For years, whenever the subject of the best high school basketball teams in Illinois history is entertained, Marshall's unbeaten 1958 squad is always included among the top five--usually with Thornridge 1972, Quincy 1981, Collinsville 1961 and Taylorville 1944.
But Spin Salario, Marshall's coach, and George Wilson, the Commandos' three-time All-Stater, insist that the 1960 team was better than 1958.
"I think the 1960 team was better because of their outstanding defense and offense," Salario e-mailed to me from his home in Wheeling. "An interesting point: When we won in 1960, we were so far ahead in the championship game that I substituted my starters with at least five minutes to play.
"Jerry Holtzman of the Sun-Times made the comment: 'What is he doing? Marshall can break the all-time scoring record.' My answer was that I would never demean a coach by running up a score."
Marshall crushed Bridgeport 79-55 in the 1960 final, the most one-sided championship game up to that point. The Commandos led 63-39 after three quarters. In previous tournament games, they beat Elgin 71-55, Monmouth 55-35 and Decatur 74-62. In the Public League final, they overwhelmed Crane Tech 79-38.
The team was led by Wilson, then a 6-8 senior, high scoring junior guard Eddie Jakes, 6-7 Ed Franklin, Charlie Jones and Ken Moses. Jim Pitts and Don Jackson came off the bench.
"My 1960 team had three great outside shooters in Moses, Jones and Jakes to go along with a mature George Wilson and 6-7 Ed Franklin who was a great rebounder and defensive specialist," Salario said. "I also had a stronger bench than the 1958 team with Pitts and Jackson, who were 6-6 versatile forwards.
"I think you must add my past experience to the equation. The 1958 team had one average bench player, Jimmy Jones, who was 5-7 but a good role player with experience. Both Jakes and Wllson made the five-man all-tournament team in 1960 with George being voted MVP."
But Marshall's 1960 team lost two games. Marshall's 1958 team was 31-0 and gained celebrity by being the first Chicago Public League team and first all-black team to win the state championship. Marshall's 1960 team was 31-2, losing two games to Dunbar and Bernie Mills, the first game by 14 points and the second in overtime in the Illinois Tech tournament at Christmas.
"Dunbar was the best team in the city in 1960," Wilson said in a telephone interview from his home in Cincinnati. "But our 1960 team had more firepower than 1958. If you go by 12 guys, 1960 was a better team...more depth, more firepower, better defense, more athletic young men. It won the state title by the widest margin up to that point."
The more celebrated 1958 team was led by Wilson, M.C. Thompson, Bobby Jones, Steve Thomas and Tyrone Johnson. In the Public League final, they dispatched Dunbar 68-59. In the state tournament, they beat Elgin 63-43, Herrin 72-59, West Aurora 74-62 and Rock Falls 70-64.
"The 1958 team boasted three seniors who deserved more recognition--Bobby Jones and Steve Thomas, who scored in double figures, and M.C. Thompson, who made two critical baskets (in the state final) while George was sitting out with four fouls.
"In my estimation, the 1960 team was the best defensive team ever. This was due to George Wilson's defensive play, rebounding ability and quickness. He was now an 18-year-old senior who brought talent, experience and stability to the team."
It was a sensational three-year run for Salario, Wilson and the Marshall program. They won two state titles, three Public League crowns, three all-city titles and 87 of 93 games. Only a 63-62 loss to Waukegan in the 1959 supersectional at Northwestern prevented them from winning three or four state titles in a row.
"George Wilson was a likeable gangling kid with a world of natural athletic ability. He was extremely coachable and had a strong will to succeed," Salario said. "It must be remembered that George was a 16-year-old kid as a star player on our 1958 championship team. However, George's accomplishments were even greater as a senior on the 1960 championship team, excelling in scoring, defense and leadership."
Wilson praised Salario's coaching skills. In the racially charged 1950s and 1960s, it may have been mentioned elsewhere but never in the Marshall locker room that Salario was a white Jew who was coaching an all-black team.
"We never saw a black/white thing," Wilson said. "He was a coach and we were the players. He told us what to do and we knew what to do. Everyone had a role. That's the difference between teams now and when we came up. It was his upbeat personality that made the difference. Even when we lost, we didn't get down on ourselves.
"As a freshman, I came up to the varsity and met him and he was a jovial guy. He told us exactly what he wanted. He was a teacher. After he put players through 20 laps and suicide drills, he didn't have to cut anyone. They cut themselves. He taught me to play all three positions. He treated us like men. When he said to do something, you didn't questions him. We just did it."
So Wilson and many former teammates will be on hand on Aug. 16 when Salario is honored by the Northeastern Illinois University Foundation during the 38th annual Chuck Kane Memorial Golf Outing at Highland Park Country Club. Salario will be presented with the Chuck Kane Educational Leadership Award.
It will be the 50th anniversary of Marshall's 1960 team. All of Salario's former players and colleagues are invited to attend. For information, call NEIU at (773) 442-4216 or visit www.neiu.edu/kane.
Salario, a Crane Tech graduate, began coaching at Marshall in 1954. After six years, he served as a teacher and basketball coach at Chicago Teachers College South (now Chicago State) from 1960 to 1970, then became head basketball coach and physical education professor and later athletic director at Northeastern Illinois University in 1970 until his retirement in 1978.