1960 East Chicago Washington team captain Ron Divjak grew up in a time where everyone played basketball in the alleys and playgrounds hoping to become the next great high school player. Families huddled around the radio listening to the high school games. He describes basketball in East Chicago as a relay race where players take the baton from the great players that came before them and pass it to the next generation. East Chicago greats like Vince Boryla, Ray Ragelis, Vic Molodet, Nick Mantis, and Pete Auksel came before Divjak and his 1960 Senator teammates.
After winning Regional championships in 1958 and 1959, the 1960 East Chicago Washington Senator players met to discuss their goals. Twelve players talking to each other. It was a brief meeting with a simple yet ambitious goal. “Let’s just win our last high school game” one player confidently declared. The Senators, described by The Associated Press as “a traveling United Nations”, bonded together for that one unified purpose of winning their last high school game.
Led by legendary coach John Baratto, the Senators advanced to the state championship game where undefeated and top-ranked Muncie Central awaited. The Bearcats were led by Mr. Basketball and future NCAA and NBA champion Ron Bonham. Their closest game all season was an 18 point victory over Anderson. The Bearcats defeated #3 Bloomington by 36 points in the semi-finals.
East Chicago Washington entered the game ranked #4 in the state and featured three Indiana All-Stars: Bobby Cantrell, Phil Dawkins, and Divjak. Despite the gamblers favoring Muncie Central by 20 points, the players from East Chicago were confident. An underdog team with a coach who overcame many challenges, the Senators were symbolic of the hopes and dreams of their city and its people.
The Senators won the tip. Off a pass from Phil Dawkins, Bobby Cantrell hit a shot “from downtown Chicago” as Divjak described. “And the rest is history.” In front of nearly 15,000 fans at Hinkle Fieldhouse the Senators won the city’s first State Championship 75-59. Phil Dawkins led the Senators with 21 points while Jim Bakos scored a career-high 17.
55 years later, generations of players are still celebrated and in full view. East Chicago’s six state championships and rich basketball tradition are on permanent display in the East Chicago Public Library and the East Chicago Sports Hall of Fame. From the enthusiastic crowd at the East Chicago alumni basketball game to the youth at the E’twaun Moore basketball camp the love of the game is being passed from one generation to the next. The 1960 East Chicago Washington Senators set the standard for East Chicago teams. The city awaits the next state champion team to grab the baton.
In this industrial and steel city that takes pride in its heritage and tradition, basketball is still king. This is East Chicago.