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A West High Triumph

Mary Alice Hearn Heard


West High School All six children of Florence and Aubrey Hearn attended West High School (now West Middle School) in Nashville. In 1954, West won the state basketball championship in a game that the Nashville Tennessean has called "unforgettable." The following is Florence's account of the game in a letter to Aubrey.

March 14, 1954

The basketball game [in the state tournament] last night was one to end all games. Our West boys were simply worn out. Ralph Greenbaum had been taking his college entrance exams (to Yale) from 8:30-5:30 on yesterday. The radio announcer kept saying, "Little West is worn out–tired, tired, tired." LaFollette got ahead early and stayed ahead until the last three minutes of the game. [Jimmy] French got hurt in the second quarter with a gash or swollen eye. Greenbaum had to have stitches in that gash of Friday night. Tall Eddie Gaines did well but fouled out in the second quarter. It looked like West would lose. The lead varied from six to eleven points in favor of LaFollette all the way through. Coach said later that he had hope during the second quarter because the boys had an edge on getting loose balls and seemed to be growing in determination. But the radio announcer kept saying, "They can’t hit. They are so tired."

At the end of the third quarter Dr. Yarbrough [W. H. (Doc) Yarbrough, retiring high school principal, who could not attend the games because of a heart condition] came into the gym. (He heard they were losing and came over to console them.) The student body went wild. The boys perked up and began to cut the lead down in the last quarter. LaFollette quit hitting so well. In the last few minutes French hit one, making the score 40-39. They fouled him three times in the closing minutes, and he got one basket each time, making the score 42-40 in favor of West.

Every time LaFollette got the ball our hearts would sink, but they made mistakes, failed to hit, and when our boys fouled them (which they did right at the end) they could not make their free throws. Then French got the ball on the rebound and dribbled out the last nineteen seconds. It was just too nerveracking. So West won after all. The gym nearly fell apart–there must have been 1000 West students, or at least more than that, yelling. The sports section of this morning’s paper is full of it. We’ll save it for you to read.

They changed their yell "All the way for Doc" to "We did it for Doc." They gave him the basketball they had won with.

The Waverly-Belmont coach, who had formerly led three West teams to victory in the state, said, "Doc said he came to console the boys, but he came to win for them." Whatever did it, those boys fought against all odds and won. All the sports writers wrote thrilling accounts and naturally said it was a miracle because the West team is certainly not that outstanding in ability–they just had spunk and determination and had something to fight for.

Mary Alice, Charles, Nancy, and Mildred all went. They phoned after the game to tell me they were going to get something to eat. They were floating on a cloud.