Franklin Wonder Five


Franklin Wonder Five

College coach infobox
Name = Franklin Wonder Five
Sport = Basketball


ImageWidth = 350
Caption = Left to right: Burl Friddle, Ralph Hicks, Paul White, Robert "Fuzzy" Vandiver, Sima Comer, Johnny "Snake Eyes" Gant, Harold Borden, Pete Keeling, coach Ernest "Griz" Wagner
Championships = Indiana High School State Champion 1920, 1921, 1922Indiana State Collegiate Champion 1923, 1924

National Collegiate Champion 1923 (undefeated)

The Franklin Wonder Five is a legendary 1920s basketball team from Indiana's "Hoosier Hysteria" era. Basketball was king in Indiana and no team reigned more supreme than the team dubbed the “Wonder Five” from Franklin, Indiana. This small town about 20 miles south of Indianapolis produced a team that captured the Indiana State Basketball Championship three years in succession, 1920, 1921, and 1922. After their high school success most members of the team followed their coach, Griz Wagner, as he had accepted the job of coach of the Franklin College basketball team. At the time the enrollment of the college was around 350 students. The “Wonder Five” took on large universities including Notre Dame, Illinois, Purdue, and Wisconsin. The team went undefeated during their first college season of 1922-23. It wasn’t until February of the 1923-24 season that the team suffered their first defeat at the hands of Butler University, ending a string of 50 consecutive victories stretching back over a 2-year span.

The leading scorer on the Wonder Five was "Fuzzy" Vandiver (12/26/1903-7/30/1983). In 1924, the Chicago Tribune named him one of the 5 best players in the nation. Coach John Wooden, of UCLA fame, considered Fuzzy the greatest high school basketball player he had ever seen. Wooden had seen Fuzzy play as a contemporary of his from nearby Martinsville, Indiana. After graduation from college, Fuzzy returned to Franklin High School as the basketball coach and led the team to a runner-up in the state basketball tournament in 1939. He retired from coaching in 1944 but continued as the school's athletic director and he taught history in the high school.

The team’s fame grew and they were challenged by the Omars, a professional team in Detroit, Michigan. The Omars were one of the top pro teams in the nation. The Franklin Wonder Five beat the Omars not only once but twice to prove that their win was not a fluke. After ending the year undefeated, they were being proclaimed around the nation as the best in all of college basketball, with the Detroit Free Press writing, "Not only has this team been the best Franklin College ever had, but it is considered as the best collegiate team ever seen in Hoosierdom, the basketball center of the world." Subsequently, Coach Wagner turned down an offer to play the top professional team in the nation, the New York Celtics, as his team was "ready for a rest". In 1980, Franklin College unveiled a banner proclaiming this team as national champions of 1923.

Very few games were lost throughout their high school and college years. In honor of coach Ernest “Griz” Wagner the Franklin High School team has carried the nickname of Grizzly Cubs and the Franklin College has been nicknamed the Grizzly Bears. No finer tribute to coach Wagner could be made.

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Ellett, Phillip [http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0006ENXMC "The Franklin Wonder Five: A Complete History of the Legendary Basketball Team"] [Note: Only 500 copies of this book were printed in 1986, and it is now out of print. However, Amazon Kindle owners will be able to download a digital edition starting in August 2008.]

"Team members pictured on the cover of the book are Fuzzy Vandiver and Carlyle Friddle (front row), Johnny Gant and Jimmy Ross (2nd row), Harry King, Ike Ballard, Charlton 'Butter' Williams and Hubert Davis (3rd row), and coach Griz Wagner in the back."


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