Journal-News, Wednesday, Jan. 5, 1994
Hamilton slot machine war erupted a few days before 1939 election
By Jim Blount
A slot machine war erupted in Hamilton a few days before the 1939 council election, and three weeks after a state liquor board charged "there is a refusal and culpable neglect on the part of the police and other officers" in Hamilton to enforce Ohio gambling laws.
Sunday night, Oct. 22, slot machines were the targets of a four-man gang at a restaurant on North Third Street and a cigar store on Main Street.
In each incident, one man threatened employees with a gun while three others smashed the machines and took the money from coin boxes. Nothing else was stolen.
"Rumors of an undercover battle between rival slot machine operators of Hamilton and Middletown for choice locations in Hamilton persisted," reported the Journal-News in its Wednesday, Oct. 25, edition.
According to the rumors, "the Hamilton slot machine racket bosses don't like the idea of a Middletown slotter ring chiseling in on this profitable territory. So, with the assistance of a gang (reputedly recruited outside of Hamilton), the local outfit has started 'lifting' the foreign machines from local spots."
"Meanwhile, in other locations Tuesday night," the newspaper said, "the click and whir of slotters digging into pockets of players was heard from behind partitions in stores, cafes and other locations in various sections of the city."
The war resumed that night when six young men barged into what the Journal-News described as a "policy den" on South Fourth Street "during the height of the policy drawing," a version of the lottery legalized by the state in the 1970s.
Two slot machines -- one nickel and one dime -- were hauled away in a small truck. "But is there a police report about it?" the newspaper asked. "No, nary a scrap of paper," it said, in answering its own question. "Information, as in other instances, has to come from other sources."
The presence of slot machines in Hamilton had been spotlighted earlier in the month in hearings before the Ohio liquor control board in Columbus. In those hearing, seven Hamilton cafe operators entered guilty pleas to charges of having slot machines, a violation of their state liquor licenses. But the board learned little about who controlled the machines in Hamilton in the hearings. "Who put the slot machines in your place?" asked a member of the liquor board. "I don't know who he was," replied the owner of a South Third Street cafe.
Also in October 1939, the liquor board warned Hamilton and 18 other Ohio cities that if anti-gambling laws were not enforced, the state would deny shares of license fees to the municipalities. Hamilton's loss would be about $35,000 to $40,000 a year.
The board said evidence introduced in its hearings revealed "that numerous permit holders" in Hamilton "have been allowed to display and exhibit gambling devices in their premises." The letter said the board "is of the opinion that there is a refusal and culpable neglect on the part of the police and other officers" in Hamilton "to enforce the provisions of the gambling statutes of Ohio."
The liquor board's warning brought varied reactions from council members.
"The operation of slot machines and numbers racket has been a growing contention and evil in our city for several years," said Mayor Raymond H. Burke. "During this time there has been a majority in council that were of the opinion that gambling of this nature should be tolerated, and that a majority of the people were in favor of conditions as they have existed." Burke said he was in the minority who believed there should be "vigorous enforcement of the gambling laws."
But another councilman charged "the state is meddling too much."
The slot machine war apparently continued into the next year -- and not just in Hamilton. At 8:30 Friday evening, Jan. 12, 1940, the Journal-News said "guns flashed in Millville . . . when a six-man gang terrorized the operator of a gasoline filling station, and staged a carefully planned raid," taking a nickel slot machine and its $10 to $12 in coins.
"The plot was simple," the newspaper said. The slot machine was the objective, it explained, because the gang "ignored the cash register and did not search the four men who nervously watched the armed intruders, who were not masked."
# # #
Journal-News, Wednesday, Jan. 12, 1994
165,770 watched Hamilton-Middletown basketball series in Cincinnati Gardens
By Jim Blount
There have been an unusual number of empty seats in the Hamilton High School gymnasium this basketball season as a young, inexperienced team takes its knocks. But tickets may be at a premium Friday night, Jan. 19, when Coach John Smith's Big Blue plays Middletown at home.
The rivalry has featured quality teams, hard-fought games and frequent upsets. The series also has attracted attention for its crowds -- especially those who watched 20 games at Cincinnati Gardens during the decade of the 1950s. Those contests were witnessed by some of the largest crowds to see regular-season high school games.
Attendance totaled 165,770, an average of 8,289 per game, and 24,035 watched the two games in 1958, the conclusion of the Jerry Lucas era at Middletown.
Six games drew more than 10,000 people, topped by 13,649 Jan. 17, 1958, and 13,167 Feb. 10, 1956. Only four games were under 5,000, including 3,958 and 4,357 for the final contests in 1959, and 4,738 and 4,937 in 1955 when both teams had less than spectacular records.
Actually, the crowds were larger because the announced paid attendance didn't include about 1,000 students from the home team admitted on season activity tickets.
The games usually strained area bus companies as students and boosters filled between 30 and 40 chartered coaches, and traffic was slow on Ohio 4 and U. S. 25 and later I-75 between Cincinnati and the Butler County cities.
