SAVING A BASKETBALL SEASON
Allen Dale Olson
In the fall of 1944 gas rationing had become so restrictive that our rural township high school proposed cancelling its basketball season, which, for Indiana kids, would be the supreme sacrifice, especially in Portage Township where Porter County conference championships had become the norm. In 1941 we had gone undefeated until annihilation occurred at the hands of Hammond High in the state tournament.
The school board had a long-standing war effort policy of not using township busses except for daily transportation to and from school –except for the basketball team. (We did not have a football team.) But in August of 1944, even the hoopsters were facing a gameless basketball season. I still do not know how other schools in the county were dealing with gas rationing other than parents pooling their rations to drive to away games. In those days, teams did not travel far, seldom more than 20 or 25 miles to away games.
Portage Township was a farming county. Farmers had special gasoline privileges to assure their tractors and farm machinery could remain productive in the war effort. As word spread through the communities about the basketball plight, a few farmers came up with a proposal. For six of our nine away games, the farmers would pool their gas stamps so that one of them could hitch a tractor to a long trailer covered with a tarp and drive us at about 25 mph to the schools in small towns, and the Board agreed to let the school busses take us to the three games in urban schools. The trailer was heated with two kerosene portable heaters, not very effective in sub-freezing temperatures for an hour’s drive. A surprising number of fans were also willing to share gas ration stamps to car-pool to games.
With numb fingers and toes we would take the floor against Kouts and Boone Grove and Liberty and hope for the best. We never did thaw out at Kouts and got beaten badly, and though we won all the other games on the road, Kouts cost us our chance for a third consecutive county championship.
The 1945-46 season was completely different. The war had ended in August, and the school bus restrictions were lifted. It seemed almost sinfully luxurious for the team to ride a school bus to Jackson and Hebron and Wheeler and even to Gary, Hobart, and Crown Point!