The team that turned the Southern Illinois basketball world on its ear and sent the townspeople of Salem into an ecstatic frenzy was a 1986 inductee into the Salem Sports Hall of Fame. The 1939-40 Salem High School basketball team, the first Salem team to advance to the State Tournament, stunned the basketball world with their 46-37 win over Centralia in the sectional final to win the trip to the “Sweet Sixteen.”

The team, that posted a 29-6 record that season, was composed of Gerald Brubaker, Bill Finks, Dickie Gray, Elton “Rabbit” Meredith, Daryl Robb, Henry Hinkley, Jim Meador, Max McGraw, Bob Scoles and Jim Somer, and their coach, Mike Lenich. Unfortunately, five of those players – Gray, Brubaker, Hinkley, Meador and McGraw – and Coach Mike Lenich are deceased.

The highlight of the season was undoubtedly the sectional win over Centralia, played at Centralia, that sent the Wildcats on their first Champaign trip. Salem had lost to Centralia in the regional championship, 42-40, but, in those days, the runner-up also advanced to an eight-team sectional.

Salem not only won the rematch but they won convincingly, leading the strong Centralians at halftime, 20-3. Much of that success was the defensive blanket put on theĀ· acknowledged star of the Centralia team, Dwight Edleman, by Robb that kept Edleman scoreless in the first half.

The scoring in the game was left to Finks, Gray and Meredith, with Brubaker joining Robb in concentrating on defense, which proved a successful maneuver as Salem led after the first quarter, 12-0.

In the State Tournament, Salem won their opener over Beardstown, the winner of the Quincy Sectional, 55-29, despite three regulars fouling out-one in the first half. Salem was edged in the quarter-final game by Champaign, 34-30. The Wildcats made a fourth quarter comeback, closing to within 27-24 early in the period, but their 11-7 scoring edge left them short.

That 1939-40 Salem team finished second in the North Egypt Conference, second in the Mt. Vernon Holiday Tournament, won by Granite City, and second in the Regional Tournament and first in the Sectional.

Scoring leaders for the season were Meredith-421 points; Gray-312; Flnks256; Robb-204; and Brubaker-164. Gray was selected to the All-State Second Team by the Associated Press coaches panel at the State Tournament.

A side note of that year’s State Tournament: The play-by-play announcer for WILL covering the tournament was Fred Corray, a former Salem coach, and an inductee to the Sports Hall of Fame in1985.

The late H. B. Davis, who was one of the more avid Salem fans and also the longtime sponsor of the school paper, The Broadcaster, engineered a special edition of the paper that came out on Sunday afternoon, following the Saturday night Sectional victory.