Akron Goodyear Wingfoots
The Akron Goodyear Wingfoots or Akron Wingfoots is one of the oldest basketball teams in the United States. They were founded in 1918 by the workers at the Goodyear Tire Company in Akron, Ohio. The teams, while giving workers recreation, also helped to promote the company.
The Akron Goodyear team first made an impact in 1926, when the team took third place in the national AAU tournament, defeating Emporia Teachers College, 38-25. In 1932 the team won the National Industrial League championship, and was quickly becoming a national power.
In 1936, the Wingfoots joined the Midwest Basketball Conference, which was entering its second year of existence. The league was essentially made up of industrial teams, but it was also semi-pro at this point. They compiled a 16-2 record in the 1936-37 season, and won the league championship.
In 1937 team owners decided to change the name to National Basketball League (NBL) because "Midwest Conference" meant "Big Ten" -- the collegiate conference -- to many sports page readers. In 1937-38 the Wingfoots won the first NBL title, defeating the Oshkosh All-Stars in the championship playoffs, 2 games to 1. The NBL was considered a fully professional league, but most of the players earned most of their income from the industrial sponsors of their teams.
After World War II, Amateur Again
After World War II broke out, Goodyear decided to suspend the operations of the basketball team for the duration of the war. They did not play in the 1942-43 season, but resumed play after the end of the war. They did not rejoin the NBL, however. Instead, in 1947 they joined the newly-formed National Industrial Basketball League (NIBL). The first season, the Wingfoots took fourth in the five-team league with a 5-8 record.
The NIBL became allied with the Amateur Athletic Union and the Wingfoots blossomed in the AAU. The team's best season in the NIBL was 1953-54, where they tied for third with a 9-5 record. In 1960 the Wingfoots made it all the way to the AAU Tournament finals, losing to the Peoria Cats, 87-73. They re-tooled, however, and came back.
In 1961, the National Industrial Basketball League collapsed, and the Wingfoots along with some other NIBL teams entered the National AAU Basketball League (NABL)(later changed to National Alliance of Basketball Leagues).
In 1962, the team took third in the AAU tourney, getting there by beating Sanders State-Line of Salt Lake City, 81-76, in the quarterfinals; losing to the Phillips 66ers, 82-72, in the semifinals; and beating the U.S. Marines, 84-74, in the consolation game.
In the 1963 tournament, the story was almost the same, again taking third place, by beating Armed Forces All-Stars, 75-69, in the consolation game. They got to the game by crushing May Builders of Arkansas, 106-56, in the quarterfinals; but losing to Denver-Chicago Truckers in the semifinals, 72-62.
AAU Tournament Championships
In 1963 they picked up a scrawny guard out of North Carolina who felt under-appreciated by the NBA. Larry Brown played for the Wingfoots for two seasons. In his first season, 1963-64, the Wingfoots won the AAU Championship, defeating the legendary Phillips 66ers, 86-78. Brown earned tourney MVP honors, while Pete McCaffrey and Lloyd Sharrar rounded out the other Wingfoot all-star (All-American) selections.
Under Coach Hank Vaughn, the Wingfoots captured the AAU championship again in 1967. In the quarterfinals, the team beat Vaughn Realty of Spokane, Washington, 66-62; and then put themselves in the finals by beating the Jamaco Saints of Chicago, 81-70. In the title game, the Wingfoots triumphed over the legendary Phillips 66ers, 77-62. Four Wingfoots were named as all-stars--Jim King, Vern Bensen, Cal Fowler, and Edwin Correll.
End of Goodyear Sponsorship
The Wingfoots stopped playing a national schedule in the 1970s and after the team ended its competition in the NABL in favor of touring teams, Goodyear Tire stopped its sponsorship. In the 1980s team sponsorship was picked up by Reach Entertainment, and the team continued to play year-around and around the globe. The Wingfoots are the only AAU Elite team that still plays a full college schedule and in the AAU National Tournament.