians compiled a staggering win-loss record of 212–20 for a winning percentage of 91.4. They reached the state tournament five out of the six years, and they made the final four on four occasions, playing for the championship three times and winning back-to-back state titles in 1951 and 1952. In its two championship seasons, Puxico posted a stunning record of 79–2. They were a perfect 40–0 the first year and 39–2 the second, with one of the losses coming at the hands of Burroughs. Top Scorers in the Nation Puxico was in the forefront of basketball innovation, employing the fast break, full-court press, and the jump shot all at a furious pace. They reached 100 points 22 times in their championship seasons. According to Matt Chaney, the Indians were the highest scoring prep championship team in the nation in 1950–51. Their highwater mark was a 148–16 humiliation of Greenville in the subregional tournament of 1951, when Win Wilfong, Puxico’s most storied player, scored fifty-four points in less than a half. Wilfong, a 6'1" jumping jack, was part of a fearsome threesome at the height of Puxico’s power. The other two members, a year behind, were 6'5" center Forest Arnold and high-scoring Grady Smith, both of whom joined Puxico in their junior years over howls of illegal recruitment from surrounding school districts. The orange-jerseyed Indians ran intricate pre-game drills, ending with each man tipping the ball off the backboard and Arnold, last in line, slamming a dunk. As the Puxico legend grew, sportswriters and basketball enthusiasts from across the state clamored to watch, forcing games to be moved from the Depression-era log gym on campus to larger venues in southeast Missouri.
Wilfong and Arnold became All-Americans at Memphis State, and Wilfong joined the St. Louis Hawks in 1957. Grady Smith, meanwhile, played his way into St. Louis University’s Basketball Hall of Fame. Other standouts included Elmore Fortner and Gene Wilfong, Win’s younger brother, both of whom were starting players for Memphis State. A Famous Coach Remembers Norm Stewart, the renowned coach of the Missouri Tigers, was a star on the Shelbyville High teams of the early 1950s. In 1951, his junior year, Burroughs beat his team in the opening round of the state tournament. His senior year, Puxico routed Shelbyville in the finals, sending a disconsolate Stewart to the bench early with ten points. “We were never in the game, never . . .” Stewart admitted to Matt Chaney. “Really, Puxico was such a fabulous team. There has been some outstanding high school basketball in this state, but I can’t remember anybody being more dominant than Puxico.” Rich Koster of the Globe-Democrat went a step farther, elevating Puxico’s time in the sun to the realm of mythology. When Win Wilfong died prematurely from cancer at the age of fifty-two, Koster wrote: Before and after his professional career, Wilfong was a Puxico High School Indian. He was always a Puxico Indian. Win Wilfong was the shooting guard from Brigadoon. If you are old enough to have been aware of sports in Missouri in 1951, you must remember the basketball fable of the Puxico Indians. Of the sleepy little farm town on Highway 51, halfway between Poplar Bluff and Cape Girardeau, which captured headlines and imaginations around the state for two exciting winters. . . . It was a marvelous, magical story.
QUESTION: Who are the Puxico Indians?

ANSWER: The Puxico Indians were undoubtedly the most sensational basketball team the state of Missouri has ever produced.

TV's ESPN ran a November 29, 2005 show about a high school basketball game called the "Milan Miracle."

This was a 1954 Indiana State Basketball Championship in which the tiny town of Milan, Indiana defeated a highly touted Muncie Central, a team favored to win it all. Milan's surprise victory was the inspiration for the Hollywood movie "Hoosiers."

The game was played at a slow pace typical of basketball played at that time. During the last of the fourth quarter Milan held the ball for over four minutes, with Muncie making no effort to take it away. The final score was Milan 32, Muncie Central 30. Low scoring in those days was more the norm than the exception.

Hollywood should have been more aware of basketball history.

Playing in the 1950-51 season was a Southeast Missouri high school team that was not only miraculous, but light years ahead of basketball played at that time. They were called the Puxico Indians.

