William Penn boys' basketball has a long and storied history, which spans more than 100 years.
The teams of the late 1940s and 50s found success in the Central Penn League: the 1948 squad won the school's first league title, and the Bearcats won district titles from 1948-1950. The 1949 team played in the first state championship game, and the first undefeated regular season in program history was recorded in 1958.
But for William Penn alumni and lifelong fan Gary Kraybill, it is a particular game in 1959 that he won't forget. Here is Kraybill's recollection:
"As my York High Class of 1959 prepares for its 55th reunion, many memories surface. My most memorable sports story is not about being a player but about being a lifelong fan of York High basketball, as a child, as a student and now as a graduate. From the time I first walked into the old high school basketball court in the late 40s, I had dreams about playing basketball someday for York High. Later as a student in the late 50s, York High basketball games seemed like the only place to be.
"As a child I remember Lou and Hal Brown the state championship loss to Aliquippa in 1949 ... then as a student, in my junior year, the undefeated regular-season team, including Ron Warner, Teddy and Bobby Holmes, Lonny Bones and Gene Becker ... lining up after school at 3:30 p.m. for home game tickets.
"During the 1958 season, not only was the varsity undefeated but so was the junior varsity, and so the bleachers were full by JV tipoff at 6 p.m.
"But my most memorable game came during my senior year, in the spring of 1959. The 1958 team had consisted of five seniors, arguably the best York High team of all time. The 1959 season began with no prior year starters. Don Cockley tried various starting lineups, and after several early season losses, settled on my classmates Terry Leik, Charlie Sexton and Bob Smith, along with juniors Terry Bosserman and Bill Fry as his starting five.
"York High was a member of the Central Penn League, and along with Reading High School, had dominated league play for many years. Play in the Central Penn was divided among two halves with the first-half champion playing the second-half champion. The first half was won by an undefeated William Penn-Harrisburg team; the second half ended in a tie between York High and Steelton-Highspire, which each suffered one loss.
"So, the second-half title was to be settled in the very first basketball game ever played in the Pennsylvania Farm Show Arena. The arena was full, 7,000 plus fans, indicative of the crowds we drew at playoff time, whether it was there, the Hershey Sports Arena or the Palestra in Philadelphia. York High basketball was a community event and there never was an empty seat, not in the large arenas, nor in the tiny York High gym, nicknamed the "cheesebox."
"Despite having defeated Steel-High twice, the game went back and forth to the end, as expected. With two seconds on the clock, and having the lead by one point, Steel-High went to the foul line, shooting 1-and-1. My friends and I in the stands were about to accept defeat. The shooter missed the foul shot, and Bobby Smith got the rebound and called timeout with one second left on the clock. Fortunately, in those days, any timeout called resulted in the ball being placed at half court (today, on the same timeout, the ball would be placed under the opponents basket — a full court away).
"With one second left to play, York High had the ball at half court. On the inbounds play, Smith led Sexton with a bounce pass toward the basket, Charlie shot, the buzzer sounded, and the ball went cleanly through the basket. We won by one point, we were second-half champions! I recall that moment, watching the on-court behavior of York High players celebrating the impossible. I remember Charlie Sexton going to his knees in an expression of happiness and humility, no chest beating, no index finger pointing No. 1, just a happy kid.
"After that game, we defeated William Penn-Harrisburg for the league title, won a few more games and then after having played five games in 10 days, lost the District 3 championship to Carlisle.
"York High teams before and since that have seemingly accomplished more — but to me, York High vs. Steel-High in March 1959 is the most memorable game of my life."
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