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Nearly 50 years later, Cal Vogel's effort is the region's benchmark

Friday, January 28, 2005

The Express-Times

Nearly 50 years after the most significant individual athletic achievement in Wilson Area High School history, Cal Vogel still shakes his head in awe. His voice swells with emotion when he recalls the sacrifice his teammates made for him.

"It was their senior night and last home game. All their parents were in the gym to see them play -- and they refused to shoot. My teammates just kept feeding me the ball," Vogel said. "Can you believe that?"


"Cal carried us all season," said teammate and fellow starting forward Carl Marinelli. "Before the game the seniors got together and we said 'Let's get Cal the record.' "

The record the seniors wanted to obtain for Vogel on that night -- Feb. 25, 1955 -- against Lehigh-Northampton League rival Pen Argyl, was Wilson's single-game scoring mark of 44 points, set by Russ Bellis two seasons earlier.

Vogel had scored 39 points in a rout of Phillipsburg earlier in the month and put up 36 in a victory over Nazareth on Feb. 11.

A loss to Parkland three days before the Pen Argyl game eliminated the 14-7 Warriors from the LNL second-half race. The Parents Night contest against the Green Knights, who had not won a league game in more than two seasons, was all that remained of the illness-plagued 1954-55 Wilson season.

It seemed everyone in the tightly-knit borough knew about the seniors' intentions -- except Vogel and second-year coach Sam Russell.

"I went to the game because word got out they were going to give the ball to Cal so he could break the record," said JoAnn Vogel, who graduated from Wilson in 1953 and has been Cal's wife for the last 10 years. "They said no one else was going to shoot."

Just before game time, the seniors informed Russell of their plan. This, too, would be Vogel's final game because he was a junior academically but would be too old by Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association rules to play as a senior.

"Don Price came to me and said 'Mr. Russell, we want to let Calvin break the school record,' " said Russell, 81, now living in Bonita Springs, Fla. "I didn't even know what the record was. I said it was Parents Night and they all came to see you (seniors). He said 'I know, but this is Calvin's last year, too, and we want to give him a little recognition.'

"I told him I didn't object, but if they were going to do that I was going to inform the Pen Argyl coach and tell him what was going on. Don said Calvin would be the only one who would be shooting.

The outcome never figured to be in doubt. The Warriors defeated Pen Argyl 65-48 the first time without Vogel, who had missed his second straight game because of the flu, and their 6-foot-4 center Duane Searles.

"Before the game I went over to the Pen Argyl coach. I told him what was going to happen. I wanted to let him know he could put one, two, three, four or even five men on Calvin the other players weren't going to shoot because they wanted him to have the record."

"I came out of the bathroom just before we went on the court," Vogel said. "That's when Coach Russell told me the guys were going to feed me to get the record."

Vogel, a 6-2 forward, set up on one side of the court, and deposited Wilson's first two points of the game. He scored the Warriors' next two points, the next two points and their next two points.

By the end of the first quarter, Vogel had scored all 27 Wilson points.

"He was hitting everything; he was so hot," said teammate Roger Conners, a longtime insurance man in the borough. "Everything was going in. He was a one-man show. We'd wait until he got open and we'd feed him the ball."

Russell, who played basketball at Lafayette with Pete Carril and George Davidson, moved on to Plymouth-Whitemarsh as an assistant coach in 1958 and then was head coach at Abington from 1961-68. He retired as a teacher from Abington in 1983.

To this day, Russell has never seen a sweeter shot.

"Calvin had the best one-hand push shot you'll ever see," Russell said. "He was a natural shooter."

Credit Vogel's grandmother, Sara Vogel, with making him a dead-eye shooter.

"My grandmother lived with us when I was growing up (in Palmer Township)," Vogel said, "and she'd never let me go swimming with the other kids during the summer. She said I couldn't go near the water until I learned how to swim. How was I going to learn how to swim if I couldn't go near the water?"

While his buddies cooled off in the Lehigh River or Bushkill Creek, Vogel spent endless hours shooting a basketball at a backboard rigged to a telephone pole.

"I'd play basketball by myself. Did you know I got cut from the junior high team when I was in seventh grade? They never told you if you made the team. You had to look at a list they put up outside the locker room. I still remember when I didn't see my name on the bulletin board. I'll never forget that feeling. It made me practice more and more. I wasn't going to get cut the next year."

