Attempting to unearth information on a basketball player whose final high school points were scored 73 years ago can provide interesting peeks into yesterday.
John Mark Bass graduated from Greenwood High School in 1941. A three-time Johnson County scoring champion, the hard-nosed 6-foot-2 center that same year would earn the title of Indiana Mr. Basketball.
By most accounts, Bass continues to be viewed as the best player the Woodmen program has produced. Dominant in an era of innocence about to be shaken by the attack on Pearl Harbor, he also excelled in football and baseball while at Greenwood.
Bass passed away in April 1989 at age 65, any tales of his greatness left to the memories and opinions of others.
Sadly, most of those who witnessed Bass’ interior dominance and fiery on-court persona also are no longer with us.
It’s here microfilm dedicated to old newspaper clippings helps keep his legacy alive.
The Franklin Evening Star, for instance, used to include a section titled “Hardwood Hopper” that served as a weekly roundup of the county’s best prep basketball players and teams.
Excelling in an era of basketball team scores often in the 30s, 20s and even teens, Bass scored at a 10.7 clip as a Greenwood sophomore during the 1938-39 season. He then averaged 13.8 and 13.2 points his final two seasons.
Better at the offensive end
Not a defensive stopper by any stretch of the imagination, Bass’ forte was putting the ball through the basket. He possessed the athleticism necessary to score with interior power, tip-ins and even perimeter shots.
Bass powered the Woodmen to three straight Johnson County Tournament championships and to sectional titles his junior and senior seasons.
Greenwood’s stunning 33-29 victory against the host program in the final game of the 1940 Franklin Sectional remains one of the truly legendary local high school games of that or any other era. The Woodmen win snapped the Grizzly Cubs’ string of 22 consecutive sectional titles and unbelievable run of 83 straight sectional triumphs.
Greenwood repeated as sectional champion a year later, Harry Normington’s long-range shot with 10 seconds remaining the difference in a 28-27 victory against Franklin in the finale.
It was the 1940-41 Greenwood squad that during the regular season assembled a 13-game winning streak halted by a one-point loss at Brownstown.
Bass scored only seven points in that game but rebounded nicely in the postseason. He would tally 16 points in a 45-15 sectional romp of Nineveh, 13 against the Cubs and six in a 36-28 loss to Shelbyville at the Greensburg Regional.
Those would be the final points of John Mark Bass’ basketball career. His country, after all, was calling.
The next chapter
Not long after graduating high school, Bass would be part of the U.S. Army. He was sent overseas following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and served a total of four years in the Army.
In later years Bass focused on work and family. His son, John Jr., is a 1969 Greenwood graduate who was a talented player in his own right, eclipsing the 1,000-point barrier during his varsity basketball career.
The younger Bass departed Greenwood four years ahead of the arrival of current Woodmen boys basketball coach Bruce Hensley, who grew up understanding the Bass surname would always be synonymous with success.
“I knew of the dad simply because John Bass Jr. graduated from here,” Hensley said. “I never met him. It was just word of mouth that he was a Mr. Basketball.”
A legacy looking to grow
Johnson County’s powerful boys basketball lineage including Robert “Fuzzy” Vandivier and the Franklin Wonder Five in the early part of the 20th century would be carried on by another Franklin player — 1939 Mr. Basketball George Growe.
Information on these outstanding players and others from more recent generations in most cases is little more than a few keyboard clicks away.
Not the case with the elder Bass, whose athletics exploits seem to be erased by an unfortunate mix of time and circumstance.
Neither Greenwood Community High School nor the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame has records of Bass’ scoring or rebounding records. A framed black-and-white photo of Bass in his home uniform (he wore No. 11) hangs in the center of a trophy case near the school gym.
Current Greenwood students and community members have little to no knowledge of Bass or his many athletic accomplishments.
It is believed the fire that destroyed the old high school in 1941 plays a major role in this. It’s feared records and photographs of those impressive Woodmen squads were destroyed.
But winning is winning, and Bass won a lot. The 1940 Woodmen were rolling along at 24-0 before losing to North Vernon at the regional. Greenwood finished 18-3 his senior season.
Bass was the go-to player for what would be the first two sectional championships in program history. Two decades would pass before it would capture a third.
It’s the responsibility of Bass’ alma mater to right whatever historical slights might have taken place. Not an easy undertaking when the necessary data can’t be found or simply no longer exists.
“The big thing we’ve tried to do is to get him into the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame. The family checks in from time to time about where we are. The best that I can tell is that we make the nomination, and then it’s in the hands of the Hall of Fame, and they do the research and decide whether it merits him being in,” Greenwood athletics director Pete Huse said.
“We’re talking during the time of the Second World War, and maybe that had something to do with less focus on high school athletics and coverage and things like that. Did we even have an athletic director at Greenwood in 1941 that would have records?”
Questions, questions. And still, seven-plus decades after the fact, no definitive answers.