On Feb. 20, 1959, Kokomo and New Castle went head-to-head for the North Central Conference championship in the final games of their regular seasons – but that’s not the only thing that made the game unparalleled.
Legends Jimmy Rayl (Kokomo) and Ray Pavy (New Castle) were arguably the two best high school basketball players in the state at the time, according to Chris May, executive director of the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame. The two appeared to be battling for the most individual points scored in a game.
“The place was electrifying, just unbelievable how the crowd was from the tip-off, even before the tip-off," said John Gillem, a starting forward on the Kokomo team and the only remaining player of the starting five that season. "And the reason for that was that Rayl and Ray Pavy were going for the scoring championship. So the game started, and it took us about three minutes to know that Ray Pavy was going to score as many points as he could. He shot every time down the court … I know me personally, I’d get an offensive rebound, and I would run for Rayl. So it became a shootout between Jim Rayl and Ray Pavy."
At the end of the game, New Castle defeated Kokomo 92-81, with Pavy scoring 51 points and Rayl scoring 49. Pavy said he had no idea how many points he scored that game until nearly the end of the fourth quarter. One of his fellow teammates checked with the scorekeeper and told Pavy that if he made the free throw shots he was about to take after being fouled, he would have 51 points. Previously, Pavy never scored more than 40 points in a game, whereas Rayl had numerous games where he scored in the 40s.
The game was played in the Newby Gym in New Castle, more commonly known as the Church Street Gym. The gym was small, only holding 1,800 people. Knowing the stakes of the game, fans maxed out the seating and more, with lines even out the door, Pavy said.
According to multiple sources, this game could be argued as one of the top high school basketball games ever played in Indiana. Besides being a high-scoring conference rival game with two talented players from each team, there were a couple of other factors that hyped up the game even more, according to Pavy.
During this time in American history, factories and manufacturing industries were plentiful in many towns such as Kokomo, New Castle, Anderson, and Marion. Because of this, workers would be transferred to and from different plants in neighboring towns, according to Pavy, and would meet people from their conference rivals. During the workweek before a big game on the weekend, workers would “trash talk” people from the opposing town, therefore building up the competitiveness before the game even happened, Pavy said.
“There was a lot of unique pride that went on there during that period of time … Every week, that was the type of thing that was going on where people were harassing their fellow workers about how much better their town was than the other worker’s town. So, that increased the intensity as they say,” Pavy said.
Additionally, Pavy said there were several talented sportswriters from local papers in the surrounding areas who focused on writing stories on the basketball games that were happening at the time, particularly ones with stand-out players who possibly made the team more special. With newspapers as one of the main sources of news at the time, people in the communities were always following with interest, he said.
“I just think it was a wonderful time to be playing basketball. Every week, everybody was fired up about it. There was always an important game going on. People really talked about the game you were playing all the time, much more than it is today. More people attended,” Pavy said. “That was sort of the Camelot time of high school basketball in central Indiana.”
The following summer, Rayl and Pavy played on the Indiana All-Stars team together. Later, the two were teammates at Indiana University before an automobile accident Pavy's junior year of college left him permanently paralyzed.
May commented on the uniqueness of the game.
“People talk about state finals. People talk about sectionals and regionals and state tournament games. But then the regular season, that game comes into conversation more than any other. It’s largely because of the scoring output and the rivalry,” May said.