On the bitterly cold day that its high-school basketball team returned to Salem after completing its 1958-59 season in the Ohio AA State Championship game the night before, the whole town welcomed the young players home with a parade and ceremony in their honor. A quarter century later, when the team members were in the middle of their careers, they came back to Salem for the 25th reunion commemorating their magical season. The team’s accomplishments were still unmatched when the town celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2008.
A member of that team, David Hunter, has now published an account of its 1958-59 season to keep alive the wonderful story of that remarkable team and its coach, John Cabas. Dave has honored his former coach by dedicating his book both to his parents and to Coach Cabas. One suspects, however, that, like all great teachers, Coach Cabas takes even deeper satisfaction in the lifetime achievements of the many student athletes he mentored. Read Love Those Quakers, and you will see why he can take special gratification knowing that one of his young players developed into the person who wrote this book.
Though more than a half century has past, the vividness and detail of Dave’s book kindles in the reader some of the same excitement that the fans with their “Love Those Quakers” banner must have felt cheering on their team during the games. For this accomplishment I credit not only Dave’s exceptional memory, but also his professional training as an historian. Dave majored in history at the College of William and Mary, where we first met. Located in Williamsburg, Virginia, a site rich in history, the College is justly proud of its history department. Dave graduated Phi Beta Kappa and then earned a masters in history at the University of California (Riverside).
The book has the pace of a novel, however, not at all that of a research paper. Nevertheless, Dave’s credits to his sources show that his narrative is based on a thorough review of the record, including contemporaneous newspaper reports of all the games and a transcript of the radio broadcast of the semifinal tournament game. To Dave’s mother we owe the most interesting resources: scrapbooks of her son’s achievements, which she carefully compiled as the events occurred and which are now with the Salem Historical Society.
The book takes us back to a simpler time and place: the late 1950’s in the relatively small midwestern town of Salem, Ohio (population 15,000). The lessons of the book, however, need to be learned anew by every generation throughout our country. Before these young men became a winning team, they had been nurtured by a culture that fostered and expected high moral values and strong families. Building on that solid foundation, the people of Salem, acting as a community, accorded a high priority to ensuring that their children had the first-class educational facilities needed to develop their potential. The town also provided a full range of organized athletic activities, showing that Salem shared the Greek conviction that sports develop not only physical strength, skills, and stamina, but also the spirit of subordinating individual desire to team success, a spirit essential to the success of any community.
Thirteen of Salem’s high-school boys came together to form the 1958-59 team. Each player brought to the team the combination of the inherited traits, such as speed and height, and developed skills, such as shooting and ball handling, needed to rise to the top in Salem’s youth sports programs. Though probably all would be considered gifted, none of the athletes strikes one as possessing these qualities to such a degree as to assure easy success at a state-wide level.
Dave credits Coach Cabas as the primary force in molding these individuals into an over-achieving team. The book makes clear that Coach Cabas developed more than just basketball skills and strategy. He insisted at least as much on the character traits that are the bedrock of success in all worthwhile endeavors. It is no surprise then that the team members have gone on to successful adult lives.
Many readers of Dave’s book will see in Coach Cabas the qualities of their own high-school coaches. In the 1950's our Nation was blessed with many such coaches and teachers who instilled positive virtues in their players and students with firm guidance. (After mellowing for over fifty years, I can say it was “firm guidance.” At the time we all called it “tough discipline.”) Rarely did their fame extend much beyond their own communities, but within that circle, they were held in high regard, and their legacy is to have guided generations of teenagers into responsible adulthood. In the end, the strength or weakness of our democracy is grounded on the strength or weakness of our individual citizens. All of us thus owe an immeasurable debt of gratitude to those, like Coach Cabas and, I would add, Dave Hunter, who have dedicated their careers to educating our young people.
Dave is uniquely qualified to tell the captivating and instructive story of his team’s road to Columbus. In many respects his narrative is reminiscent of the classic, uplifting story of another small-town 1950's basketball team, Hoosiers. And like that great movie, Dave’s account moves with the speed and grace of a well-executed fast break. I heartily recommend reading Love Those Quakers.
Anthony J. Steinmeyer
Before Sports Illustrated and Powerade began pitting communities against one another in an annual election to determine the underdogged-est high school in the country, overachieving athletic teams earned and maintained their legendary status via the tales of local griots and other die-hards. Occasionally a writer or movie producer would get hold of such a story and tell it to the world: witness the accounts of Chicago’s DuSable Panthers in the eponymous book by Ira Berkow, and of the Milan (Indiana) High School basketball team that inspired the movie, Hoosiers. The basic story is as American as root beer, and nearly every city, town, and, hamlet has a tale to share: the tiny or otherwise overlooked high school team challenges the prohibitively favored big dog, and, in the process – win or lose – tugs on heartstrings, warms cockles, and teaches valuable lessons about determination and confidence and faith.
In his book, Love Those Quakers, David Hunter adds very favorably to the genre of legendary underdogs and lessons learned. Hunter’s book is a first-person chronicle of Salem High School’s 1958-59 men’s basketball season and their near-mythical run to the state finals. Hunter was one of the team’s stars: his tools – accurate free throw shooting, deadly jump shots and acrobatic layups, nostril-flaring defense, and a heart filled with equal parts swagger and grit – were emblematic of the entire team.
If everyone has a story to tell, Hunter narrates his memorably. His familiar, conversational style establishes just the right tone for his insider’s take on Salem’s magical season. He describes what it was like for 16- and 17-year-old athletes to prepare themselves physically, mentally, and emotionally to shoulder the hopes of an entire city.
