By Jim Henry
Globe Sports Editor
EMPORIA, Kan. —
A victory over a future rival and the first buzzer-beater in school history highlighted Joplin Junior College’s inaugural basketball season.
Joplin played only eight games against other colleges during that 1937-38 season, but it was a busy campaign. The team, coached by Walter Wheeler, also played 12 games in the Joplin YMCA Open League against town teams whose roster included former collegiate players. JJC also played in two independent tournaments.
“Competition in the open league, fast basketball at the Joplin YMCA, not only has hardened the junior college courtmen but has furnished valuable competition for when the going is toughest,” according to a Joplin Globe story on Jan. 7, 1938.
Joplin’s basketball debut came in the Open League on Dec. 8, 1937, and it lost a 30-26 decision to the Columbus Grocers. Mineon Goade scored 13 points to lead Columbus.
Delmar Strait, from Seneca, topped Joplin with 12 points. Also scoring for Joplin was Bert Spencer with six and Shelby Slinker and Jim Attebury with four apiece.
By the way, the official for the game — there was only one — was Don Gutteridge, St. Louis Cardinals infielder and Pittsburg native.
One week later Joplin posted its first victory, a 42-35 victory over Webb City Rex Recreation in what was labeled a “free-scoring game.” Spencer led Joplin with 11 points.
Joplin’s first game against another college team came on Jan. 7, 1938, a 32-27 home loss to the Monett Junior College Gorillas. Spencer and Strait had seven each for Joplin.
Joplin then lost on the road to the Drury freshmen 20-14, Fort Scott 52-36 and Monett 33-30 before returning home for another game against Drury.
This time the Lions earned their first collegiate victory, a 43-38 decision over their future NAIA District 16 rival.
“With four sharp-shooting courtmen making all the points,’’ The Globe read, “Joplin Junior College basketeers defeated the Drury College reserves 43 to 38 at the YMCA court to avenge an earlier defeat at Springfield.
“Slinker (14), Spencer (13), Strait (6) and Beck (10) accounted for Joplin’s points as the Green and Gold fought most of the time on even terms with the visitor.
“The Joplinites, accustomed to working the ball in close, let fly with some accurate long shots late in the contest to clinch matters.”
Joplin lost twice by 11 points in a four-day span to Miami Junior College before concluding a 2-6 college slate with a 48-46 home win over Fort Scott. The Globe reported on the thrilling finish.
“The Green and Gold of Joplin Junior College’s first-year basketeers was mainly gold after coach Walt Wheeler’s squad edged out Fort Scott Junior College at the high school court here. The score was 48-46.
“The Fort Scott squad, which took an earlier game from Joplin, is something to fear in the Kansas circuits and jumped into a 34-to-23 lead at the half. From there on Joplin went to work.
“Shelby Slinker of Joplin Junior College flipped in six field goals and three free throws for 15 points to lead the cagemen of both squads. Vance of Fort Scott was close behind with 14.
“But with seconds to go and a 46-to-44 edge, the visitors attempted a stall to keep possession of the ball until the whistle. Bert Spencer, short and scrappy forward of the Green and Gold, broke through the defense and took the ball down the court to sink a set-up and tie the score. Slinker scored the (winning) points from in close just before the whistle.”
The college season now over, Joplin finished play in the Open League before wrapping up the season in the 17th annual Four-State Independent Tournament.
A total of 23 teams were entered and the field was split into two divisions. The tournament’s $94 prize fund likely attracted more teams than usual.
Joplin played in the tougher division and beat Columbus 39-35 and the All-State Indians 32-20 in the first two rounds of the single-elimination tournament before losing to the Joplin Horseshoes 52-34 in the semifinals. Joplin Atlas, the top independent team in the area, then edged the Horseshoes 31-29 in the championship game.
Atlas received $35 for winning the tournament, and the Horseshoes won $15. Joplin and the other semifinalist each received $5.
The A division winner received $15, and the second-place team got $5.
In both divisions, $5 went to the team that traveled the farthest, and the Picher Eagles (championship division) and Galena Eagle-Picher (A Division) received $2 apiece for being the first teams to enter their divisions.