Joe Milchman Loves National Trail Conference Tournament, Has Attended Every Game For 40 Years


Published on January 23 2013 8:34 am
Last Updated on January 23 2013 8:35 am
Written by Millie Lange

A love of basketball. For 68 years or more, Joe Milchman has had a love of basketball that has extended through his life in multiple ways. One of those ways has been attending the National Trail Conference Tournament. Milchman, who will celebrate his 83rd bithday Saturday for the finals of the NTC tourney, hasn’t missed a game at the NTC in 40 years and has attended the tournament for a total of 46 years.

“The first time I attended the NTC tournament was in 1945,” said Milchman. “I was just going to see them play. Then I played after that for three years for Stewardson.”

Milchman was a guard on the Stewardson team before the consolidation that became Stew-Stras High School.

“It was fun playing in the NTC tournament,” reminisced Milchman. “We never won but we had one of the best ballplayers around in Scott Stegall. In 1946 we won the Shelby County Tournament.  St. Elmo, Brownstown and Altamont were the ones who had good teams back then in the NTC.”

Before he got embroiled in watching the sport, Milchman was a referee.

“I started refereeing when I was in high school,” said Milchman. “I refed grade school games and independent games. After I got out of high school, I went to Arizona and umpired baseball and softball and refed basketball games. I came back here in 1963 and refed a Harlem Globetrotters game. I started refereeing high school games in 1950 and stayed with it for 23 years.”

When asked if he had ever refereed in the National Trail Conference Tournament, Milchman replied, “Back then you couldn’t ref in the NTC if you lived in a town in that conference. That was just the rule. So I never had the opportunity to ref in the NTC tourney.”

Milchman attended the NTC for six years until he moved to Arizona. Then he started attending the NTC tourney again back in 1973 and has not missed one game since then, which, some years, have been 14 straight games and now has been upped to 16 games.

When asked about any outstanding games, Milchman laughed and said, “A game is a game. I watch the game and when it’s over, I forget about it. I don’t care who wins. I just go watch the games and enjoy them.”

But when talking about players, Milchman had several he remembered, although he admits, he remembers players from back in his era much better than now.

“There have been a lot of good players. The Rothrock boy from Stewardson, Edwards from Windsor, a lot of the Teutopolis boys. Back in 1948-49, T-town had some great players. There were also St. Elmo’s Bob Olsen and Altamont’s Kenny Brauer. The Koester boys at Teutopolis, Gene Runde, Funneman boys from Teutopolis. I just can’t remember all of them. Mike Wente in the 70s and Bob Ludwig back in the 50s at St. Anthony and the Kabbes boys. I just can’t remember all their first names anymore.

“Brian Rothrock at Stew-Stras was a good three-point shooter. If they would have had the three-point line, nobody would have broken his record because he could shoot. And St. Elmo’s Kevin Maxey, when they went to state, was a good player.”

Although Milchman didn’t have children who played, he now has a grandson, Mark Jones, playing junior varsity ball at Stew-Stras High School.

“Why do I go to games?” Milchman said when queried about his love of basketball. “Because I refereed for 23 years and when I quit I started going to the NTC tourney. I like to see the action of the fans. I like to sit in the stands and listen to the people gripe at the referees. I never say anything but one time I did over at the tournament. I said if you want to criticize the referees, then go get a whistle and get out there yourselves. People don’t realize what it’s like out there.”

When asked what changes have occurred at the NTC meet over the years, Milchman talked about the venue.

“Back in the Beecher City gym it was packed in that gym and they moved it to Altamont in 1957,” said Milchman. “In 1949, T-town played in the championship and I can’t remember who else, I stood up at the end of the bleachers and stood the whole game because you couldn’t get a seat. T-town had one of the best teams I’ve ever seen then.

“Another difference is the players. It’s year-round for them now. Back then you had three or four months of basketball and now they play year around.”

Milchman hasn’t just attended the NTC, he’s also gone to the Charleston Tournament, Salem and Shelbyville just to name a few.

“I had friends and we’d could go to ballgames at Charleston and see every game. I’d see the first one at 9 a.m. and not get out of there until 2 a.m. I can still do it. I can sit at home, watch a game and go over to Altamont and watch all the games. As long as there’s some movement, I can stay.

“I also saw 29 straight state tournaments until they moved it to Peoria. I didn’t go back anymore after that.”

Milchman did say there has been another person who has seen more NTC tournaments than he has, Dave Pruemer from Teutopolis.

“The only guy I know who has seen more games than I have is Dave Pruemer. He started going in high school and never missed”

“I went many a year,” said Pruemer. “But now I don’t know, I couldn’t tell you. I can’t remember much anymore. I went last year yet but since Teutopolis isn’t in it, I probably won’t go back.”

How long will Milchman continue to attend the NTC meet?

“I think this might be my last year, I’m getting too old,” said Milchman. “But then you never know.”