The 1958-59 version of the Salem Quakers basketball team met for its first practice in the new Salem High School building. The state-of-the-art gymnasium shouted Basketball!, and it stood in gleaming, spacious contrast to the claustrophobia-inducing basement – less a sports venue than an MRI machine with two baskets and a scoreboard – in which Salem had played for the previous 40 years. In 1957-58, the Quakers went through the regular season undefeated, 18-0. They had exited the post-season tournament disappointingly early, but hopes were high for the 1959 season despite the graduation of an outstanding senior class.
One of two Goliaths in Ohio basketball in the 1950s and 1960s was Cleveland’s East Technical High School, home of the Scarabs and alma mater of Olympic gold medalists Jesse Owens and Harrison Dillard. Tech had won Ohio’s big-school state championship in 1958 with great coaching and talented, disciplined athletes. Heading into the 1959 season, they were even stronger.
That small-town Salem would meet big-city Cleveland in the state championship game was almost a foregone conclusion to Quaker fans. Salem had lost a close game to Tech early in the season after squandering a ten point lead. A rematch with the Scarabs was a dream that burgeoned in the minds of the Salem faithful with each successive victory. Almost overlooked in all the giddiness over the journey was degree of difficulty: to meet East Tech in the state championship game, the Quakers would need to get past a) Akron Central High School with future NBA Hall of Famer, Nate Thurmond, at center, and b) Middletown High School, Ohio’s other basketball Goliath. Hunter reports that destiny cooperated, and Salem and Tech squared off again in the last game of the season.
Parallel to the main plot is the story of Salem’s coach, John Cabas, of the impact he had on his players (particularly on the author), and of how he applied his basketball and human-relations savvy in reifying his vision of excellence. Cabas was a man of his times, demanding and fiercely loyal: he would do anything for his players except tolerate mediocrity. Although adulatory of Cabas, Hunter’s book is less a hagiography than an analysis of the coach’s approach to basketball and to life. Hunter includes various quintessential “Cabas-isms” – sayings that are etched in the mind of the coach’s former players (including this reviewer). “Salem wins the close ones.” “Shooting is a religion with me.” “Criticism is like money in the bank; you worry only when you don’t have any.” The sayings, and the philosophy behind them, provided the lens through which virtually all ex-Quakers watch basketball to this day.
Hunter concludes with the standard, where-are-they-now postscript, and, no surprise, these high-achieving adolescents matured into high-achieving adults. To experience post-secondary athletic success alone to the degree that Hunter and his teammates did is rare: after an outstanding four years at the University of Pittsburgh, Lou Slaby replaced Professional Football Hall of Famer Sam Huff as linebacker for the New York Giants; Woody Dietch became the first enshrinee in the Chapman University Athletic Hall of Fame; Danny Krichbaum capped a stellar career by serving as captain of the College of Wooster basketball team his senior year; Dave Hunter starred in basketball and tennis at William and Mary College where his name still appears on lists of single-game, season, and all-time scoring leaders. Once their athletic careers ended, the boys who comprised the’58-’59 team went on to even greater success.
I would like to have seen a deeper analysis of the tie-in, if any tie-in exists, between what the players accomplished in high school and what they went on to do with the rest of their lives. How much did their basketball success carry over? Which of Coach Cabas’s essential lessons had the greatest impact? In considering the whole scope of Hunter’s story, what sociology obtains? F. Scott Fitzgerald’s observation that the rich are different from you and me seems to hold true for richly successful athletes, as well. But why?
Any criticism, however, may be just quibbling: there is certainly plenty to appreciate in Love Those Quakers for sociologists and non-sociologists alike. Although this book is really for basketball fans, it is also for anyone who believes that some of the most valuable and long-lasting high school lessons may be learned outside of the classroom.
Dr. Joe Shivers is the principal at Salem High School.
As the author’s brother who played as a two-year starter for Coach John Cabas (1955 and 1956), I have a unique take on Love Those Quakers: The Road to Columbus, a journey that details the 1958-59 State Runner-up Salem High School basketball team.
The Salem Quakers under the guidance of their coach, John Cabas, played their way to Columbus with reckless abandon and focused intensity. After my basketball season at Western Reserve University ended, I followed Salem’s tournament games with acute interest: how could a team from my small high school battle the “big boy schools, featuring so much talent and confidence?”
The author describes how this Salem team battles its way to the finals by playing and winning as a TEAM. He states that the reason the 1958-59 TEAM achieved so much was based on its BALANCE. He describes how all six players, inspired by their coach, performed at their highest level. In short, this team had no weaknesses—except having to play the long, tall and extremely talented Cleveland East Tech Scarabs (perhaps the best high school basketball team in the country) in the Class AA State finals. Since I attended college in Cleveland, I knew just how dominant this Scarab team was and what a tough challenge the Salem team faced.
Coach Cabas, the leader of Salem’s basketball success (from 1950-1972), knew that “the devil was in the details” in preparing a team for competition. He prepared every one of his team’s not only to win but also to win with class. The fact that many of his players were successful later on in life is not surprising: Coach Cabas had laid a firm foundation upon which to build men of character. As a doctor of Obstetrics and Gynecology for over 40 years in the San Francisco Bay area, I feel fortunate to have played under John Cabas, and to be able to give him credit for being a mentor in my life. And without reservation, I can heartily recommend Love Those Quakers to any reader who loves high school basketball, remembering it played and coached the way it was meant to be.
Richard D. Hunter, MD