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During 75th anniversary season, Don Peterson recounts West York's first basketball title

Patrick Strohecker
York Dispatch
  • Seventy-five years ago, West York High School won its first boys' basketball title.
  • Don Peterson, who was a member of that team, is 92 years old now and lives in West Manchester Twp.
  • The 1942-43 West York boys' team fell in the District 3 Class B title game to Swatara Township.

For a 92-year-old man, Don Peterson still gets around pretty well.

Don Peterson, 92, was a member of the first West York High School county championship boys' basketball team in 1942-43. Monday, December 11, 2017. Peterson is second from the right in the front row of the team photo pictured here. John A. Pavoncello photo

When he walks for an extended period of time, he needs a walker to aid him. When he's just milling around his apartment at Normandie Ridge in West Manchester Township, however, Peterson does just fine without any assistance.

While he still seems spry for a man who was born  Sept. 5, 1925, he needs to make one thing clear — he can't run the fast break like he once could.

Peterson is long removed from his basketball playing days. It was a career that spanned a little more than 6 percent of his life, but one that served up plenty of memories.

As a student at West York High School, Peterson was part of history for the Bulldogs boys' basketball team. Despite the passage of time, Peterson is quick to make sure that his 1942-43 team isn't forgotten. That squad was the first championship team in program history, capturing the then-named York County League title.

This season marks the 75th anniversary of that achievement.

"There's been a lot of better teams at West York that have won bigger championships," Peterson said. "But, no matter what, we'll always be the first, and I take a lot of pride in that."

Don Peterson, 92, was a member of the first West York High School county championship boys' basketball team in 1942-43. Monday, December 11, 2017. This season is the 75th anniversary of that first championship team. John A. Pavoncello photo

Playing during WWII: Peterson was a senior on that squad and one of six players who played pretty much all of the available minutes.

Getting to that point in his basketball career, however, wasn't always a smooth ride. In fact, it started out ominously. He was cut from his seventh-grade team, along with two other members of the eventual-championship team, Ken Krout and Ed Miller.

By the time they reached their senior year, plenty had changed. They all became good enough to start for West York, with Peterson and Miller being named co-captains.

Meanwhile, the United States was embroiled in World War II, adding an unusual backdrop to the season.

With gas rationed to each family on a weekly basis and no team buses, getting to and from away games created a challenge. The parents of team members who saved up their gas for later in the week would volunteer to carpool the players to the games.

In one instance, to get to North York High School, Central York's predecessor, the Bulldogs had to take a public bus to Continental Square and then transfer onto another bus to get out to North York. They played the game and then took the reverse trip home.

At Dallastown, the team had to change in the basement of one building and then walk up to an old barn-like building where the court was located. During the winter, it got cold in there, and the only form of heating in the building was an old coal-fired stove that sat next to the court.

"Dallastown had a horrible team that year," Peterson said. "But, boy were they good at knocking you into that damn hot stove."

Don Peterson, 92, was a member of the first West York High School county championship boys' basketball team in 1942-43. Monday, December 11, 2017. John A. Pavoncello photo

League champs, district runners-up: During that time, the York County League was divided into three divisions — Northern, Central and Southern.

Over the course of the regular season, West York went 11-1, losing once to Red Lion, and won the Central Division. Manchester won the Northern Division, and Glen Rock took the Southern Division.

With the best record of the three division winners, the Bulldogs earned a bye into the league championship game, where they faced, and beat, Manchester.

The next step for West York was the district tournament. In those days, the PIAA classified schools by letters — A, B and C, with A being the biggest schools. The Bulldogs fell into Class B and went on to compete in the District 3 Class B playoffs.

After winning its first two games over Arendstville and Boiling Springs, West York went on to face Swatara Township (now Steelton-Highspire) in the title game. With only Class A having state playoffs, it was the final game of the season for the Bulldogs, win or lose.

Playing in Steelton, West York had a cold shooting day, especially from the free-throw line. The team shot just 2 of 11 from the foul line, which proved to be the difference in its 40-38 loss.

"That's kind of the bottom of the barrel when I look back on it," Peterson said with a laugh.

"I relive that game, oh God ..." he said before his voice trailed off.

Going their separate ways: After that game, the team's core players — Peterson, Miller, Krout, Dave and Herb Boyer and Art "Zeno" Lentz, went their separate ways.

Peterson and Krout enlisted in the Army Air Corps, while the others went into different military branches. Peterson worked as a radar mechanic in the Pacific, got engaged to his high-school sweetheart, Marilyn, in 1944 and  got married in 1945.

After the war was over, Peterson went to Gettysburg College, where he earned a degree in chemistry, putting it to use by working in the cement industry.

Peterson never played much basketball after that 1942-43 season and, because of the war, didn't really keep in touch with many of his teammates.

Don Peterson, 92, looks through an old scrapbook he's kept over the years of old newspaper clippings from the 1942-43 West York boys' basketball team he played on, the first championship team in program history. Monday, December 11, 2017. John A. Pavoncello photo

"We'll always be the first": Miller and both Boyer brothers have since died, while Krout is living in Walla Walla, Washington, and Lentz lives in Manchester Township.

Peterson is impressed at how the game has developed in the years since, from the size of the players — the tallest player on the 1942-43 team was 6-feet, 1-inch — down to the number of coaches on a staff.

Peterson hasn't been to a West York game in a few seasons and hasn't even seen a game in the new gym. That 1942-43 team was honored with a brick on the sidewalk outside the new gym, with the six players' names on it.

There have likely been better West York teams in the intervening 7½ decades.

The Bulldogs have lost in three other district finals since the 1942-43 season, including the following year. The program finally broke through and won its only district championship in 2006-07.

Seventy-five years later, and all but an afterthought to most, Peterson is still proud to be part of what that 1942-43 team accomplished. For however much longer he's around to tell the tale about that season, he will.

"I'm not trying to detract from what's going on in the world today," Peterson said, "but ... we'll always be the first West York championship team."

— Reach Patrick Strohecker at pstrohecker@yorkdispatch.com