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Championship Team Remembered 50 Years Later
Written by Ernie Quatrani Correspondent
2016-02-10

Last Thursday night members of the 1964-65 Upper Perkiomen boys basketball team were recognized for their achievment of winning the Bux-Mont League championship. Each of the five present were given a hat and shirt and were greeted by members of the girls' and boys' teams. Left to right, Keith Kleinbach, Mike Duka, assistant coach, Jim Young, Ron Moyer and Bill Gebert and Christian Zera, making the first presentation.

        When the 1964-65 Upper Perkiomen boys basketball team took the court for the first time that fall, Lyndon Johnson was finishing out the presidential term of the assassinated John F. Kennedy, the Vietnam War was beginning to escalate, the Phillies had just somehow managed to blow the pennant by losing a six-game lead with only twelve games left in the season and the new high school building off Walt Rd. was only an architect's idea.

        Out of nowhere, the 12 boys on the Indians' varsity that year united the entire Upper Perk community with a Bux-Mont championship and a thrilling run through the postseason that led to a game at the legendary Palestra.

        Last Thursday night, the current Upper Perk basketball programs and the athletic department honored the 1964-65 team with a presentation between games of the boys' and girls' doubleheader against Perkiomen Prep.

        Only five members of the team could make it for the ceremony, but Ron Moyer, Jim Young, Keith Kleinbach, Bill Gebert and assistant coach Mike Duka clearly expressed their appreciation for the historic moments and the love for each other that marked the '64-'65 season.

        Other members of the team were Dwayne Wilson, Stan Graber, Ron Godshall, Dennis Kleinbach, Jim Roth, Rusty Engle, Steve Reeder, Richard Butterweck and head coach Steve Ruby.

        "The basketball team was the highlight of my time at Upper Perk. We had a great bunch of guys," recounted Moyer, a junior at the time.

        "The best time I had was, of course, winning the championship," noted Kleinbach, another junior, "But beating some of the larger schools in the Bux-Mont, that gave me a lot of pride and made me happy, because we were playing a lot of teams that were at least twice the size in number of the student population as we were."

        At the "reunion," Kleinbach toted a wonderfully comprehensive scrapbook of the season that his mother had compiled half a century ago.

        The seeds of the team's success were sown the previous season. After losing their first eight games of that year, Upper Perk rebounded to finish 8-10 and set the stage for the magical march to the Palestra.

        "We started that momentum the year before when we won eight out of the last ten games of that season," said Jim Young, who went on to coach at Spring-Ford. "We kind of had that momentum going in."

        The team members credit coach Steve Ruby, now living in Maryland, and his assistant Mike Duka, who would later go on to be the head football coach at Upper Perk, for instilling a never-say-die underdog mentality in their athletes.

        "We never quit, and coach Ruby was tremendous," said Moyer. "I mean he made believers out of all of us. He worked us hard, but he showed us what happens when you work hard."

        "He was an incredibly tough coach," added Young. "We probably spent 75 percent of the time on defense. We were ultimately prepared for all the games, knew what everybody was going to do. He believed in preparation."

        "What they remembered about us was that we didn't quit," recalled Kleinbach. "Hard practices made us play better, and we could outlast a lot of the other teams. They weren't quite in as good a shape as we were."

        Gebert said, "One thing I do remember about it, the whole year, was jump drills. Practices were tough, real tough."

        The Bux-Mont championship that year came down to the last two games. Pennridge and Springfield Montco were neck and neck with the Indians in the standings, and Upper Perk had to travel to Springfield for the penultimate game of the regular season.

        With two minutes left the score was tied at 56. Stan Graber scored five straight points, but the hosts closed to within one with 30 seconds remaining. Rusty Engle hit the front end of a one-and-one, Denny Kleinbach converted two free throws, and Graber hit another to clinch the 65-62 win.

        One newspaper described the ensuing celebration by Upper Perk fans as "wild delirium" and "a wild orgy of back slapping, hugging and dancing in the middle of the court."

        The team won the championship outright in the season finale with a 71-41 pasting of Souderton, led by Graber's 21 points, finishing with a Bux-Mont record of 15-3. It was Upper Perk's first basketball title.

        The Indians took their first PIAA District 1 playoff game, 62-52, over Upper Dublin then won a thriller over Springfield Delco, 48-46, on Engle's jumper with three seconds left.

        The playoff run was an amazing time for the entire community.

        "One of the things I'll never forget," recounted Ron Moyer, "is in one of the playoff games, we were in the locker room, and all of a sudden, Upper Perk fans started yelling, 'We want the Indians! We want the Indians!'

        "Coach Ruby said, 'Okay guys, they want you. You go out and show them what you're made of.'"

        The win over Springfield Delco propelled the team into the semi-finals against powerhouse and undefeated Chester at the Palestra on the Penn campus.

        The fan frenzy reached such a height that Floyd Boyer, the school's supervising principal, ordered an early dismissal on Tuesday, March 2, so that fans would have enough time to travel to West Philadelphia.

        Thirteen busloads of Valley residents made the trek to the Palestra to the see the "Happy Warriors," as they had been dubbed by the press. (Over 50 years later, the nickname still bemuses the players; they do not remember referring to themselves in that way).

        Chester ended the dream with a 70-50 victory, but the memories began.

        Keith Kleinbach took a lifelong lesson from the season.

        "It always gives you something positive to look back to where you had a goal in mind, you worked hard to attain it, and you did attain it."


 

 

 

 

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