The 1953-54 Alton Comet basketball team is slated to be honored as special guests of the Comet Booster Club Jan. 9 as Alton hosts the Couch Indians for an evening of hardwood action.
The 1953-54 Comet squad was Alton's first team to reach the Final Four of the state tournament, and this year marks the 50th anniversary of that great season. Nine of the 11 team members are still living, and all have expressed plans to attend the celebration.
Carl Mac Johnsson was the coach of that year's Comet team. Team members were Hal Johnson, Boyd Hickinbotham, Don Shehorn, Joe Rushing, Bill Combs, Dale Johnson, Leroy Crews, Carl Barton, Earl Barton, Tommy Holman (deceased) and Irvin Farless (deceased). Larry Simmons and Harriell Booker were team managers, and cheerleaders were Betty (Ross) Reynolds, Fern (Williams) Johnson, June (Pingree) Orr, Joyce (Orr) Risner, Annabelle (Dorris) Owens and Ginger Gullic (deceased).
The Comets' march to the state tournament rated large front page headlines in the March 1954 issues of the South-Missourian Democrat. The team complied a record of 40-8, they won the sub-regional tournament, and came in second place in the regional to qualify for the 16-team state tournament at Brewer Field House in Columbia.
The Comets won their first two games in Columbia, beating Horace Mann and Lewistown, but they lost in the semi-finals to Sparta. Sparta went on to win the Class B championship by knocking off previously unbeaten Morehouse.
In the third place game, Alton led 25-10 at the half, but foul trouble in the second half caught up with the Comets and Troy took the contest 54-47.
Despite the outcome of the Troy game, the team was greeted by a number of fans when they returned home in the early hours of a Sunday morning. Horns blared and the fire siren was sounded, giving an indication of the magnitude of this event for the community.
The team members, managers and cheerleaders have been invited to meet in a hospitality room at Alton High School at 5:15 p.m. Jan. 9 to renew old friendships.
The 1953-54 team will have special reserved seating for the evenings' games, and a recognition ceremony will be held at halftime of the JV boys' game.
All classmates and friends from that era are invited to be present for this very special occasion.