March Madness memories
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colo. As the nation is swept up in the March Madness that kicks into high gear today with the first round of the NCAA basketball tournament, a former Glenwood basketball player will be watching with fond memories.Not only because Tom Vidakovich loves basketball and has watched the tourney his whole life, but also because he’s been there.The 1962 Glenwood Springs High School graduate, played in the tournament twice (1965 and ’66) as a member of the Colorado State University basketball team.”I love it. I follow it so much,” Vidakovich said of the tournament. “It has changed a lot and turned into a national sports production. It wasn’t near as huge as it is now with March Madness, but it was still a big deal.”In his junior year at CSU, Vidakovich made his first trip to the tourney. At the time, only 25 teams qualified for the tournament, as opposed the 64-team format now used. As starting point guard, Vidakovich and the Rams played hard, but fell to Oklahoma City, 70-68, in the first round.CSU again went to the tourney during Vidakovich’s senior campaign, but again were eliminated in the first round, this time by an 82-76 loss to Houston.”Things were different,” Vidakovich recalls. Very different – no 3-point line, no slam dunks and freshman were ineligible to play on their college varsity teams.The story line remained the same however – unlikely upsets, miracle plays and wild twists that will be remembered forever. Vidakovich may not have won a national title, but he took part in the dance.
As a freshman at Glenwood, Vidakovich didn’t even make it to basketball tryouts because he was too busy working. At the time, Glenwood only had a varsity and junior varsity team, but a C squad was started up by Bob Chavez, who went on to be a Glenwood basketball legend.Vidakovich came out late and played for the C team, which scrimmaged against the JV team one day. The C team won. Vidakovich was bumped up to JV, and the next year, under new head coach Chavez, Vidakovich and the Demons went to state.To get there, Glenwood upset heavily-favored Meeker for the Western Slope Championship, then recorded two more upsets to get to the state title game.The Demons lost to Akron in the final, but the team’s success changed Demon hoops forever.”That’s when Coach Chavez got his start to being so successful,” Vidakovich said. “We lost, but it propelled Glenwood basketball to a whole new level.”Vidakovich made the all-state team that year (1960), as he did the next two years, and was hooked on the sport.Glenwood star point guard Vidakovich went to the state tourney the following two years, but couldn’t reach the state finals again. By the end of his senior year in ’62, Vidakovich had built such a strong reputation that he received over 20 scholarship offers to play basketball in college.”Tom was one of the finest guards I ever had the pleasure of coaching,” Chavez said. “The guy never rested.”
Of all his offers, Vidakovich picked CSU, mostly for it’s down-to-earth, small-town feel. After sitting out his freshman year, as was required by the NCAA, he moved to varsity sophomore year, but wasn’t a starter. Vidakovich then started his junior and senior years when CSU went to the tournament. In his junior year in 1964-65, Vidakovich took over the point guard responsibilities. He averaged over 13 points per game and shot above 88 percent from the free-throw line.In his senior season, he was captain of the team along with fellow guard Lonnie Wright, who went on to play for the AFL Denver Broncos and also continued his hoops career with the Denver Rockets – the Nuggets’ predecessors.Outside of the NCAA tournament, a highlight Vidakovich vividly remembers in his CSU career is playing against Texas Western College. Texas Western is the team featured in the movie “Glory Road,” and started the first all-black lineup in NCAA basketball history. The team traveled to Fort Collins on Feb. 4, 1966, and narrowly edged CSU with a buzzer beater for a win.Texas Western, which is now the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP), went on to win the national championship in ’66, becoming the only team outside of John Wooden’s UCLA Bruins to win a title from 1964-1973.
Vidakovich was also a member of the first senior class to play at Moby Arena, the current home for CSU basketball (and the Colorado Class 3A High School State Basketball Tournament). He remembers it as a great place to play. “Every game we played was sold out. Students would line up for 10 hours before the game to get in,” Vidakovich said. “The fans were great and we always played in front of a packed house.”Averaging 12.3 points per game his senior year, Vidakovich was a valued member of the team.”He was a real scrapper I’ll tell you what,” said former CSU basketball coach Jim Williams. Williams coached Vidakovich and remembers specific games and plays with crystal-clear recollection despite turning 92 on Monday. “(He was a) good team man, passed the ball well and really took after ’em on defense.”
Vidakovich spent two more years at CSU, earning his masters degree in teaching and helping coach the Rams before moving to Denver. He spent three years teaching and coaching there before realizing he wanted to return to the small-town lifestyle.Vidakovich relocated to Buena Vista, where he and his wife still live today. He was the head coach of Buena Vista High School boys basketball team for 14 years, then assisted various teams for a few more seasons.After long teaching careers, both are now in their third year of retirement.For the next month, Vidakovich will be tuned in to the sport he dedicated much of his life to, watching the historic madness that is the NCAA tournament.
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The Glenwood Springs High School girls swim and dive team capped an undefeated season over the weekend, winning the Southwest Conference finals in dominating fashion.