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Flashback Friday: 100 years ago, the Keyser Collegians were 'world champions'

Mineral Daily News-Tribune
The 1921 Keyser Collegians World Championship squad

By Chapin Jewell

Tribune Correspondent

KEYSER - On Friday, Feb. 6, 1914, an article in the Keyser Tribune introduced the formation of a new basketball team that would go on to bring the City of Keyser some notoriety.  

So much so, that within seven years of their formation, the Keyser Collegians would become the somewhat self-proclaimed world champions, and a game in which they played in Washington D.C. would be advertised by an “aeroplane” dropping leaflets advertising the matchup.

In that inaugural announcement in 1914, it was stated that the Collegians’ very first basketball game would take place against the Fairmont High School team, and that the game would take place that very night (Feb. 6) at the K of P Armory in Keyser, with Mcllwee’s Concert Band attending and furnishing music for the occasion.

According to the announcement, “Considerable interest is being displayed by lovers of sport in Keyser in the first appearance of the Collegians, an independent basketball team of this city, in a game with the Fairmont High School team, one of the fastest teams, if not the fastest, in the state, having lost just one game this season, and that to Wheeling.”

Further, a plea goes out to the people of Keyser to rally behind the new team, “The Keyser Collegians have the men to make one of the strongest independent teams in the state and they promise to bring to Keyser the best teams of the state, if they people of Keyser will give them a little encouragement in the way of their support, they will have chances of winning.”

The Collegians would end up falling to Fairmont 31-25 in that, their inaugural contest. Despite the loss, the game was lauded as a great success and it was stated that a large crowd was in attendance to witness the game. Aided by music, there was a great deal of energy and excitement associated with the affair.

“The Keyser Band was in all its glory and furnished some splendid music. They have promised to attend the next game which will be played in the Armory next Thursday evening,” the game story from Feb. 7, 1914 in the Mineral Daily News details.

Particpants for Keyser in the contest were listed as being Baughman, Cunningham, Davis, Nordeck, Stafford and Terrell.

Thus began the journey of the Keyser Collegians basketball organization.  A March 16, 1945 article in the Mineral Daily News-Tribune, written about the then noted Lutheran preacher and professor at Gettysburg College, Dr. Harry P. Baughman, a member of the Collegians’ inaugural squad, noted that the Collegians “made Keyser nationally famous in basketball circles.”

A Saturday, March 20, 1920 headline in the Mineral Daily News proudly proclaimed, “Keyser Collegians Win State Championship.” According to the article, a crowd of 2,200 people were in attendance at Clarksburg to see the Keyserites defeat Wesleyan College by a score of 32-25, in a contest in which Keyser dominated from the opening tip and that was never in doubt.

The 1920 state champion squad consisted of Gibson, Slocum, Hoyt, Shaffer and Montgomery, Cheshire and Dorsey.

The writer of a Saturday, April 10, 1920 article in the Mineral Daily News, details his thoughts on just how talented and dominant the 1919-1920 state champion Keyser Collegian squad was, “I question very much whether Manager Lytle or any other manager for that matter, has ever been able to get together a greater aggregation of stars on one team than the five regulars that constitute the Keyser Collegians in the season 1919-1920.”

The writer further states, “I say it without fear of contradiction that no state in the Union could produce another team from which an ‘all-star team’ could be picked from its five regular players as is the case with the state champions of West Virginia this season (the Keyser Collegians).”

One funny note from the article is that while the writer praises Keyser fans for their support, he points out that there is one area of courtesy that needs some work, “The dye’d in the wool fans were amply repaid for the trips made to see these games. The fans of Keyser are in the main good sportsmen and have supported the ream royally, yet there a few that don’t realize that it is poor sportsmanship to heckle a foreign player when throwing a free goal.”

By “foreign” player, the writer is simply describing members of the opposing team, not someone from a different country.  

“This is largely thoughtlessness on their part and it is the hope that it will be oligerated another season. Let us decide to give up this process and accord everyone a square deal.  Let it be said that Keyser basketball fans are sportsmen in every sense of the word,” the writer details.

Nonetheless, the 1919-1920 season went down at the time as the greatest season in the then seven-year history. But they were just getting started, the 1920-1921 season, 100 years ago from our present day, would see the Collegians, for a time at least, being declared not just the state champions, but rather the world champions.

On Jan. 4, 1921, the Mineral Daily News reported of a huge game that night between the Keyser Collegians and the Petty Show Quintet of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The Petty Show squad was billed as the fastest team in the country and ironically, also as being well-built and heavy.  

The game story from the Jan. 5, 1921 Mineral Daily News shows that the Collegians destroyed the “world champion” Petty Shoe squad by a decisive score of 71-30. As a result, the Keyser Collegians placed the crown of ‘world champions” on their head.

“A large crowd was at the K of P Armory long before the game started as the visitors were expected to give our local team a hot argument for the victory,” the story details.  The Lancaster boys, like every team that has played here this year, were decidedly outclassed and simply couldn’t stop the Collegians for making goals.”

There you have, 100 years ago, almost to the day, the independent basketball team Keyser Collegians began wearing the moniker “world champions.”

Immediately thereafter, the Collegians traveled to Washington D.C. on Sat. Feb. 8, 1921, where the new world champions took on and defeated the Congress Heights squad. It was there that, according to the game story, “Shortly after our team arrived in Washington a large aeroplane flew over the city dropping pamphlets announcing that the Keyser Collegians would play there that night.”

The Collegians, with great fanfare, won that contest 29-16 and would continue to win, building a nice win streak. The wins would continue unblemished until a March 14, 1921 contest would see the Keyserites lose 37325 to the Knights of Columbus squad in Cumberland.

The Mar. 15, 1921 game story in the Mineral Daily News stated, “Yes, it did happen. The local Knights played a better article of ball than at any time this year or last year for that matter.  The Casey’s outshone themselves, and the Collegians, stunned, came out from the mix up on the shorter end of the score.”

It wouldn’t be the last loss of the year, the Collegians would lose again, but it doesn’t change the fact that the season overall was fantastic, and that for a time at least, the Keyser Collegians were the “world champions.”