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Every other year Perry Central’s boys basketball team has to make long road trips on consecutive nights for Patoka Lake Athletic Conference games at Orleans and Mitchell on the same weekend.
But if players or fans think that is tough, they should have to experience what Perry Central’s first boys basketball team had to endure: 88 consecutive road games.
Bristow and Oil Township consolidated to form Perry Central High School in the fall of 1962. But basically it was just a new sign put on the Oil Township school building, where Perry Central would continue to hold classes until its new school was finished in 1966.
Since the old Oil Township building had no gymnasium, Perry Central played all its basketball games on the road for more than four years, until the new Perry Central gym was ready eight games into the 1966-67 season.
Perry Central had no football team or girls sports in its early years. So the first team to field the Perry Central name was the boys cross country squad in the fall of 1962, followed by the boys basketball team that winter.
Since this is the 50th anniversary of the first Perry Central basketball team, members of that squad will be honored during Perry Central’s game with Paoli Feb. 15.
At least one member of that squad, Paul Donnelly, is deceased, but most of the living members have indicated they will attend the reunion.
Their coach, Joe LaGrange, is alive and well. He reminisced Friday by telephone about that first team.
He was just 21 when he was hired by Perry Central right after graduating from Hanover College and only 22 when the basketball season started.
He had no assistant coach that year (his cousin, Kenny LaGrange, became his assistant his second year) and formed his coaching style “from what I could pick up from other coaches, from clinics, and from reading.”
His team also had little height. “Clarence Franchville, who was probably 6-1, was our tallest player,” said LaGrange. “My brother, Marty, was about 6 feet.”
The first Commodores got off to a slow start, losing at least their first five games (to Leavenworth, Cannelton, Hancock County, Hardinsburg and Ferdinand).
Because of the great number of schools in the area and no full-time sports editor then, coverage of some teams was spotty in the Tell City News.
So I can find no record of the Commodores’ first victory, though the Dec. 18, 1962, issue of the News stated they got their second consecutive win, 56-46 over English, which was coached by former Oil Township coach Edison Tyler.
A balanced scoring attack fueled that victory, with five players scoring in double figures. Richard Hubert tallied 13, Marty LaGrange 12, and Don Quinlin, Franchville and Donnelly 10 apiece.
LaGrange then scored 32 in a 91-56 victory over Marengo as the Commodores went to Thanksgiving on a three-game winning streak.
That may have been their longest winning streak of the season, as the News’ sectional preview article listed the Commodores with a 6-11 record.
Joe LaGrange said he doesn’t think his team ever had such a poor record, though. And since teams usually played 20 regular-season games then, it could be that the Commodores were 9-11, with three wins unreported to the News.
Cannelton then edged them 42-39 in the first round of the sectional.
Such modest beginnings have helped produce one of the state’s top Class 2A teams today, coached by Matt Carter, a cousin of Joe LaGrange (Carter’s grandfather, Ovalee LaGrange, is Joe LaGrange’s first cousin).
Therefore it’s fitting to honor the team that started it all on its 50th anniversary.