Today such behavior would be read as the most contemptuous dissing. But the Wonders weren't trying to denigrate the competition. They never acted up unless a game was so well in hand that it was threatening to bore fans. Hairston tolerated the high jinks because his players were otherwise highly disciplined. "He just told us what he expected, and he meant to have it that way," Lee Drummond says. "I remember seeing him one evening, I don't remember the school we were playing, but the game was tight. The Wonders went back in the locker room, and Wyman Roberts—he was a pretty good cutup—said something, and old Magellan just popped him right in the head."
But that was uncharacteristically direct action for the cerebral Hairston. More typical was the occasion when Wyman broke a training rule. The coach huddled with the other four starters about an appropriate punishment. Wyman, never one to break a sweat on defense, was assigned to cover the next opponent's top shooter; if his man outscored him, Wyman was gone. Wyman responded with 17 points—and held his opponent to 16. "You've never seen a more frantic basketball player," Hairston would recall years later.
"He had a lot of help," says Wiseman, recalling the game with a laugh.
After the Wonders capped that furious 1934-35 season with a second state championship, college coaches were salivating. Dozens of schools offered scholarships, and Kentucky's Adolph Rupp expressed interest in recruiting the whole Waterloo team. Yet of the five starters, only Wiseman, the teacher's son, went to college—first to nearby Rio Grande College, where he was co-captain of the basketball team, then to Ohio University, where he played recreational ball.
The four other starters eventually turned pro and barnstormed as the Waterloo Wonders, playing such celebrated teams as the Globetrotters, the New York Renaissance Five (better known as the Rens) and the Philadelphia Sphas, and incorporating more gags into their routine. In 1937, after two narrow losses to the dominant pro team of the day, the New York Celtics, the upstart Wonders beat the Celtics in a third game, 47-39, before a crowd of 7,000 in Cleveland.
World War II closed out the Wonders' basketball careers, but the players never really gave up the game. They played a few exhibitions and sometimes fired off an occasional trick shot just for the hell of it—and because they still could.
Last year the people of Waterloo were able to get a stale historical marker erected to honor the Wonders. It sits smack in the middle of town, in the shadow of the unpainted plywood steeple of the Waterloo Outreach Assembly of God Church.
Like thousands of other rural American towns, Waterloo has dwindled to almost nothing, its tenuous survival due mainly to the stubbornness of families rooted there for five and six generations. For them the Waterloo Wonders are a touchstone. After all, says McCauley, "How many little country villages have experienced something like that?" How many indeed?
Thomas Kunkel's book on Harold Ross of The New Yorker will he published in March.