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Remembering the Wonder Five 100-years after first championship

Players won three high school, two college titles
Wonder Five Franklin.jpg
Posted at 9:06 PM, Feb 17, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-17 21:17:54-05

FRANKLIN — We'll excuse you if you've never heard of the "Franklin Wonder Five." After all, it's been 100-years since a team of high school and college players from Johnson County took the basketball world by storm in the early years of the Roaring Twenties.

The Johnson County Museum of History, Franklin College, Franklin Community High School and the Johnson County Historical Society have not forgotten and will be commemorating the Wonder Five this year.

First, some background. The Franklin High School boys basketball team won three straight state championships between 1920 and 22, and this was long before class basketball. Big schools played small schools and there was just one champion. That was Franklin in 1920, 21 and 22.

The team, coached by Ernest "Griz" Wagner, put together an 89-9 record during the three championship seasons.

Upon graduation in 1922, most players stayed in town and went to Franklin College, where enrollment was around 350. Coach Wagner went with them and success followed at the collegiate level.

The tiny college 20-miles south of Indianapolis went undefeated in the 1922-23 season and the following year didn't lose a game until February when Butler had the best of the Grizzlies. Many of the victories came against much larger schools.

The centennial celebration of the first high school championship begins on Thursday, March 12, 4 p.m., during an outdoor ceremony on the east side of the Franklin College Fitness Center. "The Barn," as it is affectionately known, is the same gym where the Wonder Five played. A state historic marker will be dedicated.

Putting together the March ceremony and getting the marker approved by the Indiana Historical Bureau took some work. Much of it was done by a group of Franklin College students.

"The entire process, from the research advocating a historical marker to the planning and dedication event, has been a valuable engaged-learning opportunity for our students," said Dr. Lori Schroeder, provost and dean of the college. "On top of building their professional skills, they are using what they learned in the classroom to make a difference in the community."

On the same day as the ceremony, the Johnson County Museum of History will open a Wonder Five exhibit which will be on view until early October.