WOSTER: Strong selections for hall of fame
When I glanced at The Daily Republic one day last week, my first thought was that the copy desk let an old story slip through and onto the page.
The headline included the name Theeler, and the lead paragraph in the story said, “Mitchell resident Jack Theeler has been selected for induction into the South Dakota Sports Hall of Fame.”
My first reaction was “old news, man, somebody is going to be embarrassed.” Then I read the full story and saw that, indeed, Sisseton native and Mitchell lawyer Theeler is scheduled for induction into the state’s Sports Hall of Fame in April.
It also said Theeler is a member of the South Dakota High School Basketball Hall of Fame and the University of South Dakota Hall of Fame. OK, that’s putting the world a little closer to back on its axis, but still, the guy isn’t already in the Sports Hall of Fame? For me, that’s like leaving Roy Orbison and Carl Perkins out of the first class inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Oh, wait. Those two superstars weren’t inducted until the second year. Not every deserving individual can go into a hall of fame immediately, I guess.
But Theeler’s credentials are impeccable for induction, which is probably why I figured he’d already joined the club. He’ll be embarrassed, I suppose, if he reads this, because he’s actually pretty modest about his basketball accomplishments.
But, I’m telling you, if you’d seen him play for Sisseton in high school (I did, in the state tournament in Huron) or the Coyotes at USD (I did, several times, and a time or two he tried to break the heart of a State College student), you’d know exactly what I mean when I say he richly deserves the honor.
The guy could shoot the lights out, handle the ball, pass like Pete Amravati without the theatrics and hound it out on defense. I have written a time or two about Theeler’s ability in high school to bank shots from what seemed like behind the backboard. In his time, and mine, kids were taught early to use the glass. The great professional shooters — Sam Jones of the Celtics, Jerry West of the Lakers, and Oscar Robertson of the Royals — all of them used bank shots when they could. So did Theeler, to great success and sometimes defying the laws of physics.
Mostly, what impressed me the first time I saw him play — State Class A Tournament, 1962 — was how hard he worked and how focused he was on the court. I only thought I worked hard when I played. He lived the game out on the court. I think Sisseton was defeated that year, but they returned in 1963 to win the whole thing.
I like it a lot when contemporaries of mine are recognized for their achievements. We had a pretty high level of skill all those decades ago. I wasn’t that gifted, but I saw some terribly talented players, and I played against a few of them.
That’s why I also got excited when I saw Dick Callahan’s name on the induction list. Again, I was surprised he wasn’t already in the hall. He was a wonderful multi-sport athlete for Washington High School, back in the days when Sioux Falls had just the one public school. He was a star for the Nebraska Cornhuskers after high school.
Callahan graduated from WHS a year before I finished at Chamberlain. I admired his football skills in high school, and when I was at Creighton, a bunch of us would listen to the Nebraska games on the radio in the Wareham Hall break room. I’d point out that I’d competed against the tight end.
I competed against him in track, not football, and only once. That didn’t make the story false. Misleading, maybe? We were in the finals of the 880-yard run at the state meet in 1959. I was ahead of him for a lap or so. On the backstretch of the second lap, he blew past me like I’d stopped for a soda. Man, he was charging.
That’s why he’s going into the hall and I’m not. Oh, yeah, and the football thing.