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50 YEARS AGO: HISTORY ON THE HARDWOOD

Late in the evening of March 19, 1966, Perry Wallace sat down at home, sipped on a chocolate shake, and watched a horror movie.

It had been quite a day for the Pearl High School senior.

Wallace’s Pearl Tigers had completed an undefeated basketball season, beating Memphis Treadwell in the state championship game at Vanderbilt’s Memorial Gym. It was no ordinary game. The 1966 tournament was the first integrated state championship in Tennessee, and the game against all-white Treadwell carried monumental significance to the African American community in the state.

“You’re not only representing Pearl High School,” Pearl coach Cornelius Ridley told his players before tipoff, “you’re representing North Nashville, you’re representing your household, and just about every black face in the state of Tennessee—you’re representing them, too. You need to go out there and do what’s necessary to win in a very controlled manner, with personality and with sportsmanship. Maintain your poise and character at all times.”

But March 19, 1966, wasn’t a date that would go down only in Tennessee high school basketball history. That very same night, in College Park, Maryland, Texas Western was taking on Adolph Rupp’s Kentucky Wildcats for the NCAA men’s basketball championship. For those who rushed home from Vanderbilt’s gym to catch the end of the college title game, it was like watching a mirror image of what they had just witnessed, Rupp’s all-white Wildcats against Don Haskins’ lineup of all-black Miners. Texas Western’s victory — in what some call the most important college basketball game ever played — was a death-blow to segregated hoops, just as Pearl’s win had been at the high school level that very same night.

March 19. What a day.

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