Throwback Thursday: 1968-69 team put Susquehannock boys' basketball on the map
The first 17 years were a struggle, but finally during the 1968-69 boys' basketball season, Susquehannock High School found its magic.
Up until that point, the school that opened in the fall of 1951 had yet to post a winning hoops season. Because of it, not much was expected of the team.
However, third-year head coach Dick Hamm had an experienced group to work with. Suddenly, the team that couldn't win a game two years earlier earned a trip the District 3 Class B championship game.
But how they got there is the stuff that promotes conversation 45 years later.
Entering districts as the No. 8 and final seed, Susquehannock had the tall task of facing top-seeded Middletown, which happened to be the defending state champion.
The Warriors were huge underdogs. In fact, the Harrisburg Patriot-News called the Raiders a 52-point favorite to win that opening-round game. Even Middletown got in on the disrespect, as the paper quoted Raiders' coaches and scouts calling Susquehannock's defense "the weakest down the middle we've ever seen."
Those words still resonate with Hamm. The comments made the Warriors' stunning 63-61 upset that much sweeter after a pair of Dan Mays free throws with 25 seconds remaining secured the win in the game played at the Farm Show Complex.
"I guess I couldn't believe it," Hamm said from his home in Hanover recently. "It was tied at halftime. They tried to press us, we had something (working) against their press. After we won that Middletown game we acted like we couldn't get beat."
Kirk Henry led all scorers with 22 points in that contest. Mays had 14 and younger brother Andy Mays added 13 for the Warriors, who outscored the Raiders, 23-13, in the final quarter.
Susquehannock wasn't done there. A 72-56 win against Daniel Boone in the district semifinal played at the Hershey Sports Arena (Hersheypark Arena) followed.
Back from a sickbed, Dan Mays led the way with 21 points and became the school's first 1,000 career-point scorer in that game. Henry and Jim Deveney had 17.
Dan Mays had collapsed at a team meal and spent several days nursing the flu before that game. His status for the semifinal was doubtful. In fact, Hamm told the media the school's all-time leading scorer, who went on to play at the Naval Academy, would be out against the Blazers.
"I told the papers, 'No chance he could play" ... I knew he would play," Hamm recalled with a laugh.
The team given no shot against Middletown became Cinderella. Congratulatory letters poured in as the area took notice of the team.
"We'd get back from some of these games, and there would be fire trucks waiting. We'd have impromptu parades," Hamm said.
Senior starters Dan Mays, Deveney and Mike King were teammates on the 1967 Susquehannock squad that went 0-21. The next season, a 9-12 campaign, juniors Andy Mays and Henry joined the mix, combining with sixth-man Ron Brenneman to put the Warriors on the basketball map.
"They were all good in junior high," Hamm said. "These kids played together all their lives on the playground."
Tied for the Eastern Division lead at the end of the regular season, Susquehannock defeated Dallastown, 47-39, in a one-game playoff for the right to face Western Division winner Hanover in the YCIAA championship game.
Although the Nighthawks topped Susquehannock, 70-56, in the game played in front of a packed house at Gettysburg College, by winning the East, the Warriors had qualified for the District 3 Class B playoffs.
With all of their core players being taller than 6-foot, the Warriors were considered a big team at the time. Balance helped, too. Dan Mays averaged 16.2 points, Henry 14.8, Andy Mays 12.1, Deveney 9.6 and King 7.3. Susquehannock's offense averaged 66.3 points per game that season, a high number for a high school team before the 3-point line.
Hamm said the team gained confidence from a late-season push needed to set up the playoff with Dallastown.
"We won our last eight games to hope to tie for our division," he said. "You had to win your division to go to the playoffs. It was only league winners that went to district in those days. If you finished second, you didn't go."
Although the magic ran out in the district championship game when Susquehannock fell to Donegal, 65-50, the school's first winning season and 19-8 final record was something to remember.
Reach Steve Navaroli at 771-2060.