After their gold medal victory at the 1952 Olympic Games, the Caterpillar Diesels changed their team name to the Peoria Cats to show commitment to their amateur status by aligning more closely with the community. Over the next two years, members of the team who played in the 1952 Olympics retired from their basketball careers to focus on their prospering careers with Caterpillar.
Among the new generation of recruits to join the Peoria Cats, 6-foot-9-inch Bert Born, who was a member of the Kansas Jayhawks' 1952 NCAA National Champion and MVP of the 1953 Final Four for a national runner-up, joined to replace Frank McCabe, a member of the 1952 Olympic Basketball Team.
As the reigning Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) Champions, the Peoria Cats and their coach, Warren Womble, were selected to represent the United States at the World Championship held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 1954. The Peoria Cats rolled to a perfect 7-0 mark against Brazil, Israel, Formosa, Canada, Uruguay, France, the Philippines, Peru and Canada for the world title. While Uruguay gave the Peoria Cats the closest call with a final score of 64-59, the Cats won by double figures in the rest of the games. Attendance at the final game between the U.S. and Brazil was reported at over 18,000.
After their return, head coach Warren Womble stated “It was one of the tougher tournaments in which we’ve competed. Some teams, mainly Brazil and Uruguay, had shown vast improvement over their appearances in the 1952 Olympics.”
When the Peoria Cats returned home, they brought the 1954 World Amateur Basketball title and a 65-pound trophy made of antiqued bronze with them. The trophy will be on display in the Caterpillar Diesels/Peoria Cats Basketball Exhibit at the Caterpillar Visitors Center. A 1952 Olympic gold medal is also on display, along with game-worn jerseys, trophies, players’ personal memorabilia, photographs, game footage and a short film on the team. During the exhibit, commemorative postcards will be available while supplies last.
Former Caterpillar basketball players will unveil the new exhibit at the Caterpillar Visitors Center on Saturday, March 8. The exhibit will be open until June 30.