This column is only one story of the legendary 1970-71 Rossville Hornets basketball team.The time was 1971. Richard Nixon was President. Gas was 40 cents a gallon, bread 25 cents a loaf, a first class stamp 8 cents. 18-year old’s just received the right to vote with the 26th amendment. The selective service draft was still in effect and the United States had over 150,000 troops in Vietnam. There was no cable T.V. No internet or cell phones.It was a different time in America. Though one constant throughout the years has been Indiana high school basketball. In Indiana the place to be on a Friday or Saturday night is the local high school gym. This holds even more so with the Rossville Hornets. Located in the rural town of Rossville, Indiana. From 1969 thru 1971 this small Indiana community with only 277 high school students (at that time), produced three consecutive semi state (one-class) basketball appearances.In the two seasons prior to the 1970-71 season, Rossville fell to Gary Tolleston 96-79 in the semi state final in the 1968-69 season. And in the 1969-70 semi state Rossville fell to Michigan City 87-80 in the opening round.The 1970-71 Rossville Hornets finished the regular season at 18-2 with losses to 6th ranked Lafayette Jefferson 87-73 and to a talented Knox team 82-79 in overtime. Rossville was coached by Mike Jones in his seventh season at the helm. The starters this season were John Kamstra, Tom Bonebrake, Bob Knapp, Darrell Skiles and Garry Kamstra. Sixth man was Bob Dyer. The rest of the team was Steve Morris, Dick Knapp, Rodger Meador, Carl Chezem, Greg Carter, Craig Meador.
Starting the 1971 state tourney Rossville won five tournament games to reach the semi state at Mackey Arena in West Lafayette, IN. Rossville would face off against sixth ranked Lafayette Jefferson Broncos in the opening semifinal game. But Rossville first had to walk thru a gauntlet of unruly Lafayette Jeff fans who had surrounded the Rossville team (school) bus. It was during this encounter that Rossville players were subjected to being screamed at, slapped and spat upon. Rossville coach Jones even collared one individual for this behavior towards his team. The Coach Jones led Rossville Hornets would dish out their payback on the basketball court.
With a capacity crowd of over 14,000 at Mackey Arena, Rossville opened the first quarter leading Lafayette Jeff 22-16 and led 43-39 at halftime. The Hornets had the game sealed at the end of three, leading 69-55. Rossville went onto defeat Lafayette Jefferson 94-77. At games end Hornet Bob Dyer did a victory run past the stunned Lafayette crowd holding the basketball high above his head. That afternoon Lafayette Jefferson received a lesson in civics 101 and payback. Brothers John and Garry Kamstra poured in a combined 54 points for Rossville in this game as Rossville avenged an early season loss to the Broncos and moved onto the semi state championship final.
Rossville would now face undefeated, #1 ranked East Chicago Washington Senators in the championship game. To get an idea of just how talented the Senators were, has to be described. Their starters were Pete Trgovich who played on the UCLA Bruins 1973 and 1975 NCAA Championship teams. Trgovich also coached East Chicago Central to the 2007 State championship. Junior Bridgeman who was a key player on Louisville’s 1975 final four team and went on to play 12 seasons in the NBA. Then there was Tom Stoddard who played on North Carolina State’s 1974 NCAA Championship team. Stoddard went on to pitch 15 seasons’ in the major leagues, including pitching for the Chicago Cubs. Stoddard is the only person ever to play on a World Series championship team (Baltimore), a NCAA national championship basketball team (N.C. State) and a high school state championship basketball team (ECW). Finally, there was the fast as the speed of sound guards Darnell Adell and Ruben Baily, both also division one college standouts.
Going in to this game the Hornets had unforeseen problems. First, starter John Kamstra somehow sprained his neck in the Lafayette Jeff game. And another starter Bob Knapp was still not recovered from a week old ankle sprain. Many worried, could the less than healthy Rossville squad matchup against the Senators. ECW, was after all the same team that thumped the 14th ranked Kokomo Wildkats a 112-60 loss during the regular season. This evening in Mackey Arena the Rossville Hornets would have a lot on their plate.
Tipoff, David vs Goliath, at its best. Rossville’s determination, experience and talent showed immediately, the first quarter was almost even with Rossville trailing by two 14-12. In the second quarter Rossville was not intimidated or rattled. They continued to run plays calmly and smooth. At halftime it was Rossville trailing by four 31-27. Then disaster hit Rossville in the third, ECW managed to slip into its fast break, long ball-fast ball style of play. Outscoring Rossville 11-1 in the first four minutes for a 42-28 lead. Rossville managed to stay even from there and the third closed with ECW leading 56-41. In the fourth Rossville gave it all they had, but ECW’s speed and talent would be too much for Rossville to be able to close a 15-point gap. Rossville won the fourth 26-23 for a final score of ECW 79 Rossville 67. Surprisingly Rossville out rebounded the much taller Senators 42-36, won from the free throw line 17-5 and even put up more shots than ECW 74-69. But Rossville just couldn’t connect from the field. Usually shooting at 50% this night saw Rossville at just 33% shooting. Garry Kamstra tried to pick up the slack for injured brother John by scoring 28 points and Tom Bonebrake kept hitting from the outside finishing with 16. Darrell Skiles, Rossville’s only big man grabbed 14 rebounds and had 10 points.
In the state finals at Hinkle Fieldhouse, ECW went on to stop Floyd Central 102-88 and in the state championship game defeated Elkhart 70-60. Rossville went four solid quarters with what many believe to be one of the best Indiana high school basketball teams in state history. What if Rossville had been able to connect more shots that night? ECW coach John Molodet stated “If Rossville is hitting they could beat anyone” What if John Kamstra and Bob Knapp had been 100% healthy? Who knows what the outcome might have been. And on those thoughts, almost 50 years later, people still speculate of what could have been that late winter evening at Mackey Arena in 1971.
The 1970-71 Rossville Hornets “What a Time it Was”