Jon Teitel's "Forgotten Legends" Series: Southeast Missouri's Carl Ritter

    
May 23rd, 2011
In the latest installment in his "Forgotten Legends" interview series CHN writer Jon Teitel spent some time with Carl Ritter, who to this day remains the all-time leading scorer in Southeast Missouri history. Ritter, who also sits atop the record books in career free throw percentage, helped lead SEMO to the 1961 Division II Tournament finals.

Jon Teitel: In 1957 your Advance High School team had a one-point loss to Pembroke Country Day in the Class M state title game. Did you feel like you should have won that game, and what was the feeling like in your locker room afterwards? 

Carl Ritter: I definitely feel like we should have won it: Pembroke made a shot with 7 seconds left that went in off the side of the backboard.  I was the tallest guy on my team at 6'2", but Pembroke had some guys who were 6'6"/6'7". 

JT: You were a two-time first team all-state player and you scored almost 30 points per game as a senior in 1958. How good a player were you back in the day, and what is the secret to being a great scorer? 

CR: I was a natural-born shooter, but still put in a lot of practice even as a kid in my kitchen.  Later I would practice out in my backyard, and then found a friend who had a basket in his backyard.  A lot of teams back then played a slower game but we were a run-and-gun team.  The high school coach first put me on his 8th grade team even though I was just a 6th grader.  By the time I was a high school senior I was a marked man, and the opposing team would put their best defender on me in every game.

JT: Why did you decide to attend Southeast Missouri? 

CR: I was offered several scholarships to places like Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Memphis State, etc.  My dad was from the St. Louis area but was not a big basketball fan.  He did not get to see a lot of my high school games due to his heart trouble, so I thought about going to St. Louis and playing for Hall of Fame Coach Ed Hickey on a full scholarship.  However that summer they got a new coach who had brought in some players from Drake, so I decided to go elsewhere.  I had visions of going to a bigger school, but since my dad was in bad health I felt that I should go to Southeast Missouri to be near him.  I do not regret it for one minute.  I felt that I could shoot with anyone on the floor back then, even in Division I. 

JT: In the 1961 Division II Tournament you had a four-point loss to Wittenberg and legendary coach Ray Mears in the finals. Did you consider your run in the tournament to be a success (due to making it to the title game) or a failure (due to getting so close but not winning it all)? 

CR: We beat SIU to go to the nationals that year and they had future ABA All-Star Chico Vaughn.  Wittenberg's offense was their defense, as they controlled the tempo of the game due to no shot clock.  They basically took us out of our running style so we only scored 38 points.  I felt that it was a success to get to the title game.  Of course I wanted to be on a national championship team, but it was a privilege and honor to make it that far: there were a lot of teams at home who would have traded places with us in a second!  That being said, it was disappointing to lose.  

JT: You were named to the all-tournament team that year. What did it mean to you to win such an outstanding individual honor? 

CR: It was a great honor to be among the five players who were picked.  I was a team player so I would rather have had my team win it all then for me to make the all-tournament team.  You cannot win a national championship with one player. It takes an entire team. 

JT: You remain the all-time leading scorer in school history. Did you realize at the time how prolific a player you were, and do you think anyone will ever break your record? 

CR: I was second team All-American in 1961 and 1962, and Southeast Missouri retired my number a few decades later.  I am the only player to ever have his jersey retired, and I was also the first player inducted into the Southeast Missouri Hall of Fame (in 2002).  I have eight school records that still stand: highest career FT%, most FT made in a game, etc.  My family and I are very proud of the records but I never bragged about it.  If we had a three-point line back then I would have scored even more points as many of my shots were from far away.  If God had not given me my talent I could have never made it to college.  I got married during my freshman year, and my wife supported me in everything I did.  I think someone will break my record because the players today play a lot more games now than we ever did.  I knew that I was a good player, but never felt that I was a player who people would look up to or that I was better than my teammates. 

JT: In the summer of 1963 you were drafted by St. Louis but you did not end up making the roster. Were you thrilled to have been drafted or disappointed to not make the roster? 

CR: Harry Gallatin was the St. Louis coach at the time.  My knee had been hurting during my senior year and crumbled on me during the first day of practice in the NBA, and that just ended my career.  The Hawks' #1 choice that year was Gerry Ward from BC. I thought I could have played as well as Ward but never got the opportunity.  I am a believer that things happen to us for a reason, even if we do not understand why.    

JT: In 1980 you coached Bell City to an upset victory over eventual 2A state champion Scott County (its only loss of the season). How good was that Scott City team, and how on earth were you able to beat them? 

CR: Scott County was very good that year but so were we, even though we did not have a single player over 6' tall.  We had a very quick team with shooters who could really jump. That was a big win for us. 

JT: Your granddaughter Kacie played volleyball at Southeast Missouri and your grandson Jared played basketball there. Why did they choose to follow in your footsteps, and do they credit at least some of their success to genetics? 

CR: I retired as basketball coach in the 1990s to become school principal, and I was asked to coach the girls' volleyball team. We won the state tourney in 1996!  At the ceremony when Southeast Missouri retired my jersey, they gave me a ball and asked me to take a three-point shot.  I swished it and I even have the tape to prove it!  Jared used to follow me around all the time (he probably thinks I can walk on water), so he always wanted to follow in my footsteps even though he was not a big kid.  He decided to walk on at Southeast Missouri and his grades started to slip a lot, but as soon as he joined the team as a scholarship player his grades started to improve.  Kacie was also a pretty good athlete, as she played four years of college volleyball. 

JT: When people look back on your career, how do you want to be remembered the most? 

CR: When I was a principal I always told my students that I hoped people would 1 day say that they want to be like the man I was.  I hope I set a good example, as I have always been helpful to children.  My records are not my legacy. I want to be a role model to my grandkids, my family, and my community. 
 
Ritter is also on Jon's list of best players in OVC history.

Austin Peay: Bubba Wells (1997) 2267 PTS (#1), 40.5 3P% (#3), All-American, conference POY
Eastern Illinois: Henry Domercant (2003) 2602 PTS (#1), 798 REB (#2), 66 BLK (#5), 285 3PM (#1), 40.5 3P% (#4), 85.2 FT% (#2), All-American, conference POY
Eastern Kentucky: Mike Rose (2009) 1763 PTS (#2), 184 STL, 271 3PM (#2), 38.2 3P%, 75 FT%
Jacksonville State: Robert Lee Sanders (1990) 1983 PTS (#1), 256 3PM (#1), All-American, conference POY
Morehead State: Ricky Minard (2004) 2381 PTS (#1), 417 AST (#2), 247 STL (#1), 226 3PM (#1), conference POY
Murray State: Popeye Jones (1992) 2057 PTS (#4), 1374 REB (#1), 2-time conference POY
SE Missouri State: Carl Ritter (1963) 1916 PTS (#1), 87.3 FT% (#1), All-American
Tennessee State: Dick Barnett (1959) 3209 PTS (#1), 3-time All-American
Tennessee Tech: Earl Wise (1990) 2196 PTS (#1), 845 REB (#4), 155 STL (#5), All-American
Tennessee-Martin: Lester Hudson (2009) 1727 PTS (#2), 169 STL (#3), 230 3PM (#2), 85.6 FT% (#1), All-American, 2-time conference POY