1966 NCAA history making basketball team to be recognized Saturday at national tourney - Mountain Grove News-Journal : Sports

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1966 NCAA history making basketball team to be recognized Saturday at national tourney

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Posted: Thursday, March 31, 2016 11:04 am

Note: The 1966 National College Athletic Association championship squad from Texas Western College will be honored on the 50th anniversary of their historic tournament win. Mountain Grove resident Jerry Armstrong was a member of the team. The following article from a 2005 News-Journal has been updated. Armstrong and the team will be honored Saturday at halftime of the second game of the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament in Houston, Texas. The game which is scheduled to start at approximately 8 p.m. will see East champion North Carolina facing off against Midwest champion Syracuse.

When Jerry Armstrong headed for Texas Western College (now called the University of Texas-El Paso) in 1962 to play basketball, he did not realize his college team would become a part of collegiate basketball history.

Armstrong, a retired high school coach and administrator now living in Mountain Grove, led his high school team to the 1962 Class S State Championship game, and was recognized as an all-conference, all-district, and all-state athlete. The state championship also gave Armstrong an early connection with the Ozarks region. It was Bradleyville, the home of “The Hicks from the Sticks” - a southern Missouri basketball powerhouse at the time, that his team faced in the state championship.

“I fouled out at the end of the third quarter or the beginning of the fourth,” Armstrong laughed.

Armstrong played for North Harrison High School in Eagleville, a community approximately 12 miles south of the Iowa line in north central Missouri. Armstrong was sought by colleges within and outside the state.

“I flew down for a visit and liked the campus. I liked the people I associated with down there, and it was a smaller Division 1 school. I thought I would have a better chance to play more ball there,” Armstrong stated.

“I grew up in an athletic family with five boys, and since the seventh grade my goal was to play college basketball and coach,” he said.

He had two older brothers that played for Northwest Missouri State and Kansas State.

Armstrong stated that he experienced tremendous differences when he jumped from high school to college play. He explained that he went from being a top player in high school to again having to work your way up from the bottom. The college players were quicker, jumped higher and shot better, he stated.

“Every player had a role. My role was to play defense, rebound and feed the ball into the big guy. We had plenty of scoring. It was a big shock to me when I went down there. I didn’t shoot the ball very much.”

But it would be his defensive play that would help the 1966 Texas Western College go on to a National Collegiate Athletic Association championship and become a part of NCAA history.

The Texas Western College Miners defeated the University of Kentucky in the 1966 title game -- this was the first time five black players took the floor for a team in an NCAA championship game against five white players. Texas Western’s Coach, Don “The Bear” Haskins began recruiting the best black athletes he could attract to El Paso during the years prior to the championship.

Armstrong indicated that when he started playing college basketball most Division 1 schools had only one or two black athletes. Texas Western’s championship team had seven blacks, four whites and one Hispanic. We were unique at that time, he stated.

“I really enjoyed the time I was there. I had never played with or against black athletes before. There were never any racial issues. We all got along great,” Armstrong indicated.

The only time we competed against each other was for playing time on the court.

“Coach Haskins was a hard coach to play for. He demanded a lot in practices. They were tough and long and seven days a week,” he said.

Haskins placed a lot of emphasis on defense. And it was his defensive efforts that Armstrong used in the semi-final game with Utah in the NCAA Tournament which moved the Texas Western Miners on to the championship. Utah All-American Jerry Chambers, later drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers as a number one pick, was causing the Miners considerable problems until Haskins brought Armstrong in with the job of shutting down Chambers. Armstrong was able to keep Chambers in check and Texas Western went on  to take the semi-final win. Legendary Oklahoma State Coach Hank Iba was reported to have credited Armstrong with providing the Miners with the defensive against Chambers which allowed Texas Western to record the win in the semi-final game and go on to make history in the championship.

Coach Haskins received hate mail and death threats following the championship win, but that game changed how other Division 1 schools started recruiting black athletes, Armstrong stated.

“Now there are one or two whites when in 1966 there were one or two blacks,” he added.

This 1966 NCAA championship team’s efforts were recognized in a Disney production of the movie “Glory Road,” which was released in 2006.

Armstrong feels that the movie is fairly good in its representation of the events, even though it had him guarding the wrong player in the semi-final game. It is hard to condense Coach Haskins’ early coaching career, and a full season’s events into a movie, Armstrong stated.

Every year there has been something in the media about the team, especially around NCAA Tournament time, he said. The team members have returned to El Paso for several reunions. Armstrong explained that the event is still celebrated in southwest Texas. The team is the only men’s team in Texas to have won a basketball national championship. He related that the enthusiasm is still there as he found out at autograph signings promoting the movie when people would stand in line for hours to receive the autographs of team members. Along with the movie, the team is featured on a Wheaties box.

“I had no idea it would turn out to be as big as it has,” he stated.

Armstrong did not get a chance to play in the championship game.

“I would have loved to play in the championship game. I played in most all games, but winning the championship was the ultimate goal. Several other players also didn’t get to play. But after years in coaching I learned you can’t play everybody.”

Armstrong feels his years with Haskins led to him developing much the same coaching philosophy.

“I placed a lot of emphasis on defense, and I still believe that defense wins ballgames.”

Following his graduation Armstrong planned on being an assistant coach at a school in El Paso, but he also had a desire to return to Missouri. He called a basketball official he knew in Missouri and asked if he knew of any openings. The next day he called back and told him that Trenton had an opening and that he should call the superintendent. Armstrong was offered the job on the phone and he started his coaching career as assistant boys basketball, football and golf coach. One year later he took a head coaching job at King City. The next year he took the basketball head coaching position at Richmond and stayed there for 15 years. He later returned to King City for four years with one of his teams finishing third at state. His third place team included Armstrong’s two sons. Following his stay at King City, he spent 10 years in Mansfield. The first four years at Mansfield he served as a coach, and the final six years he was an administrator. He stated that he had always wanted to coach in Southwest Missouri because he knew it was good basketball country, and when an opening was available he applied.

Armstrong and his wife Mary’s two sons continued the family tradition in collegiate sports. His son, Kevin, played college basketball for two years and is now vice principal and athletic director at Marshfield. Armstrong’s son, Brad, played football four years at Missouri Western and is now assistant superintendent in Lebanon. He also anticipates that he possibly will see grandchildren continuing the collegiate sports family history.

They have already been able to take part in the excitement of the making of the movie and were able to preview the movie and meet with Armstrong’s Miner teammates at a preview held in El Paso. Armstrong traveled to California when the movie made its public premiere on January 6, 2006.