By Dan Hervey, Post 24 Adjutant
Following WWII American Legion posts were thriving, and competition was keen in bowling, softball, basketball and shooting sports. Teams moved through the local and state levels to advance to the national championships. In 1949 McPherson, Kan., Post 24 won the national championship in basketball. The last surviving member of that team, Carl Kasey, was recently honored at a dinner held at Post 24.
The event was emceed by Steve Sell, longtime local sportscaster, with Kasey as the featured speaker. Kasey related his story as a youngster to present time which took awhile since he is still very active at 94. Living five miles out in the country didn’t allow him to play sports in high school, but he loved to run whereever he went and, “if he could jump the fences rather than open gates, then that is what he did.” In 1940 he graduated high school and enrolled in McPherson College, where he decided to try out for the basketball team as a “walk on” during his junior year. In 1942, with WWII raging, he decided to enlist in the Navy in a program that would lead to a commission. As an ensign stationed at Waipio Amphibious Operating Base just outside Pearl Harbor, he was asked to be a player/coach for their basketball team as they had to have an officer to coach. They beat all the other base teams they played.
As a Lt. Junior Grade, Kasey returned to McPherson in 1946 following the war and picked up where he left off again playing basketball. After graduation he played for the local VFW team which lost a shot at the national finals by losing in the semifinals. In 1949 he was on the American Legion Post 24 team that defeated another McPherson County post for the state championship and headed to Beaver Falls, Pa., for the national tournament. Kasey was humorous as he told about their trip in two old borrowed cars. They stopped in Emporia, Kan., to eat and the governor of Kansas happened to be there and wished them well since they were representing the state. Their hotels were another story. Some without hot water, one with bugs all over the walls, and one with coal dust everywhere. “You couldn’t touch anything without getting dirty,” Kasey said.
After winning the American Legion National Championship, they were awarded two trophies and each team member received a jacket. Kasey was awarded the Sportsmanship Award for the tournament. Along with winning came the responsibility of hosting the 1950 National Basketball Championship in McPherson. Unfortunately, Post 24 lost in the quarterfinals.
Kasey went on to play on an industrial league. In 1951 they won the Missouri Valley AAU Tournament in Denver and returned several more years. In 1962, at the age of 40, Kasey was inducted into the Missouri Valley AAU Basketball Hall of Fame primarily because he had competed in their tournament 12 consecutive years.
Kasey retired as a schoolteacher, but hasn’t slowed down. As a member of the Post 24 Honor Guard he has helped with military honors over 200 times. He delivers Meals on Wheels, volunteers at the Save ‘n Share Thrift Store, volunteers at the Legion for most projects, and is active in the Noon Kiwanis Club.
Photos by Cliff Van Horn