Word came last week that one of the premier athletes in this area over the past half century had passed away. His name was Bob “Spider” Larson. I knew him well, often seeing him star for the University of Nevada Basketball team. He was tall for his era, possessing a compact body and extra-long arms and legs, which probably accounted for the arachnid appellation. In addition to being a stellar round ball player, he was a “scratch” golfer and Hidden Valley Club champion.
I knew him best having competed against him in the Reno City League Basketball games. He was an outstanding member of the vaunted Roy’s Clothiers team, who were perennial champions in the top division.
News of his passing caused me to riffle through some old newspaper clippings until I found one, turning sepia, from the Nevada State Journal Sports page which chronicled the defeat of the mighty Roy’s Clothiers by my McCaughey Motors squad. It was Roy’s first defeat after thirty six consecutive victories in the City Basketball League.
Since both teams used a common shower facility in the old Billinghurst Gym, tensions were high between the two teams following the contest. The most striking thing I witnessed was the first time I had ever seen a grown man cry. His name was Roy Abrams, the sponsor of the defeated club, whose basketball team was his pride and joy.
The next morning, the account of the game appeared in the Journal, which was edited by the legendary Ty Cobb and had been written by one Ray Gardella. The story had a three-column headline and was posted above the fold.
In those days, under Cobb’s guidance, the Journal Sports section was a compilation of every local sporting event that had occurred in the area. Cobb was so insistent that local athletes be noted that he included the box scores of every City League game. Since there were some 32 teams in all and about ten players to a team, he was assured he would have at least 320 readers of his efforts.
After my playing days were over and I became City League Basketball Commissioner, Cobb asked me to assume the duties of covering the games for the newspaper. This involved picking up the score cards from the three gyms: Billinghurst, Northside and Central, then scurrying to the newspaper and writing the accounts in time to beat the midnight deadline of the Journal.
These days, when you often have to get to the second or third paragraph of a news story in order to get to the score of the contest, are in sharp contrast to the way sports stories were written in the past.
To illustrate, I will encapsulate Gardella’s thirty six column inch report.
“In one of the greatest comebacks ever witnessed in Reno City League Basketball, McCaughey Motors-after being able to tally only nine points in the first half-came back sensationally in the second period to score 40 tallies and hand mighty Roy’s Clothiers their first defeat in 36 starts, 49-43, with Earl “Dynamite” Dunn and Ken York pacing the attack. It was a great reversal of form for the motormen in the second half that turned the trick as McCaughey’s boomeranged back from a 23-9 half-time deficit to nip the favored clothiers.
An overflowing crowd was left gasping by the turn of tidings as the apparent badly defeated McCaughey Motors five, missing shots with clockwork regularity came back fighting mad in the second half to sweep Roy’s under an avalanche of baskets.”
Among the stars of that game, the top one had to be diminutive Earl Dunn, a Native American, who was the highest scorer in Nevada High School history (46). Other stalwarts from both teams that old timers may recall included (from Roy’s) Subda, Beasley, Loftus, Wilson, Knudson, Snider and Larson; for McCaughey, Spencer, Bissett, Brown, York, Dunn, Holmes and Johnson.