RHS vies for state basketball championship – last title 75 years ago

Roosevelt’s boys basketball is ranked No. 3 in the state and can dare to dream of winning Roosevelt’s first basketball state championship since 1949.

Roland Reschke can help them get there. The 92-year-old is the last man alive from the 1949 team that shocked Oregon’s sporting establishment to become the only Roosevelt team in history to win the State Basketball crown.

Reschke recently returned to Roosevelt to share the secrets of that championship season when he donned the black and gold as a sinewy, hard-working reserve forward.

Roland Reschke visits RHS 2024 team
Roland Reschke visits RHS 2024 team

The retired engineer and contractor hadn’t been back to the Roosevelt campus since 1950, and wisely counseled the twelve young Roosevelt players who hope to follow the 1949 team.

“Players are bigger and faster than when I was at Roosevelt, but the keys to success have not changed,” Reschke told the Rider players listening from the gym bleachers.

“Set screens, pass to the cutter, block out for rebounds and never, never, never give up,” he emphasized. The teams that executed the best then—and today—win championships.

RHS 2024 basketball team with Roland Reschke from the winning 1949 team trophy
RHS 2024 basketball team with Roland Reschke from the winning 1949 team trophy

The slick, passing-oriented 1949 RHS offense so surprised PIL rivals Jefferson and Grant, that RHS had to find stiffer competition and scheduled—and pummeled—the Lewis and Clark College freshman team and even defeated the University of Portland frosh squad. RHS soon earned a ticket to the state tournament at MacArthur Court on the University of Oregon campus in Eugene. 

Roosevelt clipped Salem 52-51 in the first round and then trounced McMinnville and Hillsboro, inspiring The Eugene Register-Guard to write, “The Teddies (then Roosevelt’s nickname) had put the ‘feah of de Lawd’” in opponents with their “devilish basketball savvy and speed.” 

But Roosevelt remained the underdog in the 1949 championship game against perennial powerhouse Marshfield before a sellout crowd of 7,200 fans inside MacArthur Court. “Half the Roosevelt student body bussed down to see the game,” Reschke remembered. Adult spectators could then smoke cigars and cigarettes in the hallways, and while the smoke floated onto court, the Teddies set the nets on fire. Their dead-eye shooting sank the Pirates 62-50 and broke the all-time tournament team scoring record.

Roosevelt was the best passing team in the state and dazzled the crowd with assists and backdoor plays. The Register-Guard described the North Portlanders as “running like deer and potting shots like cowboys with six-shooters.” The newspaper concluded that Roosevelt playmaker “Jim Winters was without a doubt, the best man to set foot on the floor in the tournament.”

Roosevelt basketball win from Oregon journal 3-29-1949
Roosevelt basketball win from Oregon journal 3-29-1949
RHS state basketball champs from 1949
RHS state basketball champs from 1949
Roosevelt basketball team from the Oregonian 3-20-1949
Roosevelt basketball team from the Oregonian 3-20-1949

Reschke saw that with his own eyes. “Every time a Roosevelt player got open, Jim got them the ball.” But most of all he admired Winters as an excellent student and the humblest of stars.

The University of Oregon and the University of Portland both recruited Winters, but there was never any doubt where the Teddies’ standout would go. That was foretold two years earlier by what his parents witnessed when UP Coach Jim Torson came to their home near Memorial Coliseum.

That day, as Torson visited with Winters’ father, the grandmother came into the room. The UP coach stood up to acknowledge her. The family had fled Ku Klux Klan violence in the South and moved to North Portland in the early 1940s. Winter’s parents had never seen a white man show that kind of respect to a black woman.

Winters would go on to lead the Pilots to four NAIA national playoffs. He would later become an educator at several different Oregon high schools. He finished his long career as a Social Studies teacher and coach at his alma mater Roosevelt. He would marry and have four children. His oldest surviving son, Jaymes, said his father taught him that basketball was merely one of the first steps in life, and the goal was education, education and education. 

Jim Winters, Roosevelt High teacher in the 70s
Jim Winters, left, Roosevelt High teacher in the 70s

Jaymes remembers once wavering from that path, when he played basketball himself for Benson High School in the 1970s. He told his dad he admired how much money NBA players made. His father responded back, “Let’s take a drive.” He drove his son to Lake Oswego and showed him a glittering array of wealthy houses and said, “There are less than one thousand people playing in the NBA, and 25,000 people working on Wall Street who make even more money.” The son took that to heart. He earned a business degree from Oregon State University and became the CEO of a Dallas, Texas, company that is listed on Wall Street’s NASDAQ index as one of the top American corporations.

Jim Winters died in 2005 after a long fight with Parkinson’s Disease. The ten other players from Roosevelt’s only championship team have also passed or vanished. And Reschke, the last survivor, reflected on a final question on the 75th anniversary of their historic achievement. What did it mean to him? “Some people back then didn’t think that Roosevelt could do this,” he answered, “and we did.”