"This week brings a sports happening that we had thought impossible -- a Hamilton-Middletown basketball game with seats enough for everyone who wants to see the game," wrote Journal-News Sports Editor Bill Moeller in January 1950 as the first Gardens match approached.
"We have seen this rivalry grow and grow and grow," Moeller said. "First, it outgrew the gyms at the two schools, then Withrow Court at Miami University, and finally Xavier Fieldhouse. Now it has found a home big enough to accommodate all who want to see the game -- Cincinnati Gardens with its 12,000 seats.
"For years, we've spent many hours in the week before Hamilton-Middletown games answering calls from friends asking if we couldn't possibly get them a couple of tickets. This year there will be no calls - plenty of tickets are available to the public," said Moeller, who started covering the rivalry in the late 1930s.
In the 13 seasons preceding the first Gardens game, the teams had won five state championships, the Big Blue in 1937 and 1949, and the Middies in 1944, 1946 and 1947. Before the 20-game Gardens series ended, the rivals would capture five more Ohio crowns, Hamilton in 1954, and the Middies in 1952, 1953, 1956 and 1957. Several times, the teams entered the game rated 1-2 in the weekly Associated Press Ohio high school poll.
Middletown won 13 out of the 20 games, including 10 straight, but both teams captured games they weren't supposed to win. Five times the margin was less than five points; seven times it exceeded 10 points.
But the series featured more than basketball. The size of the arena enabled both schools to bring their bands, and later Hamilton's uniformed "Famous 100" cheering section and its Middletown counterpart added to the color and noise. Hamilton home games included half-time performances by the crowd-pleasing Big Blue Flip Twisters, a gymnastic team coached by Jim Grimm and later by Mike Naddeo.
Ticket prices ranged from $1 to $1.50. When 13,649 saw a 1958 game, the Journal-News said each school would realize about $5,300." Proceeds were split equally after expenses were covered and the Gardens was paid $1,500, plus 25 percent of the ticket income. The Gardens also retained parking and concession profits and TV income. The first game, Jan. 20, 1950, was televised by WKRC-TV, Channel 12, with Armco as the sponsor.
More details on the Gardens series will be covered in following columns.
# # #
Journal-News, Wednesday, Jan. 19, 1994
Big Blue dominated Middletown in early encounters in Gardens
By Jim Blount
Hamilton dominated the early years of its 10-year high school basketball series against Middletown at Cincinnati Gardens. By the end of the 1959 season, attendance for the 20 contests totaled 165,770 people, an average of 8,289, and included six crowds exceeding 10,000 people.
The Gardens series ended after the February 1959 game. Old Hamilton High closed in June, and Garfield and Taft high schools opened in September that year.
Coach Warren Scholler's Big Blue was the defending state champion and had a 10-1 won-lost record entering the inaugural Gardens game Friday, Jan. 20, 1950, against Coach Paul Walker's Middies, who were having an off year with a 4-6 record. A few days earlier, Hamilton had slipped from No. 1 to second in the Associated Press state rankings after a last-second 52-51 loss to Portsmouth.
In the starting lineups that night were Don Nuxhall, Lowell Kigar, Pappy Smith, Joe Okruhlica and Moody Baker for Hamilton, and Dick Coddington, Tom Hyde, Eddie Merchant, Jess Mayabb and Ollie Oglesby for the Middies.
Claude "Cat" Neeley came off the bench to score 10 points, including six in the last three minutes, to lead the Big Blue to a 44-37 victory. Smith led Hamilton with 12 points. For the Middies, Merchant had 11 points and Mayabb 10.
The paid attendance of 5,318 made "it the largest crowd ever to see the Butler County rivals battle on the hardwood," said Bill Moeller, Journal-News sports editor. "The game was in the best tradition of the Hamilton-Middletown series -- close and hard fought all the way with neither team conceding a thing," Moeller said.
The Big Blue entered the second game Thursday, Feb. 16, with a 15-2 record, both one-point losses, while underdog Middletown was 8-8. Mayabb, Hyde and Merchant with 14, 12 and 11 points, respectively, led the Middies to a 51-44 upset while Smith and Neeley had 12 and 11 for Hamilton. The announced attendance of 5,672 didn't include, as usual in the series, about 1,000 HHS students admitted on activity tickets. Springfield, a member of the same league, won the state 1950 title after defeating Hamilton, 44-42, in the regional final.
The Friday, Jan. 19, 1951, showdown featured the Middies, winners of 11 straight and No. 1 in the state, and Hamilton, beaten only once in 11 games and No. 2 in the rankings, before a crowd of 8,198 people. The Big Blue won, 59-50, thanks to 17 points from Claude Neeley and 10 by Dip King while Dick Vice led the Middies with 16.
No. 1-rated Hamilton (16-1) won its 14th straight in beating the fourth-ranked Middies, 57-44, Friday, Feb. 16, 1951. before 6,831 fans. Dip King (14) and Phil Lillard (13) paced the Big Blue; Eddie Merchant (16) and Cliff Hafer (14) the Middies. Later, Hamilton was runner-up to Columbus East in the 1951 Class A state tournament.
