67 years later: Still champions

COLUMBIANA, Ohio (WKBN) –  On Thursday in Columbus, the state of Ohio for the 105th consecutive year began its high school boys basketball tournament.

It seems to be an appropriate time to recall one of the area’s few state championship basketball teams: The Columbiana High School team of 1947.

Rich Berryman and Wayne Urschler are both 84. They have known each other since first grade, both still live in Columbiana, and both were key players on the championship team.

“The open man always got the ball. There wasn’t a big ego on the whole squad. It was a team,” Urschler said.

“Yeah, we were good. We were very good,” Berryman said.

Columbiana of 1947 was a town of 3,000 people. The high school had only 79 boys , but had developed a reputation as a basketball school. The 1945 team finished second in the state.

But early on, no one was talking about the 1947 team.

“I had this pair of socks with a red stripe on the top that I bought, and I put them up in my locker, and I says, ‘We’re going to wear this in Columbus.’ I was the only one that was mouthing off,” Urschler said.

“Our expectations were not state champions, I don’t think. We thought we could be a good team because we had a great coach,” Berryman said.

Columbiana’s coach was a young John Cabas, who would later became a legend at Salem. And they also had an all-stater named Lee Thomas.

“Everything was a two-hand set shot. Lee could drill them. He amazed people sometimes with his shooting,” Berryman said.

When it came time for the state tournament, Columbiana had lost only once. It beat Ridgeville and Springfield, and a one-point win over Lowellville sent the Clippers to Columbus. Urschler would wear his socks.

In the first game, they put up 77 points on Corning, which at the time a state tournament record.

“We pressed an awful lot. Pressed every game. We pressed all over the floor. And that was one of Cabas’s things that he really, really liked to do. And they were to easy to press naturally and when you’re doing well on the press you can score points,” Berryman said.

The state championship game was played on Saturday afternoon March 22, 1947. There were 7,500 people at the state fairground’s Coliseum to watch Columbiana against New Knoxville.

“I think everybody had butterflies in that game,” Urschler said.

“They had a big center, name was Cuck, and he had scored 31 points in a semi game and he was good. But we had a way of getting him into foul trouble,” Berryman said.

The story ran on the front page of the Vindicator: Columbiana wins 43-34. The Clippers were the 1947 Class B State Champs.

There was a picture of Berryman kissing the winning ball. He kept and it, and a few years ago donated it to the Columbiana Historical Society, where today it is displayed in an enclosed case.

For their efforts, each player received small copper basketballs. But later, the people of Columbiana raised enough money to buy each one a gold watch. Berryman and Urschler both have theirs.

The trophy is prominently displayed outside of Columbiana’s gym. And inside the gym, there’s a plaque.

Urschler entered the military and eventually retired from GM Lordstown. He still thinks about the championship.

“Especially during basketball season, I reminisce,” Urschler said.

Berryman returned to Columbiana High School, where he taught and coached for 38 years. He still attends every game, both boys and girls. When Columbiana built its new gym, they named it after him.

He too often thinks about that magical season.

“It’s just one fantastic feeling. A bunch of kids could get together from a little town in northeastern Ohio and win the state championship,  it’s just unbelievable,” Berryman said.

Both men said few people ever talk about their state championship. That’s what 67 years removed can do. Only three members of the team are still alive.

East Liverpool also played in the state tournament that year, losing in the Class A finals. That means there were two teams from little Columbiana County playing for state championships.

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