KIPP – Author Encyclopedia Brown (Donald J. Sobol) provided Kipp, Kansas with its second 15 minutes of fame.
Sobol of Miami, Fla. authored his first book profiling sports oddities, and included the rare time when Larry Breer of Kipp, Kansas ended a high school basketball game as his team’s only eligible player.
The 1964 showdown between Kipp and Aurora, Kansas was publicized again recently when Rolf Potts, a Saline County neighbor to Breer aired a podcast about the game.
Breer was a 16-year-old junior at Kipp High School, which featured 17 students during the 1963-64 school year. The tiny town had a grocery store and a grain elevator.
Kipp enjoyed its highlight in 1949 when the school won the Class B state baseball championship the same year Kipp finished third in the 1949 Class B state basketball tournament. Kipp defeated Topeka Washburn Rural 59-44 for third place.
The 1963-64 marked the final year of Kipp High School. Kipp was fortunate to field a team since only five boys attended high school.
“We were not very good at all,” said Breer, who lived on a farm seven miles east of Salina. “We played until someone fouled out when we had a problem. We tried to win a game, but we came up on the short end that year.”
However, a Jan. 28, 1964 showdown with the Aurora Eagles proved to be historic.
“It was Homecoming Night and we had a good crowd,” Breer said. “There were country farmers and a few townspeople and parents of course. There were maybe 300 people there, one of the better nights for attendance.”
Kipp’s Gale Martin and Breer played the game of their lives to keep Kipp ahead most of the night.
“It was a very close game the whole time,” Breer said. “At halftime, we were ahead. In the third quarter, that’s when things started to fall apart. We lost our first player to five fouls. We played 4-on-5. We still matched them basket-for-basket. We focused on the game. We made due with what we had.”
Breer didn’t recall thinking the officiating was a factor.
“I don’t remember the refs being that tough on us. But we lost another one and another one,” he said. “In the fourth quarter, there were two of us.”
Aurora kept five players on the court rather than match the number of Kipp’s players.
“It got kind of funny because they would not pull a matching player off the court,” Breer said. “They kept five out there. It looked silly and funny for two players against five. But we had the drive being we stayed so close to them. We were aggressive enough to beat them 2-on-5.”
Breer recalls the home crowd something special was happening. It defied explanation that two players could play even five players.
“The crowd was quite loud when it got down to 3-on-5, 2-on-5,” he said. “There was good support for Gale (Martin) and I. We still matched them bucket-for-bucket. Then, Gale finally fouled out. Martin had scored 24 points in a 49-49 tie.
Three minutes remained when Aurora played keepaway basketball from Breer.
The Kipp home crowd kept its spirit.
“It was loud. They had never seen that in the history of Kipp,” Breer said. “They were having a good time. The players who fouled out were supportive. They hoped in some way I could win the game by myself.”
As the seconds ticked by, Breer knew his only chance was to figure a way to regain the basketball and get fouled.
“I was thinking to myself, ‘How do I guard five guys,’ “ he said. “Aurora set up a perimeter with five guys standing in a half circle throwing the ball back-and-forth. My only thought was if I could intercept a pass and get to the other end, I could get fouled or make a basket. I lunged for the ball. That allowed a guy to make a layup. That made it 51-49.”
Fifteen seconds remained when the officials mistakenly stopped the clock because they had no idea what to do.
“The refs stop the game and read the rulebook for what felt like 15 minutes,” Breer said.
Breer was waiting out-of-bounds with the basketball when the head referee took the ball from Breer
He said, ‘There is no way you can finish the game. The only way to get the ball inbounds would be to bounce the ball off an opposing player’s foot or body. Aurora’s players went to the other end of the court when they heard that. The ref said game’s over. I don’t know of any other time when the game was called with time on the clock.”
Breer believed the official’s decision was incorrect.
“I could’ve rolled the basketball,” he said. “They would’ve met the ball at the same time as I did.”
No one had cell phones back in the day. But a fan at the game called a report into a television station in Wichita.
The TV report provided some details and the Salina Journal compared Kipp’s plight to George Custer at the 1876 Battle of Bighorn in southeastern Montana.
The Kansas City Star, Dallas Morning News and Detroit Free Press ran wire service reports on the game. Radio legend Paul Harvey mentioned the game on his broadcast.
Methodist minister Judd Jones provided the final word when he delivered a sermon after he read about the historic game.
“There are times when we are playing the game of life against overwhelming odds,” Jones said. “Romans 5 (3-4): We must rejoice in our suffering. Knowing that suffering produces endurance. Endurance produces character. Character produces hope. Hope does not disappoint us because God’s love has been poured into our hearts.”
1949 CLASS B STATE BASKETBALL
FIRST ROUND—Kipp 54-40 Horton
SECOND ROUND—Kipp 60-50 Mahaska
SEMFINAL—McCune 55, Kipp 53, OT
THIRD PLACE—Kipp 59, Washburn Rural 44