Puxico went undefeated in 1950-51, winning 40 straight games, and capturing the Class "B" state championship. In the process they scored 100 or more points 13 different times. This was a day when a team scoring 50 points was considered big time stuff.

The 1951-52 Puxico Indians only managed to score 100 or more points 6 different times. Their record for the year was won 39, lost 2. They came back in the same season to handily defeat the two teams that had beaten them, and once again became state champions.

Puxico became the darlings of sports writers in St. Louis and Kansas City. Their popularity became so great they had to play a number of their home games in Poplar Bluff or Cape Girardeau to accommodate the huge crowds that wanted to see the Puxico Indians.

How did they do it? What was it that made the Puxico Indians a basketball phenomenon so far ahead of its times?

The answer probably lies first with their coach. Coach Arnold Ryan is another story unto itself, and can be better appreciated by reading a book by Matt Chaney of Poplar Bluff, Missouri entitled "My Name is Mister Ryan."

Ryan had no fundamental knowledge of basketball except the firm belief that basketball should be played all over the court.

This became the mantra of Puxico basketball. It was a relentless pursuit that started in the opponent's back-court and never let up. As often as not the opposing team never got to mid-court before Puxico had stolen the ball, and was on the way to two more points. They also had a dazzling fast-break they called "The Sneak."

Could Puxico have been so devastating at Class "A" level?

Puxico defeated Top Class "A" teams during the regular season, and was just as dominating. There is one amazing fact, however, that would have to squelch any detractors:

All five starters of the 1950-51 Team went on to play Division I college basketball!! Two of them became All-Americans. (Win Wilfong & Forrest Arnold. Win Wilfong & Grady Smith played professional basketball. Forrest Arnold was offered a pro contract, but chose the ministry instead.)

How many high schools in the country could make such an incredible claim? Puxico could have played at national high school level. It was the Puxico boys that turned the then Memphis State into a basketball power-house.

Win Wilfong -- what a Hollywood story.

Winford Wilfong was a sensitive country boy who turned into a human dynamo on the basketball court. At 6--2, 190 lbs., he led the college basketball nation in the 1956-57 season in rebounding. Yes, rebounding. There were plenty of 6--7 & 6--9 players at that time capable of this feat.

But this is just part of the Win Wilfong story. He was a prolific scorer, with a fade-away jump shot; a ball-hawk of no equal, and a tenacious spirit. He was All-Big 7 in his sophomore year at Mizzou. Then as a serviceman, he was voted the most valuable player in the Pan American games. We went from there to Memphis State where he became an All-American, and the most unforgettable player in the school's basketball history.

There are a few sights in sports that are forever etched in the mind. One of them was Win Wilfong leading a fast-break. He was a mad bull on a charge, and no mere human being was going to stop him.

The Puxico Indians -- what a story:

That so small a town could compile the records they did is amazing enough. But that they could be so far ahead of their times and produce so many top athletes is almost a trip into fantasy land.
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Old time Semo high school basketball last night. - sprintcar STL - 1/25 10:48:19
     Are you familiar with Puxico? - FIJItiger MU - 1/25 11:29:17
          No... - CPA MU - 3/20 15:23:27
          RE: Are you familiar with Puxico? - TruDat Tiger MU - 1/25 14:38:18
          Win Wilfong always one of my favorite names. Sounds - GA Tiger MU - 1/25 13:14:15
          Great stuff. Indeed, as you suggest, movie worthy. - MizzouTigerz MU - 1/25 12:15:17
          The Wilfong era was before my time. My Dad told me stories - sprintcar STL - 1/25 11:39:06
               RE: The Wilfong era was before my time. My Dad told me stories - FIJItiger MU - 1/25 11:43:48
     Where did the Porter kid from two years ago end up? He was - Uncle John MU - 1/25 10:55:17
          Three Rivers. I believe he's hurt.(nm) - sprintcar STL - 1/25 10:56:26
               Looks like he played in their last game after missing - Uncle John MU - 1/25 11:26:29
                    I've only seen them once. He should help from what I saw.(nm) - sprintcar STL - 1/25 11:40:07

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