ROVA 1948-49 team, Part 2: ‘The Rio, Oneida, Victoria, Altona aggregation’ starts strong

Barry McNamara
Special to Galesburg Register-Mail
The first “team” at the new ROVA High School was the 1948-49 boys basketball squad. Pictured in front are, from left, Jim Quanstrom, Bill Gueldenfennig, Bob Seiler, Harley Pearson and Claude Boland. In the back row are, from left, assistant coach Bill Adams, Clark Main, Dean Truelove, Jim Asplund, Curtis Nelson, Bill Holcomb and coach Jim Pogue. Not pictured is Bob Heflin.

Editor's Note: This is the second of a six-part series on the ROVA 1948-49 basketball season.

It seems like a no-brainer now, the way “ROWVA” rolls so easily off the tongue, but when the new school district first started, maintaining the identities of the four communities that comprised it was still at the front of many people’s minds.

One sports scribe, perhaps trying to fill a column of type as well as appease his readers, called the team “the Rio, Oneida, Victoria, Altona aggregation” in one of his game accounts.

Much like the previous head coaches hadn’t been kept on to lead the new team, the four school nicknames also became a thing of the past, thus retiring to history the Oneida Mohawks, the Rio Rockets, the Victoria Trojans and the Altona Vikings.

The new nickname, which remains today, became the Tigers, although “Rovans” was also common.

Jim Asplund recalled that the R-O-V-A order of initials almost didn’t happen.

“Right before school let out the previous year, they still hadn’t decided on a name for the new school,” he said. “I remember being in a class with Mrs. Peek, our typing teacher, and she wrote some of our ideas on the board – ORVA and AVOR, things like that.”

Asplund could see that it was time for a change.

“Oneida High School had 62 students that final year,” he said. “There were just 13 of us in my class.”

“My sister always said she was in the top 10 of her class (at Victoria),” said Dean Truelove. “Of course, there were only 10 people in her class.”

Thanks to the Baby Boom following World War II, the new school district’s enrollment continued to grow. It peaked in the mid-200s, right around the time of ROVA’s most famous basketball team, the state runner-up 1975-76 squad, led by 6-foot-8 All-State center Dave Johnson. Today, ROWVA’s enrollment is 182.

As coach Jim Pogue prepared ROVA for its historic first-ever game Nov. 19 against Toulon, he had to like what he was seeing in practice — a group of experienced varsity players who were each trying to out-do the other and earn a spot in his starting lineup.

“Our toughest games were our scrimmages,” said Asplund. “We had at least eight guys that started for us at different points of the season. Nobody could prepare to play us by saying ‘We’ve got to stop this one guy.’”

“We didn’t have one outstanding player, but the whole team played together,” said Truelove.

Asplund said the daily practices were necessarily short, so the players wasted little time in getting after it.

“We were limited to 45 minutes due to the bus schedules, so that’s another reason the practices were so intense,” he said.

Although not quite all of ROVA’s 32 box scores from that debut season were located, it’s safe to say that seven players averaged between six and 11 points per game while playing a lower-scoring brand of basketball than today. The Tigers scored 53 points per game, led by Truelove, the only player to average double-digits. The senior from Victoria was one of nine Tigers who posted multiple double-digit scoring games that season, proving Asplund’s point about the depth of ROVA’s offensive talent.

“Every day, we worked,” said Truelove. “Every day, we worked hard. My old guy I worked with on the railroad told me, ‘No wonder you guys were so good. You all learned to dribble a ball on corncobs.’”

“Almost all of us were farm boys with chores to do,” said Asplund of the work ethic ingrained in his teammates.

Finally, Nov. 19 arrived, and the Toulon Trojans got a double dose of how bringing together a dozen experienced varsity players was going to change the pecking order of western Illinois basketball. ROVA routed Toulon in the opener, winning 65-27, and the Tigers also tamed the Trojans 71-41 in the season’s fifth game to stay undefeated. Truelove’s 17 points led three players in double figures in the latter win.

Another team that played ROVA multiple times without finding success was Williamsfield, which fell 40-22 in the season’s second game. Bob Seiler led the Tigers with a baker’s dozen. In all, the Billtown Bombers would go 0-4 against ROVA’s first team.

Truelove then set off on a personal hot streak, leading ROVA in scoring in five straight games. He averaged nearly 16 points as the Tigers moved to 7-0. The last two wins were both tight five-point games against Knoxville and Corpus Christi. Against Pogue’s alma mater, ROVA scored the final five points to stay unbeaten. Bob Heflin sank the only basket in the late run, with Truelove, Jim Quanstrom and Clark Main adding free throws.

This cartoon ran on the sports page of The Register-Mail in December 1948.

Around that time, a cartoon celebrating ROVA’s strong start ran on the sports page of the Galesburg Register-Mail. It featured Pogue and the names of the school’s communities, along with the statement, “Not only one — but you’ve to please four towns!”

In ROVA’s next game, Harley Pearson’s 17 points led three players in double figures in a 66-50 win over Cambridge, but the Tigers’ 8-0 start would be blemished their next time out. Eldon Gearhart, the former Victoria coach, led his Abingdon squad to a 38-30 victory over ROVA.

Next up on the schedule was the Galva holiday tournament, and waiting as the primary challenger in the pre-Christmas, eight-team affair were the host Wildcats. Led by Bob Wickstrand, who averaged a whopping 20 points per game that season, Galva entered the tournament with an unbeaten record.

In the tourney opener, ROVA nearly squandered all of its 16-point halftime lead before putting its foot back on the gas and topping Wyoming 53-44. Truelove’s 13 points led the way. In the semi-final, ROVA faced a strong Princeville squad led by Moe Schafer. Seiler netted a dozen points in ROVA’s 42-35 victory.

Other schools in the event were Toulon, Wethersfield, Cambridge and Bradford. After two games, the finalists were determined. One-loss ROVA and undefeated Galva would meet for bragging rights in one of the biggest games to that point in the season in western Illinois.