The Sidney Sun-Telegraph - Serving proudly since 1873 as the beautiful Nebraska Panhandle's first newspaper

By Stephen McKay
Sports Writer 

Talking Sports: Sidney's title in 1945 was welcomed distraction

 

In the winter of 1945, there were more important things going on in the world than the Sidney High School basketball team's drive for a state championship. Perhaps that's what made the '45 Maroons such a perfect diversion for a distracted community.

While La Verne Couch was leading the Sidney High team to its first state championship in front of large and boisterous crowds all season, the bloodiest war in human history still raged across Europe and Asia. Despite the madness of a world at war, it was comforting to La Verne's brother, Clarence, to receive continuious newspaper clippings from home on his little brother's exploits on the hardwood.

While Couch and his teammates entertained the locals on the homefront, Clarence did his part to battle fascism from the air as a B-24 pilot in the U.S. Air Corps. Clarence – later nicknamed Sid – didn't just read the clippings sent from home, he treasured them. Though his life was in the balance on a routine basis as he flew 49 missions, Sid found solace in the a scrapbook he created with clippings he received from home.

But once the school year was over, the focus of many of the new SHS graduates shifted to the world at large too. Many of them followed in the footsteps of Clarence into the service.

"I went into the army after graduation," said Couch from his home in Sidney on Wednesday afternoon. "You just took it for granted then that you would go right into the service after high school."

Fortunately for Sidney, Couch's entry into the armed forces didn't arrive until he finished entertaining the folks on the home front. Couch was not just the team captain, he was also the leading scorer. Sidney went 19-2 on the season with losses only to Class A Scottsbluff and Chappell on the road. Both losses were avenged later in the year.

After winning 13 times in the regular season, Sidney breezed through its first two opponents at districts before edging Chadron in a two-point thriller at Gering. Couch led all scorers in the 32-30 win with 14 points. Having now clinched their berth in the state tournament, the Maroons would have their lodgings in Lincoln taken care of –– or so they hoped.

"We were at our district and the (state) senator told us if we made it to Lincoln 'I'll have the best rooms for you,' and then he forgot," said Couch with a laugh. "The night we arrived we found we had no rooms. Everything was just swamped at that time and there were no rooms."

Eventually they were able to find lodgings at the Lincoln Hotel.

"We were all together and that made Coach (Leo) Shuman happy," Couch said.

While getting a room in Lincoln turned out to be a challenge, so too did getting to Lincoln. Unlike the Sidney Red Raiders who went to state in 2015 on a big bus, the Maroons had to scramble for transportation. A lot of coordination had to take place. The players made their way to Lincoln in cars – recruited from among Sidney townspeople. Adding to the challenge was war-time rationing of gasoline.

"The lines (at gas pumps) were very long then," Couch said.

According to the rankings of Omaha World Telegram sportswriter Greg McBride, Sidney went into the tournament at the Coliseum in Lincoln ranked fourth in Class B. But the top teams must have been very well matched as two of Sidney's two games at state were decided by a single bucket.

In the first contest, Couch led all scorers with 15 points as the Maroons edged Fullerton 40-38. In round two, York proved the easiest puzzle for Sidney to solve with a 27-17 victory. Again Couch was the high man after dropping in five field goals. He was also solid defensively.

"Sparked by La Verne Couch, Sidney threw up a tight defense, snaking the ball from York repeatedly and grabbing off most of the rebounds under both baskets," reported the Sidney Telegraph at the time.

In the finals against Lexington, Sidney broke a 9-9 tie in the third quarter by outscoring the Minutemen 11-6. In one stretch, from the end of the third quarter to early in the fourth, the Maroons went on a 10-0 run. Though Sidney held a comfortable lead in the final quarter, Lexington staged a furious rally and nearly pulled the game out.

"With 15 seconds left, Lexington took the ball out of bounds on a foul," read a report in the Telegraph. "A long shot missed and Couch came off the backboard with the ball to clinch the game."

On this occasion, Sidney's Norman Wilnes led the way with 10 points while Couch and Clarence Bonesteel added four apiece.

"We had a very balanced team," Couch said.

One bit of Sidney sports history that may never have been told before, was who also was responsible for the 1945 Class B state basketball championship. While the hard work and talent of the Sidney five can't be overlooked, it's also hard to look past the contribution made by Asa Couch – La Verne's father. He was the one who provided the tool by which his son and teammates discovered their love for the game.

For The Sun-Telegraph

The Sidney High basketball team won the Class B state championship in 1945. La Verne Couch, seated above, was No. 21.

"We had a basket in our backyard and the whole neighborhood would come over to play," said Couch. "My father put (the basket) up."

Perhaps that's how Couch honed skills good enough to be named to the All-Tournament team. In fact, Couch was the only one of the five players selected all-tournament from Class B. Naturally, he was also named among the five best in Class B as was teammate Wilness.

In summing up Couch's contribution, McBride wrote, "Couch ... was the best marksman of the tourney. He fired four consecutive baskets to revive his mates from a dismal showing against Fullerton in the opener. His 11 points routed York in the semi-finals and his all-around play balked Lexington's attempt to upset the Maroons Saturday night."

Couch still lives in Sidney with his wife of 59 years, Pat. They have four children and three grandchildren.

 

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