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Fifty years ago, the Lake 1963 basketball team was in a similar situation as this year’s team.

In 1963, if Lake defeated perennial power Rossford, then the Flyers would be co-champions of the Northern Lakes League.

The ’63 team made good, downing Rossford, 64-46, in front of a packed house on the stage of the old Lake gymnasium and the Flyers and Bulldogs became league co-champs.

Lake1963-2
Lake1963-4
At top, the Lake 1963 basketball team celebrates their Northern Lakes League
championship with a cake at a house party in a photo provided by Coach
Richard Sanderson. Pictured left to right standing: Mike Jared, Mike Fox,
Frank DeFalco, Tim Eckel, Terry Carr, Sanderson, Dennis Asman, Pat Lutman,
Jim Colville, Bob Recker and Joe Mangum. Front: Max Wallet, Gail Smith,
Tim Eckel and Terry Carr. Front: Francis Lazarro, Sanderson, Athletic Director
Joe Omori, Coach Bob Filiere, Daniel "Pete" Taylor, Pat Lutman, and Coach
Gene Hodulik. (Press photo by Harold Hamilton/HEHphotos.lifepics.com)

Last week, that 1963 team was recognized at halftime of the 2013 Lake-Otsego boys’ game. That ’63 team got to watch this year’s team (18-2 overall, 10-2 in the Northern Buckeye Conference) soundly defeat league front-runner Otsego (17-2, 11-1) 67-51 to come to within one game of the Knights and remain hopeful for a co-championship.

The ’63 team finished 15-4 overall and 7-1 in the nine-team NLL. Rossford, which had a 12-game winning streak coming in, was always the team to beat. The Bulldog’s regular season margin of victory was 12 points per game.

“That was our big game,” Richard Sanderson, coach of the ’63 team, said. “I don’t know if it was misfortune or what you want to call it, but Elmwood had beaten us a couple weeks before in overtime, so we had to beat Rossford.

“We played them here, and I’m very proud of our team in that game. That was probably the most fun game for me as a coach.  I really did not have to do much coaching that game. Everything was set, the kids were motivated, and we beat them, 64-46. It was not a close game and everything fell in place.”
 
Six-foot-1 senior forward Frank DeFalco led Wood County’s Class AA schools in scoring, according to a Bowling Green Sentinel-Tribune chart, at 19 points per game and was a first team All-NLL selection.
 
“Frank DeFalco positioned himself to be a good rebounder, but naturally he had a nice, soft jump shot, which he did probably 70 percent of his total scoring, which was a lot of the offense,” Sanderson said.
 
DeFalco explained, “That was only because I had good players around me. They would focus on me and we would throw underneath to (6-2½ junior center) Frank Mihalik, so they couldn’t do a lot of things, so it gave a lot of opportunity for me to score from the outside. It was a good combination of kids and players.”
 
Sanderson added, “We ran a shuffle offense, and it was the 10, 12, 15 foot jumper that came out of the offense. We practiced the jump shot all the time. Tim Eckel was a little farther out with a different jump shot, and (5-10 sophomore starting guard) Pat Lutman was a great shooter, and Frank Mihalik had a good short jump shot — he was a big guy under the basket and got a lot of rebound shots.”
 
Eckel, a 6-2½ senior guard, was second team All-NLL and Mihalik was eighth in the county at 11.5 points. Three of the team’s members are in Lake’s Athletic Hall of Fame —DeFalco, Mihalik, and 6-1 junior center Mike Fox.
 
Other players listed on the varsity were seniors Jim Colville, Gail Smith, Terry Carr, Dennis Asman, Doug Rublaitus, Ed Sundermeier and juniors Dan Taylor and Mike Jared.
 
“First of all, the team had great chemistry,” said Sanderson. “From the very beginning at the opening day of practice, there was a sense of knowingness, a sense of camaraderie in the team, and they just projected that through the whole season. It didn’t make any difference whether it was practice sessions or games or competition.
 
“The other thing about the team was in the championship year, they had actually had a lot of depth. We were just about eight or nine from the previous team, so we had a lot of returning veterans. They just had a tremendous desire to compete and to win. They were highly motivated and nothing really bothered them or distracted them,” Sanderson continued.
 
DeFalco said the team did not have a lot of height, but had speed and could shoot lights out.
 
“We had a full court press from the get-go, and so we fast-broke a lot, we were always moving, we were always pressing, and so I think all of us were in pretty darn good shape to do that throughout the year,” DeFalco said.
 
“From that standpoint, we scored a lot of points and we ran a lot, and a lot of teams really couldn’t keep up with us. The pressure of bringing the ball up the court was hard for them, and we double-teamed a lot, so it was a different kind of play. I liked that fast play and we did well with that.
 
“I think we all shot well. I remember Pat Lutman here — he used to shoot those rainbow shots that almost hit the lights, I swear, and then they would come down and tear off the net, and he only made two points on those shots he made from the outside,” DeFalco continued.
 
“You don’t see kids hardly at all today shoot with that kind of arch on the ball. They were real high — really high. He would shoot from the top of the key and you’d think, ‘My God, is that ball ever coming down?’
 
“Tim Eckel was a guy who played really well underneath and Frank Mihalik — those guys contributed tremendously and they really handled the ball well. We were lucky. For us to become co-champions that year was pretty good, and playing the co-champions here was a pretty big thrill.”
 
Sanderson arrived at the reunion from his current home 50 miles north of Kalamazoo, Michigan. Eckel traveled from his home in Atlanta, and every player minus four was in attendance at the reunion, plus former coaches, managers, and even a cheerleader.
 
Coach Sanderson, who played basketball one year at Ohio Northern University, ran track two years at Bowling Green State University, and became a U.S. Air Force officer before spending 28 years in the Lake school system, said he knew right away the 1963 season was going to go well.
 
In a pre-season scrimmage with Scott, which had a front-line of 6-8, 6-6, and 6-4, the Flyers fared well.
 
“I don’t like to boast, but we handled them pretty easily. It was that Scott scrimmage that just set the tempo for the year,” Sanderson said.
 
It didn’t hurt that Lake had the stage to play on.
 
“I think the stage intimidated some people,” DeFalco said. “It was a smaller court and that was a big advantage and the crowd was right on top of you. We got used to that because we were quick enough and we were in shape so we could press the whole game.
 
“In some of the games we played, the crowd actually was around the stage part, too, and just jammed in there, so when it was like that these guys would come in here and say, ‘Boy, you know, it’s like the old place to play and you don’t want to go there to play.”

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