On Nov. 14, 1942, the Indiana High School Athletic Association (IHSAA) issued a list showing exactly 800 schools having full membership status to participate in interscholastic basketball during the 1942-43 regular season. Of this number, 775 registered to compete in the postseason state tournament that began on Thursday, Feb. 25, 1943. A few schools decided not to register while others were declared ineligible for one reason or another. It was a difficult season, full of anxiety for most of Indiana's population and for the United States as a whole, since the nation was at war on two world fronts. Many team members were leaving their studies to enlist, and many coaches either were called to duty or volunteered their services to the military.
These departures made the season a complicated one, since the roster for any given team might undergo a number of changes before the season ended. The ability of a school to arrange a schedule became particularly hampered because of gasoline rationing, tire shortages, and travel restrictions. Because of the sudden and widespread departures of the youngest coaches to serve in the military, some schools had no coach at all at the beginning of the school year. That caused delays in initiating regular schedules and frequently resulted in game cancellations. Other schools that were lucky enough to quickly find a substitute coach discovered that before the season ended they needed to recruit three or four people consecutively to keep the post filled during the course of the season. It was routinely a challenge to maintain a basketball program and to honor scheduled game commitments. At smaller schools, the principal often was called upon or volunteered to do the coaching while continuing on with his regular duties.
Aside from complications brought about by the war, a new era was dawning in Indiana high school basketball with the removal of IHSAA restrictions against membership and state tournament participation for schools having religious, racial, or special enrollment qualifications. Such schools had earlier been prohibited from joining the ranks of fully sanctioned schools for nearly half a century. The barrier was finally lifted in the fall of 1942, after numerous and heated arguments among school administrators, coaches, and community leaders up and down the state. The IHSAA Commissioners, somewhat to their credit, finally acknowledged that the rationale used for the exclusionary policies over the years had been weak in their application of common sense.
Before the beginning of the season there was a real threat of interscholastic basketball being cancelled for the year and of being discontinued for the duration of the war, because of overseas manpower and resource demands. For the most part, school board officials and the IHSAA were reluctant to wholly abandon Indiana's favorite sport even though they commonly agreed on several wartime restrictions. They vowed that the season would proceed even if bicycles, horses and wagons, or even foot power had to be employed to get players to games. In the final analysis, none of those measures was necessary, which probably disappointed bicycle companies such as Schwinn, Raleigh, and American Flyer, but saved the farm horses for real farm work and preserved the soles on countless shoes. The season officially began on Nov. 2 with the usual enthusiasm.
As illustrations of the wholesale shakeup in the coaching ranks that year, Marion Crawley, coach of the Washington Hatchets, who had won the state championship two years running, resigned to coach Lafayette Jefferson; Everett Case, coach at perennial favorite and four-time champion Frankfort, resigned to join the U.S. Navy; and Archie Chadd, who had been an outstanding coach at Anderson, resigned to become superintendent of the Anderson schools. Coaches who were shy of their 30th birthday left the coaching ranks in droves to join the fight against the Axis. Some coaches and hundreds of players would never return.
In late October 1942, the Nazis had encroached upon Stalingrad and had visions of overtaking the Russian capital of Moscow.
In the U.S., consumer products were rarely overpriced in spite of widespread shortages. This was largely due to controls exercised by the newly formed Office of Price Administration (OPA). Sample prices of grocery products at the time could include lean veal cutlets at 49 cents per pound, smoked ham at 39 cents per pound, a dozen oranges for 23 cents, a pound of red grapes for 13 cents, 10 pounds of potatoes for 29 cents, a 16 ounce loaf of bread for 12 cents, large grade A eggs about 43 cents a dozen, a quart of milk for 15 cents, and a 16-ounce jar of peanut butter for a quarter. A hamburger with all the trimmings at the local lunch counter would usually require a dime from one's pocket and a burger with cheese added forced a hungry customer to dig for a nickel more. Most candy bars cost 5 cents.
