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Basketball legacy at Knoxville College celebrated

Basketball legacy at Knoxville College celebrated
Posted By: Reggie Culpepper on October 12, 2012

Story By: Robert Booker

On Oct. 26, a ballroom at the downtown Holiday Inn will be filled with the largest group of former Knoxville College athletes and fans ever assembled. The event will mark the 84th anniversary of the first varsity basketball team to take the hardwood and to celebrate the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championship teams of 1956 and 1957. Organized by Dr. McKinley Dillingham, a member of the 1956 team, the festivities will include a panel of athletic standouts, a slide-show history of Knoxville College athletics and an old-fashioned meet and greet.

It is expected that all of the living members of both championship teams will be present. Representatives of women's basket ball teams and other sports have been invited to participate. Several members of the 1956 team will speak to the Knoxville College student body at its Contemporary Issues Program on Thursday morning.

The gathering at the Holiday Inn comes 56 years after the big tournament win in 1956 and 84 years after the Knoxville College gymnasium was built in 1928. That year the alumni raised $10,000 for the construction of the building. It was "a place to practice and a good excuse to form a team," said one observer.

A member of that first team was Theodore E. "Ted" Gross, who also played football and baseball and ran track. After graduating from Knoxville College in 1930, he taught at Maynard **** and later became the highly successful basketball and football coach at Beardsley Junior High School.

As the new kids on the block, that first team lost its first five games to Morristown College, 13-12; Tennessee State, 36-18 and 27-13; and Fisk University, 59-13 and 43-9. They won the sixth game by defeating Morristown 27-7.



During the second season, Knoxville College won eight games and lost 10. Finally, by its third season it had won 13 games and lost only five. Some of the big names it beat included Talladega College, 30-19; Livingstone College, 40-12; and Morehouse College, 40-30.

Those early teams were coached by Wallace O. Hawkins, a 1921 Knoxville College graduate. He also coached football, track and tennis. Known as the "Little Flower," his basketball teams won two Southern Negro Championships in the early 1930s.

But it was the basketball team of 1956 coached by Julian "Jute" Bell that brought nationwide acclaim to Knoxville College. Although the game was racially segregated, all sports fans took note. In that 23rd SIAC tournament at Tuskegee, Ala., Knoxville College drubbed Morehouse 102-74 for the title.

The Knoxville College Bulldogs were immediately invited to play an exhibition game in Atlanta. A local newspaper there reported, "Atlanta basketball fans will have an opportunity to see the crack Knoxville College quintet SIAC visitation and tournament champions tonight at the Booker T. Washington Gym. Coach Julian Bell and his garnet and blue basketeers will pause here for a special exhibition game which will be a feature of the Second Annual Georgia Invitational Basketball Tournament."

The article indicated that Knoxville College was the first Tennessee school to win the SIAC and that team members Charles Lewis, Jackie Fitzpatrick, Andrew Brown and McKinley Dillingham were named to the 1956 All-SIAC Tournament. It also said, "Few teams have possessed the poise, finesse and dash of the KC quintet which won all the raves and superlatives at the SIAC meet. The team scored 414 points in four games."


Robert J. Booker is a freelance writer and former executive director of the Beck Cultural Exchange Center. He may be reached at 546-1576.

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