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New book chronicles the national championship season of Loyola's 1945 basketball team

Loyola press release - June 24, 2013

A new book due out July 2 by Loyola University New Orleans alumnus and journalist Ramon Vargas ’09 almost didn’t get published. The day he was supposed to pitch the book to a publisher last year, Hurricane Isaac paid south Louisiana a visit and Vargas was assigned to cover the storm and its aftermath for his employer, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune. Vargas was certain the deal was off the table.

Luckily, History Press in South Carolina was still very interested, and published “Fight, Grin and Squarely Play the Game: The 1945 Loyola New Orleans Basketball Championship and Legacy,” which chronicles the heartfelt personal narratives of the 1944-45 Loyola Wolf Pack as they became the city’s first basketball team to earn a national championship.

The book covers accounts of the team’s boost to the community, from coverage in The Times-Picayune and Loyola’s student newspaper, The Maroon, to letters from students and alumni fighting overseas during World War II. The book follows the team’s journey to the championship, a feat that invigorated a university that had lost a number of its students and alumni to the war; explores superstar player Leroy Chollet's sudden departure; and details the lives of the team members after that magical season.

The idea for the book stems from the author’s days at Loyola. In his freshman year in 2006, Vargas was covering the men’s basketball team for The Maroon. After the season ended and the school year was coming to a close, he started going back through some old archived Maroon issues in his free time. He stumbled upon the March 23, 1945 headline, “Loyola Wins National Intercollegiate Basketball Title.”

“Floored, I started reading about the team in reverse chronological order—from the victory at the 1945 National Association of Intercollegiate Basketball to the beginning of the season, familiarizing myself with some of the team’s more prominent characters, among them Coach Jack Orsley and star players like Chollet and Jim Hultberg,” Vargas said.

Investigating more deeply, Vargas found that Chollet left Loyola unexpectedly in the off season following the championship—something the news media back then didn’t pick up on, according to Vargas. “When I learned the circumstances about his departure, I became convinced both the capture of the championship and the story of Chollet’s departure from Loyola needed to be retold in one volume,” Vargas said.

Legendary New Orleans sports writer and Loyola alumnus Peter Finney Sr. ’49 wrote the foreword to Vargas’ book.

“He actually went to school with, played against and interviewed a lot of the players on the national championship team—honestly, I’m pretty envious of that, as I am of his abilities and accomplishments as a writer,” Vargas said.

A former sports editor and editor-in-chief of The Maroon and current staff writer for NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune, Vargas’ writing has been honored by the Louisiana Press Association, Press Club of New Orleans and Associated Press Media Editors.