“On the morning of March 6, 1969, the small German community of Hermann, Mo., was gripped by a particular sense of community pride that neither they nor anyone else in Missouri had ever experienced before. It was the talk of Jim Faerber’s barber shop, of the Duffner-Corbett Car Dealership, of Raymie Ochsner’s Gas and Tire station, of Greene’s department store, of Walkenbach’s Meat Market, of Walt’s Pool Hall, of the Corner in Rhineland, of Schaumburg’s hardware store, of almost every household, of the local and the big-city newspapers and of both high schools located in this town of about 2,500 people.
Not one, but two high school basketball teams from this town had qualified for the final four tournaments in their respective classes and would be making the trip to Columbia, Mo., to play in the Brewer Fieldhouse on the campus of the University of Mo. the following weekend. The Hermann High Bearcats, in Class M, which consisted of medium-sized schools, and the St. George Dragons, in Class S (small schools), had just won their quarterfinal games the night before, propelling this community into the limelight of high school basketball in the state of Missouri.”
Such was the introduction of “The Hermann Double Team - A Small Town Hoops Story,” written by former Hermannite Steve Wieschhaus and still in print. As most Hermann area residents living at that time know, the Bearcats went on to win the State Championship against the Lutheran South Lancers.
Some of that excitement will return to the Hermann High School (HHS) gymnasium this Friday night as the boy’s JV and boy’s and girl’s varsity teams take on the Osage County R-1 (Chamois) Pirates, with a special team recognition of that amazing accomplishment 50 years ago.
The Advertiser-Courier wanted to revisit those times with three players on that 1970 HHS team: Duane Kraettli, Bob Ruffner and Steve Huenefeld. Here is how they remember it.
“We all got along well [as a team] and respected the heck out of Coach Gosen,” said Duane Kraettli.
He said their sophomore year, the team’s win-loss record was 29-5, their junior year, they were 32-1 (losing to Dixon in the Final Four in State playoffs) and 33-0 their senior year, averaging 62.6 points per game, out-scoring their opponents 41.8 points during that ’69-’70 season. Duane said he gets irritated to this day when he hears (usually from competitors of that era) that Hermann played a slow game, but that 62.6 point average negates that perception. These were the days before players could shoot for three points.
Duane painted a picture of that point in time when the final buzzer sounded in Brewer Fieldhouse and the realization sunk in that the Hermann Bearcats were State Champions. Standing there on the court, the team went through the motions of shaking hands with the other players, but he said the excitement was held in check with the bigger realization that it was all over. What this team had been dreaming about since middle school—together—all those days and evenings spent shooting hoops on the elementary playground in pickup games, those sophomore, junior and senior year games, slugging it out on the road and back on the bus for the next one, you just couldn’t prepare for the time when it would all come to a standstill. It was years of hard work, culminating with the State Championship. But it was suddenly over.
Steve Huenefeld said, “It was a lot of work and a long season and I remember Duane and I talking after winning the Championship Game and we said, ‘Well that’s it—the season’s over and we’ll never play together again.’” “There was a little regret in that. “But it was an awesome time period in my life. Just to have had the privilege, opportunity and honor, and really a blessing to grow up in that town with that group of people.”
He said it was the influence of parents, family and friends that extended to the whole community.
“Everybody was behind us, from Fred James, the superintendent, right down to the school janitors,” he said. “I take an immeasurable amount of pride in having been a part of it.”
For Huenefeld, Kraettli and Ruffner, this was their third year going to the Final Four to play in Brewer Field House in Columbia, so they weren’t necessarily gawking country boys coming to the big city.
They all agree the ’69 team was physically bigger and there was more depth on the bench, but they met Dixon in the semi-finals with superstar 6’8” player John Brown and the team came up short in front of a sold-out crowd.
“It was quite an experience to go back the following year and finally do it,” said Steve, “though I’m kind of like Duane—it was kind of anticlimactic, because that year, we played Owensville five times.”
He said of all the teams they played, he doesn’t know of two teams that were more evenly matched in size, in talent and in coaching.
“They (Owensville, under Coach Jerry Buescher) could have easily been up in Columbia because they were as good or better than any of the teams we played in the State tournament,” said Duane.
“Three of those five games were won by one or two points,” said Steve. “One or two of them was in overtime.
Steve said the fifth and final time was in the Regional Championship game in Sullivan and the team was really pumped to put the Dutchmen out of the playoffs.The Bearcats won 66-43.
“I think that was the best game we played that year,” he shared. “They were never in it, from the tip-off to the ending buzzer.”
Because the team had the confidence, focused and played so well against Owensville, Steve said the play against the State Championship opponents, the Lutheran South Lancers of St. Louis (42-36), didn’t measure up to the level of that last Owensville game.
What made those teams of ’68,’69 and ’70 so special?
“Those teams were pretty much built on that old elementary school playground,” said Steve. “We just lived out there all year long. The guys from St. George were out there too—we played with them a lot.”
Steve says that from 5th or 6th-grade, this group of guys became infatuated with the sport. “We lived, ate and breathed basketball year round.”
That invovled daily pickup games according to “The Hermann Double Team.”
“The outdoor pickup games involved Duane Kraettli, Dave Hackmann, Dan Kuebler, Steve Huenefeld, and Mike Wieschhaus going up against Tim Shaw, Phil Horton, George Helming, Dan Duffner, and Horst Block − all outstanding players at both schools. It didn’t matter what high school you went to when you showed up at the playground, and it didn’t matter if you were all-state or a rising freshman. Match-ups pitting Kuebler against Huenefeld or Hackmann against Kraettli were common occurrences. These games went on all evening until darkness shut the games down. Some people remember playing through the night when there was a full moon, when the final score might have been 500-476.
