The McPherson Globe Refiners basketball monument
A sculpture honoring the first basketball team to win the gold medal was dedicated on October 5, 2020 in McPherson, Kansas. The 10 ton sculpture consists of an 11 foot wide bronze relief, laser etched black granite walls and benches that pay tribute to the 1936 Globe Refiners who dominated basketball in a small town in central Kansas and made up half of the USA Olympic basketball team.
The popularity of basketball in Kansas during the first half of the 1900s got its start with two worldwide basketball legends and their influence at Kansas University. Dr. James Naismith, the inventor of basketball and Dr. Forrest “Phog” Allen, the Father of Basketball Coaching. With these two giants at KU, a disproportionate number of great basketball coaches began forming in and around Kansas City.
Basketball quickly grew in popularity in mid-continent Kansas as cheap, convenient train travel in the area allowed basketball players to show off their talents. From 1921-1936 the champion AAU teams were from the Kansas City area and the tallest, fastest and best team in the world were from McPherson, the Globe Refiners.
The life size bronze monument realistically depicts the Globe Refiners, from left to right: Coach Gene Johnson, Francis Johnson, Jack Ragland, Charles Bailey, Tex Gibbons, Bill Wheatley, Vernon Vaughn, Harry Dowd, Joe Fortenberry, and Willard Schmidt. The sculpture honors the whole Refiner’s team with six players and Coach Johnson representing half of the US Olympic team that won gold in Hitler’s 1936 Olympics.
The Globe Refiners changed basketball by introducing the term “dunk”, inventing the fast break style of offense, as well as changing the rules for the jump ball and goal-tending. Their achievements were overshadowed and nearly forgotten by the outbreak of WWII. For more history on the team please click here
On the reverse side of the bronze relief is a 12 feet x 8 feet laser etched black granite wall (divided into three sections) that highlight their greatness.
On the left panel you can read about the three years as an AAU team and their build-up of basketball dominance.
The center area of wall briefly highlights some of basketball’s early history including Dr. Naismith’s importance in the development of basketball, Joe Fortenberry’s influence, and the outdoor gold medal game in 1936. It also quotes Bill Wheatley who describes the famous “Berg” ball that was used in the gold medal game on August 14, 1936 between the USA vs. Canada.
The third panel, on the far right side, are highlights from the Olympic trials in New York and their winning performance playing for the gold medal. Playing outdoors on a clay court in the driving rain, the Globe Refiners representing the USA beat Canada 19-8 and became the first basketball team to ever win the gold medal.
Three granite benches face the wall area where visitors can sit and contemplate the team that changed the sport. On the center, top of each bench is displayed a circular porcelain tile that represents the teams logo, the “Berg” ball and the 1936 gold medal. Linear pavers make up the floor of the plaza mimicking the hardwood floor of a basketball court. Up lighting gives the statue and wall area illumination at dusk.
The sculpture was conceived by the Julia J. Mingenback Foundation and McPherson Mayor Tom Brown. In 2019, Brett Reber, a trustee on the foundation, reached out to Betti to begin formulating ideas for honoring the Refiners with a monument.
Betti met with the foundation and Mayor Brown in McPherson in July 2019 and got a tour of the community building and plaza where the monument would eventually be permanently installed. After he submitted his concepts, the project was given a green light and Betti began assembling his team. The artist/ sculptor worked with nine companies from six states to complete the thirteen month long project, including an architect to digitally lay out Betti’s concepts for
all members of the team.
“So, an interesting story,” Betti told Jeffrey Born from the McPherson Sentinel newspaper, “When I started the clay, I started on the left side of the relief and worked my way towards the right. About two or three days after I finished sculpting Joe Fortenberry his daughter Sally emails me and says, ‘Oh I hear you’re working on a sculpture honoring my Dad.’ So I said, oh yeah?! Come on over! Where do you live? Well,” Betti said, “She lives ten minutes from my studio!”
“So she came for a visit and told me a story about her dad,” he said.
“She said her Dad’s coach in college told him not to dunk the ball and said it was not elegant and wasn’t part of the game. And so he stopped dunking the ball until he was with the Globe Refiners where he did it one time and Coach Johnson saw him. She said Coach Johnson pulled him aside and her Dad apologized, thinking he was in trouble. But Coach Johnson encouraged him.”
The term “dunk” was first coined by Arthur Daley, a Pulitzer Prize winning American sports journalist for the New York Times, who wrote “Joe Fortenberry and Willard Schmidt (of the Globe Refiners) pitched the ball downward into the hoop, much like a cafeteria customer dunking a roll in coffee.”
Recently, Joe C. Fortenberry’s gold medal made its debut on Antiques Roadshow with son Oliver and is said to be the most important gold medal to come on the Antiques Roadshow. Click to see the full PBS video
It should be noted that the Hollywood Universals made up the other half of the US basketball team in 1936, although they did not play in the gold medal game of USA vs Canada. The Globe Refiners players who made the team were Joe Fortenberry, Francis Johnson, Willard Schmidt, Tex Gibbons, Bill Wheatley and Jack Ragland; their coach Gene Johnson would be the assistant coach for the Olympics. One player, Vernon Vaughn, although qualified, chose an oil refining career over a chance at playing in the Olympics.
The sculpture honoring the McPherson Globe Refiners is on permanent display outside the community building on the north-east plaza in McPherson, Kansas.