Part 2 of 3
The team practiced hard getting ready for the David vs. Goliath showdown on a cold, wintry night of December 26, 1958. Coach Cabas emphasized repeatedly that if we were going to win, we had to win as a team. At one of the practices the coach asked Lou Slaby to assist him in an experiment. (John Cabas was a science teacher.) Coach Cabas held a pile of sticks in his hand. Selecting one fairly thick stick, he asked Lou to try to break it in two. Easily, muscular Lou broke the stick. Then coach put six sticks together and asked Lou to repeat his breaking the sticks. After Lou had tired from bending but not breaking the sticks, Coach Cabas asked, "What did you learn from this simple experiment?" The lesson, of course, was that playing together as a team combined our individual strengths. The only factor that we could control was our own individual play within a team concept.
Coach Cabas never asked us to do too much, only as much as we were capable of doing. As we prepared for the challenge of East Tech, we all knew that each one of us would hold up his end of the team concept.
At the practice before the game, Coach Cabas went over the scouting report and our strategy to play a tight man-to-man defense against them, to try to keep the pressure on them all the time, to take away any easy, wide-open shots from the floor.
According to Coach Cabas, I got the privilege of trying to stop Jim Stone, All State, a 20-point scoring machine with a long-range, unstoppable jump shot. Ouch!! At the end of practice, Coach Cabas called me over to chide me, to fire me up: "Do me a favor, Hunter, try to keep Stone under 30 points, so he doesn't kill us!" Coach Cabas instinctively knew how to motivate his players, especially me.
Salem Senior High School's gymnasium/arena seated officially 2,200, but to accommodate the huge requests for tickets from the media and fans, Fred Cope, Athletic Director, utilizing his magic touch, found room for an additional 800 people - under the basket or in the aisles even standing room only -in every nook and cranny of the gym. I'm told that he had to turn away an additional 500 fans who had requested tickets. It was the best show in northeastern Ohio on the day after Christmas, and the fire marshal was quite lenient. The 8:45 p.m. start enabled the overflow crowd time to get seated on this Friday night game.
Two radio stations were in the house to broadcast the game: local station WSOM-FM with Ted Taylor as the talking head, and a Youngstown station WKBN-AM/FM with Don Gardner at the microphone.
When Cleveland East Tech entered the gym for warm-ups, they were greeted with great applause and fanfare. Coach John Broski and the Scarab players appeared stunned by the enthusiastic reception. This loud and energetic welcome was orchestrated by Coach Cabas who wanted the fans to give the visitors a State Champion's greeting. They did! To make them feel even more at home, Coach Cabas asked them to wear their home white uniforms, while Salem dressed in their away black uniforms with red trim.
Watching East Tech during warm-up drills, I was awestruck by their enormous size and maturity (they were the tallest team in the country - high school, college, pro). They practiced with extreme confidence and poise. If their height wasn't intimidating enough, they drew a loud "Wow!" as every member of their twelve-man roster dunked the ball in their layup drill - including the 5'9" Sam Franklin. Even the colorful, striped knee-length socks commanded respect. In contrast, only Ed Yates, a varsity reserve, could dunk for Salem.
As we left the court for our final instructions in the locker room, I fully understood for the first time the David vs. Goliath symbolism. The calmest person in the team room was Coach Cabas. "We can't become a great team without playing against great teams," Cabas said, matter-of-factly. And then jokingly, he added, "Remember East Tech puts its pants on just like you, one leg at a time." Finally, we gathered together for Coach Cabas' pregame prayer. The prayer did not ask for victory, only that each player performed to the best of his ability and showed courage under all circumstances.
As we returned to the court, it felt as if Rod Serling was welcoming us to "The Twilight Zone's" dimension of time and space. All the players knew that whatever happened that we would adhere to the famous Winston Churchill mantra: "Never, never, never, give up!"
Right before the tip off between Lou Slaby and Gene Lane, I remember thinking: "Play hard, play smart, show no fear!"
Cleveland East Tech controlled the tip and began the game with a swaggering confidence. The Scarabs were so talented at every position that they could rely more on their superior height and individual talents to overwhelm and demoralize their opponent rather than on any set offense.
During the first quarter both teams tried to apply pressure on defense: Tech with its full court zone press, and Salem with its tight man-to-man press. Surprisingly, Tech's vaunted zone press was handled by Salem's ball handling trio: Deitch, Hunter, and Krichbaum with Slaby and Marks providing support, if needed. Salem's strategy was to make East Tech work hard for every shot, hounding each dribbler all over the court.
The Quakers' quickness and sticking ability on defense held the high-scoring Scarabs in check. The Salem defenders contested every shot, blocked out with tenacity and ran its offense with patience and precision. Salem committed no turnovers and its aggressive play all over the court put them in the driver's seat at the end of the first quarter. Salem led 19 to 11, as a shocked crowd looked on from the packed stands.
Coming Wednesday: Down to the wire.