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Looking back - County basketball bustling 60 years ago

McMinnville was bustling with basketball action in December of 1960. The six high schools in the county competed in a local tournament – McMinnville City, McMinnville Central, Morrison, Dibrell, Irving College, and Centertown.

The county tournament was known by several titles: “Warren County Holiday Tournament,” the “County-City Tournament,” “Warren County–McMinnville Tournament,” and “Warren County Cage Tournament.”

McMinnville City High School girls and boys won the tournament. The Rebelettes beat Central 47-35 for the girls championship. The City High Rebels beat Dibrell 83-47 to win the boys championship. 

The tournament took place on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, Dec. 15-17, 1960. It was the third year of the county tournament, and according to the Southern Standard, the first two nights of the tournament were record-setting and surpassed the gate receipts of the first two years of the tournament.

A member of the City High team, center Tony Durham, remembers parts of the tournament in his old age. Durham said, “It was the second tournament in a row for me. I think City won it the most years. As I remember, Norman Sain, Herschel Wells, and I made the all-tournament team, maybe Franklin Hennessee, too ... although he wasn’t in that picture for some reason. Neither is Terry Newcombe ... our other regular starter. He might have been out with a broken arm at that time ... not sure.  Our girls were awesome. Barbara Womack was the big scoring forward most games.” 

Durham continued and praised himself, “I seem to remember the Centertown game best because they ran a zone against us and Norman took passes from our guards, and of course they collapsed on him. That left me wide open underneath the basket and I had something close to 20 points that night. It was the reason I made all-tournament. Norman’s passing made me look pretty good that night.”

Tony Durham was president of the student council his senior year, and he was salutatorian behind the valedictorian, the late Franklin Hennessee. Hennessee had torn up his knee and probably was not playing with the basketball team during the tournament.

The knee injury raised concerns about Hennessee attending West Point. Not to worry, Hennessee graduated from West Point and retired as a Brigadier General.  Hennessee passed away on June 2, 2020.

Full disclosure, Tony Durham is this reporter’s uncle. This reporter remembers seeing this City High basketball team play during Tony Durham’s senior year.

Looking back at the tournament easily makes me nostalgic for the grand ole days! Here are some snapshots of Warren County in December of 1960:

An estimated 11,500 attended the Press-Radio Club Christmas parade in McMinnville.

The mayor was Vernon Jones.

The farm count in Warren County topped 1,800.

Joe Stewart was the Dibrell boys coach.

Tomato soup was 10 cents a can, and lettuce 10 cents a head at Kroger.

Nationally, Elvis Presley’s “Are You Lonesome Tonight” was the No. 1 song in America.

There is one event that took place in December of 1960 that really jumps off the page of an archived Southern Standard edition. The Jaycees had a Christmas Party for approximately 300 kids at City Grammar School on Dec. 21. Jack Puckett was the chairman of the charity event.

Cards were mailed to more than 300 children suggested by the local Department of Public Welfare, church leaders, and community and civic leaders. More than 200 cards had been returned in advance of the event.

The party started at 3 p.m. at the school. Participants went to a movie at the Park Theater and returned at 5:45 p.m. A local minister then told them a Christmas story in the auditorium, which was followed by a Christmas dinner in the cafeteria. After dinner, the children reassembled in the auditorium where Santa Claus showered them with gifts. The children were returned home by 9 p.m.

If the pandemic has dissipated, that is the type of Christmas party McMinnville should have in 2021. It is a guaranteed way to make more grand ole days for everyone in McMinnville.