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The Graves County Boys

The Graves County Boys: A Tale of Kentucky Basketball, Perseverance, and the Unlikely Championship of the Cuba Cubs

Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 262
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  • Book Info
    The Graves County Boys
    Book Description:

    In 1952, a year when Coach Adolph Rupp's University of Kentucky Wildcats won their third national championship in four years, an unlikely high school basketball team from rural Graves County, Kentucky, stole the spotlight and the media's attention. Inspired by young coach Jack Story and by the Harlem Globetrotters, the Cuba Cubs grabbed headlines when they rose from relative obscurity to defeat the big-city favorite and win the state championship.

    A classic underdog tale, The Graves County Boys chronicles how five boys from a tiny high school in southwestern Kentucky captured the hearts of basketball fans nationwide. Marianne Walker weaves together details about the players, their coach, and their relationships in a page-turning account of triumph over adversity. This inspiring David and Goliath story takes the reader on a journey from the team's heartbreaking defeat in the 1951 state championship to their triumphant victory over Louisville Manual the next year.

    More than just a basketball narrative, the book explores a period in American life when indoor plumbing and electricity were still luxuries in some areas of the country and when hardship was a way of life. With no funded school programs or bus system, the Cubs's success was a testament to the sacrifices of family and neighbors who believed in their team. Featuring new photographs, a foreword by University of Kentucky coach Joe B. Hall, and a new epilogue detailing where the players are now, The Graves County Boys is an unforgettable story of how a community pulled together to make a dream come true.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4419-1
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    Joe B. Hall

    The Graves County Boys is a great story from start to finish. it is about a small group of teenagers coming of age in a remote region of Kentucky, where values were passed down from one generation to another. Marianne Walker tells the boys’ story so engagingly that this book will appeal to a wide range of readers: of all ages, and whether they are fans of basketball or not. it is a true story about life during the 1940s and early 1950s and about the achievement of dreams. These boys, called the Cuba Cubs, were taught by their young...

  4. Preface
    (pp. xv-xxiv)
  5. 1 The Cuba Cubs
    (pp. 1-5)

    One rainy afternoon in the fall of 1948, in an old rural Kentucky schoolhouse, Coach Jack Story took his eighth-grade basketball prodigies into the auditorium. He had set up a film projector, a screen, and some folding chairs there. As the boys sat down, he straddled a straight-back wooden chair, folding his thick arms on its back. He talked to them for a few minutes about what it means to be on a basketball team, and then he leaned forward a bit and told them in a low voice the two secrets to playing the game well: “First, you have...

  6. 2 The Little Crossroads Team
    (pp. 6-12)

    With their diligent daily practice and with the guidance of their coach, the Cubs—by the time they were juniors—had quite a wonderful reputation in western Kentucky and West Tennessee. Known as the Cuba Cubs from little Cuba, Kentucky, they were a popular and respected team, well grounded in the fundamentals. They played uniquely, with a flair that resembled the Harlem Globetrotters, and everywhere they played, the gyms were packed with spectators. As juniors, they had already earned their right to compete in the state tournament to be held in Memorial Coliseum in Lexington, Kentucky, in mid-March 1951.


  7. 3 The Clutch
    (pp. 13-20)

    The next evening, Thursday, March 15, 1951, in the locker room just before the first game was to begin, Coach Story went over their plan. Although he had never seen Covington Holmes, their opponent, play before, he gave his boys what knowledge he had about how he thought they would play, who their best players were, and what the Cubs should do to prevent them from scoring. In his usual calm manner, he told them that although the other team members were taller than they were, not to let their opponents fake them. He assured them that they could control...

  8. 4 The Coliseum Darlings
    (pp. 21-31)

    Just hours before the final tournament game was to begin, the governor of Kentucky spoke at a Lexington Chamber of Commerce buffet party held for all the coaches, the board of control, and others involved with the tournament. In a startling announcement, Governor Lawrence Wetherby emphatically but undiplomatically stated, “I’m for Cuba—all the way! The way those kids fight, and just don’t want to lose, make sports great. So you take Manual, Clark County, and the rest. I’ll just be for those kids from Cuba.”

    The governor and many others recognized that the difference between the Cubs and their...

