Friday, March 21, 2008

A championship team is saluted, 62 years later

Keith Anderson?s Preston basketball team takes a bow

A championship team is saluted, 62 years later

Sun Valley?s Keith Anderson, who started Ketchum?s Chateau Drug 38 years ago, poses at his home March 12 with mementos of his visit to Nampa?s Idaho Center March 1. There, he and teammates from the 1946 Preston High School state boys? basketball championship team received ?Legends of the Game? recognition from the Idaho High School Activities Association. Anderson holds the commemorative plaque and wears the medallion around his neck to remember his team?s accomplishment 62 years ago. Photo by David N. Seelig

This is a story of one man's travels around the West and a lifetime of productive work and how, just recently, Sun Valley's Keith Anderson returned to his roots with a memorable high school reunion in Nampa.

It's mostly about basketball.

Just after World War II, Anderson was a young man from Preston, attending the University of Utah after serving in the military. He had a little wanderlust, so he bought a Mercury convertible and drove to Las Vegas, Nev. There he worked in a drug store and never returned to the Salt Lake City university.

He worked in a drug store on Fremont Street in Las Vegas when it was just a stop in the desert. Then he spent 17 years as a drug store manager in Logan, Utah. Fond of fishing and skiing, he came to Ketchum and started Chateau Drug in the winter of 1970 with two brothers who were his partners, Ellis and Paul Johnson.

Ask two generations of Sun Valley visitors and residents and you'll hear rave reviews of Chateau Drug's success story as a business. Anderson, with partners Gene Steiner and Don Leonard, finally sold the business on Feb. 1, 2007. Anderson is very proud of his work and career.

He's also proud of being the captain and coach-on-the-floor and underhand free-throw-shooter of the 1946 Preston High School boys' basketball team, which won the first state championship in school history.

"Nobody would be caught dead shooting free throws underhand now," Anderson, 79, said with a laugh.

Sixty-two years after Preston won its first of six boys' state basketball championships, Anderson and eight of the surviving members of the 1946 Indian title squad were honored March 1 during the state high school boys' basketball tourney in Nampa.

Their 93-year-old coach, Robert Bunker, was also there. It was quite an occasion.

Honored as an Idaho High School Activities Association (IHSAA) "Legends of the Game" winner, the Preston group received one more day in the sun and many pats on the back during halftime of the Vallivue-Coeur d'Alene 5A state title game.

They received a complimentary hotel room near The Idaho Center. They had a first-class dinner together before the game. Anderson brought a basketball to the reunion and all the players signed it for coach Bunker. With Bunker in the lead, and Anderson right behind, they paraded onto the floor at halftime to a tremendous round of applause.

Anderson said, "It was quite a thrill to walk across the court as all the people stood up and cheered.


Basketball in the post-war days

High-scoring offenses and the 3-point shot were a thing of the future when Anderson played basketball. His Preston state championship team averaged 38.3 ppg, or nine points every quarter. Players were shorter. Anderson was 5-10. The tallest Preston players were about 6-2.

But they got the job done.

Anderson's Preston champs finished their Idaho Class A state championship season in 1946 with a 26-5 record and a 12-game winning streak. And they got better as they went along. During their 17-5 regular season, they won a bunch of close ones, going 6-3 in games settled by two points or less. But they won all nine of their tournament games by an average winning margin of 13.0 ppg.

Their coach, Bunker, had come to Preston from military service in World War II, succeeding Joe Johnson as coach for the 1945-46 season. Bunker was a strict disciplinarian.

Anderson said, "We had a tremendous fast break. We got that from coach Bunker. He made us run every night. All in all, we looked for the open guy and played as a team."

Coach Bunker, who went on to coach basketball for Brigham Young University and now lives in Orem, Utah, gave a lot of responsibility to his senior captain Anderson.

In Preston's biggest game of the season—the game that put the Indians into the State Class A tournament—Preston rallied for a 34-33 victory over the defending state champs from Idaho Falls. Anderson was assigned to guard the best Idaho Falls player, Roland Minson. "We were behind at halftime and squeezed it out, somehow," said Anderson.

Minson made quite a name for himself after high school. He was a three-year letterman and co-captain at BYU, earning all-conference honors and BYU's Most Valuable Player award in 1951. The New York Knicks drafted Minson in 1951, but he set aside his professional ambitions in favor of a three-year hitch in the U.S. Navy during the Korean War. Then he started a family and went into banking.