Helming, who played at Hermann High, said, “I would be there every night. People would show up for games of three-on-three and we would have tournaments that would last all night long. You played until you lost. And if you lost, it was hard to get back on the court because there was such a long line of people waiting to play. It was great.”
The coaches thought it was great their up-and-coming players took such an interest in the sport.
“Coach Gosen used to give us old basketballs if someone needed one to play with in the off-season,” said Duane. “On some of them, the bladder would be showing. And every now and then, the door to the gym would somehow be left ajar and of course we’d find our way in to shoot baskets and play.”
“Starting with Sylvan (Bud) Krone in middle school, he laid down the fundamentals and the basics of the game and that gave Coach Gosen something to build on later,” said Steve.
“It helped that Coach Gosen used the same plays that Coach Krone taught us,” said Bob. “We knew those plays by the time we got out of the eight grade, pretty well.”
Porter Tumy (Bud Tumy’s father) was another big influence on those players at that time. He was younger than the other two coaches, so instead of being told what to do, he would show the players what to do. Steve remembers his lessons stuck, particularly when it came to rebounding.
“He showed me how to use your body so you could get positioned for the rebound,” he said. “Duane (Kraettli) and I just out-rebounded everybody.”
He said he and Duane use to joke that they blocked the opponents so well from getting to a missed shot ball that if the ball hit the court before a player could get to it, there would be enough time for the ball to rest at a stand-still.
As far as Coach Gosen is concerned, Steve says there isn’t enough that could be said about the caliber of coach he was for the boys in Hermann.
“He was extremely smart in the game and he was just a good man on and off the court,” said Steve. “A lot of issues would come up on and off the court and Coach always seemed to know how to handle it—he took care of the situation.”
“It seemed like anytime we needed a basket, he came up with something—whether it was an out-of-bounds play or an offensive set on the floor,” explained Kraettli. “He was always prepared to show us how to do it and we ran it that way and more often than not, usually succeeded.”
The players said Coach Gosen could control his temper when he needed to, though some players could get an index finger in the chest with a tongue lashing. He also liked to wring a Bearcat blue towel during the games.
“He didn’t have the problem Bobby Knight (Indiana Hoosier coach) had, or we’d all be dead!” exclaimed Steve. “The madder he (Coach Gosen) got, the more he’d wring that towel.”
Steve said he knew how to keep them from getting too confident as well as the right time to offer encouragement.
“I’ve often thought about it—he couldn’t have done it without us and we couldn’t have done it without him,” he reasoned. “It was just a really good matchup.”
Bob Ruffner wasn’t in the starting five, but rotated in and out of the game as needed. He’s just as enthusiastic talking about those golden years as Duane and Steve.
“I always felt our second five was a pretty decent team,” he stated. “After all, we practiced against the best team in the state every day of the week when we didn’t have a game!”
The Hermann High School gymnasium was rather limited when it came to space outside the boundaries, with only a foot or two before a player was met with a wall.
“I think playing in our small gym was a real advantage to us, because we could play a tight game, but also, it was a disadvantage to these other teams that had new gyms,” he said. “We could even play better than those teams in their new gyms because we could also play a spread game.”
By 1970, some of these players had to have been a little concerned for their future, because they would be graduating in three months from high school and unless they had a student deferment to get out of the Vietnam War draft, they might have had a date with a recruitment officer. According to Bob, the team was more worried about their uniforms fading.
“Bless Margaret Gosen (the coach’s wife), because she had the job of washing our uniforms,” he explained.
And the first time they got washed was over the Christmas break, according to Duane.
“We started wearing them in Oct. and we’d hang them up and they’d stink and be stiff as a board,” he said.
Duane said you weren’t supposed to take them home, but for some reason Steve Huenefeld took his home right before the first round of the State playoffs.
“His mom washed it—bleached it—and the blue number 34 faded,” he explained.
“Margaret Gosen (the coach’s wife) got ahold of it and tried to darken the numbers with a blue felt-tipped pen. During that game against Duschene, we all had blue stain all over our arms because it was running [from the sweat] off Steve’s jersey. I looked down and wondered, ‘Where is this coming from!?’”
A special time, more recognition
Bob says it was a special time with a talented group of kids that played well together.
“We would have played well with another coach, but I think without a doubt, the way Coach Gosen coached—the plays he taught us, the defense he taught us and especially the plays he taught us to use at the end of a tight game, to win by one point, I don’t think we could have done it without him,” he said. “He made us better young men.”
As to the 1970 season, he said it felt like the team was really on a roll as the season stretched out. He said they truly wanted to win every single game.
“Up there [in Columbia], when it was finally over, you could hardly believe it,” he explained. “It was like ‘We really did this—so it was great.’”
He’s looking forward to seeing his teammates, though they’ll be on a different court from the one they remember oh, so well.
“It brings back those memories to me that we were able to do it—it happened,” he shared. “It will be a special night.”
A lot has changed since those three golden years of Hermann basketball in 1968-1970 when both teams, the St. George Dragons and the Hermann Bearcats went on to win their respective state championships in 1969 and 1970. Now, there’s a different public high school and gymnasium. Hermann has a football team and high school basketball has become more inclusive with girls teams under Title IX legislation and somewhat professionalized under the Missouri State High School Activities Association. St. George students now attend Hermann’s public school after the eighth-grade, or are home-schooled, so there is no more Dragon basketball at the high school level.
This Friday night, when players from that 1970 State Championship team show up to be recognized, they’ll remember when (according to the Wieschhaus book) “The St. Louis Post-Dispatch newspaper called Hermann the ‘Basketball Capital of Missouri’ as a result of the success of both of its high schools on the hardwood. Everyone associated with these teams and with this community was enraptured with this sense of school spirit and community pride.”