The Maroon

Championship legacy inspires Wolf Pack

A Loyola player attempts a free throw during the 1945 season. The Wolf Pack went 25-5 that year on thier way to a national championship.

LOYOLA ATHLETIC DEPARTMENT ARCHIVE

A Loyola player attempts a free throw during the 1945 season. The Wolf Pack went 25-5 that year on thier way to a national championship.

CAMI CRUZ THOMAS

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With The Maroon’s 90th anniversary this year and the university’s centennial, there are more celebrations than usual commemorating Loyola’s milestones in history.

Among many things, the school has lived through flapper dancers, the Great Depression, prohibition and World War II. While the country fought its battles in 1945, the Loyola men’s basketball team ended up snagging the very first national basketball championship to ever be won for New Orleans.

Now, as the university takes a close look at the past, the community is using these events as aspiration for the future.

Recently, Loyola alumus and former editor in chief of The Maroon Ramon Vargas, A’09, wrote a book called “Fight, Grin and Squarely Play the Game,” which details the events surrounding Loyola’s men’s basketball team and their 1945 national championship victory. “

“There have been The Hornets, The Jazz, none have won national championships besides the one that represented Loyola,” Vargas said.

Vargas chronicled the lives of the players even after they graduated.

He points out that many of the players went on to accomplish impressive feats, including founding a school in the city and playing in the NBA. Some even went on to continue their military service.

“A lot of them served in the military, either before or after,” Vargas said. “These guys genuinely became good men and went on to become great men, beyond the scope of basketball.”

Vargas finds merit in applying that knowledge to present and future endeavors.

“You should always know as much as you can about where you came from. There’s the foundation, it’s our turn to leave that mark. That’s a very small episode of a very rich history,” Vargas said. “Know it and add to it.”

Given that Loyola’s 1945 national championship occurred during a time of extreme tension in the country, history would show that the team is able to overcome hardship on a tremendous level.

“There were so many factors working against the team that year,” Head Men’s Basketball Coach Michael Giorlando said. “But they still found a way to believe in their coach and in themselves to go 25-5 and capture the National Championship.”

As a coach continuing the tradition of Loyola basketball, Giorlando thinks about what it would have been like to coach in 1945.

“I guess as a coach I would have been thinking about and praying for those men not in school, but who on a daily basis were in the line of duty,” Giorlando said.

“Certainly it would have been an honor to have coached men who were now called to duty to defend our country, and hope they came back to Loyola to finish their education and move forward with their lives.”

Though times are certainly different now as compared to 1945, Giorlando is able to relate to the 1945 head coach, Jack Orsley.

“I think Coach Jack Orsley was very proud to give New Orleans and Loyola a national championship team during those challenging times,” Giorlando said.

“It must have been a nice, positive diversion for our school, alumni and city to cheer for the local champs during that time.”

Much like Vargas, Giorlando not only finds merit in reminiscing about the past but also in using the past to continue into the future.

“We try to keep their legacy alive by reminding our past and current teams of the significance of that championship and that we are very proud that the 1945 national championship team is the only collegiate basketball national champs in Louisiana,” Giorlando said.

As Loyola takes a moment to recognize its history, the 1945 national championship win is one that has a special place within the athletic community. It’s an achievement that Vargas and Giorlando believe will help continue to benefit Loyola’s future.

“The original championship banner hangs in the sports complex as a reminder of the unbelievable accomplishment of that team as underdogs the entire way to the championship,” Giorlando said.

Cami Cruz Thomas can be reached at [email protected]

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Championship legacy inspires Wolf Pack