• I Watched "Hoosiers" In Person

    With each day of growing excitement created by the coming of basketball season here in Texas, I cannot help but once again be thrust back in time as I relive how I came to love this game. I want to share a time during my high school years that included a story about a town called McAdoo. As I tell this story, you may think that you are watching the movie Hoosiers.I really love that movie because it reminded me so very much of the three-time Texas high school state champion McAdoo Eagles who won the prestigious titles in 1960, 1963, and 1964. The movie also starred one of the great all-time actors, Gene Hackman. But most of all, the setting and the language of the movie so accurately portrayed a bygone era in our nation’s history.

    McAdoo High School in 1964

    McAdoo High School in 1964

    The movie Hoosiers was based on a boys basketball team in rural Indiana, with a sparse populous of hard working and very committed folks. And one of the chief industries that supported the community was agriculture. This is where all the similarities with the McAdoo Eagles begins. Just below the Caprock in northwestern Dickens County is where the Texas map will take you to find what is now only a skeleton of what this community was in the 60’s. Like so many of the small west Texas towns, it has all too often seen its sons and daughters leave and to never come back except to visit.

    In Hoosiers, the town in the film was Hickory, but the basis for the movie came from the 1954 Indiana state champions from the community of Milan. Of course I’m sure the folks back in Milan can tell you that the story that played out in the film had been Hollywood-ized to make it even more appealing to us movie goers. And give Hollywood the deserved credit because the championship game in Hoosiers was a lot more entertaining than the real game that I watched on one of the major sports channels. I say that but had I been sitting in the stands at the actual game it may have been just as exciting.   I just know that this 1986 classic did a great deal of good for the game of high school basketball all across the country.

    Let me tell you what I know about the McAdoo Eagles and this is purely based on how I saw it from the outside looking in. My friend, Roy Neff, the retired Dublin superintendent, could give you a more in-depth report since he played on the 63’ and 64’ teams. And boy could he play; but he couldn’t start because those five starters for those two years were something special. I grew up in Roaring Springs which was in the southern part of Motley County and bordered Dickens County. That always guaranteed that we would be in the same basketball district. McAdoo did not play football. And in those days only one team represented the district: the champion. So for at least the first half of that decade all the other district teams were playing for second.

    Unlike Indiana, Texas schoolboys always played for the state championship in their own classification and did not cross over as in the Hoosier state. It was sort of a shame in those years because, had they not won the overall championship, McAdoo could have made the big boys really uncomfortable. And I know that for a fact because each year during the Christmas Holidays, Reese Air Force Base in Lubbock, would host a two division tournament. One would be for Class B through AA schools and the other for 3A and 4A teams. There was no 5A or 6A in those days. McAdoo, by their request, would always play in the upper division simply because the level of competition in the lower classes was just nowhere near the challenge that they needed. I have no records in front of me, but I think that I can say that they probably won that tournament more than they lost it during the front end of the sixties. And they would take on the 4A powers such as the Lubbock High Westerners, Lubbock Monterrey Plainsmen, and Plainview Bulldogs.

    During the touranment, I would read the Lubbock paper, the Avalanche Journal, every day to keep track. Those guys amazed me. They could flat light it up from anywhere on the court and could break a hundred points without breaking a sweat against most Class B schools; and there was no such thing as a 3-point line.

    From time to time my teammates and I would talk to the McAdoo guys at tournaments etc. and we asked them how they became such gifted basketball players. They told us that in McAdoo, probably with a population of less than 200, the gym was never locked and the basketballs stayed out in the gym. It was typical on a Saturday night or Sunday afternoon, not just in basketball season but year round, that the guys would go pick up their date and head to the gym. The dates would either sit in the bleachers and visit while the guys played or maybe shoot some hoops themselves. The girls weren’t bad either, but not like the boys. And what made it even more interesting in those Saturday night or Sunday afternoon pickup games was that there was always some of the very talented exes showing up to take on the kids.

    I can remember walking into their gym when it was our turn at the whipping post and just be really intimidated simply by looking at their floor. By the time district play rolled around, there was little or no varnish on the floor from the constant playing of games, practices, and Saturday night/Sunday afternoon sessions. When the game was done we knew why the Eagles always dominated.

    In 1960, I was still too young for even junior high sports so my father, who was unwilling to part with that quarter apiece for admission that it would take to get our family of five into a high school game of any type, never took us to any of the hometown games. That was unless the McAdoo Eagles were coming to town. In our little cracker box gym that served as an auditorium too, chairs were placed on the sidelines and on the stage to accommodate the overflow crowds. The chairs on the sidelines were so close to the court that those seated there had to keep their feet up under the chairs so as not to be on the court. And even then people stood any place they could find just to watch those guys play. Our locals would show up knowing that we were going to lose by anywhere from 30 to 50 points. They came anyhow to see the state’s best.

    And just like in Hoosiers those starters, and the second five which in ’63 and ’64 may have been the second best team in Texas, had their roles and didn’t dare stray from that role. And it was always evident to those watching what the role was for each player.

    Just like the coach in Hoosiers, the Eagles boasted of one of the very best coaches in a gentleman named Fabian Lemley. He coached with an iron fist and the same will. I have heard the story and this may be just that, a story, but he once stepped out on the court about five steps in a highly contested game to challenge an official’s call in his own powerful manner. After taking yet another earful from Coach Lemley the official told him that he was going to give him a technical for every step it took him to get back to the bench. Not wanting to take the chance on the other team getting five free throws and the ball, he got down on his knees and crawled back to the bench, not taking one step.

    As I said, Roy Neff on those two teams was not a starter, yet was all-state in 1965. That was because in that  starting lineup any one of those players could have been on the all-state team. Watching the Eagles play basketball was like watching a world-class orchestra: rarely a bad note and if so instantly corrected with far greater intensity than it was committed……………

    Yes I did; I got to see my own version of Hoosiers……………………….RC

    * George Scott from the 1960 team is still co-holder of the single game scoring record in Class B/A with 43 points. He is tied with John Ray Godfrey of Aspermont who played in that same era. There were no 3 pointers in that period.

    About Ronnie Clifton

    Ronnie Clifton was a Texas Football Coach for 29 years. In addition to football, Clifton also served as the head coach in basketball and both girls and boys track. “I loved being involved in and playing sports as a kid, and I soaked up every ounce of available information about any sporting event; I also love to write. What better combo for me than becoming the writer of a sports blog?”
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