Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Echo cagers return from championship to empty town

The Echo High School boys basketball team emerged victorious in the Oregon State Class B basketball championships on March 14, 1953, beating the Elgin Huskies 67-42 in front of a huge home crowd at Willamette University. So many Echo residents attended the game that when the basketball team rolled back into town Sunday afternoon, the only people there to greet them were a handful of babysitters and Coach George DeLap’s wife.

The coach estimated between 400 and 500 people from Echo (population 457 in the 1950 census) and the surrounding area traveled to Salem to watch the tournament. Echo Mayor Al Swales said the town was as proud as it could be of the team, and related a conversation he overheard at the tournament. One man asked, “Where is this Echo?” A bystander replied, “Three fourths of it is in Salem now.”

The victorious teammates had played basketball together since they were in grade school, except for latecomer Jim Tolan. Bud Graham, Leward Collinsworth and Gary Dorn earned a place on the all-state first team. And Collinsworth was named tourney high scorer with 56 points, 21 of which were scored in the Saturday championship game.

The Echo squad won each game of the tournament decisively, beating Drain 58-42 and Chiloquin 57-36 on the way to the title game, capping their season with 30 consecutive wins. In the final tilt, DeLap pulled the first-stringers in the fourth quarter when the Cougars’ lead was 20 points with a minute to go; the second string widened the lead by 5.

At the end of the game, the team hoisted Coach DeLap on their shoulders, and Echo residents flooded the court in celebration of the first state championship in Umatilla County since Pilot Rock’s six-man football team landed on top of the heap in 1951.

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