KARNS CITY, Pa. (EYT/D9) — Mike “Snuffy” Smith is most looking forward to seeing the guys again.
It’s been nearly 50 years since Smith and the 1972 Karns City boys basketball team rolled through the regular season and district and state playoffs to land in the PIAA title game. It’s been nearly five decades since that history-making run.
And, it’s been nearly two years of waiting for that team to be recognized.
The 1972 Gremlins finally will be acknowledged when they are inducted into the 2020 Butler County Sports Hall of Fame during a ceremony on Saturday. The induction was canceled due to the COVID-19 shutdown in April of last year.
It was postponed again this August and moved to September 25.
“What does it mean to me?” Smith asked. “Well, the Butler County Hall of Fame is pretty darn important here. It was a shock to me when I found out, and I was super happy that somebody recognized what we accomplished.”
Karns City accomplished a great deal in that magical season. The Gremlins had been good for a while, making the playoffs as a matter of habit, but had never won a district title and had never made a substantial state playoff run.
Until that year.
Karns City was 26-2 in 1972 and advanced to the PIAA Class C championship game against Mount Penn. Playing 12 hours after their win in the semifinals, the Gremlins storybook season ended with an 11-point loss.
“We knew we were going to be pretty good,” said Smith, who was a senior who came off the bend for the Gremlins that season. “We didn’t know we were going to be that good. We knew we were going to be somebody to be reckoned with, for sure.
“We kind of got outplayed in the state final,” Smith added. “It was a closer game than what the final score said. They were a better team than we were, but we went pretty far. It was great.”
Karns City’s only loss in the regular season was to rival A-C Valley, which had also carved out a string of success.
The Falcons won the District 9 Class C title in 1971 and were considered the team to beat again in 1972.
In the first meeting, A-C Valley came to Karns City and beat the Gremlins on their home floor. That stuck in the craw of Smith and his teammates.
When it came time to play A-C Valley again in Foxburg later in the season, Karns City was ready.
The fans, were, too, lining up outside the school three hours before tipoff in the hopes of seeing the game, which was also shown to the overflow crowd via closed-circuit TV in the cafeteria.
“We beat them by 16 on their home floor,” Smith said. “They were just as good as we were.”
The two teams met for the third time, this one for the District 9 Class C title at Clarion University. Karns City won again, 56-55.
“What a game,” Smith said. “Yeah, it felt pretty good.”
The 1972 Karns City team was led by 6-foot-2 Bill Hipple, who Smith said played more like he was 7-foot-2.
“He had such long arms, and he could jump through the ceiling,” Smith said.
Hipple averaged more than 20 points per game that season for the Gremlins.
Ernie Molchany, Tom Kusick, Joel Bell, and Kirk DuBois also started for Karns City.
“I came off the bench, so it was fun sitting there and watching those guys,” Smith said. “We had some incredible players.”
Smith made the rounds, calling his former teammates to see if they were going to be able to make the ceremony.
Smith said most would, even though members of the team have scattered to the four winds over the years.
“I kind of took it upon myself to get in touch with all these guys,” Smith said. “There’s a guy who lives in Texas and one that lives in Florida and another who lives in Cleveland. Quite a few of them are coming.
“It’s going to be a nice reunion. It’ll be a lot of fun to see those guys again.”