Century of hoops: Current teams look to add to Columbus’ rich basketball legacy

Columbus North boys basketball coach Paul Ferguson put together an Alumni Night in December with the idea of bridging the gap between past and present Bull Dogs.

That past goes back a long way — all the way back to 1916. High school boys basketball in Columbus celebrated its 100th birthday last year.

The Bull Dogs started their century of basketball with a 4-9 record under coach Fred Busenburg in 1916. The next year, they won a 14-team tournament while playing on the third floor of the City Hall Building at Fifth and Franklin Streets.

The team moved into the Pearl Street Gymnasium, a 2,600-seat facility, in the 1920s. In 1938, the Bull Dogs made the state tournament.

Columbus High School moved to its current location, and Memorial Gym opened in 1954. The Bull Dogs made two more state tournament appearances in 1964 and 1975, the latter coming three years after Columbus split into Columbus North and Columbus East.

“I’m incredibly honored to be the coach at Columbus North,” Ferguson said. “I have a tremendous amount of respect for their history and their legacy. One of the reasons we worked so hard this year to do the Bull Dog Alumni Night was, we wanted our current players to grasp the scope of the legacy here and the men that went before them.”

The Olympians found their greatest tournament success in 1977 when they made the state tournament just five years after the school’s inception.

Since then, deep tournament runs have been scarce for North and East. The Olympians followed their 1977 semistate title with their last regional crown in 1978. The Bull Dogs won regional titles in 1981, 1984 and 1993.

But since class basketball began with the 1997-98 season, Columbus schools have won only one sectional title. That came in 2013, when North won its first sectional since 1999. East hasn’t won a sectional since 1996.

Both of those teams are excited about their chances to end those droughts this week when they play in the Bloomington North Sectional. The Bull Dogs have beaten every team in the sectional except Bloomington South, a team they led after three quarters.

“I think the sectional is wide open,” Ferguson said. “I think it’s a very competitive field. We’ve worked hard our last two practices on Friday and Saturday to put ourselves in a position to win it.”

At 11-12, the Olympians are the only team in the sectional with a losing record. But East might be playing better than any of the six.

Earlier this month, East upset Class 4A then-No. 1 New Albany. Wednesday, The Olympians closed the regular season with a 79-64 upset of 4A No. 9 Floyd Central.

“I think we have as good a chance as we’ve ever had,” East coach Brent Chitty said. “We’re constantly getting better and better, and our kids are playing harder than they’ve ever played, and it seems like in practice, they’re having fun. We’ve played really well through February, and if we continue to play that way, we have a chance to beat anybody.”

At a glance

Tournament titles by the Columbus/Columbus North and Columbus East boys basketball teams (numbers in parentheses indicate year of last title):

;CHS/North;East

Sectional; 50 (2013); 8 (1996)

Regional;17 (1993);2 (1978)

Semistate;3 (1975);1 (1977)

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Ted Schultz is sports editor for The Republic. He can be reached at tschultz@therepublic.com or 812-379-5628.