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Who really won?

1959 Bluffton vs Lafayette - 64 seasons ago this month

a one-point game became an enormous argument


It happened one night

A barn explosion, rather than a barn-burner describes this game 64 basketball seasons ago in the packed old Bluffton High School gym, featuring the LaFayette Wolves versus the BHS Pirates

The late Charles Hilty describes the game, from his seat on the gym stage as the official scorekeeper. This story is reprinted from “Bluffton Anthology: A Creeks Runs Through It.” The book is available at the Bluffton Senior Citizens Center and The Black Lab.

By Charles Hilty Who won the 1959 Bluffton-Lafayette boys’ basketball game? The scoreboard (after some hesitation) said Bluffton did 61-60, but the referees couldn't decide.

One person who held a positive opinion from start to finish was Lafayette coach Bob Harter, who said Lafayette won 60-59.

The whole, roaring argument could have been avoided if Bluffton's Buck Schifke hadn't been lucky. Lafayette led 60-59 when Schifke grabbed the ball after a tipoff and heaved it towards the basket before or after (pick one) the final buzzer sounded.

The ball went through and the argument began. Referees, coaches, players and fans swarmed over the timer's table, demanding an official verdict. The timer said the shot was good, an opinion which was instantly unpopular with at least half the house.

Three-minute argument

While the three-minute argument went on, the scoreboard still read 60-59, Lafayette, and when the final score was marked up this drew an equally loud response from the supporters of the officials. "That game has always been with me for all the rest of my life,"

Buck Schifke said this month when asked to recall that night. "The first thing I remember is Denny Smith, and you remember what a chunky kid he was, jumping out of the stand and grabbing me.

He just about squoze [sic] all the breath out of me. My mom and dad were right behind him." Jim Heffner, who started for Lafayette that night and later became a high school teaching partner and good friend of Buck, says "I've called him Lucky Shot or Cheap Shot ever since we discovered that we were in that game together."

Like Buck Schifke, 50 years after the game-ending drama and post-game confusion, that game has always been with me. I was the official scorer that night so I was at the center of the official melee, although safely removed from the melee on the floor.

Both teams had taken the lead several times before it was tied at 52 in the middle of the fourth quarter. Bluffton then surged to a 58-52 lead before Lafayette came back to retake the lead at 60-58.

Ramon Lewis, Bluffton's best player, made one free throw but missed the second, leaving Lafayette in the lead in the closing half minute. Two opposing players tied up a loose ball in Bluffton's front court with five seconds or less remaining in the game. A jump ball was called. As soon as the tipoff was controlled by Bluffton it was obvious that a last-second shot would be taken.

This led to the desperate heave that hit "nothing but net" and that led to the disputed decision, the long delay and the crowds of elated or angry fans on the floor.

Immediately as Buck Schifke controlled the ball after the tipoff I had begun to chant swiftly in my head... "the ball is in his hand... in his hand... in his hand..." just as I'd been taught by Bob Ewing, the long-time Bluffton faculty manager and my scorekeeping mentor since I first became an official scorebook keeper while a high school junior eight years before the exciting night.

"When you're close to the buzzer," Mr. Ewing had coached me from the start, "you start saying 'the ball is in his hand, in his hand, in his hand, in his hand' and as soon as he shoots you say to yourself "it's in the air in the air in the air." If the buzzer sounds when you're still saying 'hand' the shot is no good. If you've said 'air', the shot is good." It was simple practical advice.

It worked perfectly when needed several times during the intervening eight years. That night I was saying "hand" when the buzzer sounded, just before I would have switched to "in the air." As Buck's mid court heave – it could hardly be called a shot – swished perfectly through the net the referee nearer to the spot made an emphatic downward sweep of his arm to indicate that the shot was good.

The referee has the first call but the official scorer's call should be final in so close a dispute. First I turned to Tom Goulden, who was running the time clock that night. He nodded yes. I'd seen the referee's emphatic gesture, I'd seen Tom's nod. Even though I'd been saying "in his hand" when I heard the buzzer, I nodded.

Then we saw the same referee whose emphatic gesture had led me to believe that the shot was good was staring at the scorer's table with a very quizzical look on his face.

Clearly, he was asking for an opinion. He'd only indicated that the shot had been made. He needed to know whether it had been timely.

Even though I'd been saying 'hand' just as the buzzer sounded, I was confused by his first gesture and by the less experienced timekeeper's nod, even though my method had told me that the shot was taken fractions of a second late.

Scoreboard posted 61-60 and the outrage began

Then I, too, nodded that the shot was good. The scoreboard posted 61-60 and the outrage began. The same referee who only two minutes before had gestured so strongly that the shot was good was angrily telling the scorer's table that "this is the biggest rip-off (not his exact words) I've ever seen."

Lafayette players who had lingered on the floor later reported that they were astonished to see one of their Sunday school teachers punch one referee in the stomach. "Lady, you shouldn't have done that," was his mild rebuke. (No one knows whether this forgiving response ever became part of her next Sunday school lesson).

That official scorer, miserably slow on the trigger and not strong enough in standing up for his first judgement that night, now issues the final verdict. Fifty years after the decision was made and the accompanying story was written: I should have fought for my original judgment made even before I was confused by the referee's strong gesture followed by his quizzical look.

The ball was in Buck's hand.

The shot was too late. Final score 60-59. Wolves Win!

Wolves Win! Sorry, Buck.

Bluffton Pirates – front from left, Don Deerhake, Dave Bash, George Burkholder, Dale (Buck) Schiffke, Kenny Logan.

Standing from left, David Little, Charles Baber, Ramon Lewis, Rudi Steiner, Larry Smucker, Joe Harris, coach.

LaFayette High School Wolves – front from left, John Mowen, Sam Hefner, Phil Stauffer, Bob Tuttle and Keith Hall.

Standing from left, Bob Harter, coach, William Westphal, Larry Schafer, Errol Plate, Carl Moyer, Art Holman, Dick Fleming, Mike Hefner, Denny Arnold, Bill Hall, Bill Putt and Bill Cook.


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