Inside the Capitol

Sunday, March 26, 2006

4-3 TWC's Glory Road

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- This has been an exciting March Madness in NCAA basketball, but no matter who wins, it likely won't be as dramatic as Texas Western College's victory over Kentucky 40 years ago.
The victory was such a watershed event that it has been immortalized by Disney in a film released two months ago. The occasion produced a reunion of that 1966 team last November in El Paso to celebrate their story of triumph on the big screen.
"Glory Road" is the name of the Hollywood production. In recognition of the film tribute, Baltimore Drive in front of Don Haskins Center has been renamed Glory Road.
Don Haskins, of course, was the coach of that championship team. He went on to coach at the school for 38 years, amassing 719 victories on his way to membership in the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1997.
So what made the 1966 Miners victory so special? The game had societal implications well above its sporting ones. Haskins started five black players against an all-white Kentucky team.
The players on both teams claimed they didn't notice. They were just there to play basketball and win a national championship. The press didn't comment on it at the time either. But many others were watching closely. The '60s were a time of great social upheaval.
Blacks saw the victory as a sign of hope. Whites saw it as a time of significant change and many didn't like it. Haskins was flooded with hate mail. And about 50 percent of it was from black activists accusing him of exploiting blacks.
Haskins said the racial issue never occurred to him at the time. He was just starting his best players. But according to some of those players, Haskins understood the situation quite well. His pre-game pep talk to the team included a quote from Kentucky's legendary coach Adolph Rupp that there was no way five blacks could beat five whites.
He then told his players it was up to them to do something about it. And he had a plan. Kentucky was small and quick. The Miners also had speed, but they had size too.
Haskins told his center David "Big Daddy D" Lattin "Dunk the ball, Dunk it hard and dunk it early. And if anyone gets in your way, run over them."
So the first basket of the game came on a ferocious dunk. Lattin ran over Kentucky's All-American Pat Riley in the process, but Lattin got the foul shot, which he made. Next came a dunk by forward Harry Flournoy and two slick steals by point guard Bobby Joe Hill and the Miners were off to the races, beating No. 1 ranked Kentucky 72-65.
No one from the Miners became famous. Riley and fellow All-American Louie Dampier went on to outstanding pro careers. Riley is still in the business as one of the winningest coaches in the NBA.
But the Miners distinguished themselves as a team. Besides Lattin, Flournoy and Hill, the other players in that game were Nevil Shed, Orsten Artis, Willie Worsley and Willie Cager. All seven are black. The other five players were white, prompting many to suspect that Haskins may have been a little more aware of the situation than he let on.
That game changed much. The first change came the very next year when the snooty University of Texas system finally recognized its western campus and Texas Western College became The University of Texas at El Paso
The next change was that colleges throughout the South, including The University of Texas at Austin, slowly began integrating their athletic teams. Humble little Texas Western had changed the face of collegiate athletics.
The Disney movie stayed fairly true to the story, but there were inaccuracies. One of them involved its game with "Eastern New Mexico State," which had an all-white team that refused to shake hands with Miner players after losing a close game.
The Miners did play Eastern New Mexico University that year. The Greyhounds had five black player, three of whom started. The game was not close and everyone shook hands afterward.
MON, 4-03-06

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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