Daily photo by John Godbey|
Alfred, left, and Donald Poole were kingpins in the powerhouse Priceville High basketball program in the early 1950s. The brothers are two of seven inductees into the Morgan County Sports Hall of Fame. The induction banquet is Saturday.
Brothers were double trouble on basketball court
By Mark Edwards
When Donald and Alfred Poole attended Priceville High in the early 1950s, the school assigned them to study hall for the last period of the day.
And Donald and Alfred did study — their jump shots. Before varsity basketball practice began after the final school bell, the Poole brothers and their teammates would spend that hour each day working on their shooting.
“We didn’t have anybody on the team who couldn’t make an outside shot,” Alfred Poole said.
And never did all that work pay off more than in 1951 during Priceville’s run to the Class A state basketball championship.
Back then, for a team to make the state tournament, it had to win four or five district tournament games and then a playoff game against another district tournament champion. It was in that playoff game where Priceville found itself in a battle with New Hope.
With the score tied at 55, Priceville had the ball beneath the New Hope basket and precious few seconds left on the game clock. There wasn’t time to drive the length of the court.
Alfred Poole, the team’s point guard, took the ball, dribbled to within 40 feet of the basket and launched a perfect shot toward the goal. Sure, it was a little longer than all those study-hall practice shots, but it was on target all the same.
The ball went through the net, and the buzzer sounded. And, well, the New Market crowd went wild.
“People were cussing, and girls were crying,” Donald Poole said. “Even some of the girls were cussing at us. I didn’t know they knew that kind of language.”
The night marked another win for a resilient Priceville basketball program, which always seemed to find a way to win.
With Alfred and Donald Poole helping lead the way, Priceville won a state championship in 1951 and reached the finals in 1952 before falling.
The Morgan County Sports Hall of Fame is recognizing the Poole brothers for their accomplishments by inducting them in its 2007 class of honorees.
They aren’t twins, although they say that some people assume they are because they always were in the same grade. Alfred, who was nicknamed “Buster,” is about 14 months older than Donald, and when Alfred started the first grade, Donald wanted to join him. Their mother let him.
“Schools didn’t check birth certificates back then like they do now,” Alfred said.
As they grew into varsity basketball players, Alfred stood about 5-foot-9 and was the team’s floor leader. He ran the Priceville offense, which was a modified version of what legendary basketball coach Adolph Rupp ran at Kentucky.
Donald was 6-foot-21/2 and played forward. While his brother rarely shot, Donald often scored plenty of points, averaging about 18 points a game as a senior.
They were part of a group that helped rebuild the Priceville program.
When the pair entered ninth grade, the school was putting the finishing touches on a new gym. The old one burned down three years earlier, and the team had to play on a dirt court outside until then.
Also, Principal Floyd Briscoe hired a new coach — 23-year-old Robert Ryan, a former player at Florence State Teachers College, which is now The University of North Alabama.
Ryan began by trying to get his team in shape. He found a triangle-shaped area outside the school that could serve as a track. It was about three-fourths of a mile to run around it completely.
Ryan started by telling his players that he would run in front and would try to go slow. If anyone got tired, they were welcome to sit out.
“We started out slow, and as he started to slow down to let us catch up, we ran right past him,” Alfred said with a laugh.
Apparently, Ryan didn’t realize that many of his younger players — including Alfred and Donald — ran at least half a mile each day to the meeting place where they could hitch a ride to school.
Ryan’s first varsity team struggled and posted a 2-23 record. However, Alfred and Donald helped the junior varsity team go 28-1 and win the Morgan County championship.
“We scrimmaged the varsity a lot, and we usually beat them,” Donald said.
Added Alfred: “A lot of times, those games ended in fistfights.”
By the Pooles’ junior season, Priceville was a basketball force in Morgan County, which produced 10 Class A state champions during 1950-63.
