I grew up watching the Greenwood Blue and Gold tournament where my two elder brothers participated for the Branson Pirates. I remember in 1975 eldest brother, Perry, played with a Branson team coached by Al Waller. Waller, 6 foot 7 inches, and a former NBA player for a short stint, guided the Pirates to the semifinals, where they lost to an excellent Skyline team led by all-stater Tim West.
The third-place game saw Branson challenging a very sturdy Stockton team. I remember my cousin Jeff and I came to the game armed with my tape recorder I had just received for Christmas. We decided to announce the game with my recorder. I was a sixth grader and Jeff a seventh grader, and our professionalism lacked greatly during our recordings. One minute we were calling the game, the next minute our high-pitched screams blasted the recording as we yelled at a ref’s call.
The game went down to the wire. We were perched behind the Branson basket in the final minutes. With only a few seconds left. Branson, down by a point, inbounded the ball and tossed it downcourt to Tim Russell, senior forward. Tim shot the ball and at the buzzard, swish! All you could hear in the recording was Jeff and myself screaming with the fans! Glorious!
Three years later, I remember watching my brother, Mike and the Pirates taking on a very quality Nixa team, led by all-stater Kent Russell. In an effort to put pressure on Russell, the Branson coach had guard Greg Hall follow Russell everywhere on the court, even standing a ways off from the huddle at timeouts. On one of those timeouts Russell suddenly sat a bench chair on the floor for Hall. The crowd roared. Nixa won.
When it was my turn to play in the Blue and Gold my junior and senior years, there was no drama or celebration. We got bounced out both years in the first round. My uncle Johnny did love to tell the story during my senior year at a time out. He sat close to our bench and could hear Coach’s rant. We were getting trounced mightily by Nevada. Our full court press merely gave them easy baskets. As our coach yelled at us, I interrupted him and asked, “Coach, do you think we ought to try something besides the press?”
“Well, Stone,” Coach bellowed,” since you think you can help me coach why don’t you sit beside me on the bench and help me coach the rest of the game!”
And so I did.
It’s a mixed back looking back on memories of the Blue and Gold. From the amazing finish of 1975 to my embarrassment in 1981, I always enjoyed being in that gym in front of fans from across the Ozarks. Small schools battled bigger schools like in the movie, Hoosiers. I can still smell the wax from the court mingled with popcorn in the stands. Hearing my name announced when I made a basket (which didn’t happen often) brought pride and excitement. Watching my brothers drain baskets from the corner and top of the key (no 3’s back then) made me want to emulate them.
I miss competing with a team on the basketball court, straining together to reach a common goal. Lots of life lessons can be learned in a team sport if you lean into it. The teams that usually win do so by banding together, harnessing all their talents and skills. The best teams move the ball, always sacrificing for the better shot, defending together, and communicating well. These are lessons that apply to family, work, and community.
Oh, and I also always enjoyed watching the small-town school beating the larger schools!