Hayden's former basketball stars reminisced merrily Saturday about the 1959 high school team. From left: Jerry Green, Bob Ruiz, Lyle Breshears and Larry Johnson discuss their team on camera at the American Legion hut in Hayden. The team lost to Sanford at state.

Photo by Blythe Terrell

Hayden's former basketball stars reminisced merrily Saturday about the 1959 high school team. From left: Jerry Green, Bob Ruiz, Lyle Breshears and Larry Johnson discuss their team on camera at the American Legion hut in Hayden. The team lost to Sanford at state.

Hayden hoopsters recall stellar season

Boys basketball team made trip to state for the 1st time 50 years ago

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Jerry Green examines a 1959 newspaper story about his basketball team's district tournament victory. The win earned them a spot in the state competition.

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Judy Green interviews the four members of Hayden's 1959 basketball team Saturday. L.D. Shoffner recorded the discussion, which will be archived at the Hayden Heritage Center. Green's husband, Jerry, played on the team.

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Members of Hayden's 1959 basketball team discussed how the sport changed their lives at the American Legion hut Saturday. L.D. Shoffner videotaped. The four team members present were, from left, Jerry Green, Bob Ruiz, Lyle Breshears and Larry Johnson.

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Displays at the American Legion hut in Hayden commemorated the class of 1959 and its basketball team. The team lost to Sanford at the state tournament.

— Half a century ago, the town of Hayden was buzzing with excitement about the high school boys basketball team's first trip to the state tournament.

On Saturday, that rekindled excitement flowed at the American Legion hut, where four members of the 1958-59 team gathered to talk about that year in front of cameras and an audience. Lyle Breshears, Jerry Green, Larry Johnson and Bob Ruiz formed the panel of past hoops stars.

L.D. Shoffner videotaped the conversation, which will be archived at the Hayden Heritage Center. The interviews coincided with a larger reunion for Hayden High School graduates. This year's class was the school's 100th.

Green's wife, Judy, asked most of the questions Saturday.

"What I'd like you to do today amongst yourselves is reminisce about the basketball team of 1958-1959," she said.

The Hayden team defeated Granby in the Gore-Yampa League District Tournament to go to state for the first time. They lost to Sanford.

"The sad part of it is, we should have gone the year before, but we let Granby beat us," said Jerry Green, who graduated in 1959.

"The sad thing is we should've won," said Ruiz, who also graduated that year.

The timing for the talk was appropriate: The Hayden girls basketball team went to state for the first time this year and beat Sanford. It was revenge, Green joked, that arrived 50 years too late. The girls team lost to Paonia in the tournament semifinals.

The museum also plans to interview the girls on camera.

Breshears and Johnson were juniors when they competed at state in 1959. Johnson was the backup on the team for Jim Rowley. A hand injury put Rowley on the bench, Johnson said.

"All of a sudden, I got to play a lot, which is why we lost," he joked.

The Gore-Yampa League included Kremmling, Walden and Oak Creek. Breshears remembered traveling by bus to Walden when Rabbit Ears Pass was closed. The trip required going over Gore Pass and back toward Kremmling and then 30 miles to Walden on a gravel road.

"After that first trip, we always rode in cars," Breshears said.

Green recalled playing Johnstown, a team of giants.

"They were so tall that you could jump, and all you could see was their elbows," Green said.

Breshears remembered playing at Climax, which he said had the highest gymnasium in the world at 11,300 feet. The Tigers feared that the altitude would hamper them, he said.

"It wasn't a problem because there were so many fouls called in the game that we just walked from one end to the other, shooting free throws," Breshears said.

John Harrigan coached the team, and the members said he was popular on the court and in the classroom. The teammates' experience playing for Hayden and Harrigan had a lasting impact. Green and Johnson coached high school teams, and several of the men were referees. Johnson played a year of college basketball at Western State College of Colorado in Gunnison.

The sport has been a huge part of Johnson's life, he said. He's passing the passion along to his 2-year-old grandson.

"The first thing we gave him was a basketball," Johnson said.

He's a professor of mathematics at Metropolitan State College of Denver. Green taught school for 12 years and returned to the family ranch near Hayden in 1980. Breshears was a sales engineer in the air conditioner and ventilation business, and now he's retired and does home remodeling and repairs. Ruiz has been a cabinet maker for 30 years and lives in Northglenn.

"I think that's how I passed high school," Ruiz joked. "I always got an 'A' in shop."

Other members of the team that competed at state were Jim Benson, Ronnie Bugay, Bob Scott, Chuck Turner and Lynn Whiteman. The audience members commended the four men present on the clear memories they shared about that 1958-59 season.

"It's easier to remember that than what happened yesterday," Green joked.

- To reach Blythe Terrell, call 871-4234 or e-mail bterrell@steamboatpilot.com

Comments

mootobaby 4 years, 10 months ago

Yes, Johnstown did have some height in those days. According to information from Johnstown's weekly newspaper (The Johnstown Breeze) for that 1957-58 season, Dennis Roe stood 6 feet, 4 inches and was the Phantoms' tallest player. Neill Halker was 6-3 1/2. Robert Booth was 6-3. Johnstown High won the Class B state championship in 1958. The next season (1958-59), the Phantoms won the Class B state consolation title, beating Bayfield, 52-51. By then, though, those three players had graduated and it was up to Severo Cordova and others to carry the torch. Cordova, a quick, short guard, scored 21 points to lead JHS to a 58-48 win over Hayden in the consolation semifinal. Two taller guys, Russ Elsberry (16) and Bob Farris (15), combined for another 31 points. Chuck Turner, who according to the March 19, 1959, front-page story in the Breeze played only after intermission, paced Hayden with 16 points. Bob Ruiz scored eight points, Jerry Green scored seven, and Larry Johnson six. Johnstown led 18-7 after one quarter, 28-16 at halftime and carried a 42-31 advantage into the fourth period. Hayden did cut the difference to 46-40 but was outscored 12-8 down the stretch. It's pretty cool for the Hayden players to remember Johnstown a half-century later. In 1963, Johnstown consolidated its school district with nearby Milliken, and a new high school was built Roosevelt High School, which reached the Class 3A "Elite Eight" in 2007.

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