November 28, 2013
When the Game Didn't Count
by Heath Hunziker
Confusion, shock and heartbreak.
Those are a few of the emotions that my father, Gary Hunziker, recalled as he looked over the player names and scoring totals penciled on pages 6 and 7 of the old, tattered 1963-64 Memphis High School basketball scorebook. His Scotland County Twentieth Century History class had found the book in an old trophy case last spring. Having played for the Kahoka Indians in 1963-64, my father immediately thought back to one of the most memorable games he experienced that 27-3 season, if not in his high school career. Even though no points appear next to his name in the scorebook, my father has shared his memories of that day and game with my brothers and me as we grew up. Unfortunately, the story always ended in confusion. So you can imagine how thrilled he was when one of his students approached him last April with a stack of scorebooks from that era. As he set aside all but the 1963-64 book, he thought possibly the pages would help answer some questions about that day, or worse, create more. Dad glanced over the weathered pages and began to tell his students about the once heated rivalry of Memphis and Kahoka High schools and why of all games, he remembered this one most.
The rivalry between Memphis and Kahoka schools has spanned generations but many would debate that the rivalry was the strongest in the 1960's. Both schools were highly competitive in all their athletic programs, but basketball was the main attraction in both communities. Together, the schools had won their share of Mississippi Valley conference championships in past seasons, and this conference season both were expected to be competitive as well. In 1963-64, Memphis and Coach Joe Branham had a strong starting line-up, which included seniors Thomas Kirchner, Rob Moore, Phillip Moss, Ralph Carver and Charles King. Many considered Coach Neil Knight's Kahoka team to be balanced from top to bottom, led by seniors Sam Bogener, Doug McCulloch, Elmer Boatman, and juniors Steve Sherwood and Ron Fry.
The basketball contest between Kahoka and Memphis followed Kahoka's championship run in the LaBelle tournament a week earlier, so Kahoka was confident going into Memphis. The Tigers had beaten their first opponent Wyaconda by nearly fifty points a week before, so both communities expected a hard-fought game. In those days, each Mississippi Valley school played each other twice so not only was each game important but each team wanted to prove early in the season who was best prepared. What both teams didn't suspect, was neither would be prepared for what happened that day.
The game was fast paced from the tip-off as both teams were athletic and played an up-tempo style of basketball. Center Charles King and guard Rob Moore helped their Memphis Tigers take control of the game early, scoring 16 of the team's 24 total first quarter points. Kahoka's center Sam Bogener and forward Doug McCulloch combined for 16 of Kahoka's 18 total points. The cadence of both teams didn't let up in the second quarter. With Sam Bogener in foul trouble, Kahoka's starting guard Steve Sherwood scored 6 points while forward Elmer Boatman tallied 9 points. Again, King and Moore led the Memphis Tigers in the second quarter scoring column and the Tigers walked into their locker room feeling confident, up 48-41 at halftime.
As my father began to talk to his students about the events of the second half, he gazed down to the date penciled in the upper right corner of the score sheet and then explained that not only was this no ordinary game, more importantly, it was no ordinary day. In fact, everyone had been confused since 12:30 p.m., which carried over into the evening events. The date in the book read November 22, 1963.
The game is memorable because around the same time that my father and his Kahoka teammates were arriving by bus in Memphis to prepare for the junior varsity and varsity games that evening, the Presidential plane, Air Force One, was also arriving at Andrews Air Force Base near Washington D.C. The aircraft had landed carrying both newly sworn in President Lyndon B. Johnson and the body of President John F. Kennedy who had been shot and killed earlier that day as his uncovered limousine drove through Dealey Plaza in downtown Dallas, Texas.
The whole world was shocked that President Kennedy had been killed. Anybody living at that time could probably tell you exactly where he or she was when they first heard the tragic news that the President was dead, the victim of an assassin's bullet. Most high school students at the time remember being shaken, saddened, angry and very much confused as to why anyone would want to kill the President of the United States. The whole afternoon was clouded in uncertainty, as teachers and students waited for information and answers to questions such as, "Who really shot Kennedy? Was there a conspiracy to kill the president?" It all seemed so surreal. For many communities, evening school events were still to take place, including a high school basketball game to be played in Memphis against Kahoka.
Prior to a big game, an electric atmosphere usually consumes the crowd. Players and coaches are normally overcome with nerves and excitement as they anticipate taking the court for warm-ups. "This evening," Rob Moore recalls, "everyone seemed to be in a trance - preoccupied." My father remembers the twenty-five mile bus ride as "a very quiet one" and when normally the fans would be engaged in the game, that night everyone's thoughts were with the Kennedy family and the future of America.
As confusion still surrounded the events earlier that day in Dallas, confusion would also play a significant role in the outcome of a basketball game between the two bordering counties.
Everyone has their own tale about the second half of the game.
Kahoka's coach Neil Knight said it best, "You could pull ten people from the stands that night and each one would tell you something different."
At one point in the game, most likely at the end of the third quarter, both teams went to their benches as Memphis held a 2-point lead.
The scorebook keepers for both teams were underclassmen.
Pat McLaughlin, who kept the Kahoka book said, "I don't remember why they had me on the book that night. Normally, Lawrence Brotherton managed our scorebook."
Although Pat doesn't remember the incident, others do. The found scorebook also provided answers. Since Memphis was the home team, their scorebook was the official book. Pat's quarter totals matched the scoreboard totals but the Memphis book did not. Upon review, Pat noticed that 4 points were given to Kahoka in the official Memphis book when it should have been given to Memphis. Because there was a discrepancy in scores, the officials were notified. Since the Memphis book was the official book, the officials directed the scoreboard operator to adjust the score to match it, even though incorrect. Furthermore, the Kahoka book would be the official book the last quarter.
A manageable 2-point Memphis lead was changed to a 6-point deficit. An eight point swing. Both teams battled in the fourth quarter but when the final buzzer sounded, the score was 85-84, Kahoka.
Did the events in Dallas contribute to the error, or was an honest mistake made during a fast paced game? Who knows? It doesn't matter.
Ultimately the change to the score may have changed the outcome of the game. Who won the game? Why was the score changed? Who should have won? You would expect anger amongst the home crowd in protest and celebration amongst the Kahoka fans that made the trip to the game. Neither, which many of the players from both teams remembered, happened.
Days following the game, Memphis would file an appeal to have the game thrown out due to the adjustment made between the scorebook and scoreboard. A tape of the game also accompanied the appeal. The ruling would take months, but eventually the Missouri State High School Activities Association (MSHSAA) would conclude that the game be ruled "No Contest". This is confirmed in the Memphis scorebook where both pages have a large "X" penciled across them and the words "No Contest" written at the top. A victory would not be given to either team, nor would a loss. The game vanished from both team's record, as though it was never played.
I share this story because growing up my father spoke of what he referred to as the "JFK" game.
He remembered it not only because of the controversy that ensued at the scorer's table, but most importantly he remembers it because of the day it shared with history. November 22, 2013 marked the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, one of the most momentous and analyzed moments in American history. Even half a century later, questions persist.
My father told his students that although the game between rival schools was hard fought, it only seemed fitting that no team won on that day. Where a game should have mattered most, it mattered least. It's hard to imagine anyone would want to celebrate a victory on one of the worst days in the history of the United States. An error may have changed the outcome of a basketball game, but the events in Dallas changed America.