60 years ago … Bees started tradition of state titles

Published 12:02 am Sunday, March 6, 2016

When the Lincoln High School Bumblebees won the 1956 Prairie View Interscholastic League 4A state championship, they weren’t always the talk of the town teams of future generations came to be.
“They never talk about the 1956 team,” said Allen Isles, a star forward on that team. “They always talk about the ones recently. I thought it was a great team. We had one guy go to the Air Force, and the twins and myself, we went to Grambling.”
The twins were James and Joseph Frelow, two of the leading scorers on that team, behind Roy Carruth’s 22.9-point per game average and Isles’ 18.3.
Even in the 1940s and 1950s, basketball played second fiddle to football in Texas culture. (Lincoln had won PVIL football titles in 1949, 1953 and 1955.) It was only nine years earlier when Lincoln, the all-black high school in Port Arthur during the days of segregation, first fielded a basketball team.
For a school that would go on to win seven University Interscholastic League state championships, Lincoln had such a humble beginning.
“The main part about it, we didn’t have a gym,” said Hosea Gabriel, 83, a 1950 Lincoln grad who played on the school’s first team. “We played on an asphalt court. We would do some drills in the cafeteria.”
The team also relied on a cocktail of Karo syrup and water for the calories and chewing gum to keep the mouth from being dry, years before University of Florida researchers invented Gatorade.
In fact, a Mr. Posey who was the football coach then began the basketball program, according to Gabriel. A young team whose “basketball expertise was lacking,” as Gabriel added, didn’t quite have the success those of a later generation would experience.
“We only won a few games,” he said. “Our basketball strategy was all dependent on the football coach.”
The Bumblebees did upset Beaumont Hebert during a tournament one year, Gabriel recalled. “That was probably the highlight of my whole basketball career.”
Two years after Gabriel graduated, the first class of basketball state champions entered Lincoln.
“We were playing together a long time,” said Isles, who now lives in Houston. “We started out in private school, at Sacred Heart, and we just came up through the ranks. My freshman year, I was the only one who made varsity. I think that’s what made it so great. We came up together, and that’s what made it better.”
Isles’ senior season of 1955-56 was like nothing the previous Lincoln teams played, according to the school yearbook. The Bumblebees, under coach Harvey Bradshaw, went 16-2 during the regular season and 9-1 in their district, outscoring opponents by an average of 73.7-50.1.
The only two teams to beat Lincoln that season were Chicago St. Elizabeth (67-65) and Houston Yates (74-69).
“They were a traveling team,” Isles said of the Chicago team. “They were undefeated for about two to three years. Somebody in Port Arthur made a connection with them and called and asked them to come play us.”
The yearbook honored the Bees for winning their first district title, but failed to recognize their accomplishment of winning state, possibly because of press deadlines then. Lincoln beat Galveston Central 76-64 for the 4A title.
It was one of three PVIL titles Lincoln won that school year. Along with the football team’s championship, a Frelow also won the state singles title, succeeding 1955 Lincoln grad Levi Adams. (PVIL records did not list a first name for which Frelow it was.) The boys track and field team, which had won state in 1955, came in third in 1956.

James Gamble was aware of Lincoln’s 1956 basketball championship when he arrived in Port Arthur in 1963.
“It gave me an idea we could have a competitive program,” he said. “There were some quality kids available. I started coaching in the PVIL. So, I was striving to win a championship, period. It didn’t make a difference that we went into the UIL because I didn’t win one in the PVIL. We never even won a district championship when I was coaching in the PVIL.
“We didn’t have a middle-school program when I got there,” he said. “So, I took my hat off to Harvey Bradshaw for doing a great job that he did without a middle-school program.”
Gamble went right to work and won 641 games in 25 seasons. He led Lincoln to its first four UIL titles in 1981, 1984, 1986 and 1988. (Lincoln also won it the following season under Joe Price.)
Although a banner hung in Lincoln’s gym for the 1956 basketball champs, the Bees quickly became known for their UIL prowess.
“It was a nice thing, and then you didn’t hear about it,” Isles said of his championship.
Wanda Bodden can relate to the Bees’ basketball tradition before and during their great UIL run. Although she graduated from Thomas Jefferson High in 1972, she stayed close with many of her friends at Lincoln whom she had gone to school with just a few years earlier.
“Coming up as a kid, that was the place you wanted to be,” she said. “Everybody wanted to graduate from Lincoln High School. If you played anything, if you ran track and played basketball, that’s where you wanted to be.”
Bodden’s son Ahmaal was a freshman on the 1991 championship team at Lincoln and played on the 1993 runner-up and 1994 semifinalist Bees. But what Wanda remembers most about that time is the buzz around town that the Bees — under Gamble, Price and Andre Boutte — created.
“We had a safe place when we went to Lincoln,” she said. “We had a sense of pride. Your child didn’t have to play, but we were at the game.”
At the championship games, Lincoln nation didn’t hide from the masses at the Frank Erwin Center in Austin. In fact, Bodden said: “We marched around the Drum,” referring to the arena’s former nickname of Super Drum.
“We got our tickets early because we were so loud in the mezzanine,” she said.

It’s good timing for the 60th anniversary of Lincoln’s first basketball state championship.
The 1991 championship team Boutte coached will be honored at 1:30 p.m. next Saturday during halftime of the 2A championship game. Each year, the UIL honors state title teams on their 25th and 50th anniversaries.
That Lincoln team finished 34-3, including a 14-0 record in district play. In the state rounds, Lincoln defeated South Oak Cliff in the semifinals and San Antonio Alamo Heights in the title round.
Lincoln won its last state title in 1995 under Boutte, who left two years later to become the coach at Ozen.
Meanwhile, Bodden is bringing attention to Lincoln’s past glory by creating a basketball tournament to be held at Lincoln Middle School during spring break.
The Bringing Back the Glory tournament is holding registration for AAU and other boys and girls teams. The tournament is scheduled for March 17-19.
Bodden said the pride in present-day Memorial High School, which formed in 2002 as a result of the merger of Lincoln, Jefferson and Stephen F. Austin, isn’t what it was during the Bees’ glory days.
“Now that we’ve become like one super school, some of the kids don’t know about the history, and some of the people haven’t embraced it,” she said.
Bodden’s goals for the tournament is to bring the community together and re-instill community and school pride in the kids.
“A lot of the kids play for the Y [YMCA] and AAU teams, and sometimes we miss that talent because of our turnout,” she said. “I remember when my son was playing. We used to stand in line to get tickets for the high school game. We would get there in time to see the seventh-graders play. You might leave to go grab a Coke or candy bar, and we were scared to get up.”
That’s the Lincoln basketball that she remembers.

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About I.C. Murrell

I.C. Murrell was promoted to editor of The News, effective Oct. 14, 2019. He previously served as sports editor since August 2015 and has won or shared eight first-place awards from state newspaper associations and corporations. He was born in Memphis, Tennessee, grew up mostly in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and graduated from the University of Arkansas at Monticello.

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