By PAUL HINES
MT. VERNON —
Mt. Vernon possesses a rich basketball tradition and a slice of that history was forged before World War I.
Mt. Vernon’s 1909-10 boys basketball team placed fourth in the state and finished with a 15-2 record.
Melbourne “Bob Evans was the captain of the team and according to an article from the Mt. Vernon Register acted as the team’s coach along with the help of a school janitor.
Other members of the team were: Harley Harlow, Byron “Barney” Houlihan, Leo Reid, George Pulliam, Lester Royal and Robert Moss.
The team predated Mt. Vernon’s current nickname of Rams and was known as The Orange and Black and faced three different college teams throughout the season, according to a schedule. Regular season games came against Benton, Centralia and Vandalia. The Orange and Black beat all three schools multiple times. One of the key regular season games came against McKinley High School located in St. Louis. The Orange and Black finished with a 45-22 win.
“Friday night comes the great game of the season,” the Mt. Vernon Register described the contest. “The hefty McKinley high school team of St. Louis meets Capt. “Bob Evans’ invincibles on the armory floor. The last two seasons our team has suffered defeat at their hands, but anyone knows who has seen the local bunch in action that when they run up against something that’s equal to the occasion there’s going to be one great game.
The newspaper goes on to describe the toughness of the Mt. Vernon players.
“Any player on the team would rather lose a whole set of teeth than go down to defeat,” the Mt. Vernon Register said.
Tickets for the game cost a quarter, according to the newspaper.
After the McKinley matchup, Mt. Vernon hosted a tournament that would qualify the winner for the Bloomington state finals. The Orange and Black swept through its three games with wins against Cairo, Granite City and Centralia. The games weren’t without their dramatic turns. Mt. Vernon trailed at the half against Granite City.
“An ominous dread had possession of the Mt. Vernon followers and the songs of victors and class yells, which had been making the air ring, had dwindled almost to a moan,” the Mt. Vernon Register said. “Despair was written on the faces of many. The fight looked like an uphill job and defeat seemed almost certain.”
Rock Island edged Mt. Vernon 27-24 in the opening game of the state finals that year.
“The crowd was for Mt. Vernon in the struggle with Rock Island as the Rock Island team was composed of a bunch of strapping big fellows, who played like fiends,” the Mt. Vernon Register said. “Mt. Vernon had the same experience in their first game last year. In drawing Rock Island, the team which both this and last year should have landed the state honors.”
The Orange and Black won its next game 2-0 after Nokomis forfeited the game. Hinsdale ended Mt. Vernon’s tournament with a 26-21 win. The newspaper lauded the Mt. Vernon supporters at the state finals.
“Mt. Vernon brought the largest crowd of rooters of any of the other teams and this made the Bloomington folks feel mighty good toward them,” the paper said.