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Coach Haskins answered, "I play my best players."

This Week’s Story relives American history and the Bible through brief inspiring stories presented on mp3 audio recordings and text for reading.

Coach Haskins and 13 Champion Brothers, part four

I’ve been watching You Tube interviews and reading about Coach Don Haskins and his 1966 NCAA basketball championship team. I’ve been asking, “Do we Americans share beliefs, actions, and divisions?”

Don Haskins and Herman Carr were buddies, born in 1930 into Depression hardship. At age fifteen they worked together at a feed store. They loved sports, especially basketball. One-on-one was the play of the day, any place with a hoop and ground for a bouncing basketball.

Don said, “Herman could not only outjump and outrun me, but outthink me on the court.”

Their hometown of Enid, Oklahoma was segregated with a high school for black students and one for whites. Don attended the school for whites, and Herman the school for blacks.

Local newspapers gave Don front page attention as a basketball

star. Maybe a few sentences about Herman’s playing would be on an inside page, yet Don was clear. “Herman is the best player in town.”

Segregation insisted, “Herman is black.”

“Don insisted, ‘My friend Herman.”

Years later Don became Coach Haskins of the Miners at Texas Western College, soon to become University of Texas at El Paso. When Don’s players won the NCAA basketball championship, people throughout the country were angered or encouraged when he began with five black starters. Don’s answer was, “I play my best players.” In response his school received 40,000 pieces of mail, most of it hate mail.

Americans shared divisions in sports. They shared change as schools in the North and South of the United States slowly began to integrate sports programs. More blacks went to college as opportunities increased. Players, regardless of color, became teammates and friends.

In following years, the players freely stated what they shared. Their comments inspired me. I won’t try to match all their comments with speaker names.

“During the game I was totally focused on what I had to do.”

“Coach Haskins was a visionary, and he was different. His goal was to win basketball games.”

“I think in terms of what the game meant to our country.

“Bobby Joe Hill was the heart and soul of our team.”

“Nevil Shed kept the team together. He was the spiritual leader.”

“Lattin was big, strong, also intimidating—a good guy.”

At a Hall of Fame ceremony for the team, their captain spoke for them. “Don Haskins put a whole team into the Hall of Fame. In 1966 we had eight black players, four white players, and one Hispanic. Our only purpose was to be the best team in the country.

“We weren’t separated. We were together, not only as a team. We were like brothers. We did not have a social agenda. God had His hand in that. He chose us to open the door for all people, not just African-Americans.”

More comments are available to read and hear on Internet. I’m Barbara Steiner.

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