As the second quarter wore on, it became apparent this game would be one for the ages. Pen Argyl had played the night before, losing 99-31 to Nazareth. The weary Green Knights again were playing the role of the hapless Washington Generals with their opponent starring as the Harlem Globetrotters.

"I was sitting in the balcony," said JoAnn Vogel, "and I remember Don Price under the basket holding the ball and everyone yelling, 'Shoot!' "

Instead, Price and his teammates threw the ball to Vogel, no matter how many Green Knights were draped on him. The Warriors even purposely missed their free throws so Vogel could grab the rebound and put it back in for two more points.

"Glenn Keim shot one of his free throws with his eyes closed," Cal Vogel recalled. "It went in and people booed him."

Vogel walked off the court at halftime with 50 points. Bellis' record was a memory. The league record of 51 points, set by Coplay's Ronnie Sotak in 1951, was a mere formality.

"By that time the crowd was really into it," Marinelli said. "Everything he threw up went in, and it mushroomed from there. They'd have three guys on him, and we'd still keep feeding him. No one would shoot."

Vogel continued the onslaught, scoring all his team's points in the third quarter. With a little more than three minutes to go in the game, Russell pulled his ace to a standing ovation. Vogel had scored 82 points and was exhausted.

"I told him to get me out of the game because my arms were tired from shooting," Vogel said.

Vogel's respite on the bench was short-lived.

Harold Altemose, a friend of Vogel's, was sitting behind the bench and pleaded with the coach to put Vogel back in the game.

"Harold wanted me to get Wilt's record," Vogel said.

Earlier in the 1954-55 season a pretty good player at Philadelphia's Overbrook High School by the name of Wilt Chamberlain set a state record with 90 points. The 7-1 "Wilt the Stilt" scored 60 of those points in a 12-minute span. This was a time when the foul lane was only six-feet wide and goal-tending was legal.

Russell reluctantly put Vogel back in the game with just enough time for him to reach the coveted 90 points.

"It didn't matter where he shot the ball, it went in," JoAnn Vogel said. "In there, out there, even his foul shots. They all went in."

Just before the final buzzer sounded, Vogel cut loose with one last shot attempt. Fifty years later, it's the shot he remembers most vividly.

"It was from three-quarters court and it went off the front of the rim," he said. "It would've been 92 points if it went in. I still think about that shot."

Final score: Wilson 95, Pen Argyl 52.

Vogel's line: 90 points on 28 field goals and 34-of-37 from the foul line.

"You can understand Wilt Chamberlain scoring 90 points because he was 7-foot tall. Cal didn't score too many under the basket," Marinelli said. "Even 28 field goals are OK, but shooting 34-for-37 from the free-throw line is the real reason he scored 90 that night."

"And they were all underhand attempts; Sam wouldn't let us shoot them overhand. He almost kicked me off the team for shooting them overhand in practice," Vogel said.

The following day Vogel's picture appeared in The Express. He posed for the camera holding a cup of coffee. The headline read: "Vogel Dumps 90 Points to Tie Unofficial Record in Keystone."

Vogel's 90 points turned out to be a PIAA record because Chamberlain played in the Philadelphia Public League, which was not a PIAA member.

Two years later, Bob Mullery of St. Vincent's Catholic in Plymouth topped both Vogel and Chamberlain with 92 points in a 128-39 rout of Plains Sacred Heart. On Jan. 22, 1960, future major league pitcher Pete Cimino of Bristol dropped in a state-record 114 points against Palisades.

"I remember kids coming up to me after the game and asking me for my autograph," Vogel said with a laugh. "But life really didn't change for me. I did a local TV interview and someone saw my name in the Philadelphia Inquirer. I played in the city league for a couple years after high school."

Vogel and the Warriors played one more game. They were selected to represent the LNL in the District 11 Class A (big schools) tournament. Allentown, behind Terry German's 22 points, blitzed Wilson 84-40. Vogel matched German with 22 in his final high school game.

But that final blowout loss couldn't diminish Vogel's season, which included school and league records for points (552 and 400) and league averages (26.2 and 28.6 ppg). Vogel and Fountain Hill's Jerry Berger were unanimous choices to the all-league team.

"Sam knew I didn't have any eligibility left so he tried to get me in at Germantown Academy," Vogel said. "Back then, school wasn't important to me. The only reason I went was to play sports. College coaches asked about me but they'd see my grades."

Still, they haven't forgotten Cal Vogel.

"I still have people come up to me and say 'there's the 90-point man.' "