Photos courtesy of Caterpillar Inc.
“Peoria was on top of the basketball world in the 1950s, and these men, who built yellow iron by day, were some of the world’s greatest basketball players by night… Before the NBA became what it is today, there was the Caterpillar Diesels, later called the Peoria Cats—one of basketball’s most dominant teams.” —"Beyond the Yellow Iron: Exhibits Bring Rich History to Life" by Kathryn Spitznagle, Caterpillar Visitors Center, iBi magazine, June 2015
After winning the Amateur Athletic Union championship, the Diesels went on to compete in the Olympic basketball team playoffs at Madison Square Garden in New York City, where they defeated the University of Kansas.
Five members of the Diesels (Frank McCabe, Ron Bontemps, Dan Pippen, Marc Freiberger and Howie Williams), along with head coach Warren Womble, were selected to represent the United States in basketball at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics.
It was just the third Olympics in which basketball appeared as a team sport—and the final Olympics that went untelevised.
"In Helsinki, the U.S. basketball team was the only undefeated team after the first six games. The U.S. played Argentina in the first game of the final round, winning 85-76. The U.S. was matched in the finals against the Russian team. This was a monumental occasion as it was at the height of the Cold War and was also the first Olympics that Russia fielded a basketball team. The U.S. defeated the Russians 36-25, winning the gold medal.” PS