The team entered the Morgan County tournament with a head full of steam and managed to beat Trinity 62-52 and powerful Austinville 42-40 when Alfred Poole was dared to shoot by the defense, and he did — to the tune of 11 points.
However, in the semifinals, Priceville fell to defending state champion Union Hill 47-39 as both Donald and Alfred Poole struggled with fouls. They finished with four each.
That was the last game Priceville lost that year.
In the Eighth District tournament, Priceville began with a 61-59 win over Ardmore after trailing 44-40 entering the final quarter. Then came a 55-50 win over Ryan. Cotaco fell next 63-50 as Donald finished with 23 points.
Priceville then blasted East Limestone 60-40 before facing Eva, the only team to beat Priceville’s junior team when the Poole brothers were ninth-graders. This time, Priceville won 63-53.
After the memorable playoff win over New Hope, Priceville’s team traveled to Tuscaloosa for the state tournament.
The squad advanced to the state tournament with wins over Isabella 61-44, Warrior 51-48 and Hurtsboro 53-42. In the championship game, Priceville faced Curry, and there was a problem — both teams wore black and gold.
State officials flipped a coin, and Curry won the toss, which meant that its team got to wear its black and gold uniforms. Priceville wound up wearing some leftover University of Alabama practice jerseys.
“They were old wool uniforms,” Donald said. “They weren’t comfortable to wear.”
Priceville beat Curry 49-45 as Donald poured in 16 points and Alfred had six — all of which came in the fourth quarter.
Priceville trailed 45-43 with about 20 seconds left but had the ball. Donald was fouled and made both free throws to tie it at 45. Curry tried to throw the ball inbounds, but Alfred stole it and scored with eight seconds left to make it 47-45.
Leslie Clark added another two points to ice the Priceville victory.
In 1952, Priceville struggled again in the county tournament, falling to Austinville 55-51 in the semifinals, despite Donald scoring 23 points.
But in the Eighth District tournament, Priceville got revenge. After dispatching St. Bernard 70-40, Priceville downed Austinville 51-44 as both Donald and Alfred had 10 points each.
After a 54-40 win over Cold Springs, Priceville won 57-51 over old rival Eva, which got 34 points from future Auburn star Roland Nelson.
New Market was waiting in the playoff again, but Priceville ran away to a 62-46 win. Priceville led 21-5 after a quarter and 36-9 at halftime.
Then disaster struck.
Alfred came down with appendicitis just before the state tournament.
“I was operated on the day before it started,” Alfred said.
In the opening game, Priceville breezed by Baker of Mobile 65-32, but Donald sprained his ankle badly. That was bad news in an era when the state finished its 16-team championship tournament in three days.
After a win over Corner, Priceville beat Pleasant Home to reach the finals.
However, unbeaten T.R. Miller beat Priceville 58-44. Donald had 11 points and made second-team all-tournament.
Priceville continued its basketball tradition, finishing third in the state in 1954 and winning state titles in 1955, ’61 and ’65. But that tradition started with a big assist from the Poole brothers.
Alfred, who is retired after working 33 years at NASA as a contract price analyst, and Patsy Poole live in Decatur. They have two daughters, Laurie Poole and Melissa Currey, and two grandchildren.
Donald, who still works building cabinets, and Sedama Poole live in Decatur as well. They have a daughter, Rebecca Johnson.
Morgan County Sports Hall of Fame
Alfred and Donald Poole will enter the Morgan County Sports Hall of Fame during a ceremony Saturday at 7 p.m. at the Decatur Holiday Inn. A reception will be at 6 p.m. The Hall of Fame also will induct Preston and Johnny Newman, Larry Keenum, Roger Ferrell and Rick Stukes. Stories on them are appearing this week in The Decatur Daily.
Hall of Fame board member Doug Turney is in charge of ticket sales, and people wishing to attend the banquet can call him at 773-2466 during 5-9 p.m. Birmingham resident Steve Shaw, a Southeastern Conference football referee, will be the keynote speaker. Shaw has officiated two national championship games.
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