The Boneyard

"Member of the Indiana General Assembly from 1970 to 1996 representing Evansville's central city and southeastern Vanderbugh County. He also was the Democratic candidate for Mayor of Evansville in 1975 losing to Russell G. Lloyd. He retired from the University of Southern Indiana with the title of Director of Purchasing Emeritus. A University of Evansville graduate, Hays is married with five chidren. He is a Korean War veteran where he earned a Bronze Star."
The Fire is Flickering for the West Side Wowcats.    

by J. Jeff Hays

The clock is ticking and time is running out on the West Side Wowcats.

This venerable group of boys-come-men have worked, played, and grown old together for some 58 years. Now, illness and death have decimated their ranks. One of the charter members, John Buckman, was the first to fall from kidney and heart complications on Dec. 14, 2003.

Johnnyís death shocked the Wowcats and they were just recovering when their very heart and soul, Jim Koressel, died exactly one month later after suffering from Parkinsonís disease. Jim was the founder, the organizer, the promoter, and the glue that kept the group together across six decades. How can the Wowcats survive without Jim?

Nobody is quite sure of a specific date, but the Wowcats organized sometime in the fall of 1945. Members were mostly West Siders from Memorial and Reitz. Since Reitz teams were Panthers and Memorial teams were Tigers, the group picked Wildcats as the best name. Memories are fuzzy about when the name Wildcats was dropped in favor of Wowcats but all agreed that even though Wildcats were fearsome, Wowcats were awesome. So the name stuck.

The Wowcats were famous for their parties. Most were in the shelter houses at Burdette Park or at The Chicken Coop, a popular party house in those days. At each party a Sweetheart of the Month was chosen from among the dates. The winner was given an engraved ankle bracelet.

In the late forties and early fifties the Wowcats had their own clubhouse, a three room detached house in back of Bill Bruneís home on West Iowa St. This was the site of many raucous parties and poker games. One memorable occasion was when Father Jim Brune, Billís brother, blessed the house to ward off the evil spirits that were always lurking nearby.

The Wowcats were also known for their athletic teams, uniforms and all. Bill Forche coached the basketballers while Bill Brune was a frequent coach of the softball team. Bruneís nightmare game was at Mt. Vernon. The Wowcats were behind by two runs in the last inning but hopes were high when they loaded the bases with two out. Brune had a hunch and sent up Larry Short to pinch hit for Fritz Kercher. It was a surprise move because Larry hadnít seen much action all year. Short blasted the first pitch over the left fielderís head and circled the bases with wild gusto. The only trouble was that in his jubilation, Larry missed all the bases. The ball was thrown back in to first base for the third out. Game over. This terrible defeat foiled Bruneís master move.

The most infamous game of the Wowcat basketball team was in the spring of 1946. The game was played after Memorialís basketball team had been eliminated from the high school tournament which was a no-no according to IHSAA rules. All who played forfeited their high school eligibility for one year. Somebody tipped off the Evansville Press and the infraction was publicized. Memorialís baseball team that spring lost several players but the most damage was done to Memorialís football team in the fall.

Chub Forche, Billís brother, was to be the starting right halfback but he was declared ineligible. Bernie Witucki, the Tigersí new coach, said that losing Forche was like losing his right arm. Donnie Weston was another casualty of that ill-fated game. Donnie was only a sophomore and not slated to be a starter but he was going to be a top reserve. So as to not lose a yearís eligibility, Donnie decided to stay out of school, thus becoming the first Memorial red shirt.

The Korean War started in June, 1950. Jim Koressel was the first of the Wowcats to go. Jim saw combat and earned a Purple Heart. This Police Action, as President Harry Truman called it, derailed the Wowcats for a time.

In later years, the Wowcats confined their activities to semi-monthly dinners and an annual golf outing and cook out at Wesselman Park. Once a year, usually at Christmas, the wives were invited to a Wowcat dinner. The organizer was always Jim Koressel.

True to their name, the Wowcats were awesome. Nobody expected any of the members to ever amount to anything but among Wowcat alumni are judges, politicians, lawyers, engineers and lots of good citizens. The fire that sparked the Wowcats is just a flicker now but for six decades they cut quite a swath across this town.

Mr. Hays invites your comments.

Letters to the Editor are invited

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