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Retro Baltimore

Retro: A century ago, Loyola High’s basketball team went undefeated

Basketball was still catching on in 1922 when Baltimore produced a juggernaut, an undefeated high school team that rolled to 19 victories. Thirty years after the game’s invention, Loyola High School, now Loyola Blakefield, was routing opponents by unheard of scores and earning fame as a power of the day.

A century ago, the Dons opened with a 58-7 win over Gilman and finished by defeating City College, 30-3, holding the losers without a basket in the city championship at the Fourth Regiment Armory. All told that year, Loyola outscored rivals by 918-206, including a lopsided 162-4 beating of The Park School, a game that made national headlines.

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Led by Jim Lacy, a barrel-chested, 6-foot forward with a keen eye and a booming voice, Loyola swept through the season under the tutelage of coach Bill Schuerholz in their gym at the Calvert Street school. It was, by all accounts, an unusual venue, with four poles stationed in the playing area, floor to ceiling, to help hold the building up.

With four senior starters, much was expected of Loyola, whose tallest player, Jack Cummings, stood 6-foot-2, a beanpole for the times. Then, regulations called for a center jump after every basket, and Cummings dominated play, tipping the ball to teammates who’d race down the floor to score.

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The coach’s rules were rudimentary, at best. Don’t stand still after passing ball to another man. Advance up floor to assist him, reads a wrinkled note written in Schuerholz’s hand. The team took heed and thundered on, defeating Severn, 50-4; the Navy Plebes, 74-11; and Poly, by the relatively tame score of 36-20.

Twenty years later, in 1942, Schuerholz paid homage to his undefeated squad.

“That outfit certainly was the best,” he said. “That team had more scoring power, spirit and all-around ability than any of the high schools teams I coached.”

Loyola’s starting five was a close-knit bunch, most of whom grew up around Patterson Park. Besides Lacy and Cummings, there was Ray Helfrich, whose nickname, “Shorty,” belied his position as forward on the court; and guards Rob “Doc” Lyon, whose family ran a neighborhood pharmacy, and Jack Menton, whose brother, Paul, became sports editor of the Baltimore Evening Sun.

Their seminal win came on Feb. 10, at home, in the 162-4 victory over Park. The losers must have seen it coming: three days earlier, Loyola had thrashed Park, 67-1, on the latter’s court. In the big blowout, Lacy scored 74 points, then a Maryland schoolboy record.

Years later, Lacy got razzed about the one-sided game.

“My grandfather took a lot of heat about the score,” recalled Mark Fetting, 67. “His sons would zing him on that, but [Lacy] stood tall. ‘A record’s a record,’ he’d say.

“My grandfather was an extremely proud man and one of many accomplishments [including a stint as Maryland state comptroller], but that season was at the top of the list — the team, the record and the friendships.”

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All five players went on to what was then Loyola College, though Lacy dropped out his sophomore year, when his father died, to take charge of the family’s iron foundry. Years later, the gang would gather at Lacy’s home on Fenchurch Road in Baltimore.

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“They’d convene on the porch, drink beer and relive the days of the ‘22 team,” Fetting said. “My grandmother would say, ‘The best thing to do is to keep them out there.’ “

That year was dear by all who took part. News clippings and other keepsakes survive in a scrapbook assembled by Cummings and passed on to his son, Jack Jr.

“My father made me swear to never let that scrapbook out of my hands,” said Cummings, 83. “According to him, you couldn’t put a value on it.”

His dad spoke often of Loyola’s perfect season, Cummings said, so much so that “my mother would roll her eyes and say, ‘That team will never die.’ Right now, she’s looking down on me talking about it and saying, ‘I was right. That team will never die.’ ”

The players would suit up one more time.

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On March 27, 1950, a team of alumni took on the varsity to celebrate the opening of the new gym at Loyola Blakefield in Towson. Lacy did his part, the Sun reported, “sinking a peg shot from near mid-floor.”

Three months later, at age 46, he died of a heart attack. But he lived long enough to see his son, Jim Jr., star at Loyola College and become the first player in NCAA history to score more than 2,000 career points (2,199), a school mark that still stands.


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