The First 100

The team that earned a trip to the NIT in New York City in 1939. Seated in front are the "Five Smart Boys."

The team that earned a trip to the NIT in New York City in 1939. Seated in front are the "Five Smart Boys."

Roanoke College celebrates a century of basketball.

From the Roanoke College Magazine, Issue Three, 2012. View the entire Roanoke Magazine online.

When the Roanoke College basketball game against Swarthmore College tipped off on Nov. 16, it was more than just another opening day. The game in Philadelphia marked the beginning of the 100th anniversary of basketball at Roanoke College.

James Naismith invented the game of basketball in 1891 and it took Roanoke only 20 years to add it to the sports curriculum. While College histories say basketball began in the 1910-11 season, basketball did not make its official debut at Roanoke until the 1911-12 season. The first official Roanoke College basketball game was played on Jan. 8, 1912 in a new gym, where the Colket Center now stands. The Maroons, as they were known for the color of their uniforms, defeated Randolph-Macon Academy, 27-13, and went on to a winning season of 5-2.

The team has come a long way in the 100 years since with more than 1,300 wins, a trip to New York to play in the National Invitational Tournament (NIT) and an NCAA College Division national championship. Without question, the Roanoke College basketball program has a storied tradition as it heads into its second century of competition.

"I've spent the better part of my life associated with Roanoke College and the basketball program here," said Maroons coach Page Moir. "From being a ball boy on the end of my dad's bench in the early '70s, to a year as an assistant under a great friend, Ed Green, to having the honor of coaching some of the greatest young people in the world."

Moir is the winningest coach in both Roanoke College and Old Dominion Athletic Conference (ODAC) history. That's saying something. Roanoke has had just 10 coaches over the past 100 years, including legendary names like Guy "Pinky" Spruhan, Gordon "Pap" White, J.S. "Buddy" Hackman, Page Moir's dad Charlie, who coached the Maroons to the 1972 national title, and Green, whose all-time RC wins record Page surpassed. 

It was White's teams that first put RC basketball on the map. A new gym, the current Alumni Gymnasium, was built in 1930 and still stands 82 years later. "Pop" came the following year and ushered in a golden era for RC basketball. White recruited the "Five Smart Boys," who will forever be remembered for their accomplishments on the hardwood. In 1939, the team of Paul Rice, Johnny Wagner, Bob Sheffield, Gene Studebaker and Bob Lieb earned a trip to the NIT in New York City and finished the season with a 21-3 record.

That team would long be considered the best ever at RC, even though the Maroons were perennial winners on the court through the '50s and '60s. But not until Charlie Moir came to Salem in 1967 did the Maroons return to national prominence. Moir recruited Charlottesville's Frankie Allen '71 and the team took off. Roanoke was now playing at the recently built Salem Civic Center, drawing crowds of over 3,000 fans a game, and Allen was rewriting the record book at RC.

In his four years on the team Allen set records that haven't been broken in the 40-some years since. He scored 2,780 points and grabbed 1,758 rebounds, records no one has come close to equaling. Allen still holds 18 individual records and played on four winning teams with an overall record of 82-34.

"I owe a great indebtedness to RC and the many people who helped and mentored me," said Allen, who is currently the head coach for the men's basketball team at the University of Maryland-Eastern Shore. "Despite all of my scoring and rebounding records, graduation day in May of 1971 is my single greatest achievement at RC."

Ironically, it was the year after Allen graduated that Roanoke won the NCAA College Division national championship. A team led by Salem native Hal Johnston '72 stunned the College Division ranks as Roanoke went on a second half run that saw the Maroons win their final 11 regular season games. Roanoke then won the Mason-Dixon Conference Tournament and earned a trip to the NCAA National Tournament. The Maroons won two games at the just-completed Roanoke Civic Center to win the South Atlantic Regional and continued their success in Evansville, Ind., winning three games to take the national championship.

Johnston was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player and earned All-American honors. He is still a member of the RC community in the Admissions Department, where he routinely takes prospects past his retired number 22 jersey but, humbly, declines to point it out.

After Charlie Moir left Salem the team had a few down years in the late 1970s, but the hiring of Ed Green soon had Roanoke College back on top. Green brought in the "Four Horsemen" of Ken Belton '81, Bruce Hembrick '81, Mike Styles '81 and Mike Baker '81 and that started another era of success for Roanoke in Division III. A new gym, the C. Homer Bast Center, was built in 1982 and a year later, in the spring of 1983, Roanoke was back in the national tournament, this time in Grand Rapids, Mich. The Maroons finished third, and RC Hall of Famer Gerald Holmes '83 was a key member of that team. Like Allen, he remembers the school experience as much as the victories.

"As the first in my family to attend college, basketball was the vehicle and means to get in the door," said Holmes. "The valuable lessons learned as I navigated the trials and tribulations of college life were much more significant than the accolades and accomplishments received for basketball success."

- Brian Hoffman '74

Released: December 7, 2012