Preston was a tiny school, barely able to qualify as Class A back in the days when the Gem State had only two boys' classes, A and B. "There were two divisions—the little guys and the big guys. We were with the big guys but with only 137 people in our class, we were close to being the little guys," said Anderson.

The 1945-46 championship season started with four Preston wins, including two close victories over the Utah state champions from North Cache, about 16 miles from Preston.

The still smaller town of Grace, north of Preston along the S.H. 34 Pioneer Historic Route, was the first team to beat Preston in 1946, by a 33-32 score. "We lost to Grace twice, by a single point each time. A service station and a church was all there was to Grace," said Anderson.

West High, coached by former Preston coach Johnson, handed the Indians their second and biggest loss, 37-24. The other four Preston losses in 1946 were by 1, 3, 1 and 1 points.

It was a big deal for the small-town boys from Preston to travel into the big city of Pocatello, where they stayed at the fancy Bannock Hotel. "I don't think it's there anymore," Anderson said. He certainly remembers it, in more ways than one.

Preston whipped Pocatello three times, 46-26 during the season followed by 51-30 and 38-35 triumphs in the district tournament. The Indians also swept the regional tournament, beating Caldwell 52-31, Rupert 45-28 and finally Idaho Falls in the come-from-behind 34-33 win.

The Class A state tournament was in Pocatello, which meant Preston stayed at the Bannock Hotel again. And that's where Anderson was taught a lesson by coach Bunker.

During the state tournament, won by Preston in two games over Coeur d'Alene 42-40 and 35-29, Anderson said, "One night I was chasing this lady and I got caught coming out of the elevator after curfew. I explained to coach that I was just going out for ice for Frank (teammate Condie). Well, I always started the games, but Coach couldn't start me the next day. He made his point, I guess."

The great memories of a Hoosiers-like victory till linger for Anderson and his teammates. He said, "What we did was quite a deal because of the size of our school."

One of the great ironies of the March 1 ceremony was that the Preston teammates saw Coeur d'Alene lose again, this time 67-45 to Vallivue, which won its first-ever State 5A title, just like Preston beat Coeur d'Alene for its first title in 1946.

Still living from the Preston state champions are Eldon Bennett from Franklin, Frank Condie who plays in a 75-and-older basketball league, Darrell Handy of Kearns, Utah, John Henderson of San Marco, Ca., Alan Keller of Orem, Reed Merrill of River Heights, Utah, Earl Neeley of Franklin, Ray Oliverson of Midvale, Utah, and Glen Page of Montpelier.

Page was the only survivor to miss the March 1 reunion. The two players who have passed away are former Hagerman schoolteacher Bill Choules and David Carlson. Kliss Choules, Bill's wife, attended the fete.

So did Keith Anderson and his wife, Lois, plus their son Kirk Anderson, a noted valley photographer, and his wife, Hilary, and their son Jeff Anderson of Ketchum's Anderson Insulation.

The IHSAA instituted the "Legends of the Game" recognition program in 2001 to help preserve the heritage of Idaho prep sports and to showcase great teams of the past.

Eligible basketball "legends" for the honor include girls' teams from at least 20 years ago and boys' teams from at least 30 years ago. Each September the IHSAA board chooses the winners from recommendations of a screening committee.

Team members receive commemorative plaques and medallions during special halftime ceremonies during the State 5A boys' basketball championship games each year in Nampa. Preston High, the eighth recipient of the honor, also received a United Dairymen of Idaho championship banner to display in its gym.

Preston joined these IHSAA boys' legends: 2007—Coach Elmer Jordan's 1949 Coeur d'Alene Vikings, Class A state champs. 2006—Coach Murray Satterfield's 1958 Wendell Trojans, AA state winners. 2005—1953 Idaho Falls Tigers, third straight state title. 2004—1957 Pocatello Indians, Class A kings. 2003—1965 Mullan Tigers, 1A state champs. 2002—Coach Dick Motta's 1958-59 Grace Red Devils, AA state champs in 1959. 2001—1950 Nampa Bulldogs, A state champs.

Girls' selections have been: 2008—Coach Randy Rehrer's Highland Rams of 1985, which won the state championship with a 25-1 record, first of three straight 5A state titles. 2007—1962 Camas County Mushers. 2006—1979 Grangeville Bulldogs, 3A state champs. 2005—1981-82 Moscow Bears, two-time State 3A winners. 2004—1938-39 Hagerman Pirates. 2003—1983 Meridian Warriors, fourth straight 5A state title. 2002—Ten women representing pioneers of Gem State girls' sports.

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