Sitting at the kitchen table Thursday afternoon, a twinkle quickly came to Edwin Pruett’s eyes when asked about his days on the hardcourt for the Slidell Greyhounds.
“I wish I could get in there again,” Pruett said. “It doesn’t work that way.”
Pruett, 88, is one of the last links to the Greyhound basketball squads that claimed the Class B state titles in 1942 and 1943. Seventy-one years later, the two squads remain Wise County’s only boys basketball state champions.
The Greyhounds under the guidance of Manuel McCarroll rolled to the 1942 crown in the first year the University Interscholastic League introduced Class B. Previously, the UIL crowned only one state champion.
According to the old handwritten text of the 1942 Slidell yearbook, Lewis Hall was the team’s lone returning player. But McCarroll “began early in the year to whip his charges into shape.”
Pruett said McCarroll definitely had everyone’s attention.
“He was a dandy. We worshipped him you might say,” Pruett said. “Everyone that played for him, he’d eat out.”
The 1942 squad’s six main players were Gussie Weber, Wallace Patton, Hall, Harold Raye Gage, Pruett and Raleigh Christian. James Fortenberry, Willard Burton, Mack Ashley, Turner Bill Hall, Billy Jameson and Elmer Pugh filled roles off the bench.
“That was the whole school,” Pruett joked pointing at the picture of the team.
The team’s tallest player, and the best, according to Pruett, was Weber.
“Gussie was the best,” Pruett said. “[The rest of us] were all about the same.”
Slidell beat Rhome, Park Springs and Ringgold before taking on Spanish Fort at the district meet. According to Pruett, the Greyhounds needed to win the game and then fight to get out of Spanish Fort because of a controversy with the clock.
“We had a scorekeeper, and they had a scorekeeper. It was getting down to the end of the game,” Pruett described. “They threw the ball in and their scorekeeper didn’t start the clock. Our bookkeeper, Ray Christian, jumped up and went to yelling.
“We messed around and won the game.”
Slidell rolled to double-digit wins at the regional meet over Lorena, Ireland and Post Oak to secure the Greyhounds’ trip to Austin.
A state trip then did not mean a ride on a charter bus. Pruett said the team rode down in cars. The accommodations were also meager.
“We didn’t stay in a hotel. We didn’t know what a hotel was,” Pruett said. “We stayed in classrooms about the size of this [kitchen].”
Pruett said the team didn’t get too worked up about the state tournament which featured three games.
“We went down to play. We happened to come out on top. The trip was successful,” he said.
The Greyhounds beat Stratford and Boles Home in the quarterfinals and semifinals. In the finals, Slidell bested Fayetteville 32-22 to win the title behind 12 points from Weber. Pruett scored four in the win.
After the ’42 season, Pruett and several others could have graduated having completing the 11th grade. But Bert Pruett said his dad and others chose to come back for 12th grade.
But for the 1943 season, the team had a new coach, G.T. Phillips, after McCarroll left to serve as an Army Air Corps instructor.
Pruett said with several players back they just tried to do what McCarroll told them. That worked. Slidell beat Leona and Midway in the first two games at the state meet. Then in the finals after Weber fouled out, Alvin Rhine and Robert Christian helped the team to a 36-23 win over Sidney for the second straight title and the last for Slidell.
The banners from the two state title teams still hang in the old rock gym in Slidell. The two championship trophies are near the front office.
The memories of those glory days will forever be with Pruett.
“Those were good ol’ days,” he said. “We had a fun team.”