By Mike Avitt
The Benton High School basketball boys were the only team ever to win the Ringgold County tournament in its forty year (1919 - 1958) history. But that doesn't mean they didn't have great years. This week, we'll focus on the 1940 team, led by Coach Harry Cole.
The team members from left are: Coach Harry Cole, Gene Cross, Russell Adams, Keith Cole, Don Dillenburg, Darrell Smith, Herb Dillenburg, Eldon Dillenberg, Joe Dalton, Dudley Watts, Bob Fisher and Merle Butler. Thanks to the Benton Waubonsie Center Museum for allowing me to scan this week's picture.
1940 was probably Benton's best chance to win a Ringgold County tournament championship but they drew eventual champion Maloy in the first round and lost a nail-biter in overtime 40-38. Nevertheless, Benton was invited to the Class B Sectional Tournament held in Mount Ayr.
Class B teams competing in this tournament were Benton, Davis City, Decatur City, Delphos, Kellerton, Maloy, Redding, and Pleasanton. Benton clobbered Davis City 49-32 in the first round game played on February 28. Gene Cross scored 32 points for the winners. The second round game was also an easy one for Benton as they beat Delphos 49-35. Cross put 29 points on the board and Herb Dillenburg 10.
The Sectional Finals were played on March 2nd and matched Benton against Redding, who had upset Maloy in an earlier round. Redding focused their energy on Benton's strength, that being star scorer Gene Cross. Redding led the match 8-5 after one quarter and 14-11 at the half. Redding still held a 21-17 lead after three quarters but everything fell apart for Redding in the fourth quarter when the player (identified only as Henry) guarding Gene Cross fouled out. Lead by Cross and Herb Dillenburg, Benton pulled out a victory and claimed the 1940 Class B boys basketball championship.
In the first round of the Class B District Tournament played at Diagonal, Benton drew Conway, winners of the Taylor County boys basketball tournament, and were narrowly defeated.
The trophy that Benton won in the 1940 Sectional Tournament is on display at the Benton Waubonsie Center Museum. Stop in some morning for coffee and ask to see some Benton history.
Photographs courtesy of Mount Ayr Record-News
Transcription by Sharon R. Becker, November of 2015