Tournament Time Is a Reminder of North Canton's 1939 High School Basketball Glory

Coach Ray Swope was instrumental in Hoover High's successful run to a state title

This weekend, new Ohio high school boys' basketball champions will be crowned in Columbus. In 1939, All-Ohioan Roy Mohler's free throw in the final two minutes led North Canton High School to a 24-23 win over Sandusky St. Mary and the Class B State Championship and NoCaHi's place in Ohio high school basketball immortality.

North Canton's 1938-39 season got off to a disappointing 1-4 start.  There are often defining moments in the course of a team's season, and for Coach Ray Swope and his team, theirs came on Monday following the last loss.

Swope's son Ray "Bud" Swope Jr. recounted that night of practice at the high school gym on Charlotte Street when the team was instructed not to suit up.

"Dad told the team that he saw the potential of what the team could do in the one game they won," Swope said. "He sent them home to think about whether they wanted to take it seriously, work hard and get back to winning."

"Nobody quit and turned in their uniforms," Swope added. "They all showed up early the next night and went back to work."

Swope's team would win the next 22 games that season, including a state semifinal win over Monroe and the state title game over Sandusky St. Mary. North Canton's winning streak reached 45 games before losing in tournament play the following season. Swope coached basketball at North Canton for a total of seven years with a career record of 110-43.

After moving to Greenville, OH, to coach basketball and football from 1942 to 1949, Swope returned to North Canton to finish his teaching and coaching career. Swope finished his basketball coaching career with a two-year stint at . Swope passed away in 1984.

Swope's son Bud witnessed first-hand as a student in his dad's class his tremendous impact on the students.

"He taught American government to the seniors and literally taught everyone coming through who graduated from North Canton High School and later ," Swope said. "Dad was the reason I graduated."

"He had stern conversations with students who were struggling in school and even gave them special projects to make sure they were motivated to graduate," Swope added.

According to Bud, the elder Swope was instrumental in the creation of the Vikings nickname and orange and black school colors.

"In 1940, Dad led a contest to create a school nickname," Swope said. "He wrote all the nominations on the blackboard but he wrote 'Vikings' in big letters to send the message that the choice he wanted was the one that represented tough and resourceful." 

Swope had a 10-player roster for state tournament play that 1938-39 season. His squad consisted of Roy Mohler, Ben Swarner, Charles Murphy, Sterling Pollock, Joe Peters, Junior Sponseller, Bill Ashbaugh, Bob Ginther, Jim Sponseller and Bill Lowther.

A banner hangs in the current Hoover basketball gym today recognizing Swope and his 1939 state champions.  When Jackson won a state title last season, they were the first non-Canton City Schools team from Stark County to win a state basketball title since North Canton 71 years ago.

What seemed like an impossible dream at that Monday practice early in the 1938-39 season, became a dream come true and makes for fond memories especially this month each year.


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