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Letter: Wonder Five: Growing up in magical Franklin hoops era

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Note: The statements, views, and opinions contained in this letter to the editor are those of the author and are not endorsed by, nor do they necessarily reflect, the opinions of Daily Journal.

To the editor:

After reading the nice articles from the Daily Journal on March 29 (“Wonder-ful memories”), I decided to write the editor about my experiences and stories of the Wonder Five and some of the basketball history of Franklin.

Growing up in Franklin, you learned right away all about the famous Wonder Five from the time you could walk and talk. I learned about that wonderful group of players from my parents and others in my life.

My dad would tell me stories about the Wonder Five. He grew up near Franklin College and would help those members get their game bags in the gym, and he would get in free. He knew each one by name or nickname. My dad’s nickname was Sug. My dad was about 10 years younger than the team members.

There was no TV or even radio then, so our activities were attending sporting events when I was growing up.

Basketball was something else growing up in the town of about 6,000. About the third grade, the class attended some sort of activity at the Franklin gym that seated about 2,500-plus (it has since burned down), and I thought it was the largest building I had ever been in. From that first time to when I graduated from Franklin High School in 1951, I had attended many basketball games, sectionals and county tournaments in that fine gym. In 1946, Franklin went to the semistate at Butler Fieldhouse, and again I thought it was the largest building I had ever been in.

Living in Franklin, we would come across many of the Wonder Five team and their family members who made their homes in the Franklin area, such as Fuzzy Vandivier, Ike Ballard, John Gant, Butter Williams, Pete Keeling, later Burl Friddle and Paul White, and perhaps others I have left out.

While in high school, two professional basketball teams came to the Franklin gym, and for the first time I got to see George Crowe. His family was well known in Franklin.

Robert Polk “Fuzzy” Vandivier was my teacher at FHS in world history and U.S. history. We did not know whether to call him Mr. or Fuzzy, and most of us did not call him anything. I remember he had a key ring with keys, and he would teach standing over by the windows, moving one key at a time around that key ring. He knew history, never looking at any notes.

In the early 1950s, my dad took Charles Littleton and myself to Indianapolis for a reunion banquet at the Antlers Hotel for the Wonder Five members and guests. I was in awe all evening seeing and meeting people I had heard about all my life. It was quite an honor and one of my precious memories.

I began teaching at Franklin Community High School in 1964, thereby being on the faculty with one of my favorite teachers, Fuzzy Vandivier. It was quite an honor for me. Then, I got the nerve finally to call him Fuzzy.

I can recall the night the high school gym was named in Fuzzy Vandivier’s honor. I got to meet his friend of many years, then governor of Indiana, Roger Branigin.

For Fuzzy, he lived so close to the old high school where he taught he never owned a car for several years. You could see him walking a lot. I know he always visited his mom when she was living. Later, he bought a home close to the new high school where we both taught.

In 1960-61, we had another Franklin basketball athlete, Jon McGlocklin, put Franklin Community High School on the map. He then played basketball for Indiana University, then the Milwaukee Bucks for eight years.

The city of Franklin came to life when the high school basketball team had two great years, 1973 and 1974. The gym was full each night, and many people followed them to their away games. I was teaching at Franklin at this time, being able for my family and myself to enjoy those two years of going to the state finals at Assembly Hall on the IU campus. My family and I followed those teams from the sectionals, regionals, semistates and finals. It was a great time. I taught many of those team members. What another great time for Franklin.

Three Franklin basketball players received the Trester Award, and they were Gary Applanalp and twins Jon and Don McGlocklin.

I am sure I have left out many things related to the basketball history of Indiana.

Thanks for giving me the opportunity to express my thoughts about the Wonder Five and basketball in the Franklin area from an 80-year-old.

William C. Legan

New Albany

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