News from the Tennessee Valley Sports

Smiles, stories plentiful at title team reunion

By Paul Stackhouse · 340-2460

Handshakes, hugs, and smiles dominated Friday night at Joe Jones Gymnasium.

The warm embraces came from players, managers and coaches who were present but had no intention of getting on the floor and playing — even though it might’ve crossed their minds once or twice.

Austin High honored its 1973 state championship team at halftime of the Black Bears’ home win over Tanner, and according to current Austin head coach Demond Garth, every player from that squad returned for the reunion.

About an hour before the boys game began at Austin, the team gathered at the school for chance to catch up and tell stories — most of them funny ones.

“I’ll tell you a funny story — us winning the state championship being as small as we were,” said Rickie Stukes.

Billy “Dog”Sandifer played center for Austin, and he was only 6-foot-2.

Stukes also said the team could have been known as myth busters.

“It was always said that to be champions, you have to eat a highly nutritious meal before each game,” he said. “Well, before the games, many of us would get together and head to C.F. Penn’s Hamburgers. We loved their hamburgers.

“We’d walk in, and the ladies working there would already know what we liked. She would look at me and say, ‘All the way,’ and each time I would say, ‘Yes, ma’am.’ ”

Donald Booker said he and Sandifer learned a lesson the hard way at the state tournament in Tuscaloosa when they tested Austin assistant coach Roger Mathis.

“Me and Dog decided we were going to wrestle down Coach Mathis and show him who is boss,” Booker said as Sandifer displayed an ear-to-ear grin. “We thought we could take him easy.

“Let me tell you, we were wrong and we knew it right away. When we staying in the motel in Tuscaloosa and when we grabbed him he threw us across the room like we were airplanes. I mean we were flying. We never tested him again, but he became one of us. He was a young coach and he fit right in with us.”

Said Sandifer: “We respected him and all, but we didn’t think anybody could touch us, not even him. We were wrong. I’m telling you, he was the man. We told everybody after that not to mess around with him.”

Jimmy Ray Smith, who was a manager for the team, remembers one incident involving head coach Joe Jones during a Christmas tournament.

“I’m pretty sure we were playing Decatur in a tournament around Christmas time and at halftime, Coach Jones was not a happy man,” Smith said. “He had this serious look on his face and he was holding a towel in his hands.”

As Jones wrung out the towel, he told his players how disappointed he was in their effort. He told them, “I’m putting all four of the managers in the game.”

“All the managers, including myself, just stood there with our eyes wide open and remained expressionless,” Smith said. “Everybody else thought he was serious. I’ll never forget that.”

Austin forward Mark McClanahan pointed out that if the team wasn’t playing well, Jones would get after somebody.

“Normally, he didn’t chew me out,” McClanahan said. “But this one game I didn’t do too well, and all of a sudden it was my night. I think he threw a towel at me and an eraser at someone else.

“The tough thing about all of that was we thought it was funny, and Coach Jones didn’t think it was funny at all. I’m glad all of us had towels because we would bury our faces in the towel so he couldn’t see us smiling. Afterward, we did everything we could do to get out of there real fast.”

When asked if Jones, who died in 1985, could coach in this day and time.

“Absolutely,” Stukes said. “But I can tell you one thing — there wouldn’t be anyone wearing an earring or having a tattoo. The players would have haircuts that he approved of and you wouldn’t seeing a players with his jeans sagging down.”

And, then, Stukes said something else that got everyone’s attention.

“I can look around at everybody that had something to do with this team and I see a lot
of successful people,” said Stukes.“I can guarantee you one thing — everybody’s success story in one way or another has something to do with Coach Jones.

“In many ways, he was a coach to us. In many ways, he was a father figure to us. He was a disciplinarian and a director. He took care of us and kept us headed down the right path. And, because of that, look at all the successful people gathered here tonight.

“He was a great coach and a great man. I’ll never forget him and neither will anybody else.

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