Automobiles were not manufactured during the war, but you could buy a good used 1941 Chevy coupe for $945, a 1939 Plymouth sedan for $395, a 1936 Ford coach for $245, or a 1929 Ford pickup truck for $95. A nice pair of girls' saddle oxfords was priced at $3.30 and a pair of sturdy leather men's dress shoes cost $4.25. An official laced basketball could be bought for $2.50 wholesale in lots of 10 or more.
Radio programs, especially weekly evening shows, were extremely popular during the early 40s. This cheap form of entertainment provided an escape from the worries of war. Depending upon the night one chose to relax on the living room sofa or in the easy chair next to the family console radio, the array of programs after supper might feature Jack Benny, Horace Heidt, Fred Allen, Gang Busters, Fibber McGee & Molly, Amos & Andy, Fred Waring, Duffy's Tavern, or, perhaps a bit earlier in the evening, Lum & Abner. Beginning at 5 p.m., the kids could turn on their favorite serials including Jack Armstrong, Captain Midnight, The Shadow, Terry & the Pirates, Yukon King, Don Winslow, and The Green Lantern. Gabriel Heatter, Lowell Thomas, Walter Winchell, and H.V. Kaltenborn handled the newscasts.
On Nov. 11, 1942, a female circus elephant named Modoc escaped her handlers who had been camped out near the city of Wabash. Modoc then enjoyed a five-day romp through the thick, forested area around the Wabash River before finally being coaxed back to re-captivity by the aroma of 30 loaves of fresh bread. Hundreds of people had joined in the pachydermal hunt earlier, and it might logically seem difficult for a whole community to lose sight of a mid-sized elephant. But Modoc came back to town only when she was good and ready, and perhaps a little hungry.
Anxiety was not limited that winter to concerns about the war. Rainstorms brought record floods in early January to areas next to the Ohio and Wabash rivers. Temperatures plummeted to record lows in some areas of the state during mid-January. LaPorte, for example, experienced 24 degrees below zero. There were tragic accidents as well, such as the fatal December poisoning of hundreds of inmates from a batch of bacteria-laden powdered eggs served at an Evansville asylum for the mentally handicapped. On the east coast, a fire broke out at the Cocoanut Grove dance hall in Boston a few days after Thanksgiving, killing 480 party-goers. Among those succumbing to burn injuries was Buck Jones, a popular star of Grade B western films and one of Indiana's favorite sons. Buck grew up in Vincennes.
IHSAA Commissioner Arthur L. Trester was called on the carpet by the Indiana Legislature to explain why administrative control over high school sports should continue being vested with his organization. Allegations had been made that Trester and the IHSAA had abused their authority over the years by establishing policies that were not in the best interests of high school athletics. Trester and the IHSAA survived the hearings, but not without admonishment. Senator William Kinder of Tipton, in a direct rebuke hinting at future events that would lead to multi-class basketball and eventually to the widely perceived "death of Hoosier Hysteria" fifty-four years later, addressed Trester with these words (in part):
"You (Trester) should see the handwriting on the wall...the people, who build gymnasiums and support athletics must have (their) say and they must be shown the proper respect. It seems to me it (the IHSAA) is too much of a principals' organization."
Kinder's mid-century criticism that the IHSAA was simply a sounding board for principals and was not acting in the best interests of taxpayers, ballplayers, coaches, athletic directors, and the public in general, has been made periodically and brought to the attention of the Legislature ever since.
At state tournament time in March, the Russian army, plus a severe winter, had turned back the Nazi war machine on all eastern fronts and had saved Stalingrad and Moscow from German occupation. Also, allied forces had gained the upper hand from the Nazis in northern Africa and had made some headway against the forces of the Japanese Empire who sixteen months earlier on Dec. 7, 1941 had sprung a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. With these advances, the winter of 42-43 ended with a somewhat positive perspective.
The Fort Wayne Central Tigers became basketball champions on March 20 by winning their first state tournament crown. In what could only be described as an outright "cat-fight," the Tigers of Fort Wayne out-clawed the Tigers of Lebanon in the final game, 45-40. That game closed the 1942-43 basketball season and, along with all the other newsworthy reports, became history.