SALT LAKE CITY — A group of teenage basketball players and three adult chaperones were driving from Cincinnati to Utah’s capitol 50 years ago in their 1960s-era vehicles — green station wagon included — when Mother Nature threw a cold wrench into their travel plans.

A snowstorm along their 1,650-mile trek forced them to take shelter for a frigid night in Evanston, Wyoming. While checking into a motel, the front desk attendant gave them some tools and handy advice: “If you want your car to start in the morning, you’d better take your battery out tonight.”

After a warm night in the hotel, the boys and batteries got back into their cars and headed to their destination without further incident.

A half-century later, that is one of the fun stories this group from Ohio will share with each other while reminiscing about what ended up being a magical journey. The Cincinnati First Ward junior (ensign) basketball team left home hoping for a top four finish in the 1969 All-Church tournament. They returned as champions of what was billed as “the world’s biggest basketball tournament” — a 32-team playoff that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints used to annually host along the Wasatch Front from 1929 to 1971. There were also tournaments for men (seniors) and for church teams from colleges.

About 100 people with connections to that Cincy junior team — from players, to their coach and even their former stake president — are gathering in Salt Lake City this weekend to celebrate the 50-year anniversary of their unexpected championship run.

With memories as fresh as if they’d happened yesterday, the former athletes still get big smiles on their faces while recalling becoming the first team east of the Rockies to win any division of the then-47-year-old All-Church tournament. They’re quite proud to have won the sportsmanship award as a team, too. Team member Larry Scott jokingly said they received that because they didn’t punch anyone and because they “sucked up to the referees.”

Whatever they did, it worked on all levels.

“Truthfully, I just couldn’t believe that we won,” Mel Fish recalled. “I came planning on just trying to get as high as we could and go home.”

Courtesy Marshall Hamilton

The Cincinnati First Ward junior team competes in the All-Church basketball tournament in 1969 in Salt Lake City.

Former teammate Marshall Hamilton is quick to point out that Fish was named …read more

Source:: Deseret News – Sports News


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1969 All-Church basketball champions — from Cincinnati! — celebrate 50th anniversary

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