Willshire Bearcats Basketball, 1955 & 1956

People in this area still remember and talk about Willshire’s basketball teams in the mid-50s. I am sure some of you remember those teams and those seasons very well. You may have even been there to participate and experience the excitement.

Last week I wrote about the Willshire Bearcat basketball team’s successful 1939-40 season, which resulted in a trip to the state basketball finals. But that wasn’t their only trip to the state tournament. Years later they had two runs for the state championship, in 1955 and 1956.

I am sorry to say that I do not remember those great Bearcat teams because I was only 3-4 years old at the time. But I have heard the stories and have seen the photos. I do however remember their coach Robert Games, who was the superintendent when I was in grade school.

The Bearcats, in the Class B division, were undefeated during their regular seasons in both 1955 and 1956, losing their first games at the state level both years. In 1955 they advanced all the way to the state final game and in 1956 to the state semi-final.

In 1955 the Willshire Bearcats won the first game at the state tournament, the semifinal, advancing them to the final championship game. But they were defeated the next afternoon by Lockland Wayne 64-56, and they ended their season as the state runner-up. They finished the 1954-55 season 29-1.

State runners-up, 1955.

State runners-up, 1955.

The scoring of that state final game was as follows:
Koch, 1; Clase, 12; Kesler, 19; D. Marbaugh, 6; Black, 4; Miller, 11; Michaud, 0; Byer, 0; Stetler, 0; Bollenbacher, 0. [1]

When the team, coaches, and cheerleaders returned home from the tournament there was a parade and celebration for them in Willshire.

Parade Greets Willshire Team
Willshire—A band concert, parade and victory march around the school district greeted the Willshire High School Bearcats, state Class B runners-up, when they returned home yesterday afternoon.

Arriving from Cincinnati, where they lost the state finals Saturday afternoon, the Bearcats were met at Rockford by a band and escorted here by a parade of fans’ cars.

The team was hauled at the outskirts of town and nearly every citizen of this 580-population village jammed the center of the town for the celebration.

During the festivities a collection was taken to purchase a new trophy case for the school.

Following the final game Saturday night, the team elected to go to a movie in downtown Cincinnati, instead of attending the Class A finals. [2]

1955 Runners-upSome of the team players were selected for the all-tournament teams.

All-Tourney Teams
Three Willshire players were named on the Class B all-tournament teams. Charles Koch, senior, and Gary Kesler, junior, who scored 45 points in two games, were named on the first team and Larry Miller, who played bang up ball in the title contest., was named to the second team. [1]

Willshire Bearcats, 1955 state runners-up. (1954-55 season).

Willshire Bearcats, 1955 state runners-up. (1954-55 season).

The next school year (1955-56) the Bearcats again had a winning team and once again finished their regular season undefeated. In 1956 they traveled to the state basketball tournament for another try at the state title.

1955-56 Bearcats, front: Larry Huston, Paul Bollenbacher, Joe Clase, Gary Kesler, Larry Miller, Dave Byer. back: Don Jones, Supt; Bob Lucas, Bud Marbaugh, Boyd Hey, Jim Krueckeberg, Jerry Dennis, mgr; Jim Finch, coach Bob Games.

1955-56 Bearcats, front: Larry Huston, Paul Bollenbacher, Joe Clase, Gary Kesler, Larry Miller, Dave Byer, Don Jones; back: Bob Lucas (Supt.), Bud Marbaugh, Boyd Hey, Jim Krueckeberg, Jerry Dennis, Jim Finch (manager), coach Bob Games.

On 22 March 1956 the Willshire Bearcats traveled to Cleveland to play Arcanum in the state semifinal game, scheduled for 1:35 the next day. Willshire’s record was 27-0 while Arcanum’s was 25-1. The team went a day early to look over the arena and get one last practice. [3]

The Bearcats were favored to beat Arcanum and advance to the finals as they had the year before. One of their players was the tall Gary Kesler, who had been named Class B’s outstanding player during the regular season and had been selected to play on the all-tournament team 1955. [4] Kesler’s height varied in the different newspaper accounts, ranging anywhere form 6’8” to 6’11”. So I don’t actually know how tall he really was, but he was tall.

Willshire fans back at home were able to hear the game on the radio, since 18 stations reportedly carried at least a portion of the game. A Lima station would have been the closest in this area. [4]

Unfortunately the Bearcats were defeated 55-54 in the semifinal game, their first loss in the 28 games they played that season. Willshire’s defeat was described as “one of the most stunning upsets in recent tournament history.” Kesler was held to 16 points, a lot fewer than his average. It was not his best game. One reporter noted the outside shooting of Dave Byer, Al Clase, and Larry Miller, as well as the free throw shooting of Paul Bollenbacher kept Willshire in the game until Kesler began hitting in the third quarter.

The scoring was as follows:
Miller, 6; Clase, 8; Kesler, 16; Bollenbacher, 10: Byer, 8; Hey, 4; Kruecekberg, 2; Samples, 0. [5]

Willshire Bearcat Basketball Team.

Willshire Bearcat Basketball Team in Willshire

That was the era of Willshire’s basketball dynasty. They certainly knew how to play basketball at Willshire High School back then, but that would end forever about five years later when the Willshire and Rockford school systems merged to form the Parkway Local School District.

What great achievements for a school the size of Willshire! It must have been an exciting time.


[1] The Van Wert Times Bulletin, Van Wert, Ohio, Lima, 28 March 1955, p.6; digital images by subscription Ancestry.com (www.ancestry.com : accessed 21 January 2015).

[2] The Lima News, Lima, Ohio, 28 March 1955, p.17; digital images by subscription Ancestry.com (www.ancestry.com : accessed 21 January 2015).

[3] The Lima News, Lima, Ohio, 22 March 1956, p.39; digital images by subscription Ancestry.com (www.ancestry.com : accessed 21 January 2015).

[4] The Lima News, Lima, Ohio, 23 March 1956, p.30; digital images by subscription Ancestry.com (www.ancestry.com : accessed 21 January 2015).

[5] The Lima News, Lima, Ohio, 24 March 1956, p.5; digital images by subscription Ancestry.com (www.ancestry.com : accessed 21 January 2015).



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    • Mary Haddad on January 23, 2015 at 11:19 am
    • Reply

    Thanks so much Karen, for the trip back to memory lane. I was in the 8th grade and the a freshman when we had these great teams and it was exciting. My brother, John Goodwin, a senior was a manager of the team in 1956 so he got to travel with them. I and my sister were in the band. And it was a fantastic experience for a small town. Lots of excitement for us!

    1. What fun to have several connections to the team. I can only imagine how exciting it was!

    • Walt Maken on January 27, 2015 at 12:42 am
    • Reply

    Karen, thanks for posting this info about the Willshire Bearcats. If you go to https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=Willshire%2C+Ohio , among the videos listed there, you’ll also see a few concerning the Bearcats, including footage from the Arcanum and Lockland games. Enjoy

    1. Thank you for sharing the YouTube link about Willshire. It is interesting to see some of the players in recent times and hear them talk about the games. I notice there are several other videos about Willshire. Thank you for sending the interesting link!

    • Jerry Dennis on December 6, 2022 at 3:21 pm
    • Reply

    Just going down memory lane.Thank You.

    1. You are welcome!

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