Born: December 11, 1917
Died: March 19, 1982
Ben Michael Scharnus was born December 11, 1917 in Newark. Long and lanky with a shock of blond hair, he earned the nickname “Whitey.” He manned the center and forward positions in high school and, after graduation, joined the Newark Iron Dukes, a semipro team that often played games prior to dances. Whitey, who stood 6’2”, was primarily a defensive player and rebounder. At the age of 20, Whitey enrolled at Seton Hall in nearby South Orange. He played for coach Honey Russell, graduating in 1942. The Pirates lost just 5 games in his three seasons, and reached the semis of the NIT in 1941—losing to eventual champion LIU. Bob Davies was the star of the team.
Whitey enlisted in the Army in 1942 and spent much of the war stationed at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland. He was the star of the base’s basketball team, which played other military squads, as well as AAU teams. On leave, he made a few extra dollars suiting up for Wilmington Bombers, Baltimore Bullets and Brooklyn Indians. In 1942–43, the Bombers won the American Basketball League championship, defeating the Philadelphia Sphas 3 games to 1. After his discharge in 1945, Whitey played for both the Bullets and New York Gothams.
The 1946–47 season marked the beginning of the Basketball Association of America. The BAA played in big arenas but featured less talent than the more established National Basketball League. The BAA grabbed as many wartime players as possible, and dipped heavily into the ABL. Whitey was signed by the Cleveland Rebels and saw action in 51 games as a reserve forward. The Rebels had a solid roster that included Kenny Sailors and Ed Sadowski. Sadowski was the center for Seton Hall when Whitey was a freshman. Frank Baumholtz, an All-American guard for Ohio State and an outfielder for the Cincinnati Reds, was also on the squad.
The Rebels went 30–30 and lost to the Knicks in the playoffs. They did not survive past their first season, so Whitey returned to the East Coast and played for the ABL Gothams in 1947–48. The following year, Whitey played one game for the BAA’s Providence Steamrollers, who were coming off a historically bad 6-win season.
At 31 it was time to focus on providing for his wife, Elaine, and a growing family, which would eventually include six children. The family lived in Elaine’s hometown of Stevensville—where Whitey taught high school—and later moved to Newport News, where he was as a special service officer for the Army at Fort Eusitus. His ties to Newark remained strong thanks to his brother, Monsignor John Scharnus, who was a leader in the Catholic community. Whitey passed away in 1982 at the age of 64.