State Champs - 1965
This report was done by Nathan Blessing (rghs 1996). It was based on a number of interviews that he did in 1993. The interviews can be read at the bottom of the page. We all have our own Glory Days and these were theirs.
After doing all the research, taking all the interviews, and finding all the newspaper clippings, I have found one thing that pops up every time--that is the determination of this team. This was just a bunch of country boys that liked to play basketball, pretty common right; well no, they turned out to be the best in the state.
My father tells me that there are three reasons why they won. First, they played hard-nosed aggressive basketball; the second, they had some talent; and third, is that they had unity of purpose. By saying this he was saying that they all had their eyes on the same goal, but more important than that was that they all got along. Rick Lane is always talking about the different personalities that were on this team; they were even from different parts of the county. I believe that this diversity is what made the team great.
At the time that they were doing all of this they really didn't know what they were doing because in each of my interviews with the players they all said that either they didn't think about it, or they didn't think it possible. Had it not been for this innocence I don It think I would have been as interested in doing a report on them. I also think that this same innocence relieved some of the pressure off them that was felt by the other teams, like the Auburns, and the Blue Ridges that played in the tournament. It is a lot easier to play if you just think of yourself as good, and not thinking that you must be great.
This team also had a tremendous effect on the community. In all my interviews they agree that it not only brought people together but it gave people a common cause to cheer for. I believe that Dick Neal, the most faithful basketball spectator in the county, put it best by saying, "Well I think basketball being the only sport, really helped the community to grow closer together. You know, there was only a ten year period between the opening of the school (constructing the new high school building in 1955) and the championship. I think people got to know each other better. People that hardly ever talked to each other were now cheering for a common cause.
Another thing about this team is that they were "mean". I've heard stories since I was a kid about all the rough and sometimes cruel things they did to their opponents. Rick Lane has told me, not in the report, that he was on the team just so Harold would have someone to beat up on. Harold was one of the bad ones, another was Joe Shrader. Joe's nickname in the district his senior year was "Dirty Joe" for all the things he did. The worst, and I think cheapest thing they ever did, was when a man ran through the zone or was trying to post up, either Harold, Joe, Woody, Vincent, Benny,or Dad would reach down and pull the hair off of the players legs, then pinch them on their hind ends. It wasn't just the little things like these that made them so mean, they would do the same thing in practice. One other time in an Auburn game Mr. Kegley told Woody, Rick, and Richard to hurt Lowell Reed, their best player. One would come by and elbow and another would trip him, and the next would rip the hair off his legs. They just beat him to the point of where he couldn't play well and that is how they won that game. The crowning achievement of their cruelty came in the Blue Ridge game. Their star player was David Smith. Vincent and Joe got hold of him under the rim, and they had to carry him off the court. Mr. Kegley believes to this day that he took the easy way out and quit when he saw the way the tide was turning. Either way it was still due to Vincent and Joe intimidating him under the basket.
One of the most memorable things to most of the players about the experience is first walking into Castle Coliseum in Blacksburg. One thing that several people remember is the floor. The floor itself in Castle was one of the worst they had played on all year. Rick Lane always talked about the dead spots in it. The glass backboards also impressed them because now when they shot they could see the people on the other side. But more important than the floor or the backboards was the size of the structure. On the night they won the championship there were about six-thousand people there and about two-thousand from Bland County. This is another reason that I think they won. The fan support was so great and in the second half of the state championship game when they were making a comeback I believe that the opposing team felt overwhelmed by this crowd. One of my favorite stories of that season happened at this game. What happened was, when they were trying to get to the dressing room no one told them which way to go, so they just climbed over the rails to get to the floor then to the dressing room. Before they got there a security guard stopped them and asked them where they were going. They were all embarrassed and said, "We're just going to the dressing room no one told us how to get there." Luckily for them the security guard was the friendly sort and helped them to get there without incident.
I asked all of the people whom I interviewed who they thought were the toughest opponents they had that year. All said basically the same thing--Auburn and Blue Ridge. When I asked my father about it he seemed to hold a certain grudge against Auburn. In the two previous years they had beaten Rocky Gap in 4 games by a total of 12 points, then in the tournaments they were so sure of a victory that they had the gym decorated for a victory dance for that Saturday, they had the dance but no one was as happy as they thought they were going to be. That is my father's favorite memory of the year.
The Blue Ridge game was a little different. In that game they were playing against the biggest team they had ever faced. The second biggest guy on the team was bigger than the biggest on our team. They beat Blue Ridge for the regional championship in Roanoke. They won this game mainly by Mr. Puckett shooting over the defense.
Two more of the great stories of that year happened here. The first was when a few of the boys had first got into the room and were, unfortunately, smoking. Mr. Kegley walked in and while smoke filled the room , looked straight at Melvin Wolfe and said, "You had better quit that smoking before it kills you."
This last one is by far my favorite. They were at the Holiday Inn and they were all taking showers. Now remember that these were a bunch of country boys who had always taken baths before. What they did was take showers without using .the curtains Well of course all the water drained out onto the floor through the ceiling, off a chandelier, and into the cocktail glasses of the people at the black tie dinner they were having downstairs.
This was also a very humble team. When they were asked what they thought made them better than the teams they played most said that they didn't even think that they were. They would always bring up their record 12 and 6 in the regular season. I don't know if they were always like this or if they were like that just for the interviews but it doesn't matter. They are the only team ever from Rocky Gap to win a state title.
To compare this team to the other great teams at the Gap would be unfair because they were all playing at different times, against different opponents, with different rules, and different coaches. I do believe that this team could still play with the teams today because of the three-point rule. Players like Mr. Puckett and Harold would have eaten that up today. They also had the size and quickness to match up today, with a good bench to compliment it.
This team was very happy with what they did too. I asked all of them what they would do different, if anything. All that answered said either they would not have smoked, or they would have worked harder in the off-season, but most said they would do nothing different.
The final thing I am going to put in is the feeling of the players. I can't put in each individual players account but I will try to sum that up as best I can. They all mentioned something about pride. Most mentioned something about the excitement. The main thing was they were all part of what is historically known as the greatest team at Rocky Gap. And I don't think many would trade that for anything in the world.
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