Henry Blessing

Nathan Blessing(rghs96) interviews his father, Henry Blessing on May 22,1993.

Nathan: What did it mean to you to be an the 1965 team?

Henry: It meant that we did all we could do as high school players.

Nathan: If you had it to do over what would you have done different?

Henry: I would not have smoked. I would have also worked harder in the off season. I would have probably started playing the game earlier in life. I never really had my hands on the ball till I was in eighth grade.

Nathan: How did the season start out?

Henry: We got beat at Auburn the first game by five points. After that we didn't lose till after Christmas. We won 6 or 7 games in that stretch by beating several West Virginia teams, and Fries twice. Our second loss came at Bland off a couple cheap field goals at the end of the game.

Nathan: Who were your toughest opponents during the regular season?

Henry: Auburn, and New Castle. Auburn was big and quick, and New Castle was just quick.

Nathan: What kind of offense and defense did you play?

Henry: We played a freelance offense, in it we basically just moved the ball until we got an open shot. On defense we mostly played a two-one-two zone, with occasional man to man press. We were very aggressive on the boards which left the opposing team with one shot and allowed us to get out and run.

Nathan: In the tournaments did you ever think you were going to lose?

Henry: After we soundly defeated Bland in the first round of the district, I knew we had something special because everything we did sounded like it was right. We started playing our best ball right when we should have.

Nathan: When the season began did you think you were going to go as far as you did?

Henry: No. You have a dream that you will, but deep down in your mind you never think you'll be state champions.

Nathan: Who did you think the best player in the district was?

Henry: Lowell Reed from Auburn. He was just a good forward, he was quick and smart, and could shoot well.

Nathan: What did you think about Castle Coliseum?

Henry: I thought it was Awesome, even though it had a terrible floor. We had been playing in gyms that seated a hundred people so any place that seated ten thousand was bound to be overpowering.

Nathan: What was you favorite story of that season?

Henry: I think it was the way we beat Auburn. They had been our nemesis for two years. They would just barely beat us in every game we played, but they still beat us. We lost 4 games to them by a total of 12 points. Then when we played them in the 65 tournaments, they were so sure of victory that they had the gym decorated for a victory dance. They were to have it on Saturday night, but we beat them on Friday. I think they went ahead and had it, but I don't think they were as happy.

During that game, we fell behind in that quarter 15 to 3 before Mr. Kegley ever called a timeout, then we started to come back and at the end of the first quarter the score was 18 to 15 in favor of Auburn. In the second quarter we blew them out by out scoring them 30 to 15. We just ran our fast break well and ran them out of the gym, I scored 13 points that quarter, I can still remember how tired I was at the end of that quarter. The rest of the game was played about ever for the duration. That was the best game I ever played, I scored Twenty-eight points, had twenty rebounds, about five block-shots, and six or seven assists. I hit the one shot that everyone remember in the tournaments, I caught the ball under the basket, when I jumped my eyes were even with the rim, and I threw the ball straight down through the goal.

Nathan: How did you feel at the end of the district, regional, and state tournament?

Henry: At the end of the district tournament I felt like we had done something historical, because we were the only ones in memory to do so. It had probably been twenty years since a team had won it. After we won the district the community really seemed to get behind us. Every one seemed to be pulling for us, whether they had ever been to a ball game or not. They would always stop and talk to us and tell us how much they wanted us to win. In the regionals we got to skip the first round because of a bye, but we did get to go down and see the first round. Blue Ridge, the team that won, was the biggest high school team I had ever seen. When we played them the following night they were so big that we couldn't get inside on them. The way we scored on them was off of fast breaks and Mr. Puckett shooting over them. It was a very physical game, with a lot elbows, knees, pinching, and trash talking.

Nathan: Trash talking?

Henry: I told that big guy that I was going to kick his hind end. Of course I couldn't have, but we did have two on the team that did. Vincent and Joe caught him under the rim, and he fell on the floor and they had to carry him off the court. I don't don't know whether he was faking or was really hurt. After we won and got done celebrating, the officials at William Byrd High School would not let us cut down the nets. For the state. When we got to Blacksburg we had to spend all day in a room on a cot. The tension in there was terrible. You know how I studdered so I couldn't say anything till the game was over. When we went to the game the night, there were two tournament games for higher classifications than us. So we set through them and got more nervous. No one had told us how to get to the dressing room. So we stepped across the rail and the Coliseum, the security guard drove us back and told us how to get down the back way. The first half of the game we were intimidated by our surroundings, because we really didn't play that well. In the second half we played man-to-man pressure defense and out scored Washington and Lee 28 to 14 in the third quarter. This was when the crowd really started to get into the game. One time in the third quarter we stopped the other team from getting across the ten-second line and the crowd went absolutely crazy, you would have thought we had already won. At the end of the third quarter after we went ahead, I never heard a word the coach said because the crowd was so loud. The fourth quarter we kept the pressure up and out scored them 24 to 18. They sent Mr. Puckett to the foul line and he won the game for us at the line. We scored 12 points that quarter on foul shoots and they had three guys to foul out of that ball game. After the game we started celebrating and jumping around, and whooping, and hollering, and cutting the nets, and then we whooped, jumped and hollered some more. When we went out to get the trophy we had team meeting in the middle of the court to decide who got to go after the trophy. We couldn't decide who to send so we all went, I got the carry it. That was the only thing we could never agree on.

Nathan: What do you think your winning did for the community?

Henry: It brought the different section of the community together. There were two players from Rocky Gap, two from Bastian, and one from Hollybrook on the starting five. So each region of the community, that the school pulled from was represented.

Nathan: Why do you think you won?

Henry: We had some talent, we were lucky and we played hard nosed aggressive basketball, and we had unity of purpose. We were all focused on winning. There were no heroes, or stars that we depended on. It was a team effort and each player did their job when they had to do it. We were just focused on winning. And the people in the community supported us so much, that the final game there were probably two-thousand people there from the county, a third of the population at that time. That was the biggest crowd to ever see a Bland County team play.

Nathan: Do you have any closing statements?

Henry: When we graduated in May, the principal was giving out awards for special things students had done. The old gym here at the Gap was over flowing as usual at graduation. The principal said, "By the way, we have the starting players on our state championship team graduating tonight." So he asked us to stand up, when we did the crowd stood up and gave us an unprecedented standing ovation.

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