Dallas County’s Buffalo High School has a strong tradition of success in boys basketball.
That tradition goes all the way back to 1949, when the Bison won the final “all class” state championship in Missouri history.
The tradition also includes back-to-back Class M state championships in 1964 and 1965. Those teams accomplished something no Buffalo teams have since. And their success still resonates today.
“We want to get to where they’ve been,” said current Buffalo coach Kyle Gawlowski. “It’s continually in our thoughts. It’s something we’re always pushing for.”
Those ’64 & ’65 teams combined to go 66-4, with the 1964 squad suffering just one loss. And they did it against all comers. That’s why the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame proudly inducted the Buffalo High School Boys Basketball 1964 and 1965 State Championship Teams as members of the Class of 2023.
Merton Bancroft was there for all of it. A hulking 6-foot-7 back-to-the-basket center in the days when centers rarely left the paint, Bancroft remembers almost every detail from those two championship seasons.
“The ’64 team was the same team I played with as a sophomore,” Bancroft said. “We only lost one game that year, early in the season to Joplin. We had a lot of fun.”
With Mike Kirksey as head coach, the Bison rolled through the state tournament. State tournament play opened with a 75-46 win against East Carter, setting up a quarterfinal matchup against Buffalo’s top rival of the day Republic, the defending Class M state champions.
“We were down by 11 to Republic in the quarterfinals but came back to win that one,” Bancroft said.
An 83-74 victory over Tipton in the semifinal set up a showdown with Richland in the finals, and the Bison rolled to a 79-63 victory, giving Buffalo its first state title in 15 years.
“It was an exciting time,” Bancroft said. “We had a lot of fun.”
Doug Cassity was the top player on that ’64 team, earning first-team All-State honors. Both Bancroft and Chuck Johnson earned honorable mention All-State as the team finished with a 34-1 record.
Other members of the 1964 team included Rex Lindsey, Roy Lindsey, Jerry Johnson, Richard Sharp, Dick Holland, Oscar Claspill, Dennis Palmer and Lendol Vest.
The 1965 season not only brought a new coach, but also saw the addition of many new faces. Six members of the ’64 squad graduated and Larry Atwood replaced Mike Kirksey as head coach.
The Bison faced several challenges in 1965 aside from a new coach and new teammates. One of the biggest came in the finals of the Blue and Gold Tournament against one of Missouri’s most legendary teams.
“We led Springfield Parkview in the finals of the Blue & Gold and were ahead by two with a few seconds to play,” Bancroft said. “They hit a halfcourt shot to tie the game, and we lost in the second overtime by six points after I fouled out.”
It took some time, but eventually the Bison jelled.
With Bancroft earning first-team All-State honors, and a class of sophomores which included future star Chuck Williams, the Bison once again rolled through the state tournament, winning three of their four games by nine or more points. The only close contest was a 55-52 win against a Charlie Spoonhour-coached Bloomfield team in the semifinals.
“In the finals we played California, and they were undefeated at the time, and we blew them out of the gym,” Bancroft said of the Bison’s eventual 65-49 championship victory.
Other members of the 1965 state title team were Claspill, Roy Lindsey, Dennis Palmer, Vest, Doug Nixon, Mak Palmer, Larry King, Mike Lemons, Lendal McDaniel, and Merv Bancroft.
One constant for Buffalo throughout its two state championship runs were its fans.
“Our games were an event,” Bancroft said. “It was common on road games for us to have a very noisy supporting crowd to cheer us on.”
The fan support was so strong for the Bison that they helped set a Brewer Fieldhouse attendance record during the 1965 state title game in Columbia.
Gawlowski, who graduated from Buffalo in 2009, grew up hearing stories about fan support.
“What people remember most was the atmosphere at games,” he said. “Community support is what I remember people talking about. It was all about the community being with the team. That makes you proud to be from Buffalo.”
Bancroft knows the legacy of those teams is secure.
“It’s always been a source of pride for me that we accomplished what we did,” he said. “Not many people get to experience that level of success.”