  9. 5 A Vision and an Oath
    (pp. 32-39)

    Lexington, Kentucky—March 1951. It was near midnight when the bus returned the Cubs and their classmates to the Phoenix Hotel after the closing ceremony ended the 1951 tournament. A gusty wintry wind, whipping around the street corner, stung their faces as they stepped from the bus. “Man, it’s cold as a well-digger’s tail,” one of them exclaimed as they rushed into the lobby. Instead of following the others, dispirited Doodle and Howie, with their jacket collars up around their ears and their hands thrust into their pockets, turned and ambled down to the street corner, then stopped under a...

  10. 6 The Homecoming
    (pp. 40-44)

    Early the next morning, silence hung heavily in the Kaiser as Coach Story led the motorcade of supporters home. But that silence was broken just outside of Lexington when much to their surprise people were standing along the roadside waving to them. When they got to Horse Cave, where Coach Story had made reservations for lunch, they were even more surprised to see a hundred or more people on either side of the street in front of the café welcoming them on that cold, overcast day. It seems that after Coach Story made the reservation for lunch, the owner of...

  11. 7 The Land between Rivers
    (pp. 45-52)

    The phenomenal support that Cuba, the Jackson Purchase, and all the rest of western Kentucky gave to Coach Story and the Cubs did not go unnoticed elsewhere in the state. Across the Commonwealth newspapers featured large photographs and articles about the coach, the team, and their incredible reception. Newspapers carried aerial photographs of the automobiles parked near Eggner’s Ferry Bridge, of the eight-mile-long motorcade to Mayfield, and of the celebration at the county courthouse square.

    A year later, in one of his Sunday morning columns in the Lexington Herald-Leader, veteran sportswriter Bob Adair wrote that in the thirty-five-year history of...

  12. 8 The Boys from Graves County
    (pp. 53-60)

    When they were small children, the Cubs did not all know one another. None of them was born in Cuba, a hamlet with a population of one hundred or so, but all were from similar small communities in southern Graves County. These little farming communities had developed wherever half a dozen or more families settled. One of the families would open a store bearing its name, and the area would sometimes be named after that family.

    Doodle and Howie were born in Pilot Oak, about eight miles from Cuba and three miles from the Tennessee state line. They were nine...

  13. 9 Little Cuba, Hub of the Universe
    (pp. 61-70)

    The closing of the Pilot Oak high school not only brought Howie and Doodle together with Jack Story and the other boys, it made the little place with the strange name Cuba the hub of their universe. The connection between the spanish-held Caribbean island Cuba and this small, remote settlement in the Jackson Purchase is rooted in the region’s nineteenth-century exportation of tobacco products.

    In the mid-1880s, before the tobacco floors and warehouses were established in Mayfield, farmers had to haul their wagonloads of tobacco to the river closest to them. The three mighty rivers surrounding the Purchase on three...

  14. 10 Doodle Floyd
    (pp. 71-79)

    Pilot Oak, Kentucky—1932–1948. From the time he was six until he graduated from high school in Cuba in 1952, Doodle lived with his parents in a three-room unpainted house on a forty-five-acre farm. It was just off the Pilot Oak–Dukedom road, close to the Tennessee state line, three miles from Pilot Oak. His dad paid $800 in cash for the property, using money he had earned as a carpenter-millwright setting machines and turbines in Detroit, where he worked three to four months every winter for years.

    Until he bought his own land, Doodle’s father worked on the...

  15. 11 Howie Crittenden
    (pp. 80-87)

    Howie and Helen, his twin sister, were born on March 13, 1933, in Pilot Oak, to Willie and Alta Ruth Crittenden. They were the youngest of ten children. Alta was forty-one years old—far too old, the other women said, to have another baby, much less two at one time. The twins must have been a big surprise for Willie and Alta Ruth, for they came along at a time when she thought her child-bearing days were over. Norman, their youngest, was nine years old when Alta Ruth became pregnant with the twins. Her pregnancy was an uncomfortable one; her...

  16. 12 The Migration
    (pp. 88-93)

    In late spring of 1943, Willie Crittenden moved to Detroit to find work. His plan was to save enough money to send for Alta Ruth and the twins. Before he left, he moved his family from Pilot Oak into the house his oldest daughter Emily and her husband had just vacated in their own move to Detroit. Alta and the twins would live there until school was out, and then they would leave for the city.

