In a Class of his Own

It was my recent privilege to write an article for the fall 2019 issue of the Indiana Basketball History Magazine about an Indiana high school basketball player I believe to be one of the best to ever walk out on a basketball court, Dave Schellhase.Sports writers of the day had a blast writing about his achievements. His dazzling play as a senior in the 1961-1962 season was called by one sports reporterone of the top performances by a high school player in Indiana history.” While Schellhase would go on to fame and glory as a Purdue basketball star, his tremendous high school accomplishments have been mostly forgotten. The story told here captures one element of the excitement his fantastic scoring and rebounding created as an Indiana high school star.

Dave Schellhase played at Evansville North High School and in his senior year in 1962 he put on an unbelievable show in a contest between North and Bosse High School many thought to be the greatest high school basketball game ever played in Evansville. It was a battle of giants. North was having it best season ever and Bosse was undefeated and destined to win the state tournament that year. Following is a brief description of this amazing contest, based on newspaper accounts.

Evansville city official expected that Roberts Stadium would have close to seven thousand fans coming to the Bosse/North game on the winter night of January 18, 1962. The prediction ended up being a tad low. The day before the big game, every sports writer in the city had labored to compose something provocative about the upcoming battle—one contrasting it as a game between the new upstart North High School, which had started in 1958, and much older Bosse High School, with its long high school basketball tradition, including back-to-back state championship in the 1940s under Coach Herman Keller. Another article presented the game as a monumental battle between Bosse’s flawless playmaker, Gary Grieger and North’s blond bomber, Dave Schellhase.

Whatever plot lines were created by sports writers prior to the game, none of them came even close to the capturing the actual drama and the sheer energy of the contest.

The seven thousand, three hundred fans who showed up were restless with anticipation long before the two teams poured onto the court to begin their warm-ups, the gathering cigarette smoke generated by nervous smokers already building up in the rafters and beginning to make its way downward. 

To Bosse fans’ hysterical delight, their team roared out of the gate, establishing a lead and maintaining it deep into the second quarter. A next-day sports feature related that with just less than three minutes in the period, Bosse’s Gene Lockyear and John Wilson “hit a basket a piece and Gary Greiger connected on two straight,” giving the Bulldogs an eight point lead. Then just like that, Dave Schellhase made several shots “from every area of the floor,” and led “a blitz-attack that enabled North to outscore the Bulldogs 15-4 and carry a 45-42 advantage into intermission.”

The half-time break saw no taming down of the crowd’s excited chatter, or their roars when cheerleaders from both sides lead team yells. More than a few Bosse fans worried about Schellhase’s late barrage just before the first half ended but took comfort in the thought that he’d surely be unable to produce scoring like that again in the second half. 

Bosse took a quick 47-45 lead at the beginning of the second half. Then Schellhase, a look of complete and fearless intensity on his face, took over, “hitting from out and from underneath.” In the third quarter, he bombed in five baskets in a row. An amazed Tom Tuley wrote about Schellhase the next day, “In one play, he missed, went to his knees to retrieve the ball and then shot when he was just half-way up for two more points.”

Although trailing, Bosse did not roll over when the final period began. The Bulldogs were behind by a single point when Coach Meyers called a time out with forty-seven seconds left in the game to set up a last shot. One could hardly hear themselves think in all the clamor. Tom Tuley wrote, “The crowd, separated from sanity, rattled the rafters.” 

The teams came back on the floor. Every fan was standing, most were shouting. With twenty-five seconds left, Bosse’s center, Ken Rakow, hit a short jump shot.

Bosse fans were on their tiptoes, arms lifted in joy, screaming at the top of their voices. “That made it 83-82 in favor of Bosse,” one next-day newspaper report noted, “and it appeared the Bulldogs had done it again.” 

North called a time out with twenty seconds to go. Husky fans were subdued, their hands at their mouths, hoping against hope as the North players gathered around Coach Rausch to set up a last shot strategy of their own, a plan the seven thousand plus folks in the gym knew would come to its fruition with the ball in the hands of Dave Schellhase.

The clock began when the ball touched a North player’s hands. Mickey Martin had the ball, bringing it down the court. He saw that Bosse’s defense had sagged slightly to protect the baseline so he flipped the ball over to Schellhase who stood open. Bosse players may have thought Schellhase would try to drive in rather than attempt such a long bomb.

Dave was just in bounds in front of the Bosse bench, thirty feet from the goal when he pulled up to shoot, his body raising to its full peak before he flipped the ball toward the basket. The clocked showed twelve seconds as the ball began arching up in a flawless rotation. It was Dave’s last shot of the game, a perfect bull’s eye, “The shot that shook the state,” one reporter called it.  Another court-side sports reporter wrote, “He was on a line with my seat and the second the ball left his hands you knew it was dead center.”

When Bosse rushed a last second shot at the other end and missed, Dave was there to grab the rebound with two seconds left in the game amidst three Bosse players to preserve the win, 84-83. Both Dave and the Stadium had new scoring records of forty-five points and Schellhase easily led both teams in rebounding, sweeping off twenty-two from the boards.

As the shocked Bosse bench watched the North fans flood the floor, Coach Myers was heard whispering by a sports writer, “It was destined to go in. He could have thrown it from half court and it would have gone in.”

After the game, talking to a crowd of reporters, Dave humbly gave all the credit to his coach and to the other North players.

The next day, local newspapers bulged with long, colorful, detailed articles about the incredible game, most of the narratives attempting to capture the amazing performance of Dave Schellhase. Don Bernhardt of the Courier wrote, “The Curly-haired kid with the muscles of a man made past superlatives seem subdued as he personally took charge in the final minutes to shake Bosse’s status as the state’s third ranking team.”  Tom Tuley warned, “Don’t go near the Schellhase. One explored last night at the Stadium in a night that was almost too fantastic to believe. Seven thousand fans watched in awe last night as Schellhase shot down everything in sight to hand Bosse its first defeat in 11 games.” Bill Robinson called Dave’s efforts, “the most electrifying performance, perhaps the greatest, in local history.”

The dean of Evansville sports writers, Daniel Scism, focused on Dave’s amazing shot that he made after grabbing a rebound and falling to a sitting position, from where he put up a basket. “He indulged in quite a bit of under-the-basket hatchery. He hatched one while sitting on the floor.” The unusual shot was reminiscent of the time John Wooden had made a similar basket while playing in an Indiana state tournament game.

North and Schellhase were not done. In the next game, Dave hit for forty points against out-manned Mater Dei, as “the white net tossed and waved time and again as Schellhase drilled home cleanly.” Charles Greer called it “another unforgettable performance.” Greer claimed Dave’s Bosse and Mater Dei back-to-back performance “must rank as one of the top performances by a high school player in Indiana history.” 

Tom Tuley simply believed Dave was now “in a class of his own.”