Class of ’69 athletes share their season at 50th reunion

Four Hermann High School basketball players from the Class of 1969 shared what it was like to play basketball and graduate in a year of national turmoil. It turns out, it was a magical year. From left, Gerald Warmann, Bruce Huxol, George Helming and Danny Haid.

JOHN BUCKNER

Editor

 

It was a beautiful August evening for a 50th high school reunion last Saturday night and Hermann High School’s Class of ’69 made the most of it at the Starkenburg Church complex in Valentine Hall. 1969 was a tumultuous and memorable year. The Vietnam War was raging, NASA put a man on the moon, 350,000 kids celebrated Woodstock on a farm in upstate New York, The Beatles broke up and it was the summer of the Manson murders and the Chappaquiddick Affair involving Sen. Ted Kennedy. It was also the year Hermann High School got third in the state basketball championship playoffs for the second year in a row, under Coach Don Gosen Sr.

Talking with the Advertiser-Courier were Gerald Warmann, Bruce Huxol, George Helming and Danny Haid and it was evident that blood runs thicker than water, as small town friendship bonds over 50 years ago remain strong to this day.

“At that time, there were a lot of old customs that we felt needed to be changed,” said Bruce, who now lives in Blue Springs, Mo.

George said you could feel it in the wind, and “maybe things were going to be different.”

Bruce said he felt like his class was in a little cocoon here in Hermann, because they didn’t know what the real world was all about, and yet, everyone seemed to feel a change coming and they were anxious to seek out their hopes and dreams.

 

The golden season

He said as far as the basketball team was concerned, “we were all brothers—closer than brothers.” “When we played ball, we just passed the ball because we just knew the other guy was going to be there—wherever he needed to be.”

At the mention of Coach Gosen’s name, Gerald said, “We were all scared of him, a little bit.”

George Helming, who now lives in Springfield, Mo., played center and forward on the ’69 team and was the best free throw shooter. Gerald mentioned that George was getting fouled all the time, since he was the tallest and therefore the biggest threat to an opposing team, so he had plenty of opportunities to make free throws and he made his shots.

Gerald played the “wing,” or the small forward position. Bruce said he rode the bench most of the time, but when sent in, he was in the same position as Gerald.

The A-C asked the group if Coach Gosen had some noticeable coaching techniques that allowed Hermann’s teams to do so well, winning 43 of 44 games that year (Hermann won the State Championship in 1970).

Bruce said, “When we were playing, we were expected to win.” “We won 40-some games in a row, so when we were on the court, we just expected to win every game.”

The projection of the power of positive thinking, that confidence Coach Gosen instilled in his teams worked because they were up against taller and faster teams according to Gerald. They played larger schools as well—many St. Louis teams in District play.

George said before games, they could see the other teams checking them out.

“We were doing layups in warm-ups and I remember Duane Kraettli noting the opposing team eyeing the Bearcats and saying to us, “We got this—they’re already beat!”

Gerald said Coach Gosen also taught them a few trick plays such as long passes opposite and down the court to score. When things got exciting, Danny, who was team manager and scorekeeper, said Coach Gosen would be absentmindedly beating on him with his blue towel.

 

Record holders

This Bearcat team had the distinction of playing the lowest scoring game in the state of Missouri for all-time. In tournament play against Bowling Green, the Bobcats game strategy was to stall the whole game. Coach Gosen mirrored the strategy. The score was 5 to 2 at half-time, with the Bearcats winning 14-10. 

“It was a pretty boring game,” said Gerald.

“Coach Gosen was really beating the heck out of me with that towel,” said Danny.

I asked if anyone could imitate Coach Gosen when he got on the players for being slow or not having their head in the game.

Danny (imitating in his best Don Gosen voice) said, “Were you out last night with little Susie?!”

They said he would also stick his finger in their chests and pull their jerseys.

In the State Semi-Finals that year, the Bearcats lost to Dixon. That was the year they faced John Brown who went on to play for Mizzou and later, pro ball for Atlanta. Nobody could remember the score, but they thought it was by 10 points—possibly 69 to 59. Dixon was used to scoring 90 points a game.

The old high school gym court could be challenging to play on since space was a premium. The crowd was literally court side.

“The wall was six inches from the painted lines on the court,” said Bruce.

“I’ve got size nine shoes and I would stand there (with back up against the wall) and my toes would be over the line (i.e. in-bounds),” said George. “I’ve got to commend Gerald. “He could go behind the backboard and shoot and he was still in bounds!”

 

Take it with you

Growing up in a small-town where everybody knows everybody, the A-C asked about  the positive traits they might have carried with them once they left Hermann. 

George answered, “Perseverance and determination.” “I knew the only way to succeed was just to keep at it.” “[In school], my older brother (Kenny) claimed I didn’t have much talent—I just had a big rear-end to get rebounds!”

George added that high school sports taught all of them good life lessons and camaraderie. 

“For anybody that wasn’t involved, they really missed out,” he said. “It molds your life and prepares you for everything else down the road. I truly enjoyed it and wished it had never ended.”

Bruce ribbed George about loving cross-country, because if you wanted to play basketball, you had to run cross-country. Hermann had no football team at the time. George said that since he had no natural athletic ability, he raced on determination in his Converse tennis shoes. He couldn’t wait for basketball practice to start Oct. 1.

These four guys all felt Hermann kids were exceptional and would do well in their chosen professions.

Bruce said they had developed a great work ethic by the time they left Hermann. 

“We knew a job had to be done and that it would take teamwork to get it done, so going out into the world, it was the best thing we could have learned.” 

And as a nod to staying humble, he added, “We knew we were standing on other’s shoulders to get things done.”

George had a recent cardiac event and he is very appreciative that his class supported him through this life change. He said other classmates have become care givers to others in their families in ways that are extraordinary. Only four classmates have passed on in their class, which Bruce says is remarkable for a class their size.

“In 1969, there was a lot going on and I think for our class in general, we were ready for change,” said Bruce.

Recommended for you