The AP's Fritz Howell said "a game worthy of the Class A high school basketball championship finals pops up Friday night in the Cincinnati Gardens" in previewing the Jan. 18, 1952, matchup of unbeaten teams, Hamilton 11-0 and Middletown 10-0.
Entering the game, Coach Paul Walker's Middies had lost six out of seven to Warren Scholler-coached Hamilton teams, including a regional tournament setback in 1949 and three of the four previous games at the Cincinnati Gardens.
The Middies won easily, 66-49, before 9,185, then a record for a regular season Ohio high school game. Cliff Hafer scored 29 and Don Barnette 20 for the winners. Don Nuxhall, with 13, was the only Big Blue player in double figures. The attendance exceeded 1952's top-drawing college games at the Gardens, Cincinnati vs. Xavier and XU vs. Kentucky.
The 16-0, No. 1-rated Middies were favored over the 16-1, No. 2-ranked Big Blue when they met Friday, Feb. 15, 1952, but Hamilton won, 57-48, before a record crowd of 11,762. Phil Lillard with 21 and Don Nuxhall 15 were top HHS scorers. Cliff Hafer with 12 and Dick Vice with 11 led the Middies, who went on to win the 1952 Ohio championship.
The four-part series on the Hamilton-Middletown series at the Cincinnati Gardens will continue next week.
# # #
Journal-News, Wednesday, Jan. 26, 1994
Only 32 points difference in six games in Gardens series from 1953 through 1955
By Jim Blount
Close games were the rule in the middle years of the Hamilton-Middletown basketball series at Cincinnati Gardens. The six games from 1953 through 1955 were decided by a total of 32 points, including three determined by no more than four points and two in which the margin was six points. Each school also won a state championship during the period.
Hamilton took a 5-2 lead in the Gardens high school series Thursday, Jan. 15, 1953, before a paid attendance of 7,870 people. The Big Blue upset the unbeaten (10-0) defending state champs, 66-63, in a game which John P. Heinz of the Journal-News said "will go down in history as one of the most spectacular and thrilling performances ever turned in by a Hamilton team." Before that three-point contest, the closest Gardens margin had been seven points.
Alex "Boo" Ellis (21), Gary "Skeeter" Winkler (16) and Fred Weinman (10) led Hamilton scorers while Cliff Hafer had 22 and Tom Dillman 20 for Middies. Despite the outcome, Middletown was No. 1 and Hamilton No. 2 in Associated Press Ohio rankings the following week.
Middletown won the return match, 80-71, Friday, Feb. 13, before 10,381 fans with Tom Dillman (27), Owen Lawson (21), Eric Back (15) and Cliff Hafer (11) in double figures for the winners. Top scorers for Hamilton were Alex Ellis (18), Fred Weinman (12), Gary Winkler (11) and reserve Pappy Henderson (10).
Dayton Stivers (16-1) was No. 1 in final AP poll, the Middies (16-2) second and Hamilton (14-5) ninth. Middletown won the 1953 state tournament.
The teams also split the 1954 meetings with Hamilton taking the Friday, Jan. 15, game, 74-70, as 7,420 watched. HHS (10-1 before the game) trailed the Middies (8-1) most of the way, including 15-point deficits.
The Big Blue didn't lead until the final 1:15 when a basket by Alex Ellis, who had 22 points, made it 71-70. John Bercaw added 14 and John Rodgers 12 for the Blue. Middie scoring leaders were Eric Back (22), Ron Stokley (20) and Owen Lawson (15).
Middletown bounced back Friday, Feb. 19, to win 81-75 before 11,864 people, then a record for regular-season game and second only to 12,956 for the 1953 state final between the Middies and Newark. Middletown's Owen Lawson amassed 32 points, hitting 13 out of 17 field goal attempts and six of seven at the foul line, while Eric Back and Ron Stokley each added 10. Alex Ellis led the Big Blue with 19 with Johnny Rodgers contributing 15 and John Bercaw 14. Hamilton won the 1954 state championship, which was decided in Cleveland.
Attendance was under 5,000 for both 1955 contests, thanks to lackluster records for both teams. The Middies were 6-5 and HHS 4-5 going into the Friday, Jan. 14, meeting, won by Middletown, 68-62. Bad driving conditions helped limit the crowd to 4,738 people.
High scorers were Ron Dykes (19) and Denzil Ratliff (13) for the winners, and Gary "Spud" Hornsby (17) and Doug Rodgers (16) for Hamilton. Rodgers' total included 12 out of 14 at the free throw line.
The Middies also won the second game, 58-54, played Friday, Feb. 18, before 4,937 fans. Denzil Ratliff and Chuck Watkins both tallied 14 points for the Middies while Ron Dykes had 13 and Paul Howard 11. For Hamilton, Spud Hornsby scored 25 and Doug Rodgers 15.
Neither team made it to the 1955 state finals, which were played in Cincinnati Gardens. Instead, Zanesville beat Cincinnati Hughes in the title game.
This four-part series on the 10-year, 20-game Hamilton-Middletown series at the Cincinnati Gardens will conclude next week.
# # #