Schuckman: Six decades later, Hoff, Wildcats still inspire

Paul Hoff was one of two seniors on the Culver-Stockton College men's basketball team in 1946. (Submitted photo)
Posted: Mar. 17, 2013 1:31 am Updated: Apr. 28, 2013 1:38 am

Paul Hoff was prepared to go if needed.

Having served as a motor squad leader for the U.S. Army in Europe during World War II, Hoff and others were prepped to join forces in Japan as the war reached the final stages in 1945. The dropping of two atomic bombs and the surrender of the Japanese changed everything.

It gave the Culver-Stockton College men's basketball team the chance to do something historic.

Hoff returned from the war in Dec. 1945 and went back to C-SC to finish his education and his final season playing basketball on The Hill. In terms of depth, the Wildcats didn't have much. There were only six players left after C-SC coach Bill Herrington kicked five players off the squad for disciplinary reasons.

Two of the six that remained -- Hoff and Don Constantz -- were war veterans, and the one reserve -- B.C. Knueven -- was limited in the number of minutes he could play as he recovered from malaria.

"It was a struggle to have a bench full," said Hoff, now 90 and living in Moline, Ill.

It made the Wildcats the longest of longshots to reach the national tournament.

Yet, sometimes longshots hit the mark.

Hoff and the Wildcats did just that.

With a 59-41 victory over Missouri Valley on March 1, 1946, in which Hoff scored 13 points and freshman guard Jim Richardson netted 23, C-SC won the Missouri College Athletic Union championship and earned an invitation to the National Athletic Intercollegiate Basketball Tournament in Kansas City, Mo.

Hoff said they "surprised everyone in the conference" by the way they came back to win the title.

There was one more surprise in store.

Facing Wichita (Kan.) in the national tournament's opening round, the Wildcats built a 10-point lead in the first half and held on for a 55-51 victory. Hoff scored 10 points and was one of three players in double figures in what turned out to be the last time C-SC won a game in the national tournament.

Six decades later, that changed.

The Wildcats won back-to-back games to reach the quarterfinals of the NAIA Division I national tournament before losing 86-82 Saturday to Georgetown (Ky.). It marked the end of a magical season in which the Wildcats went from winning four games in 2011-12 to finishing 26-9 this season.

Hoff's son, Curtis, shared the news of Thursday's victory with his father, who was battling pneumonia at the Hope Center in East Moline, Ill.

"He got a big smile," Curtis said.

It was then all the memories came flooding back.

Hoff said the atmosphere was unlike anything you would see today. He called it subdued and said the "crowd was minimal." The games were played at Municipal Auditorium, the same site as this year's tournament, although the playing surface was made of 4x4s back then.

Hoff said the Wildcats never got much of a lead and the game was tight throughout.

"It wasn't lopsided," he said.

But it was memorable.

Actually, the entire collegiate experience was.

Born in New Windsor, Ill., and a graduate of East Moline High School, Hoff was one of three brothers recruited to C-SC.

His brother, Charles, played football and ran track for the Wildcats, while his brother, Larry, played basketball and ran track, too.

It was in college where Hoff met his sweetheart, the late Annell Ellis Hoff, and where they both received their degrees in education. They have endowed the school with a scholarship for students going into education.

And Hoff has stayed true to his Wildcat roots, enjoying the stories of how this year's team made history and how it brought attention to what took place 60 years ago.

"He was kind of impressed," his son, Curtis, said.

Truth be told, discovering how Hoff represented his country and his school impressed us all.




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