To get better at anything, it takes practices. Most of us aren’t naturally gifted to excel at anything to the point we don’t need to practice.
So Bill Huffman and his cousin Tom Carey took that notion to heart when it came to basketball. They grew up in New Vienna, just a year apart in school. Bill was a year ahead.
“Neither of us had a rim or basket,” Bill explained.
And Huffman said the school wasn’t open. “They wouldn’t let us in to practice,” he said.
But Carey’s neighbor had a basket, Huffman recalled. However, he said the neighbor kids “didn’t play too much” basketball despite having a shed with a bankboard built on it.
I guess Huffman and Carey could have taken the chance to shoot a few baskets on the neighbor’s hoop.
Instead, they decided to get their practice where they’d eventually be playing their games … at the school. And many times they went that way when Huffman was supposed to be delivering newspapers — sorry if your paper in the New Vienna area was late back in the 1940s.
“We’d go through the coal chute at the high school and practice some,” Huffman said. “I think the coal they used was for a stoker. It wasn’t that bad. We never got that dirty.”
They never got caught either, at least not that Huffman knew or admitted.
Still it makes for a great story on how youth can overcome any situation to improve their athletic skills.
Huffman was a three-sport standout in the eastern part of Clinton County at New Vienna. Because of World War II, Huffman had just nine opportunities to earn varsity letters at NVHS and he made good on all nine tries in basketball, baseball and track/field.
Huffman’s senior class at New Vienna started a long run of success in basketball. It was the first year for the legendary coach Tom Rudisill to take over the program. Rudisill’s teams went 171-41 in 10 seasons.
The first was the 1947-48 squad that won the county title and two district tournament games. Huffman was a first-team All-County selection and remembers Rudisill and his hard-nosed coaching style.
“After we got used to him, it was fine,” Huffman said. “The first practice we had in basketball, he blew the whistle. Somebody took a shot after that and he (Rudisill) grabbed the basketball and threw it off those brick walls. I think it’s still bouncing today, so we didn’t do that anymore.”
During one basketball game, Huffman recalled hitting the tile floor quite hard and losing consciousness for a moment. “They never took me out,” he said with an astonished tone in his voice. “They just called time. Mr. Rudisill wasn’t very long getting the smelling salts, I remember that.”
Back then, when the schools played baseball, the season started in the fall. Smaller schools didn’t have football teams, so they played baseball at the start of the school year. If a team won the county baseball championship in the fall, it would play in the statewide district tournament in the spring. If you didn’t win in the fall, there might not be baseball in the spring.
If that was the case, the cinder tracks were the focal point of the athletic season and for Huffman that was just fine. Oh, he was a great baseball pitcher and hitter, among the best the county has produced.
But track and field was his forte. He held the NV record in the 100- and 220-yard dashes as well as the broad jump when he graduated. His mark of 24.2 seconds in the 220 was retired as a the school’s all-time mark.
Huffman also had the county meet record in the 100 for one year, 1948. The next year, his coal chute cohort and cousin Tom Carey came along and beat it by one-tenth of a second.
The easy-going Huffman said simply, “And that didn’t make me a bit mad.”