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Posted on: January 30, 2019

Basketball Fever Hits McPherson

Life-size photo mural depicting 7 members of the 1936 Olympic Basketball Team with a signed basketba

Each January basketball fever hits McPherson, Kansas, with a vengeance! McPherson High School has hosted an annual boys basketball tournament for more than 50 years and a girls basketball tournament for more than 20 years. Both events feature competitive high school athletes from across Kansas.

But did you know McPherson’s enthusiasm for basketball dates back to the early 1930s? The McPherson Globe Refiners, a local men’s team, was sponsored by the Globe Refining Company and was affiliated with the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU). Led by Coach Gene Johnson from Wichita University, the team featured star players including Francis Johnson (brother of Gene), Joe Fortenberry, Bill Wheatley, Tex Gibbons, Jack Ragland and Willard Smith.

During the team’s short two-year existence, the Globe Refiners won second place in the 1935 AAU championship game followed by first place in 1936. They went on to represent the United States at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, Germany – the first year basketball was an official medal sport. Team USA advanced skillfully through the Olympic tournament while playing on outdoor clay courts. The championship game against Canada was playing during a rainstorm in temperatures ranging in the low 50s. Despite the muddy court, Team USA prevailed with a final score of 19-8 and earned the first-ever gold medal in their sport.

As quickly as the McPherson Globe Refiners story began, it came to a sudden end. With the outbreak of World War II, the Olympic Games weren’t organized for another 12 years. The McPherson Globe Refiners, once billed the “Tallest Team in the World,” returned home, joined the working force and became a distant memory.

But here in McPherson, we attribute the Globe Refiners Olympic victory for the beginning of long-time basketball traditions in McPherson. Their story and related artifacts are on permanent display at the McPherson Museum. A mural commemorating the team’s athletic accomplishments is located in the Downtown District. And their home court, located in the McPherson Community Building, is currently under renovation and scheduled to reopen during 2019.

Soon a place will be renewed where basketball fans once hung from the rafters and halftime entertainment featured a jazz band. The legend of the McPherson Globe Refiners will be restored. And the game of basketball will resume.

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