In 1972 they were eight high flying 18-year-old high school basketball stars all headed for Division I college athletic scholarships. Today, they are 65 and heading into retirement, aching bodies in tow. On March 8, 1972 fate brought them together for the most infamous night in the history of state athletics. They and their four teams collided in Missouri’s state basketball tournament’s quarterfinal round. Two white suburban schools, Kirkwood and Raytown South; opposed by two black city schools, St. Louis Northwest and Kansas City Central. Both games ended with controversial officiating, the suburban white schools both winning on last second shots. On opposite sides of the state, at almost the exact same moment, both venues exploded into racially fueled, out of control riots.
The combined 1972 season records entering play for the four were a gaudy 113 wins and 11 losses. The four head coaches, two white and two black, would combine over their careers to win 3,368 games and log 182 years of total head coaching experience - Mt. Rushmore-type numbers.
The events of that evening are a microcosm of the head scratching befuddlement that both blacks and whites felt towards each other in 1972. Neither side understood the other. What today, in 2019, has changed since 1972? The answer is not as simple as black and white. Is President Donald Trump’s Border Wall just a metaphor and a racist dog whistle for social division in 2019 the same as were George Wallace and state’s rights in 1972? Is the Black Lives Matter movement in 2019 a recycled version of the Black Panthers, circa 1972? Have we made progress or just spun around the axle of frustration over the last 47 years, burdened by the same exasperating, culturally dividing issues again and again?
Adulthood is often purgatory for the former schoolboy star. The world outside organized sports is unforgiving. All eight have faced life’s struggles. Reuniting them 47 years after that infamous night tells the story of a generation. Fate brought them together as competitors, but where life has taken them since March 8, 1972 is the quest for a sense of place, of respect, and of new social grounds for discussion and direction.
Copyright © Dave Almany