The Integration Year and Basketball

The Integration Year and Basketball

The start of the 1956-57 school year in Maysville Kentucky was unlike any other in the 92 year history of the Maysville school system. The U.S. Supreme court
in the 1954 case of Brown vs. The Board of Education of Topeka had ruled that segregation was unconstitutional and decreed that public schools be integrated. In Clinton, Tennessee and Little Rock, Arkansas integration was met with violence. In Sturgis, Kentucky ten black students attempted to attend an all white school. Turned back by a jeering mob, they appealed to Governor A.B. “ Happy “ Chandler who called out the National Guard. The Guard held back the crowd the next morning as the students entered the school.

It was quite different in Maysville, Kentucky. Maysville had two school systems. The Maysville public school system for whites and the John G. Fee school for blacks. Fee High was named for the Reverend John G. Fee ( 1816 – 1901 ) founder of Berea College who was an abolitionist and started the first racially integrated school in Kentucky.

The spring and summer of 1956 was a period of uncertainty in Maysville as school officials, parents, children and the community in general, of both races, wrestled with years of bigotry and prejudice that had permeated the community.

There was common ground. Basketball !

For years both schools had excelled in high school basketball in spite of the small number of students at both schools. The black high schools were not allowed to participate in the Kentucky High School Athletic Association's ( KHSAA ) tournament. The KHSAA, established in 1917, only allowed white schools. Consequently in 1932 leading African-American educators formed the Kentucky High School Athletic League. John G. Fee High School was state runner-up in 1932, 1933 and 1952. Maysville High School played in the KHSAA tournament finishing as state runner ups in 1938 and 1948 and winning the state title in 1947. The Maysville's girls basketball team won the state title in 1926.

In 1955-1956 Fee High had had a really successful season and some quality players would be returning. Maysville High School ( MHS ), under legendary coach Woodrow “ Woodie “ Crum, had won the 10th region and participated in the State Tournament. Most of that team would be returning for the 1956-1957 season. Anticipation of combining the two teams ran high through out the community.

School started on Tuesday September the 3rd and so did basketball practice.
It was apparent within a few days that this group had plenty of talent. In a short period of time the chemistry begin to form both in and out of the gym.

Fee High School dropped varsity basketball after the 1955-1956 season. All the returning players would be allowed to play on the MHS team while only the seniors would go to school at Maysville High. The Fee High players were: Seniors Bobby Jones and Gene Peters; Sophomores Charley Stewart, Harry Jones and Ulysses Green. The returning MHS players were: Seniors Dickie Breeze, Kenny Downing and David Curtis; Juniors Allen Smith, Jackie Allison, Bobby Reetz, Chuck Hayslip and Bobby Hutchison; Sophomores Roy Gilbert and Philip Hutchison.

This group of Maysville Bulldogs would have one of the most successful seasons in Maysville High School history. They won 34 games and lost only 2.
They were 16 and 0 at home and 18 and 2 on the road.

The two losses were 80-79 to the Ashland Tomcats in the finals of the Ashland Invitational tournament. Fourteen days later Ashland would travel to Maysville where the Bulldogs prevailed 74 to 55. The second loss was to Nicholas County in the finals of the 10th region tournament by the score of 62-60. The two teams played 2 other times during the year with the Bulldogs winning 58 to 53 at home and 63 to 53 at Carl isle.

Bobby Jones ( 6 ft 3 in & 215 lbs ) led the team in scoring with a 24.2 average. He was the first African-American high school player to be named to the KHSAA All State team. Allen Smith ( deceased ) averaged 12.8 points. In 1958 Smith would pitch MHS to the Kentucky high school baseball championship. He would go on and later enjoy an All American baseball career at LSU. Gene Peters averaged 9.5 points per game; Jackie Allison averaged 9.1; Charlie Stewart averaged 7.6; Dickie Breeze averaged 7.2; Kenny Downing averaged 6.5

Following are the Maysville High School records established by this group
Most Wins In A Season = 34
Fewest Losses in A Season = 2
Highest Winning Percentage = 94.4
Longest Winning Streak = 23
Most Points In A Season = 2,680
Highest Average Per Game = 74.4
Highest Winning Margin = 20.7

Author's Comments
I am proud and grateful that I was a part of this group of guys and gals. Bobby Jones and Gene Peters are still my friends after all these years. I also need to say there were four Fee High School girls in our senior class. Norma Randolph ( deceased ) Peggy Bennett, Beulah Scott and Frances Kirk who was elected secretary of the class. It was a magical year played out in the middle of troubling times. The Maysville High School gym, on third street, was standing room only on game nights. Lots of people followed the team on the road.

I recall one notable incident of racism. We traveled to Ashland on December 27, 1956 to participate in the Ashland Invitational tournament. We were to check into an Ashland hotel. We were told that the black kids were not welcome. Earle D. Jones, the legendary coach and Kentucky Basketball Hall of Famer, was superintendent of Maysville schools. Coach Jones made it clear to Ashland school officials that if the entire team could not stay in the hotel then he would take the Maysville team and go home. Everyone stayed.

I also recall that one of my African American team mates ( who shall remain unnamed ) spent a considerable amount of time on the elevator. Maybe it was because the elevator operator was a very cute African American girl

This article is a labor of love. I apologize for any mistakes or omissions.

Ken Downing
6 Nicole Court
Swedesboro, NJ 08085

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