The Port Arthur News
PORT ARTHUR —
Editor’s note: The following column from the Best of West collection was originally published in the Port Arthur News on April 20, 1974.
If the shallow thinkers who determine policies for the Texas High School Coaches Association could somehow be transferred to the mayor’s office in Jackson, Miss., the pairing would qualify as one of those so-called marriages made in heaven.
It takes considerable searching to find someone, or something, who has its head buried as deeply in the sand as the THSCA rules makers. But last Friday night, just as a Port Arthur trio was nearing the give-up station, the mayor of Jackson saved the day.
With long lines stretching around a local theater, the mayor sent his boys from the vice squad out to confiscate the film of the movie “The Exorcist.” Even as behind the times as the mayor of Jackson has to be, it’s hard to believe such a thing could happen to a film which is shattering box office records and was nominated for numberous academy awards.
Equally hard to accept, however, is the fact the Texas high School Coaches Association has legislation so stupid that it penalizes the super athlete. The rule being referred to is the mandate that says any youngster who competes in an All-Star game prior to the THSCA All-Star games in August is ineligible to play in the Texas game.
As near as can be determined, the rule came about because of the Big 33 football series a few years back between the top schoolboy gridders in Texas and Pennsylvania. Seems as how the more glamorous Big 33 was stealing all the thunder away from the THSCA showcase event. So the coaches retaliated by enacting legislation forcing players to make a choice.
The rule really wasn’t needed because Texas began kicking the you know what out of Pennsylvania. Ultimately, the hosts threw in the towel and called it quits. But, just to keep the Oil Bowl in its place, and make sure no other promoter’s brainstorms lured Texas’ football talent away, the rule remained.
Since the board of directors of the THSCA is nearly always completely football dominated, it probably never occurred in their one-dimensional minds that Texas’ stepchild — basketball — might someday turn out a player or players so good they would capture national attention and have the opportunity to compete against the best talent from other places in All-Star competition.
That, of course, is exactly what’s happened the last two years. Wheatley’s Eddie Owens was rated among the nation’s top 10 players in 1973 and invited to participate in Pittsburgh’s Dapper Dan Classic. Naturally, he jumped at the opportunity, thus forfeiting the right to play in the Texas coaching school’s All-Star basketball game.
This year it’s Lincoln’s Earl Evans, rated by recruiters as the nation’s No. 2 prep prospect behind Moses Malone, and being invited to participate in Louisville’s Derby Classic and Parade Magazine’s Seamco Classic in New York. Like Owens, Evans wasn’t about to pass up the chance for the exposure and competition such games offered.
Consequently, for the second year in a row Texas’ All-Star basketball game will be held without the state’s top player. For the second year in a row a player who has received publicity from coast to coast, and been recruited by virtually every major basketball power, has to watch from the sidelines. For the second year in a row, the THSCA has benched its best possible basketball drawing card.
A writer from Port Arthur tried explaining this preposterous situation to a coach at the Derby Classic last week in Louisville and was immediately called a liar. “That’s a pretty good story, but you don’t really expect me to believe it,” said the coach. “What possible logic could there be to a rule like that?”
Finally convinced that the story was indeed true, the coach sought out a couple of his buddies. Everybody had a good laugh and before long the story was spreading like wildfire. Those who knew it was true summed things us concisely. “No wonder the best kids get the hell out of Texas.”
Particularly because this year’s coaching school is being held in Houston, Earl Evans would love to play the final game of his schoolboy career there. He wants to play one more time in front of the home folks but it’s not possible and Evans doesn’t understand why.
Evans’ coach, James Gamble, normally a very non-controversial guy, is bitter over the situation. “It’s just a perfect example of why Texas basketball is so far behind,” he said. “There’s no plausible reason to penalize a kid for getting outside exposure, but it’s being done here. How in the world are we ever going to make any progress with the fans, if we deny them seeing the state’s best player every year?”
While Evans and Gamble were in Louisville, there were ale to read in the newspapers about the Indiana team, which Evans faced on Sunday, playing a touring Russian team. The Russians had already played a group of schoolboy All-Stars from new York and Monday night they played Kentucky. Before they leave the country, the Russians will face the top schoolboy players from three other states.
A game against the Russians would be a natural in Houston but, because of the Texas High School Coaches Association, there’s not much chance of that ever taking place. We certainly can’t have our blue chippers benefiting from the value of international competition, and messing up the Texas All-Star game, can we?
Especially when an event of that sort might prompt somebody on the outside to think there’s something besides oil and football in the Lone Star State.
It’s no wonder good, young basketball coaches and the state’s finest players pack their bags when opportunity beckons. It’s also no wonder Southwest Conference teams get humiliated every time they leave Texas soil. You can’t send a canoe up against a battleship and expect to win.
What’s so defeating about the problem is that in a state as vast and wealthy as Texas, there’s room for more than just strong football programs. Let’s don’t be as backward as the mayor of Jackson, Miss., forever.
Sports editor Bob West can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.