The auditorium at Heritage Elementary School serves its purpose more for theatrical performances and indoor recess than basketball. But at each end of the stage, there are remnants of a basketball court with hoops attached to the same wooden backboards that were used 50 years ago.

The auditorium at Heritage Elementary School serves its purpose more for theatrical performances and indoor recess than basketball. But at each end of the stage, there are remnants of a basketball court with hoops attached to the same wooden backboards that were used 50 years ago.

Last Friday, Ron Ebright, Steve Strome and Paul Smith returned to that auditorium inside what 50 years ago was the town's only school. In the 1958-59 season, Ebright and Strome were members of the Pickerington High School boys basketball team and Smith was the team manager.

That season, the Tigers won the school's first district title, beating Ridgedale 69-50 in the Class A district championship game. Pickerington has won just two more district titles since, in 1990-91 and 2001-02.

Ebright, Strome and Smith are among the eight members of the team, nicknamed the "Creamery Town Club," that still are alive. The others are Ebright's younger brothers, twins Dean and Dennis Ebright, Jim Ball, John Gibson and Jim Hively. Dennis Brown, Dave Ison, Tom Lorenz, Vest Manson, Jim Morrison and coach Don Heft have died.

"I still do a lot of work with both schools taking tickets for games, and a lot of people don't know our team was the first to win a district title," Ron Ebright said. "Of course, that was 50 years ago."

In the 1950s, Pickerington was a small-but-budding farming community with about 450 people living within the city limits.

In the summer of 1955, Heft arrived as the high school's new basketball coach four years removed from the end of his playing career that included stints at Lancaster High School and Texas A&M.

"He came in and got rid of a bunch of thugs," said Strome, who lives in Westerville. "They were smoking, drinking and getting in gang fights. The biggest thing in town was the gang fights between Reynoldsburg and Pickerington.

"He straighten all that out and put the emphasis on a good team."

The town took notice and began filling the school's auditorium.

"There would be 790 people in here," Strome said. "My junior and senior year, you couldn't get a seat in here."

It was in Strome's senior year that Pickerington won the district title. It went 17-1 during the regular season, with its loss to Pleasantville 73-64.

As the wins became more commonplace, the respect and recognition toward the players grew.

"I had a morning paper route and I had to go on Saturday mornings to collect money for the papers," Strome said. "It took forever. Everybody wanted to talk to you because everyone knew you."

"Everyone was on the bandwagon," said Dennis Ebright, who lives in Tulsa, Okla. "It stirred up the morale in the whole town."

The morale was sky-high after the Tigers exacted revenge on Pleasantville with a 61-50 decision in the championship game of the Fairfield County tournament at Denison University.

The district tournament followed. Pickerington beat Granville 52-51 and Licking Heights 44-39 to reach the championship game at the Fairgrounds Coliseum. After winning the district title, the Tigers traveled to Hobart Arena in Troy.

"The only people left in town were the old people and the sick," Ron Ebright said.

On March 13, 1959, the run ended with a 53-48 loss to Salem Local.

"We got started real bad and got behind quite a bit," said Strome, whose team trailed 32-15 at halftime. "We got to within four points late in the third quarter, then (Al Thrasher) took over. He was the best player in the state that year."

Strome, who went on to play basketball at Miami University, averaged 16 points, followed by Ison (15), Lorenz (12) and Hively (9.6). Pickerington averaged 64.6 points per game in an era with no 3-point field goal.

"If Steve was hot, we'd keep firing the ball to him," Ron Ebright said. "If I was hot, they'd keep firing the ball to me."

"Did that ever happen?" Strome said.

"One game," Ebright said.

"That never happened, I don't care what he says," Strome said. "And the girls never said he was hot, either."

It was one of many laughs the trio shared last Friday standing on a linoleum floor that once was hardwood.

"They were a good group of fellas," Smith said. "But they were the dirtiest bunch of guys you've ever seen. I had only one class my senior year and the rest of the time I was washing your guys' clothes."

"You got three credits of home ec for that," Ebright said.

Ebright and Strome still are in awe of how much support they received from the community, from giving players jobs in order to earn $20 for a letterjacket to packing the stands at home and away games.

"On a Sunday before the district tournament started, Steve and I headed to Victory Park to shoot baskets," Ebright said. "We then saw our dads come down and they yelled our names. We looked at each other like, 'What did we do now?'

"They asked us to go get a Coke with them and we then thought we were in real trouble. After we sat down, our dads said they got a lot of phone calls from people in town not wanting us down there shooting to run a risk of a possible injury. The town backed us."