They mostly grew up within a couple of blocks of each other in Winnipeg’s North End. And they idolized the Stella Mission Stellars, who had won the men’s national junior basketball championship twice in a row before moving up to the senior ranks. That is when the Winnipeg Light Infantry hoop squad came into their own, winning the national junior championship in 1952 and 1953. More than 50 years later, in 2005, the two teams comprising some of the best players ever to don Manitoba jerseys were inducted into the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame and Museum .
“We started out in Old Exhibition Grounds, a bunch of us kids, at 10 o’clock every morning, Monday to Friday, in summer,” said Fred Ingaldson, who was on the 1952 squad before leaving to accept a scholarship with Montana State University. “We started practising and we got a little bit better and went to high school and we started playing a little bit and then we got on our bikes one day (we all lived within a three-block radius) and went to Hal Mauthe, our coach. He was having supper and he said, ‘What do you guys want?’ We said we wanted him to coach us. And he said ‘OK’.”
The squad practised at the McGregor Armouries and did not fare too well in 1950, their first year. But by next season, they were beating the Stellars, who moved up to seniors, and WLI marched to its first of two national titles in 1952.
“We played Holy Rosary for the city championship and we won that and then we played Brandon in Brandon,” said Ingaldson. “We tied the first game and we brought them back here the next Saturday afternoon in the McGregor Armouries and we 'whupped 'em' to win the province. Then we played in Calgary for the Western Canadian Championship. A scout was there and he saw me play and I got an offer to play at Montana State University. Then we played here in Winnipeg against the Windsor AKO’s and we won that one. So I left the team and Sam Dolhun left the team because he was over-age. They amalgamated WLI with Holy Rosary and it became WLI so they had a real powerhouse. So they went to Montreal and the next year they won it again.”
The two championship teams were inducted into the Manitoba Basketball Hall of Fame in 1983 and 1984, respectively. Coach Mauthe, Manager Ken Petrie and Trainer Ernie Smith led both squads which included players Bob Neblouch, Ron White, Bill Hutton, Rudy Schilling, Bernie Fratkin, Stan Burt and Bob Ketchen. In addition to Ingaldson and Dolhun, the ’52 squad boasted Jim Komsihon, Bill Tuchak, and Bob Kostiuk. The ’53 squad saw the additions of Bob Kostiuk, Dick Herbertson, George Klohn, Grant Alphonso, Doug Hill and the soon-to-be-great golfer Jim Doyle. The WLI’s Charlie Murata was the equipment manager.