Where’s the Ball? A Winthrop Basketball Story from 1944

By Norman Hubley

It was the spring of 1944, and because America was at war, support for the USO (a charitable organization that supported active-duty service members) program was a great way for citizens to show patriotism. The Winthrop High School basketball team, made up of outstanding athletes like Ed Gingrich, Rick Wallace and others, had just completed an impressive season, dominating its opponents.  It was suggested that a great way to raise money for the USO would be for the Winthrop High team to play a post-season game against another strong team, draw a big crowd, and donate all the admission money to the USO. The suggestion was unanimously accepted, and a special opponent was selected for a challenge basketball game scheduled to be played at the Winthrop Junior High School gymnasium (later called the Willis School gym).  Fittingly, during this time of a national military effort, the high school team chose to compete against the US Army’s 101st Quartermaster Corps basketball team made up of black American soldiers who were stationed in Boston.

At the time, I was in Junior High School, and on the 9th grade’s basketball team. My ninth grade buddies and I played a preliminary game against the Winthrop Junior Varsity and then settled in to watch our local sports heroes take on the 101st Quartermaster Corps.  The first half of their game was played well by both teams and ended up tied. 

The second half would be a different story.

It began with the Captain of the army team picking up a loose ball on the floor and holding it out, offering it to the Winthrop player who was guarding him. When the Winthrop player reached for it, the ball disappeared!  I looked around and saw that another one of the soldiers, a dozen feet away from the Captain, suddenly had the ball.  The soldier dribbled it around in a circle and then made it disappear again!

My attention was then drawn to Winthrop High’s Ed Gingrich, who I could see was frustrated by this influx of chicanery, and was now taking out his anger by dribbling the ball hard toward the basket with a “just try to stop me!” look on his face. When Ed was only a few steps from the basket, the army team Captain reached down and plucked the ball away from him, then, laughing, gave it right back so Ed could put it in the basket, which he did. The whole gymnasium exploded with laughter and cheers.  Gingrich laughed too. Everyone in the gym now realized that the visiting team Captain was Reece “Goose” Tatum of the Harlem Globetrotters, who was in Winthrop that day with the 101st Quartermaster Corps.

“Goose” and his exciting teammates spent the rest of the game entertaining the Winthrop crowd with world-famous Globetrotter antics. Winthrop lost the game, but everyone was a winner.  Including the USO.  

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