A 60-foot shot 60 years ago


Former Journal reporter recalls glory time for Clinton basketball

What a shot! As the last second ticked off the clock, Bryan Williams’ 65-foot shot flew through the air and came down cleanly through the hoop to end one of the most incredible seasons in Clinton High School sports history.

That was March 14, 1961, 60 years ago.

I remember it as if the game were played last night. The Clinton Maroons’ boys basketball team had won 28 games going into that contest (still a school record) and had lost only two, and the team had climbed securely into the Associated Press Top 10 ranking of Illinois state boys basketball teams for that year.

This was still in the era when all high school teams played for a single championship; it was not until 1972 that schools were separated into two divisions and 2008 into four divisions. The team had won the Pontiac Holiday Tournament and then marched through the regionals (winning by 23, 16, and 17 points) and the sectionals (by 40 and 13 point margins) to reach the Sweet 16 for only the second time in school history.  Their conservative coach, Elmer Hunter, quietly and cautiously said, “We could go all the way.”

It was a remarkable season. Remember, this was prior to the three-point shot. Clinton scored 100 points twice, over 90 points five other times and over 80 points in another 12 games. Bill McKeown scored 832 points all by himself, which is still the best in Maroon history by 163 points. The rest of the starting five - Steve Helm, Tom Steward, John May, and Ron Hartsock - joined him to play the bulk of the minutes, and each played a key role.

Clinton led in the Sweet 16 game by 14 points part way through the fourth quarter. With 10 seconds to go, Clinton’s lead was down to three.  Williams hit a 35-footer to drop the lead to one.

With 3 seconds left, the Maroons missed two free throws. A Danville Schlarman player grabbed the rebound, paused briefly, then tossed it to Williams, who took two dribbles before he hurled the ball nearly the length of the court.

The article, shown above, appeared in the Clinton Daily Journal and Public the following morning.

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