    This house was near the Kentucky-Tennessee border on KY 166. One side of the road was in Kentucky, the other in Tennessee. The house...

  17. 13 The Tragedy
    (pp. 94-101)

    The most important person in Doodle’s young life was his brother James, three years older. Doodle adored James, and James loved his little brother with all his heart. They worked and played together. As it always is, even with best friends, some bickering went on between them occasionally, but it always ended in laughter. Until James turned thirteen and Doodle ten in 1944, they were constant companions. But as soon as James reached his teenage years, he wanted time on his own to read or just be alone. He had outgrown most of the games that his younger brother still...

  18. 14 Mischief Makers
    (pp. 102-105)

    Around the age of thirteen, Howie and Doodle got to thinking that they were grown up. Doodle, especially, started thinking of himself as a big guy—chewing on a cigar, spitting tobacco, comparing the budding bodices of female peers, and expanding his colorful vocabulary—all of which got him into varying degrees of trouble with his parents. One afternoon when his mother overheard him cursing, she washed his mouth out with a piece of her lye soap and asked him, “Charles, now how tasty are your words?”

    In those days it was nearly impossible for any child to get away...

  19. 15 Jack Story
    (pp. 106-118)

    In the fall of 1947, the people in Cuba were thrilled to have Jack Story at their school again. When coaching there once before, during 1942–1943, he had brought the team closer than it had ever been to the state tournament. He led Cuba to the district runner-up position, losing by only 1 point to Benton. Both teams went on to the 1943 regional tournament, where Cuba bowed out to Benton again.

    A tall man, broad shouldered and slightly paunchy, Jack Story had a round face and soft, wavy brown hair that he kept short and combed straight back...

  20. 16 Sowing the Seeds
    (pp. 119-125)

    One afternoon in the fall of 1947, shortly after Jack Story started work at the Cuba School, he was in his office waiting for the lunch recess to end. It was a typical early October day, still too warm to wear a jacket. The windows were open wide, and the noise from the playground drifted into the room.

    A few minutes before the bell was to ring, Jack shoved the papers that he had been reading aside and walked from his desk to the window and looked out onto the playground. Some little girls were sitting under the shade of...

  21. 17 Preparing to Win
    (pp. 126-134)

    All coaches have their own methods of motivating their players. They have favorite words they emphasize, and Coach Story’s was determination. He applied it to every human endeavor, believing that nobody ever achieves anything worthwhile unless he is determined to do so and has prepared himself for the challenge. He warned the boys, “Nobody’s going to give you anything. Don’t be thinking they are. It’s not enough to dream about winning, you have to prepare yourselves to win. You will have to work hard. You see, what some call ‘good luck’ is nothing but the result of hard work.”


  22. 18 Skull Sessions
    (pp. 135-143)

    Coach Story expected his team to behave in a proper manner at all times. Although he well understood that boys will be boys, he let them know that they were to act right. He talked to them about what it means to be an athlete, stressing that an athlete plays fair. He never cheats. He wins by outplaying his opponent. And he never underestimates his opponent’s strength. Story warned them often about going into a game thinking that they were in for an easy time. On more than one occasion, he had seen signs of arrogance in them, so he...

  23. 19 Unforgettable Cayce
    (pp. 144-153)

    In the summer of 1949 the state highway department blacktopped the gravel road, Highway 303, running from Mayfield to Cuba to Pilot Oak. Howie and Doodle were ecstatic. They finally had a hard surface on which to play ball when they could not play in the gym. In the stillness of hazy summer afternoons, many of the folks in Pilot Oak could hear that basketball pounding on the pavement. As usual, when the moon was full, the boys played late into the night—and in all kinds of weather. This year-round outdoor competition, even in the deepest winter, primed them...

  24. 20 Different Encounters
    (pp. 154-157)

    The Cubs entered their junior year slightly more subdued and matured, with the weight of great expectations upon them. They were not promising underclassmen anymore. They were the varsity now—the Cuba Cubs. When the school year started in the fall of 1950, the changes in all of them were noticeable. They had grown taller and more muscular. Only one had a problem—Raymon was having serious ankle pain. Without his defense and rebounding, the team could not be as successful as it had been. Worriedly, Coach Story started looking around for a backup. He found one in Bill Pollock,...

