A Sumrall reunion: Bobcat basketball honors past state championship teams

SUMRALL -- The eight former Sumrall High School state champion basketball teams were honored Tuesday night between the varsity girls and boys’ games against Purvis on the third attempt to recognize the former players and coaches.

For the boys, the state championship was won by the Sumrall teams of 1933, 1936, 1937, 1938, 1941, 1970 and 1976. The girls team won the title in 1958.

Sumrall High School Athletic Director Anita Sumrall said school officials were pleased to finally hold the ceremony.

“Unfortunately, we had unforeseen circumstances come up that we couldn’t help,” she said. “We try to recognize everybody. Yes, we are excited to do this. When we got the new banners for the different state championship teams, we decided that we wanted to invite them back to see them because we had never had them before.”

The championship years were painted on the wall in the old gym, Sumrall said.

“That is still there; we have not moved it,” she said. “We are going to keep them there as part of our tradition. We are very proud of them.”

The state championship teams of the 1970 and 1976 boys and the 1958 girls were represented well in the returning alumni. Former players and relatives, along with coach Ford Turner, started the night with a reception in the school library before attending the games against Purvis.

Sumrall pointed to the differences between the 1958 girls championship team and today’s squad, especially the team composition and dribbling restrictions.

“In 1958, we played half court basketball, six-on-six,” she said. “Each team had three girls on each end of the court. Then the game changed where each team had two girls on each end and also had two rovers each that go on both ends of the court.”

Shirley Lott, a member of the 1958 girls state championship team, didn’t like having to only play one side of the court.

“It was absolutely torture for me because I wanted to go full court,” she said. “When I was in the seventh grade, the coach came in and said, ‘Shirley, today you can dribble as much as you want.’ It was great because I was practicing with the boys.”

Lott also practiced to improve her shooting.

“I shot a jump shot,” she said. “That was unheard of back then because everything was a set shot. When I was in the 10th grade, we were in the state championships. We were in the motel and the coach called me in there. He said, ‘I’m going to give you this basketball and I want you to learn to shoot a jump shot between now and next year.’ I said, ‘OK.’ Of course, I had been wanting to do it anyway. That summer, he gave me a key to the gym. He said no one else could come with me and I had to lock the door behind me when I went in. That’s how I learned to shoot a jump shot.” 

Lott said the local schools had good teams.

“Everybody around here was good, so anybody you played made you play better,” she said. “You can’t play anybody who is not good and help yourself. The better the other team is, the better you are going to play. That’s what I like about it. You usually had somebody who played under the goal and the other two were out front. When I started playing, you couldn’t dribble more than three times because they thought it was too strenuous on you.”

Richard Breakfield was a member of the 1970 boys state championship team, which was Turner’s first Sumrall squad.

“The coach (Ben James) who coached us before Coach (Ford) Turner came here really put the team together,” he said. “Coach Turner just came at the right time. He was in the right place at the right time. Coach James taught us the fundamentals and Coach Turner just turned us loose.”

Breakfield said he remembered playing against one Marion County school in particular.

“Improve was a little bitty school and they could play with anybody,” he said. “That coach, every player he had a spot on that floor. If the ball came to him and he was open, he had better just shoot it and he would drill it.”

Turner, who coached both girls and boys teams, said today’s female athletes are involved in other sports.

“The girls today are involved in things like soccer, volleyball, basketball and cheerleading,” he said. “The biggest conflict we had back then was cheerleading.”

Turner said both the Sumrall boys and girls team were winners during his coaching career.

“The eight years that I coached the boys and girls here, we won more than 400 games,” he said. “Our boys teams won the state championship twice, but people don’t remember that our girls teams were also good. They were runners-up a couple of times. Both teams were really good.”

The starters on the boys basketball teams under Turner didn’t play football, which gave his teams an early start on practices.

“We had a chance to start with a full team,” he said. “Every Sunday after church, they would come down to my house and get the key to the gym. They would go and play basketball until that night, and then they would bring the key back home.”

Apparently, Turner’s drills and practices stuck in players’ minds.

“One of the former players told me, ‘Coach, I can diagram every play that we ran back then,’” Turner said. “I said, ‘I don’t doubt it at all.’ He is smart and he could do it.”

However, Turner said the shot clock changed his teams’ style.

“That was one thing we did,” he said. “If we got five or six points ahead, it was over. We would meet up at the free throw line and it was plain and simple. We were going to do two things: We were going to shoot layups and free throws. Anything else wouldn’t guarantee points.”