From 6 to 8 p.m. Aug. 13, the McPherson Museum will host an 80th anniversary celebration of the Globe Refiners basketball team's victory in the 1936 Olympics.

From 6 to 8 p.m. Aug. 13, the McPherson Museum will host an 80th anniversary celebration of the Globe Refiners basketball team's victory in the 1936 Olympics.

Held in Berlin, the Olympics featured basketball as a medal sport for the first time that year. The U.S. team, comprised mostly of players from McPherson, walked away with gold medals.

Brett Whitenack, curator at the McPherson Museum, said that the Globe Refiners had won second place at the national Amateur Athletic Union tournament in 1935 and that basketball's popularity was on the rise, though it did not have the financial impact of the college programs that exist today. Professional basketball would not be organized until 1949.

"[1936] was the first time that basketball was going to be a medal sport in the Olympics, so the committee put together a tournament to see who was going to represent the United States," Whitenack said, adding that there were four college teams, two AAU teams and two YMCA teams in the tournament. "The team went to the national AAU championship and they won it...they beat a team from Universal Studios in Hollywood for the final [game]."

The 14-player Olympic team was then formed, comprising seven Universal Studios players, six Globe Refiners players and one player from the University of Washington. Universal Studio's coach, Jimmy Needles, served as head coach for the team, and the Globe Refiner's coach, Gene Johnson, was named the assistant coach, Whitenack said. The McPherson players were Joe Fortenberry (center), Tex Gibbons (guard), Francis Johnson (guard), Jack Ragland (guard), Willard Schmidt (center) and Bill Wheatley (forward).

In Berlin, the team was divided into two squads of seven players, with each squad having a majority of either the Globe Refiners or the Universal Studios players, Whitenack said. The squads alternated playing games in the Olympic tournament.

"The USA, being that it has played basketball longer than other breezes through the tournament," Whitenack said.

The final game came down to the U.S. playing Canada. It was the Globe Refiner squad's turn to play, which made the Universal Studios players unhappy, but the rules said they could only suit up seven players, Whitenack said. In the end, four Globe Refiners, two Universal Studios players and the single college player were chosen to play. The rules at the time also stated once a substitution was made for a player, the player that had left could not return. The four Globe Refiner players played through the whole game.

The Germans had decided that the games should be held outdoors, so they played on clay courts. During the final game, it started to rain, which turned the ground to mud.

"They couldn't even dribble the ball," Whitenack said. "It became a giant game of keep-away."

Joe Fortenberry was high scorer for the game with eight points, and the final score was 19-8, a clear victory for the U.S.

"Just think how many points he could have scored if it wasn't a muddy mess," Whitenack said. "If you want to be technical about this, it was the Globe Refiners that won the game for the U.S. The Refiners were responsible for 17 of the 19 points."

"When they had the gold medals awarded...Bill Wheatley stood on the podium and accepted the very first gold medal in basketball in Olympic history," Whitenack said, adding that the medal now rests in the Basketball Hall of Fame in Massachusetts.

Whitenack said that in 1936, McPherson had a population of around 8,000 people and that having a little team from Kansas play and win was a big deal.

The average height of the team was 6 feet 5 inches, which garnered it the nickname of "tallest team in the world." Whitenack said photographers loved taking pictures of the team in ways that would emphasize its height.

Though dunking was forbidden by the rules at the time, a New York sports writer wrote about "those McPherson boys dunk the basketball into the net like you would dunk your donut into coffee in the morning," Whitenack said. Though is was not allowed in games, the Refiners would often dunk the basketball in warmups to intimidate other teams.

"We're trying to really promote this team. Every Olympics, (the USA is) favored to be up there...that started with our guys," Whitenack said.

"They didn't talk a lot about it that I remember," said Connie Schweer, who is the daughter of Globe Refiners team member Willard Schmidt. "They went and they enjoyed it...his ancestors were from Germany and they were thrilled he was getting to go there."

"He had injured his foot before they left McPherson, his heel, they were concerned about that. He jokingly told them not to worry, he always played on his toes anyway," Schweer said.

The team drove through the heat of summer in a car that did not have the benefit of air conditioning to get to New York, stopping to play basketball games along the way to raise money for the trip, Schweer said.

Schweer said Schmidt's grandparents came to the U.S. in 1850 and that he, like many of the other players, had never been out of the country. She has been able to keep letters from Schmidt to her mom from Berlin, saying that the team had gained weight on the ship because they could eat as much as they wanted.

Schmidt also received letters from five young German boys who wanted to know if they were related, Schweer recalled, adding they had signed the notes with "Heil Hitler."

Schweer said the team returned to New York in triumph and were able to see Broadway shows, be interviewed on the radio and tour the Empire State building — which had been completed only five years prior to their Olympic victory.

Schweer said her father's favorite memory was getting to ride the roller coaster at Coney Island.

"I can't imagine how he even got in it," Schweer said, noting her father stood 6 feet, 8 inches tall.

Schweer donated a straw hat issued as part of her father's Olympic uniform to the McPherson Museum and said she looks forward to returning to McPherson for the celebration and seeing the Globe Refiners mural and the gym where they played.

"It's always special," Schweer said. "McPherson has done this a couple of times. It's fun."

At the event, attendees will be able to see gold medals and other artifacts from the 1936 Olympic games, take part in a home court tour and trivia game, enjoy jazz music and meet family members of the Globe Refiners.

Tickets for the 80th anniversary celebration of the Globe Refiners are $10. The celebration is sponsored by CHS, Rotary and McPherson Convention and Visitors Bureau. To RSVP, email or call 620-241-3340.

For more information, contact the McPherson Museum, 1111 E. Kansas Ave., at 620-241-8464 or visit