April 1, 2013 in Features

The Slice: And all they wanted to do was run the picket fence

By The Spokesman-Review
 
The Spokesman-Review photo

Paul Turner, Spokesman-Review columnist.
(Full-size photo)

People here occasionally see references to the “University District” in Spokane Valley and ask, what university?

They don’t remember Spokane University.

But even some who know of that now defunct college aren’t aware of its brief moment in the national spotlight during the spring before the stock market crash of 1929.

Back before the NCAA basketball tournament, the National Invitation Tournament – the NIT – was college basketball’s ultimate competition. And in March of 1929, the underdog Spokane University squad (teams didn’t have nicknames back then) made it to the championship game in New York City.

Under the guidance of their hard-drinking coach, Jeff “Shooter” Jordan, the SU student athletes struggled to a 4-12 record during the 1928-29 season. But when a gambling scandal disqualified most of the other teams participating in the Northwest Regional, the Spokane University cagers advanced to the semifinals in New York by defeating Whitworth 29-17. (Remember, this wasn’t long after the peach basket era.)

It’s all spelled out in Vince Grippi’s unpublished book, “Season on the Brink.”

With no players taller than 5’8”, Jordan’s team caught the attention of the national press. Dubbed the “Mighty Mites,” the SU players were depicted as irascible lumberjacks intent on taking down some tall trees in the tournament’s next rounds.

Then came the fateful train trip back East.

Accounts vary. For instance, The Spokesman-Review reported that the team’s much publicized “molesting” of a girls bible college glee club from Great Falls, was overblown. The Chronicle editorialized that “Boys will be boys.”

But Grippi’s reporting suggests that Jordan and the SU hoopsters were drunk before the train ever left Spokane and that they stayed hammered all the way across the country.

Which makes their 36-16 victory over Ball State Teachers College in the semifinals even more remarkable.

Alas, an NIT championship was not to be as Jordan and all but two of his players failed to show up for the final against Faber Tech, a game decided by forfeit.

Today’s Slice question: You realize, don’t you, that today is April 1 and that none of that happened?

Write The Slice at P. O. Box 2160, Spokane, WA 99210; call (509) 459-5470; email pault@spokesman.com. Happy birthday, Mr. Boggs.

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