There is little doubt that the 1960s experienced more notable firsts than in any other decade in history. Whether it was government, entertainment or business, the most eye-opening of firsts most likely occurred during that era.
Sports on a number of levels picked up many firsts, and few raised more eyebrows than the exploits of the 1965-66 Texas Western College (now the University of Texas at El Paso) basketball program. The team was coached by native Oklahoman Don Haskins, whose attitude about race was shaped by his friendship with his boyhood pal, Herman Carr. According to Haskins, Carr was the best player in their hometown of Enid, but couldn’t drink from the same water fountain as Haskins. Shortening the story, Haskins got a scholarship to play college basketball and Carr went to the Army. Though Haskins maintained that watching the trials of Carr—a product of segregated schools—did not influence his recruiting of black basketball players to predominantly white Texas Western, he nevertheless played more African American players than most major college teams during the era. That included the University of Kentucky, which, like Southern colleges of its type, was lily white. Texas Western was the nation’s third-ranked team when it entered the NCAA Tournament. The squad won four close games, setting up their meeting against Kentucky in the national championship game.
You’re probably asking, “what was the “first?” Well, it wasn’t that Texas Western defeated Kentucky in a game that they dominated from the beginning to the end. What stood out on that March afternoon was that Don Haskins had five African American players in the starting lineup, the first time that happened in the history of the NCAA tournament. While Haskins downplayed the decision, it stirred the sensitivity of many coaches in America, including the legendary football coach at the University of Alabama, Paul “Bear” Bryant, who some say used Don Haskins as his inspiration to desegregate the Crimson Tide team several years later.
A “first” that didn’t play second fiddle to any other during the 1960s.
MARC CURTIS LITTLE BLOG/Please comment at www.marclittlewrites.com