“I can probably say what I want about that era, because I might be the only guy left who knows anything.”
For Bob Walsman, 98, memories of Batesville High School boys basketball take him nearly back to the start of the program.
A 1940 graduate, Walsman can go as far back as the late 1920s when “I was a gym rat since I was old enough to leave the house and go find a place to shoot baskets.”
No, those weren’t peach baskets, but often it was in the old gymnasium located in the basement of the Batesville Memorial Building. He’d play there throughout grade school and start his first varsity game there in 1937, later playing the final game held in that relic.
A few years before, Walsman had intently followed the 1934 Bulldogs of coach Jim Hickey.
“When I was 13, I followed Batesville basketball better than I did my homework,” he relates. “That was the first team I’m aware of that won the sectional (all Ripley County schools at the time), and not only that, but also the regional at Rushville’s Memorial Gymnasium.”
He can still visualize watching those players shoot, and rattles off those in the starting five ... Francis “Pete” Moorman, Carl Beck, Carl Fritsch, Howard Smith and 6-foot-4 center Forrest Shook.
“My neighbor took me to those games in Rushville,” Walsman recalls. “Sitting at the top of the bleachers, we watched Batesville beat Rushville, who was picked to go on to Indianapolis.
“Pete was high point man with 7, if I remember right ... they didn’t score a lot of points back then,” he continues. “In the first game of the Sweet 16, they played Indianapolis Arsenal Technical and All-State center Johnny Townsend, who later starred at Michigan. They lost, but not by much.”
In those days, he explains, each team that won regional went to the “Sweet 16.” Play would begin early on Friday morning and conclude in the state final Saturday night. Thus, 1934 became a milestone campaign.
Spring ahead to 1937 and the arrival of Harold Anson. A graduate of Ball State University, where he played under legendary coach Branch McCracken, Anson coached Walsman each of three years he was a starting guard on the varsity team.
“After high school, Harold was a personal friend of mine and still a very important person in my life, though he’s passed away,” says the Batesville resident.
His junior year of 1939 sticks with him, but not for an entirely good reason.
“One game that haunts me is losing to Jac-Cen-Del in the sectional finals,” he begins. “They had scored to make it, I think, 29-27. With under 10 seconds left, I took the inbound pass and dribbled the length of the floor. I took a left-handed shot from 6-8 feet – I’d made it a million times before in my life – and missed. I can’t live that down.”
Walsman feels just as bad for Nick Moorman, a dear friend of his, who was the only one of five Moorman brothers not to win a sectional.
“I can’t help but bring up that family name,” he says. “They lived right around the corner from me, and growing up, I knew them all. There were five terrific kids and all good players.”
Wally Moorman was next in line and helped Bob get redemption his senior year, as Batesville won the 1940 sectional. The Bulldogs repeated the next season, but things really came together in 1942-43.
With the likes of Indiana All-Star and future Notre Damer Jim Fritsch, Roland “Dick” Moorman, Walter “Waldo” Fields and Bob Beck, Anson took the Bulldogs all the way to the state’s final four at the Indianapolis Coliseum.
Though he enlisted in the Army and later enrolled at Xavier University, Walsman never lost track of the Dogs’ progress, being still acquainted with several players.
“I was at Xavier in ‘43 and got home late in the afternoon from class,” recounts Walsman of that year’s postseason. “My uncle Roman said I better get to Indianapolis.”
Batesville had defeated Madison in the Saturday afternoon state semifinal round at Tech High School and was scheduled to face Greenfield that evening.
“My girlfriend Dorothy and I went up there together, and when we got to the parking lot, we had no tickets and didn’t know how to find them,” says Bob. “The team had just gotten off the bus and the players said, ‘Just walk in with us.’
“That was a classic game,” he adds. “Madison and Greenfield were top teams in the state and we beat them both. It was all due to one person, Coach Anson ... he outcoached everyone.”
The magic ran out the next weekend, when the Bulldogs fell to Fort Wayne Central in the final four.
One player from that squad stood out among the rest, as Walsman saw it.
“Walter Fields, as a freshman, was just a poor kid who had never played before in his life,” he notes. “Harold Anson told me later that he was trying so hard, there’s no way he’d release him from the team. He turned out to be the best defensive player Batesville ever had; he practically won the semistate because he was put on the opposition’s best players.
“The Fields family told me I was his idol, but it was just the opposite. Walter Fields is my idol.”
Fields later played for the Butler Bulldogs under legendary coach Tony Hinkle and coached Batesville to the semistate in the early 1950s – incidentally a team rostering the youngest Moorman brother, Thomas “Ace.”
Bob and “Dot” were married at Fort Benning, Georgia, prior to Bob’s discharge in 1946. Eventually, the couple returned to Batesville, with Bob working at the family business, Walsman Co. He and brother Howard took over in 1949, running things until the 1980s. Son Tom, now in Atlanta, claimed ownership in 1984.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Tom and brother Bob Jr. (“Snork”) kept their parents’ attention as quarterbacks for Hinkle’s Bulldogs. Snork owned and operated Nolte’s Pharmacy for many years before retiring.
In 1994, it was Snork’s son Nathan – now an engineer in Cincinnati – who recaptured Walsman’s imagination all over again.
Coach Melvin Siefert’s Bulldogs eased through the sectional and opened the regional against host New Castle and coach Sam Alford.
“I was sitting in the stands with Snork watching New Castle warm up,” says Walsman. “I said there’s no way our kids can beat those guys, and he said, ‘Don’t worry, we’ll beat them.’
“As the story goes, at halftime Sam told his team ‘there’s no way you can beat those kids because they want to win,’” he continues. “Our kids were scrappy and won, then beat Connersville that night before losing at semistate. We lived and died with that ‘94 team, one of the outstanding clubs in Batesville history.”
Of course, four years later, the Indiana single-class tournament was eliminated and, with it, much of the postseason hoopla.
“I know what they were trying to do, but they lost a beautiful gem when they did that,” opines Walsman. “Growing up, the entire state was abuzz before the first games were played in the tournament. I’m sure I was just one of thousands who picked up an Indianapolis paper to see who was left in the tourney. Now, I don’t even know who’s playing who, or where.
“I’m sure it will never go back, but anyone who’s had a chance to live tournament basketball in Batesville feels the same way I do.”
Nearly a centenarian but still spry, Walsman spends many an evening having dinner and visiting Dot at her senior care facility. He makes it to very few games anymore, but occasionally thinks of reliving those glory days at BHS.
“I go to the (Southeastern Indiana) YMCA three times a week and every time, some kids are shooting basketball,” he mentions. “I’m tempted to go shoot with them, but I’m not sure I’d have enough strength to shoot it high enough.
“I’m still going to try it some time.”