The boys in my class started playing basketball in the third grade when Raymon Brown, the 6th grade teacher, organized the 3rd and 4th grade boys into four teams. These teams then played against each other in front of the high school students during their lunch hour. We had no plays . . . we just tried to make a basket. I scored twice that year...a miracle 30-ft. shot from the sideline . . . and a lay-up . . . unfortunately for the other team.
My Dad started taking me to the high school games that year, and I was hooked on the sport. Watching a Friday or Saturday night high school game was the highlight of the week for many people in the community, and the gym was always packed. The high school players became my idols, and I tried to imitate their shooting styles and moves. Every so often a player would make an outstanding shot, and the crowd would go crazy. Here are the three that I remember the most . . .
....For a few years, an overtime period was "sudden death." The first team that scored a basket in overtime won the game. During one such overtime game, I noticed George Cox, our sophomore guard, watching the opposing team's center, trying to figure out where the tip was going. Well, he guessed correctly. George intercepted the tipped ball, and dribbled like lightning to our goal for an easy lay-up. We won, and the crowd went nuts! And George repeated that move in another overtime game that same year! He was great!
....In a game at Ladoga, Winston Wilson, Darlington's leading scorer, heaved a 75-ft. shot from the opposing free-throw line with just seconds to go . . . and hit nothing but net! Winston had the "soft touch," and he ended up as the county's leading scorer in 1961. My brother and I cut the sleeves from our T-shirts (to make a basketball jersey) and wrote the number "41" (Winston's number) on our shirts with crayons. We practiced shooting with a little rubber ball into a coffee can nailed to our bedroom wall. And we made certain that we used his shooting style, especially his free-throw routine. Winston also had a hot car . . . he was our hero!
....During the 1969 Sectional championship game, the Darlington team was up against the Marion County champions, the Speedway Sparkplugs. The game was close all the way, and Speedway was ahead going into the final quarter. Donnie Threlkeld, our star guard, had leg cramps and was on the bench. We needed to score. Donnie came back into the game, got the ball, and hit a 35-ft. jump shot to tie the game. The entire Darlington crowd went berserk! When Rich Douglas, Fred Warren and Roy Wright all scored to give us a 6-point lead, the fans could smell victory. But Speedway caught up within 2-points with four seconds to go. They threw up a last second desperation shot, and it bounced off the rim. Darlington won its first and only Sectional championship! To this day, I have never seen a more exciting game in my life.
....But the most amazing shot that I remember occurred when I was coaching a Darlington 7th grade team in 1980. Mitch Maxwell, who had played on the "B" team for three years, had never made a basket, so I called a time-out and designed a special play. I told Brian Breaks, our center, to bend down when our guard came down the floor . . . and to let Mitch climb on top of his shoulders. Mitch was to wrap his legs around Brian's neck and hold his hands up so our guard could pass him the ball. After Mitch had the ball, Brian was to turn around and face the basket so Mitch could get off a shot. (I had tried this play a few years earlier with Ronnie Brown, but it had not worked.) With 10 seconds to go, Mitch got the ball, Brian turned around, and Mitch heaved a two-handed shot toward the basket from the top of the key . . . and ZIPPED IT!!! I jumped about three feet in the air, and the crowd gave Mitch a standing ovation. I awarded Mitch a trophy at season's end for the "greatest shot in basketball history."
....and whatever happened to those two boys who wanted to be like Winston Wilson? Well, my brother and I played basketball for Darlington . . . and we became the "heroes" for little kids . . . and that's the way it was in the good ol' days.

John "Butch" Dale is a retired teacher and County Sheriff. He has also been the librarian at Darlington the past 30 years, and is a well-known artist and author of local history.