MOROCCO – It was hot, sweaty and crowded in the gym which was hosting its first varsity basketball game since 1967, but for those it attendance, it was step back in time to the height of Hoosier hysteria.
The Morocco Gym, which had been the home court for the Morocco High School Beavers from 1936 through 1967, was the scene of the “Throwback Game,” wherein the North Newton Spartans played host to the visiting Kankakee Valley Kougars.
The Kougars made the most of this game as they snapped a four-game losing streak, to thump the Spartans 86-39, and continue their dominance over their neighbors to the West. The Kougars have not lost a game to North Newton since 2003.
It was more than just the game that many of the fans came to see, however. Lettermen jackets from long ago were peppered throughout the crowd. Many of them bore the names of long-gone area schools that existed before consolidation. Most of them were worn by men who earned them while playing in gyms like Morocco.
In addition to Morocco Beavers wear, there were jackets from the DeMotte Indians and Wheatfield Red Devils, as well as fans and former students of the Mount Ayr Ayrdales and Fair Oaks Cherokees.
The Throwback Game was the brainchild of Kankakee Valley High School teacher Paul Norwine, who said he reached out to Newton County officials — particularly Morocco Council member Bob Gonczy, who appreciates history as much as Norwine — to see if the idea was even possible. The first answer was an honest, “I don’t know.” Before long, officials from both schools, school districts and sponsors were on-board and the momentum grew and grew.
Especially poignant moments occurred both between the junior varsity and varsity games and during halftime of the second game. Between games, Norwine took center stage and introduced players in attendance from Sectional-winning teams of the schools that eventually consolidated to become Kankakee Valley.
Norwine first introduced 1950 Wheatfield Red Devil’s sectional-winning team members Hank Ganzeveld and Firman Walker to thunderous applause.
That was followed by the introduction of the 1964 DeMotte Indians sectional-winning team of Dave Abbring, Marvin Boezeman, Larry Bol, Bill Orsburn, Dave Peterson, Bob Punter, Dave Schoonveld, Howard Swart, and, newly-elected Indiana Hall of Fame member, coach Jerry Hoover. That was followed by the introduction of the sectional-winning 1965 Wheatfield Red Devils players Fred Abbring, Green Risner, Roy Shepherd and Ted Woolever.
Norwine continued with the introduction of Jerry McKim as the sole representative of the Sectional-Winning 1967 Wheatfield Red Devils in attendance as well as the 1970 DeMotte Indians represented by Bernie Dykhuizen, Rick Cunningham, Rick Rose and coach Rich McEwan.
McEwan holds the distinction of being both the last coach of the DeMotte Indians and the first coach of the Kankakee Valley Kougars.
Norwine concluded by introducing 2019 Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame inductee Bob Smock. Smock played for Hebron High School, scoring 548 points in 1964 and 1,591 points in his high-school-career. He later taught and coached at North Newton.
At halftime of the Varsity game, the members of the 1978 sectional-winning North Newton Spartans were also introduced to the crowd.
As for the game itself, it was all Kougars all-the time, as they led from start to finish. KV was up 17-5 after the first quarter and it was the 6:19 mark in the second before the Spartans scored their third basket. The Kougars played possibly their best basketball of the young season and showed teamwork and unselfishness as they dished back and forth, feeding each other throughout the game.
The Kougars’ scoring was led by senior Billy Bonilla, who scored 17 despite sitting out the first two quarters. Junior Grant Marshall showed a newfound maturity as he slashed and drove for 13 points. Senior Wade Williams and junior Tyler Martin had 10 each.
Williams and Will Dyniewski each took turns ruling the rebound game, both defensively and offensively. Nine Kougars put points on the board, scoring basically at will.
For the Spartans, only sophomore Austin Goddard hit for double figures, netting 16 points. The play of the North Newton team, however, was admirable as they continued to go hard and never gave up, even as the Kougars’ lead stretched.
For both teams, the event was pleasurable for another reason, as they all seemed to soak in the atmosphere. During the JV game, several Kougar players were observed talking to some of their predecessors, listening to their memories and seemingly absorbing their knowledge.
Kougar coach Billy Shepherd spoke about the atmosphere and how much he and the team enjoyed not only the win but the ambiance. He also gave credit to everyone involved in making the event happen.
Several of the former players expressed their gratitude for the night, as well, including one who said he was enjoying himself immensely. His only regret was that more of his former teammates had not lived long enough to be with them there that night.