Then & Now

“Then & Now” by Don Lambert

Like for every kid growing up, Christmas was the best time of year!  As I got older it not only meant Santa Claus and family gatherings in Pontiac, IL, it meant 3 solid days of basketball and no school.  It didn’t and doesn’t get any better than that!  The Pontiac Holiday Tournament has implanted fond memories of division 1 players, record breaking performances, colorful players and coaches, monster dunks, and traditions like autograph collecting that have lasted for 84 years.

My wife knows that I am challenged with profound short-term memory lapses, but ask me where I was and what I can remember about the 44th annual PHT and I can describe it in detail.  Mathematical equations, chemical formulas, and most of the Gettysburg address have left the building, but I know Bob Bender set the PHT scoring record with 50 points at the 9 AM opening game vs. the Cairo Pilots.  It would have been a much higher mark if there was a 3 point arc too.  His teammates were 6’10” Joe Galvin (later 7’ at ISU), 5’8” Dave Pavlik (still 5’8” at IWU), Chuck Oien (lefty who also hit a home run on top of the apt. building at PTHS), Steve Jordan (don’t know where he went, but had some wicked sideburns), Horacio Kowerko (not sure he started, but I got my first varsity base hit off of him).

I could go on and on with what some would call useless information, but there must be someone out there that enjoys this recall talent as much as me.    This is good stuff so I decided to create a PHT blog and put pen to paper, er fingers to keypad, er link it to websites, facebook, and twitter with the help of Mr. Blair.  This way you can not only read about my recollections and crack research efforts, but you can share yours right back.  I think we will call it:  THEN & NOW, unofficial PHT tidbits from past and present.

Where to start was pretty easy, my freshman year in high school happened to be 1974.  Besides that record breaking game by Bob Bender, it was the one and only year that the Pontiac Indians shocked the world and won the PHT!  This has to bring back distinct memories for anyone my age or older in the Chief City.  Here are a few of my highlights.

The scoring record could have been broken twice in one day if the Indians did not have a good lead and John Spalding had not run out of gas.  I recall that he scored 36 points and sat out most of the 4th quarter against Jacksonville, who was led by Jeff Verhoff.  Glenbard West was next for the Indians and all I remember was their ugly dark green uniforms and that they hired away Coach Kevin Moore after the season.  This is your warning that all of this information may not be that historically significant to you.  The last 2 games in the quest were definitely historic with the Indians topping perennial crowd favorites and state contenders Bloom and Waukegan on day 3 for the championship.


Now some random notes:

Pontiac starting 5:  All-stater/Chicago Daily News Player of the Year 6’4” Jay Lowenthal; point guard 5’7” Mark Smith; Championship game winning shot maker 6’0”, but played like 6’6” Kevin Murphy; 6’3” leaper John Spalding; and “son of Bert” 6’4” center Tom Dix.

Supporting cast:  lefty sharp-shooting 6th man Bill “Wirly” Dunham; Mike “Oats” Oeschlager; tough guys Kevin Bennett and Jim Chapman; Dan “don’t call me Don” Daluga; Larry Roberts (left footed kicking specialist still shooting around at the Rec); the late Ken Alfred, still farmin’ and milkin’ Don Mackinson; handyman Gary Boldt, shifty RB Don Billington, and future bridge builder Mark Eppel.  At least 7 players also played football.

Interesting fact:  Bloom led by the late Wes Mason went on to finish 2nd in the Class AA state tournament.

All-time great coaches:  Alleman’s distinguished Don Morris; Aurora West Legend John McDougal; Bloom’s Wes Mason (a mountain of stories about Wes, but I was way too young to confirm any of them…well worth a google lookup); LaSalle-Peru’s Steve Goers who went on to win 881 games mostly at Rockford Boylan; Lockport legend Bob Basarich who tries to make annual appearance at PHT; New Trier East’s John Schneiter; Ottawa’s Dean Riley; Manual’s Dick Van Scyoc; and our own Kevin Moore RIP.

Best names:  Alleman’s Fess VanHooreweghe (had to look that one up)

Notable players not mentioned yet:  Aurora West Jay Bryant and Ron Hicks; Bloom’s Larry Lowe, Robert McCoy, and Kelvin 6’6” Small; LP’s Glenn Mudge; Ottawa’s Buzz Strickland; Waukegan’s Chris Calhoun (anyone know how he was related to NBA champion Corky Calhoun?)

My MVP:  Kevin Murphy.  On the last play of the championship game Murph was given the ball to take it to the hole.  Bodies flew everywhere and thankfully the refs swallowed their whistles, as the all-state football player ran over everyone in sight and laid the left-handed winning shot softly off of the glass and in for the win.

Look alike: Kankakee referee Jean DesMarteau and Paul Drake from Perry Mason…look it up and you will see as long as you are as old as me

Worst defensive team: Cairo (just kidding Bob, but they did have a long drive for that 9:00 AM game)

Biggest regret:  I was too old to ask for autographs.


Where did they go?

Jay Lowenthal who has my vote as the best all-time Indian (never saw Randy or John Thompson) played at Vanderbilt.  Began coaching at Elmhurst College in 1981 and also coached at South Alabama, Quincy College,  ISU (assistant to Bob Bender), and Lamar until 1995 when he moved to Nashville, TN and started a successful real estate career.  He was named the Greater Nashville 2013 Realtor of the Year.  Jay has also reunited with teammate John Spalding to create Brittle Brothers, a gourmet peanut brittle that has obtained national success.  Hopefully Brittle Brothers will be coming soon to Pontiac!

Bob Bender is the only individual to play on two different teams in two different NCAA Championship games (Indiana and Duke).  He was drafted by the Clippers, but began coaching at Duke under Coach K.  Became head coach at ISU from 1989-1993, then Washington 1993-2002.  He currently is assistant coach for the Milwaukee Bucks after 11 years with the 76ers and Atlanta Hawks.

John Spalding is a chemical engineer and one of the aforementioned Brittle Brothers in Hendersonville, TN.

Joe Galvin continued playing at ISU and is Chief Research Officer and EVP at Miller Heiman in Connecticut.  Google “If I Were 22” for some insight into this highly successful 7 footer.

Chuck Oien is president of Oien Securities in Manhattan Beach, CA.

Dave Pavlik played with Jack Sikma at IWU.  Involved in car rental and resides in Morton, IL.

Jay Bryan played at NIU for John McDougal and is current basketball coach at Beloit Memorial High School.

Ron Hicks is on the all-time scorers list at NIU and played overseas for several years.  He is owner of the Chicago Steam ABA basketball team.

Larry Lowe played at ISU and overseas and became a clergyman.

Don Billington recently retired after a successful football coaching career at Monmouth Warren and as principal at Genoa-Kingston HS.

Steve Jordan is clean shaven.


Disclaimer:  Not all of the information above can be verified both Then & Now, but is meant to be entertaining and a chance to flashback to the PHT in years past.  If something is false please prove me wrong and set the world straight!