Collector’s note: Painted trophy balls have been around since the late 1800s, and have been used to commemorate sporting achievements. Indiana University began painting game balls from victories in baseball, basketball and football in the early 1900s, through the 1930s. These would be first displayed in the old “Trophy Room” upstairs in the old Men’s Gymnasium (now part of the IU School of Public Health), and were later relocated to the Commons of the Indiana Memorial Union.
Indiana University trophy balls occasionally come up for auction, but are scarce. This is especially true for footballs, and even more for baseballs. In my time as a collector, I have only seen around ten footballs, and only two baseballs.
High point in a down season
Everett Dean’s first six seasons as head basketball coach of Indiana had produced two Big Ten Championships (1926 and 1928), two conference runner-up finishes, and household names such as Jim Strickland, Dale Wells, Bob Correll, Harlan Logan, and Branch McCracken. McCracken, in fact, would be IU’s leader in career scoring when he graduated in 1930, and would revolutionize the post position in college basketball.
The post-McCracken era (as a player) would not be one of immediate success.
The 1930-31 season would see IU finish 9-8 overall, with a 6th place finish in Big Ten conference play. Coach Dean was hoping for more success with his 1931-32 squad, as Joseph Zeller, Bernard Dickey, and Bernard Miller were returning as IU’s top three scorers from the previous season.
IU began the season 2-0 with victories over Miami of Ohio and Notre Dame. However, the success was short-lived as Indiana suffered six straight losses, including their first four conference games. It would take a 35-27 victory over Iowa on January 18, 1932 to snap the Hoosier losing streak.
Indiana was only able to secure four Big Ten conference victories in 1932 (finishing the season 8-10 overall), including the 27-22 victory over eventual conference runner-up Minnesota on February 13th, commemorated in the painted ball pictured above.
The Hoosiers were led in the victory by sophomore Woodrow Weir with ten points. Weir would go on to have a solid three-year for the Cream and Crimson, leading the team in scoring in 1933-34.
Senior guard Joseph Zeller, a superb all-around athlete at Indiana, would become the only athlete in Indiana University history to win the Balfour Award (most valuable player) in two sports in the same academic year. Zeller, the MVP of the 1931-32 basketball team, would also star on the gridiron for Billy Hayes’s “Scrappin’ Hoosiers”, winning the 1931 Balfour Award for football.