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Glory Road a good history lessson for everyone

I don't catch many movies. For my dollar they're overrated, and I usually go to sleep within the first 10 minutes. But guess what? I went to a movie last weekend. You're right. It must have been a sports movie. It was Glory Road.

The movie was centered on sports but was about a far bigger subject than basketball. It was about the 1966 Texas Western University basketball team. The school, now known as Texas-El Paso, won the NCAA national championship that year. The Miners defeated the Kentucky Wildcats coached by the legendary Adolph Rupp.

The real significance of this game is that Texas Western coach Don Haskins had recruited seven African-American youngsters to this team while most major schools had none, or certainly no more than one. Kentucky was then the royalty of big time college basketball and like most schools had no black players on the team.

There have been plenty of previews and reviews written about this movie, but I'll give you my take anyway. It's the first movie I've paid to see in maybe two years, so humor me. I knew it was based on a true story, so I would be able to tolerate it. I hate phony.

A television interview during the holidays with Coach Haskins first brought my attention to this story. In his interview, Haskins said he was only doing what most college coaches did. He was trying to find some kids who could play the game and win. He really didn't care if they were pink, purple or covered in polka-dots. In fact, he offered that until the team started to hear the media, fans and opponents make an issue of it, he never considered that there might be problems.

The first part of the movie makes some attempt at comedy. It shows the awkward circumstances of a white coach recruiting black kids from New York City and Gary, Ind., and their adjustment to college life in rural west Texas on the Mexico border.

It brings in the expected Remember the Titans angle of the black and white kids getting used to each other. Like teenagers of all eras, they had two things in common. They all liked basketball and getting into trouble. With this in mind, the two groups meshed together pretty quickly.

Once Haskins drilled his team into shape and the season started, it turns out that the Miners were surprisingly good. They ripped through the season with only one loss and into the NCAA tournament. In those days only 8 or 16 teams were invited, I'm not sure. Today 65 teams are picked for March Madness.

I guess because a team with seven black guys was a novelty, the world was shocked that Texas Western could be so good. Did everyone forget the Harlem Globetrotters? The movie also focused on the intimidation that the team faced from its own fans and others. Amazingly, the more the team won, the friendlier the fans became.

My favorite part of the movie was the change in attitude of the school's biggest booster and benefactor. He started the movie totally embarrassed that Haskins would resort to such tactics just to win basketball games. He ended it with him saying nothing but "we" every time he referred to the team. Isn't that typical?

In the movie, Haskins is portrayed as making a conscious decision to play only the black players against Kentucky. He supposedly wanted to prove that a team of African-Americans could handle Rupp's Royalty and set the tone for the future of college basketball. Haskins' television interview that I mentioned indicated otherwise.

This story proves that Adolph Rupp, like Bear Bryant and other southern coaches of the 1960s, weren't the bigots that many thought they were. If they were, they weren't very committed bigots. Both quickly saw the light and started to recruit black kids for their teams.

If you haven't already, go see this movie. It may not be worth an hours' pay, but so what, it's only money. It is funny, historical and has some good acting. It reminded me of my classmates when we desegregated in the seventh grade. White or black, we were all in the same fix. We still had to go to school, and it gave us enough people to scrimmage. Things worked out OK.

Web posted on Thursday, January 19, 2006


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