If the tournament was in Louisville, you might find the crew at the Quality Inn on 3rd Street in the old days. They would later migrate to the Executive Inn just in front of Freedom Hall. In Lexington, the Radisson was their preferred hotel of choice. Their room was the focal point for old school Trigg County basketball fans.
The first thing you saw upon entering the hotel room was the food and refreshments. There would be a round mound of hoop cheese big enough to feed an elephant. Huge jars of pickled eggs and bologna stared you in the face. Cakes sent by the men’s wives and an assortment of other snacks would litter the room. Last but not least, by any means, was a plethora of liquid refreshments to wash down the food with. Sometimes, the liquid refreshments may have served as an entire meal or two for the men.
There were common threads among the crew. First, they had a love for Trigg County. They were ardent supporters of the entire Trigg County Sports program, especially the basketball teams. Griff drove the bus and kept the scorebook for over 30 years. Jack Frost was head coach for a while in the 1950s. Billy had been a player for Trigg County and was a big fan. The biggest in stature of the group, Buddy Sivills at 6-foot-5, was one of the best players to ever play at Trigg. He went on to coach at his Alma Mater.
The old crew also had a passion for basketball and they knew the game. They could get into some of the most spirited discussions/arguments (friendly in nature, of course) you have ever heard. Regulars that would stop by for the discussions were Coach Jim Wallace and Coach George Radford. You might even catch former principal Arnie Oaken in the middle of the crew. There was also a young face that always seemed to be in the room listening to the stories. That face belonged to me. I relished listening to the banter of the old sages each year.
You must understand, I was a student of the game at an early age. As a high school and college student, I would attend the tournament and I always made a point to drop by the room of the old crew. They accepted me because they knew I had the same interest as them (Trigg County and basketball). Once the stories started to flow, they were priceless.
Nobody before or since can tell a story like Millard Griffin. The topics were always the same. Who are the best five ever from Trigg County, the 2nd Region, the state of Kentucky, and the best five from anywhere? I learned early that if you want to make a comment or state a fact, the group would respond with “QUALIFY THAT!” You had to back up your statement with facts. In other words, you had to know what you were talking about in the old crew’s room.
I can almost hear Billy Stallons now, “Ralph Beard was the best ever!”
Arnie Oaken would chime in with, “What is King Kelly Coleman doing now? I’ll tell you. He is the sheriff of Wayland!” Griff would then start in on the referees’ inability to call the block- charge play. He would say, “They just need to take the ball out of bounds when it happens and play it over. They never get it right.” Another Griffism concerned the three-point shot and dunk. Griff would say, If they are going to give a man three points for hitting a long shot, they should only give you one for a dunk since it is so close.”
The bottom line is that the old crew was part of a larger fraternity. Groups of men from all over the state made their own pilgrimages to the state tournament every year. It was a grand tradition. Folks from the mountains and the western coalfields would run into each other and renew old acquaintances. These cross sections of the state would often discuss both life and basketball from their own perspectives.
Sadly, many of the old crew has died and left us. Griff, Jack and Billy are gone. Many of their time honored traditions went with them as well. Each year at the state tournament, they are thought of and remembered. They are also missed.
Fast forward to today and there are still a few of us left that are state tournament regulars. Wallace, Radford, Fred Wilson and myself carry on the tradition. You might run into Buddy Sivills there as well. Longtime local sports fans Terry Stevens and Ralph Thomas also started the tradition a few years ago and now attend regularly.
In closing, just let me state one fact. There will never be a crew like the old crew and I can “QUALIFY THAT” because I was there!
OT: This year will mark the 54th tournament for Jim Wallace, 38th for George Radford and 35th for Mike Wright.
DOUBLE OT: If you ever get a chance, attend the Sweet Sixteen and stay for the whole tournament. You might become a regular.
Enthusiasm Makes the Difference Mike Wright is the head coach of boys basketball and cross country at Trigg County High School. Emails concerning Coach’s Corner can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.