Sports in The Dominion Post

This article appeared in the Dominion Post Newspaper on July 9, 2004.
Mighty fine 13-9

'51 Mohigans recall how Coach Clyde rallied roundball team to state tourney

Jonah Myers/The Dominion Post

Tom Zinn (center) and Bernie Simons (right), from the 1951 MHS basketball team, trade memories with football player Jim Prete. The basketball team's game plan that season, Zinn said, was "take the ball out, throw it to Charlie (Huggins) and Charlie would shoot."

Jonah Myers/The Dominion Post

Dick Hashinger, a top reserve on the 1951 team, shows his wife, Delora, a basketball photo of himself in a yearbook.


The Dominion Post

More than half a century has passed since Morgantown High School's 1951 varsity basketball team bowed out of the state tournament with a 78-60 semifinal loss to Charleston in the old field house, on Beechurst Avenue.

Anyone glancing at the records of MHS's teams over the past 60 years isn't likely to spend much time pondering the 1951 squad's 13-9 mark.

That's a shame, really, because there was so much more to this team than a record most would consider pedestrian.

This was an MHS team, coached by the legendary Arthur Clyde, that authored one of the more remarkable turnaround seasons in school history.

This was a team that lost seven early season games by an average of fewer than two points per game before coming together to win eight straight in making the state-tournament field.

To this day, the players remember the season fondly, and their alma mater is honoring them this weekend at the eighth annual alumni golf outing, at The Pines Country Club.

Team members gathered for a banquet Thursday night, where they renewed friendships and shared memories that continue to shine brightly 53 years later.

"When I think of that team, I think of the camaraderie," said forward Charlie Huggins, an all-state performer who led MHS in scoring that season. "I can't remember any of us being all upset with one another and that type of thing. There was a lot of toge therness. We were a pretty close-knit unit."

The players

The Clydemen, as they were often referred to in newspaper accounts of their games, were short on experience but long on enthusiasm entering the 1951 season.

Forwards Huggins and Don O'Haver along with guard Bob Taft were the only players with significant varsity experience. They were joined in the starting lineup by the team's tallest player, 6-foot-5 center Jim Ralston, who was playing his first varsity season, and guard Tom Neff, who had played little his junior season.

The team's game plan on offense, as reserve guard Tom Zinn recalls, was simple.

"Basically, it was take the ball out, throw it to Charlie and Charlie would shoot," he said. "He was a really good shot."

Clyde didn't have set plays, but he clearly wanted Huggins doing most of the shooting. Huggins' shot, which arrived at the basket with little or no arc on it, was deadly accurate. Huggins developed his line-drive shot through countless hours of practice in a barn in Dug Hill, outside of Sabraton.

"The rafters were pretty low," said Huggins, whose son, Bob, played basketball at West Virginia and now coaches at Cincinnati.

Taft contributed on the boards and was known as a ferocious rebounder. He also hit some clutch shots late in the season. Neff also helped out on the boards, while Zinn, Dick Hashinger, Don Kelly, Gaylord Nixon and Sam Weese were the chief reserves.

"We had a basketball team that complemented itself with some shooters, some playmakers and some rebounders," O'Haver said. "It was a great basketball team to play on."

The players will tell you the most influential force behind the team was Clyde, in whose honor the old MHS gymnasium is named.

The coach

Clyde coached football, basketball and track at MHS for many years. He was a no-nonsense man who kept a close watch on his players.

"He didn't put up with any dirty playing or any cussing," said Bernie Simons, a junior reserve in 1951 who played basketball and football for Clyde. "I never heard the man swear."

Clyde had a habit of calling his players cockroaches. At first, the new players didn't know what to make of this, but they eventually learned.

"That was just his way," Simons said. "When you got to know him, you got to realize that was an affectionate thing rather than slander."

When he wasn't calling his players cockroaches, Clyde was calling them by some other special name he conjured up. For example, the rail-thin Huggins was Toothpick. Taft was Fancypants. O'Haver was Saint. Ralston was Sticks, and Tom Neff was Hick.

Clyde was one of the early coaching role models for Huggins, who became a prep basketball coaching legend in Ohio. When Huggins thinks of Clyde today, the word "integrity" comes to mind.

"He was a man who has meant an awful lot in my career," Huggins said. "He was a character builder. He never got all excited. Naturally, he wanted to win, but he was all wrapped up in what you could do down the line in life, which is the way the game shou ld be coached. He wasn't a real strong X and O man or anything like that. He could motivate you, and he could develop you as a person."

Clyde was business-like on game days. "He didn't give you a whole lot of baloney," Simons said. "Before the game, he'd tell you what to expect in the game and what to do. He didn't give you pep talks. He wasn't a pep talk type of guy. He'd go over the mi stakes you made and point out maybe the weaknesses he saw in the other team."

The players were occasionally willing to have some fun with their coach, who was in his 60s at the time. Zinn remembers after practices and games that someone would fill a bucket with cold water and throw it at teammates taking a hot shower.

One day, a player summoned the courage to throw cold water on Clyde in the shower.

"Oh, boy," Zinn said, recalling the scene. "Coach Clyde was mad. He was yelling, 'Who did that?' He came running out. The kid was scared to death. Bernie Simons knows who did that, but he's not saying."

The most important thing Clyde did that season, besides not kicking the water thrower off the squad, was keep the players homed in on turning their season around after the discouraging early season losses.

"Coach Clyde gave us some incentive, some harsh words to get off our tails and get to playing harder," O'Haver said. "We did that and hung in there. We didn't give up so easily and ended up having a fine season."

The game

The 1951 team's signature game came in the Region III championship, against rival West Fairmont, in Fairmont.

In fact, it typified the season for MHS.

The Clydemen trailed 32-24 at halftime. MHS couldn't cut into the lead in the third quarter, as West Fairmont maintained an eight-point cushion, 43-35.

The lead grew to 10 points in the final quarter before the Clydemen rallied behind Huggins and Taft. Huggins finished with a game-high 21 points, and Taft sank two shots in the final minute as MHS pulled off the 54-52 upset and secured the school's first state-tournament berth since the 1945 season.

"I didn't think it was possible that we could win the ball game," O'Haver said. "But we hung in there and won the ball game, making free throws and everything. That game used to be my standard for comebacks. It's different now because of the 3-point shot ."

MHS's reward was a trip back home to play in WVU's field house.

The Clydemen defeated Mullens, 58-51, in the first game before losing to a Charleston team that featured a sophomore guard named Rod Hundley.

The Clydemen couldn't control Charleston's vaunted fast break. Huggins sparked MHS with 38 points and set a state-tournament record by sinking 19 consecutive free throws, but it wasn't enough to get the Clydemen to the final.

An incredible season was over, and the memories linger.

"It was a dream come true for all of us," O'Haver said.