BELOIT—While COVID-19 has been a curse it did cause the boys basketball teams from Beloit Turner and Burlington to finally renew acquaintances after over 50 years.
Desperately looking for opportunities to play, both teams agreed for a last-minute tip-off on Tuesday in Burlington.
They had squared off only once before, in the WIAA playoffs during the 1968-69 season.
Now that was a game worth remembering.
“We’d had a rough (5-9) season in the SHARK Conference,” Turner historian Karl Miller said. “But we started to jell and we had a pretty nice run in the postseason.”
The postseason meant just one division back in 1968-69. While Beloit Memorial High School’s Purple Knights would head west on their way to a sixth state championship, Turner was ticketed to go east.
The Trojans opened with victories over Williams Bay (89-79) and Clinton (79-55) in district play, earning a shot against 19-1 Burlington in a regional semifinal at Salem Central (now Westosha Central) in Paddock Lake.
“I don’t think they bothered to scout us,” Miller said.
They should have known about Turner’s All-Area guard Greg Gaffey. He’d led the SHARK in scoring and dropped 29 points against Clinton.
The 6-foot-2 sharpshooter tallied 22 as the Trojans upset the Demons 75-59 on March 7, 1969, in a game Daily News sports writer Johnny Nelson called “the biggest triumph in school history.”
Gaffey had plenty of help. Mark Quinby chipped in 21 points while Trev Porter had 17 and Dennis Peters 13.
Gaffey hit three straight 12-foot jumpers to put his team up by nine after three quarters. After the Demons drew within 59-53 with 3:50 remaining, 6-foot-7 Peters scored on a putback and Gaffey added another jumper. Two free throws by Steve Heikkinen offset a Burlington basket and the Trojans continued to pull away.
“I’m tickled to death with everyone,” Turner head coach Guy Ritchie told Nelson. “I’m proud of everyone who was out there tonight.”
Gaffey was the lone senior starter on the squad and an inspiration to his teammates.
“Greg was amazing,” Heikkinen said. “The coach would have us do all these drills before the season for conditioning just trying to get Greg to sweat. It was hard to get him to do it. Everything just came so easy for him.”
Even Gaffey wondered if they might be over-matched against the Demons, though.
“I thought the Burlington game would be my last basketball game, he said. “They were 19-1, but we wound up beating them.”
Gaffey also led Turner to a comeback win the next night over Kenosha Tremper in the regional finals. Turner trailed 22-19 at halftime before outsourcing Tremper 24-11. Gaffey and Co. only led 49-45 with 5 minutes left, but he drilled an 8-footer and Turner hit eight of its final 10 shots for a 71-59 win. Gaffey had 20 points while Peters led the way with 22.
“Greg was a very calm player,” Ritchie said. “Sometimes it was difficult to light a fire under Greg, but when it came to a key play in a key basketball game, he was always there. He just had a calmness. He never got rattled.”
The win over Tremper left Turner one of 33 teams still standing in the tournament, right along with LaMont Weaver and the Knights. In the WISAA Tournament, Beloit Catholic (the SHARK co-champ with Harvard) went on to finish 21-5 and won the state consolation championship.
The Trojans’ playoff hopes finally faded with a 93-69 loss to highly-regarded Milwaukee Lincoln in a sectional semifinal at Racine Horlick.
“They didn’t have Freddy ‘Downtown’ Brown around anymore, but they still had some of his buddies,” Miller said.
The game was tied at 20-20 after one quarter, but Peters took a seat next to Ritchie with his third foul just 30 seconds into the second quarter. Turner couldn’t stay on the boards with Lincoln without him and trailed 49-35 at halftime. It was 75-53 after three quarters.
Gaffey, suffering lingering effects from a head cold, scored 16 first-half points, but played only briefly in the second half and finished with 18. Porter added 17. Lincoln went on to the state tournament where it was upset by Nicolet in the opening round, but bounced back to take the consolation title with an 83-70 victory over Eau Claire Memorial.
After losing to Lincoln in the sectional semifinal, Turner played a consolation game the next night and didn’t fare much better, falling 82-74 to Muskego. Gaffey finished with 19 points to close out his career with 1,249 points. He hit seven of his final 10 shots.
That would also be the last year for the Trojans playing in the SHARK. They would move to the new Central Suburban Conference the following fall in all sports, joining Cinton, Milton, Evansville, Oregon and Lake Mills. Parkview and Columbus would join the league the following year.
Gaffey graduated not only as the school’s leading career scorer in basketball, but also as its top passer in football. Baseball, however, was likely Gaffey’s best sport. He accepted a scholarship from Lincoln Junior College in Lincoln, Ill., where he played both baseball and basketball. Drafted by the New York Yankees, he played a season of minor league ball, then headed back to college, eventually becoming a high school science teacher. For three summers, he was also one of the fiercest hitters for the powerful amatuer Beloit Blues.
In 2005, Gaffey was inducted into the Beloit Historical Society’s Elliott-Perring Sports Hall of Fame.