My Uncle, Leland "Junior" Norris ready to shoot in this UD Yearbook photo.
Last Wednesday evening, as I was seated in the University of Dayton arena waiting for the beginning of the N.I.T. first round game between the Flyers and the Illinois State Redbirds, I couldn't help but think about my uncle, Leland "Junior" Norris. For three seasons in the early 1950's my Uncle Junior played guard for the University of Dayton. He scored 1,009 points and was known for his two-hand set shot. In 1951 and 1952, the Flyers played in the championship game of the NIT in Madison Square Garden in New York City. The press in New York loved my uncle and gave him the name "Humphrey" because they thought he resembled the character "Humphrey Pennyworth" from the cartoon "Joe Palooka".
Unfortunately, the University of Dayton did not taste victory either year; defeat coming at the hands of BYU in 1951 and LaSalle in 1952. But, that didn't stop Dayton from being a basketball town and in 1962 and 1968, they were the NIT Champions. Ask just about anybody associated with college basketball and they will tell you that Daytonians love their basketball and the University of Dayton Arena is a great place to play. When Uncle Junior played basketball, they didn't play in a large arena. It was a much more intimate game then and I'm sure it felt like the team was carrying the whole town on their backs when they made those trips to Madison Square Garden. I wasn't born then, but I wish I had some type of time machine to go back and experience the excitement there must have been in this city at that time. Growing up with Uncle Junior I always knew that something special had happened back then. There were pictures on the wall at his home of his playing days and when I visited the arena I could see his face on the Flyers "Hall of Fame" wall.
Another yearbook photo, Junior being interviewed on WHIO Radio
As Thursday's game went on and the crowd cheered each basket and booed every botched call, I watched the faces of our current players and thought about Uncle Junior and how those men might not be there in that arena if not for him and those great teammates of his that helped to make the University of Dayton basketball program what it is today.
After his graduation, Uncle Junior became a teacher and a coach and in later years, he ran for and was elected Clerk of Courts of Montgomery County, where he served the people from 1976-1888.
The following years took their toll on my dear uncle and he battled heart trouble and other illnesses and on 27 December, 2006, Uncle Junior passed away.
I sure do miss him.
On Wednesday night the Flyers won that opening game of the National Invitation Tournament. With any luck, the University of Dayton will go to Madison Square Garden one more time.
And I'll be thinking of Uncle Junior.