“Started at the bottom now were here”….” Started at the bottom now my whole teams here”
If the #1 hit song that “Drake” introduced in 2013 would have been recorded during the 1950-51 Jonesboro-Hodge High School basketball season, it no doubt would have been the Tigers theme song. Heck, some might have even have tried to make the stretch that it was written about them. One thing for sure, the lyrics certainly describes the rebirth of the Jonesboro-Hodge High School basketball program that culminated in Tigers first ever state championship.
There are several reasons that it is apropos to remember at this time the 1950-51 JHHS team and the season that will be forever etched in Tiger lore. One is that on March 10th it will mark the 60th anniversary of the Tigers winning the school’s first ever basketball championship. Another is the irony that the state tournament, now affectionately dubbed as “Marsh Madness” is being played on the campus of Southeastern Louisiana University the same place where J-H won their title.
There is more. The 1950-51 team compiled the second most wins in school history and just a little over a month ago one of the better players on the team passed away and he deserves his props. Most of all, the team’s journey to the top is one of the best sports stories you would ever want to read about.
To really appreciate the title run in ’51, you first have to go back five years before. This was the first season of the rebirth of the program that had been disbanded because of World War II which had brought high school athletic competition to a screeching halt. The “founding father” of the fledgling 1946-47 boy’s, basketball program was Arnold Kilpatrick. The Eros native came to JHHS as an assistant football coach to Jack Jaggers and head basketball coach after a distinguished athletic career at Northwestern State University (NSU) where he starred in multiple sports. Not only did he provide the blueprint to restart the high school program he also helped Jonesboro Elementary School begin playing. After his first team ended the year with an 0-19 record, the only winless season in J-H boys basketball history, he knew he had to do something drastic.
Kilpatrick was what you would call a “visionary” and what he did the following year was a stroke of brilliance, albeit, not very popular with the upperclassmen on the team. Recognizing he had several talented players at the Elementary school he brought them up to play varsity ball thinking that it was best to give his young players experience now so they would eventually lead the team to great heights. Another words, he wanted them to take their lumps now so soon they would be able to give them. Early in the 1947-48 season Kilpatrick began playing a unit of only underclassmen and drilled into them his philosophy of if his team could hold an opponent to less than 50 points a game they had a good chance to win. It was good thinking and still works today – 60 years later.
The first sign that his plan was beginning to take effect came midway through the 1949-50 season. At that point, the Tigers were led by three juniors: James “Flop” Shively, Troy Ford and Talmage “Frame” Robinson. Shively was a gunning guard while Ford was a dominant force in the post and Robinson was a cat quick, silky smooth forward but the team was only playing around a .500 clip. Kilpatrick decided to make another adjustment to his “growth plan” by adding sophomore guard George “Bub” Haile and freshman Travis “Dick” Ford to the starting lineup. Haile was one four brothers from Ansley who all had “basketballs in their cradles” and had developed one of the sweetest, two-handed set shots you ever wanted to see. Ford also came from a basketball family and was a defensive dynamo. His insertion joined him with his older brother (Troy) in the starting lineup where they naturally had tremendous chemistry with each other. J-H ended the year with a 25-15 record.
It all came together in the 1950-51 season that saw J-H end the regular season with a stellar 41-9 record, which was just two wins short of the previous two wins combined. This included several tremendously competitive battles with Jackson Parish rival Quitman, led by the Turner twins Felton and Elton, with each team winning their own tournament championship by beating the other.
By virtue of their stellar season, the Tigers earned the right to play for the North Louisiana Class A championship tournament held at Louisiana Tech in Ruston. They opened with a 19-14 victory over Oak Grove with “Frame” Robinson scoring all but six of J-H’s points. The final score still represents the lowest combined total of points scored in a playoff game in the “modern” history of JHHS basketball. The Tigers then went on to beat Homer 42-35 in the finals to earn the right to take the trip to their first state tournament. The Pelicans were led by future LSU football legend, Al Doggett, who was known to play “roundball” with the same aggression he showed on the gridiron. A funny sidebar to the game was the quote “Flop” Shively gave following the Tiger victory that Doggett never gave a hit on the football field as good as the one that sent him flying into the fourth row of the Tech gym.
In Hammond, the Tigers breezed past St. Paul 45-33 and Hornbeck 54-41 in the first two rounds setting up a semi-final contest against defending Class A champion Baker, who state sports writers had near unanimously expected to repeat. The contest was played to a virtual tie the whole way with neither team gaining more than a one point lead before the Tigers made a final basket to seal the 33-30 victory. In his book “Six Decades of JHHS Sports” legendary local sports writer Raymond “Doc” Jeffries wrote that it was the best game he ever saw in his seven decades of covering JHHS basketball.
That set up a state title matchup against district 2A foe, Neville who the Tigers had already beaten twice before. Neville had earned the right for the rematch by beating both Bossier and Jena, another district 2A member, in overtime. The Monroe based Tigers led 13-8 after the first period but J-H, who normally played with a conservative, slow paced style surprised Neville by coming out running and gunning in the second quarter that resulted in eleven straight points and a 23-18 lead at the half. In the second half, J-H went back to their normal, ball-control style and never looked back to win their first ever title by a decisive 50-37 margin. Shively, who scored 17 in the finals and Robinson, who scored eight on the night were named to the Class A All-State team. George “Bub” Haile, who recently passed away after a stellar playing career at Louisiana Tech before becoming one of the most respected Baptist preachers in the state, scored 11 in the game. Troy Ford added nine.
By orchestrating Kilpatrick’s “keep ‘em under 50” defensive philosophy to near perfection the Tigers never allowed more than 41 points all season. this not only led to the most Tiger wins in a season at the time and their first state title but a school record for average points per game allowed, which is still best 60 years later. The season will be remembered as the culmination of a five year journey that ended up with a title. It will also be forever known as the beginning of the most glorious three year run ever in Tiger basketball history. Stay tuned……