Amidst the basketball fever sweeping the Jackson Purchase, one area high school took time out to celebrate some former western Kentucky basketball greats. Sixty years ago, the Cuba Cubs, a small Graves County high school basketball team, took the Commonwealth by storm with an unlikely march to the state championship. Graves County Highs School celebrated that 1952 championship season during half time of a recent basketball game, and invited some of the players from that team to come and be honored. Gary Pitts attended the celebration, and sat down with the players to reminisce about their rise to glory.
Sound from the halftime celebration
GARY: Cuba High School was small by almost any standard. Though it had just been consolidated with nearby Pilot Oak High School, total enrollment in 1952 was around 100 students. But as the school, the state, and even the nation would come to find out, it only takes a handful to field a basketball team. In 1947, Jack Story took over as the school principal and as basketball coach. He immediately took notice of a group of 8th graders getting ready to move up to the High School, and saw a core of players he felt could be special.
HOWIE CRITTENDON: "He was so far ahead of everybody."
GARY: That's Howie Crittendon.
HOWIE CRITTENDON: "He's the reason for us even being remembered by the very old people around here."
GARY: Crittendon is remembered by most as one of the all time Murray State Racer greats. He's a member of the Kentucky Basketball Hall of Fame, but he played his high school ball at Cuba. Crittendon is a part of that core that began playing together early on. He remembers Coach Story sat them all down, and showed them a video unlike anything they'd ever seen before. It was the Harlem Globetrotters.
HOWIE: "We all went nuts. Begged him to show it again. He showed it three times in a row. Then he said, You boys get out there on the gym floor and see if you can learn to do that.'"
GARY: The handful of 8th graders gathered up by Coach Story started working toward that goal, trying to do what the Globetrotters were doing. And while much of what they did was for show, some of the moves helped them develop fundamental skills that would lead to their eventual Championship.
JIMMY WEBB: "I think we adapted the character of their style of play. I mean we played loose, relaxed. Coach Story stressed fundamentals such as ball handling."
GARY: Jimmy Webb is another member of that Cuba Cub championship team. He too touts the innovative coaching style of Coach Story. He remembers that every day in practice, the Coach would field the five starters against a team of ten, consisting of the bench players, managers, and anyone else they could grab.
WEBB: " and I mean they played for blood. I'm tellin you, every day, that's what we had to compete against."
GARY: The team really started to come together during their Junior year. In the 1950-51 season, the Cuba Cubs only lost one game during the regular season. They made their way through the playoffs, eventually coming to the championship game. There, they met one of the biggest and best schools in the state, Clark County High. The Cubs lost by 24.
JULIA HARRIS RAMBOW: "Well we were let down, and we were all crying, and I think our picture went all over the United States laughing and I looked terrible!"
GARY: Julie Harris Ranbow was a cheerleader that year. But it wouldn't be her last chance to cheer for the Cubs in a championship game. The next year, the team that had been playing together since middle school made a strong comeback. Once again, they were in the playoffs. Jimmy Webb remembers the semi-final game as being one of the toughest he had ever played in. It went into double overtime.
WEBB: "Coach Story says Boys we got sudden death. That means the first two points scored wins the ball game. They turn the clock off.' Doodle made the shot that won the ball game and that was it."
GARY: Charles Doodle Floyd couldn't make the reunion, but was another one those starters in his fifth year under Coach Story. And once again, the Harlem Globetrotters playing style came through for the Cubs. Howie Crittendon.
HOWIE: "Doodle shot his hook shot just like Goose Tatum. And he could flat hit it."
GARY: When the Cuba Cubs came into the 1952 championship game, people knew who they were. They were the Cinderella team. And everyone knew about their Globetrotter style of play. As a matter of fact, when they took the floor, Sweet Georgia Brown, the Globetrotters theme music, played over the loud speaker. Their opponent was Louisville Manual. A school of around 3,000 students, Manual had quite the pool to draw from. But when the Cubs needed it most, the Globetrotter style ball handling fundamentals stressed by Coach Story came through.
HOWIE: "If we were ahead of a team. I would take care of the ball. They would chase me. I'd dribble behind my back, between my legs. They'd foul, and at that time, you could choose to shoot your free throw, or bring it in from the side. Now if we got two free throws, we could shoot one, bring the second one in from the side, and keep the ball."
GARY: The Cubs got ahead in the game, and then controlled it from there. In true David versus Goliath fashion, the Cuba Cubs beat Louisville Manual. When they came back home, they were met by a motorcade at the Eggner's Ferry Bridge, and rode back to Graves County in convertible-top cars having made their mark on history.
Sweet Georgia Brown playing out