WALLA WALLA — When the 60th anniversary of Jerry Crimins’ record-setting night on the basketball court came and went unnoticed at Mac-Hi last winter, it wasn’t really a surprise.
Basketball, after all, has become a lost art at the Milton-Freewater high school.
For the record, Mac-Hi hasn’t played in a state basketball tournament since 1986, when the Pioneer girls qualified for the fourth time in a span of five seasons under the combined head coaching of Dave Kruse and Cliff Trout. The Pioneers finished fourth at state in 1984.
Kreg Wishard guided the Mac-Hi boys to three state tourneys in the early 1980s. And it’s been mostly downhill ever since.
In fact, Mac-Hi hasn’t appeared in a postseason game since 2004, when Nick Ellis led the Pioneer boys to a 15-7 record and the GOL district tournament in the first of his seven seasons at the Mac-Hi coaching helm.
It’s a far cry from that memorable 1951-52 season, when Crimins scored 73 points in a 116-63 victory over Hermiston to establish an Oregon single-game high-school state record that stands to this very day.
“That was the golden era of Oregon high-school basketball,” Crimins recollected last week in a telephone interview from his home in Milwaukie, Ore. “It was amazing how a lot of individuals scored a lot of points and teams scored a lot of points.”
The state scoring record fell four times during that memorable season. Seven-foot center “Swede” Halbrook of Lincoln High in Portland twice broke the record with games of 66 and 71 points, with his second record-setting effort coming less than 24 hours before Crimins went off for 73 points.
“Up until then, the game was pretty slow-paced,” Crimins remembered. “But for some reason in 1952, everything changed and teams started running and fast-breaking and scoring a lot of points. Three or four years later it settled down, defense was emphasized, and it’s still that way today.”
As for Crimins, he’s still going strong at age 78.
He’s been an active participant in the Pacific Northwest Section of the United States Tennis Association’s age-group competition for five decades. And he plays basketball regularly in a senior setting for players 60 years old and up.
“I’m playing basketball at noon today,” he said with a chuckle. “And I’ll be playing tennis at 4:30. I probably play tennis on average five times a week.”
Crimins competes in senior tennis tournaments up and down the West Coast from Canada to Southern California. He’s been ranked No. 1 in singles in his 75-to-80 age group of the Northwest Section three years running, and he’s also been ranked No. 1 in doubles in the past.
“My last tournament was about a month ago in Olympia,” he said. “And the next one is in Yakima Labor Day weekend.”
There’s about a 20-year age spread in his basketball group, Crimins said.
“There are guys in their 60s up into their 80s,” he said. “We play full court, and there’s a former football player from Oregon State who is 83 and still runs up and down the court. He’s the oldest and I’m probably the second oldest.
“Not long ago a few of us went to Olympia to play in the Washington State Senior Games. We had to play in a younger age group and we did very poorly. We were the worst team in that group.”
Crimins played at 160 pounds as a high school senior, and he has kept his weight in the 170 range over the course of his life.
“I work out all the time,” he said. “I do a little work in the weight room just to keep my stomach from expanding too much.”
Not surprisingly, he has experienced the normal physical wear and tear.
“I have had 11 surgeries and everything hurts,” Crimins said. “My feet are numb, I’ve got bad discs in my lower back and I can’t jog anymore.
“But in tennis or basketball, I guess the adrenalin covers up the pain. I like to play enough to go ahead and play over the hurts.”
Does he see the day when he might not be able to answer the bell?
“I keep wondering when,” he said. “But that day hasn’t come yet.”
Crimins plans to visit Milton-Freewater this fall “after the weather cools down,” he said. His great grandfather, Daniel Frank Brown, started the first electric power company in M-F in 1888, and Crimins and other family members are working on a display of that company that will hold a place in the M-F city hall building.
Meanwhile, he’ll keep tabs on the Pioneers as he has faithfully done down through the years.
“They’re pretty good in soccer,” Crimins said of the Pioneers. “I’ve even gone to watch them play in a couple of state championship games.
“But they’re pretty bad in basketball. They can’t seem to get it going in football or basketball.”