  25. 21 Pride before Another Fall
    (pp. 158-165)

    The Cubs opened the 1950–1951 season with two big wins: one over Lowes, 81-48, and the other over Cayce (again), 75-36. As juniors with an enviable reputation, they were preening like rock stars the night they were scheduled to play at Lynn Grove, a nearby small, poorly built rural school. Although they had not forgotten the Cayce game the year before, their memory of it had dimmed some. On the day they were to play Lynn Grove, they did not see any harm in having a little fun.

    For days before the game, the southern end of the county...

  26. 22 The Season of Joy and Sorrow
    (pp. 166-170)

    Early in January 1951, the Cubs lost their second game of the season when Clark County, the number one team in the state rankings, beat them 62-61. The day the Cubs left for Winchester to play Clark County, snow was falling heavily in Kentucky. They left early that morning because Winchester was twenty miles beyond Lexington, an eight-hour drive. Needing an extra driver, Coach Story asked Jess Warren, who seldom drove far out of Graves County, to let some of the boys ride with him. Joe Buddy, Jess’s son, along with Howie, Doodle, Ted, and Jimmie, piled into Jess’s car...

  27. 23 Cubs Turning into Lions
    (pp. 171-181)

    The Cubs kept their promise about building their endurance. They ran and practiced basketball hard all summer long. People in Cuba and in Pilot Oak watched with admiration as the boys streaked across fields chasing rabbits. By January 1952, they were actually catching rabbits, some folks said. Many early mornings before school, Howie and Doodle (after his chores) ran three miles from their homes to Wray’s, where Ted Bradley and Jimmie Webb lived. Then all four of them ran the four miles to Cuba and would be at school before the school bus arrived. Every afternoon they practiced in the...

  28. 24 Lexington, Here We Come!
    (pp. 182-187)

    During their senior year, the Cubs paid little attention to their schoolwork. It was impossible to keep up with it, tutors or no tutors. Wanting the players to have all the experience they could, Coach Story completely revised their schedule, so that they played one game after another. In addition to playing all the area schools in Graves County, they played in every invitational tournament in the state, plus many charity games. They played the top teams in the state and also the number one and number two teams in Tennessee.

    They opened the 1951–1952 season with four quick...

  29. 25 The Little Comeback Team
    (pp. 188-200)

    On Wednesday, March 19, 1952, the day the tournament was to begin, Lexington Herald-Leader sportswriter Larry Shropshire reminded readers in his column “Down in Front” of the criticism out-of-town teams and their fans and other visitors had heaped on Lexington (the host of the state tournament) the previous year. He expressed hope that criticism could be avoided this year and from now on. Then he explained the reason for the criticism:

    The colorful team from distant Cuba . . . was inadvertently and unintentionally the hub of the trouble with certainly no blame whatsoever to be attached to those lads....

  30. 26 A Memorable Year: 1952
    (pp. 201-210)

    With no time for a much-needed rest after two overtimes, the Cubs prepared themselves for the championship game that evening against Louisville Manual, which had just survived a grueling semi-final game of its own to upset Clark County 54-53. Clark County and Manual were rated first and second, respectively, in the Associated Press poll that year. Earlier, Clark County had beaten Cuba 57-48. Manual had beaten Cuba twice: the first time 48-41, and then again by 70-58 in the final game of the Louisville Invitational Tournament.

    One of the largest schools in the state, if not the largest, Manual had...

  31. Epilogue
    (pp. 211-222)

    At the closing ceremony of the 1952 state tournament, Howie and Doodle, for the second straight year, were among the ten boys chosen for the All-State Tournament Team. Linville Puckett from Clark County was selected for the third straight year. The other Kentucky greats were Phil Grawmeyer from Manual and his teammates Curtis Moffett and Neal Skeeters. Also named were Garnard Martin from Hindman, Jerry Bird from Corbin, and Carlos Irwin of Breckenridge County.

    The Cubs’ trip home was a triumphant procession. As they moved through the state, word of their coming spread ahead of them. People in towns and...

  32. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 223-224)
  33. Bibliography
    (pp. 225-232)
  34. Index
    (pp. 233-238)