Sentinel to honor 50th anniversary of state title

Mifflin County’s No. 1 high school sport?

Some would guess baseball, others might choose wrestling. But if the measuring stick for success is appearing in a state championship game, there’s only one candidate.

A round ball. A wooden floor. A cotton – later nylon – net. An orange-painted metal hoop.

Six times a team from Mifflin County has played for a PIAA basketball championship, with half of those entries coming away the winner. Saturday, The Sentinel honors the golden anniversary of the first championship basketball team in the county’s history.

Few gave Rothrock High School a chance – especially not the Jim Thorpe cheerleaders, who unfurled a banner prior to tipoff proclaiming the Olympians as state champions. That banner was intended for the side of the Olympians’ team bus, not for the eyes of Rothrock players and coaches.

Later, the story goes, the cheerleaders handed it over to the young men who really deserved it.

Going into the 1963 PIAA Class C basketball game, Rothrock, with a group of relative no-names, was appearing in the title game for the first time against the defending state champion. History had an ending planned that would defy the assumptions of the eastern team.

Jim Allgyer’s mid-court shot at the buzzer gave underdog Rothrock a thrilling 43-41 victory in that championship game and Mifflin County its first state basketball title.

For a game that is remembered for a heroic shot, it certainly didn’t start that way. The game remained scoreless until the 6:32 mark, and was tied at 12 heading into the second frame. Allgyer sent the Eagles into the locker room with a 25-23 lead.

Jim Thorpe regained its championship form in the second half, dominating the third quarter and building a 39-29 lead with 6:34 to go.

The Eagles eventually took the lead, 41-39, on an Allgyer basket with 2:40 left. The Olympians evened the score at the 1:45 mark, and got the ball back as the Eagles were called for traveling with 15 seconds left. A wild pass went out of bounds with nine seconds left, setting up Allgyer’s heroics.

The tales of the trip include families who missed the game due to a broken down bus, and a stick littered with neckties that served as the team flag.

Back home, people were listening to a young broadcaster who later would make himself famous with a certain college football team.

WKVA radio broadcaster Fran Fisher’s call of Rothrock’s Class C state championship in 1963 goes to show that all the flowery word play in the world still can’t stand up to pure, spontaneous emotion.

When Allgyer sunk a mid-court shot at the buzzer, Fisher became so excited you can’t help but feel ecstatic when you listen to the broadcast, even if you aren’t from that era.

Fisher’s smooth, strong and sweet voice launched a broadcasting career that spanned the better part of five decades: first in western Pennsylvania, then Lewistown and finally for Penn State football.

Saturday’s edition of The Sentinel will include a special commemorative publication honoring the Rothrock team, and the others that have reached the pinnacle of success in high school basketball. Also available as part of the anniversary is a special, limited edition poster honoring the Rothrock Eagles, which can be ordered using the form on page A7 of today’s edition.

Sentinel sports editor Jeff Fishbein contributed to this story.