By Joshua Price/Sports Editor
There is little doubt everyone loves a good sports story – especially when it involves the success of the “underdog” or the “little-guy.”
Keeping in the spirits of basketball, since of course ‘tis the season, I recently received a phone call that turned me on to a very interesting “underdog” hoop story.
Back in the “old days” of the 1960’s, almost every school in the county participated in the Etowah County basketball tournament.
The tournament featured two brackets, “The Little Seven” and “The Big Three.”
The Little Seven consisted of Glencoe, Hokes Bluff, Southside, Walnut Grove, Sardis, Gaston and Altoona. The Big Three featured Etowah, Gadsden and Emma Sansom.
In some years, Carver and Norris High Schools participated – making it a “true” county tournament.
In 1964 the tournament was held at Emma Sansom High School.
The Little Seven bracket first round matchups featured Southside against Sardis, Hokes Bluff and Altoona, and Walnut Grove versus Glencoe. Gaston was defending champions and earned a first-round bye.
Glencoe nailed Walnut Grove in the opener, 66-52, and looked toward Gaston in the second round. Sardis edged Southside, 42-39, and Altoona topped Hokes Bluff, 30-21.
Don Richard’s Bulldogs topped Baldy Wilson’s Yellow Jackets in second round action, 62-49, and Charlie Brown’s Choctaws whipped Sardis, 67-47, to earn a berth in the Little Seven championship match.
Before tournament action began, Gaston was heavily favored to repeat as champions.
The Choctaws jumped on the Bulldogs.
Altoona led 12-6 at the end of the first quarter and expanded the gap to 39-29 heading into the final frame.
The Chocs played excellent defense, preventing the Bulldogs from reaching the foul line until the final minutes of the third period.
Altoona outscored Gaston in the final quarter, 11-10, to seal the Little Seven crown with a 51-39 victory.
Ernie Hutchens led the Chocs with 16 points and Sonny Nichols chipped in 13. Bruce McAfee netted 11 for the victors.
The victory earned Altoona a bout with Etowah and Gaston faced Sansom. The winners of the two games would meet in a match for the Etowah County championship.
Sansom edged Gaston, 44-36, and Altoona smacked Etowah, 46-39, to set up the county championship match.
The Rebels were favored to win the match.
The score was knotted at 11-11 in the opening quarter before Altoona went on a 10-0 run to increase their lead to 21-11.
The Rebels fought back, but the Chocs held a 21-17 lead at intermission. Altoona extended its lead to 33-27 heading into the final frame.
Sansom outscored the Choctaws 18-17 in the final quarter, but were unable to catch up with the scrappy Altoona boys. Choc guards Tommy Foster, Roy Bright and Sonny Nichols and forward Ernie Hutchens paced the Altoona scoring assault in the fourth quarter.
McAfee netted eight points in the waning minutes to hold the Altoona lead, which was 50-46 when the final buzzer sounded.
McAfee led the Chocs with 20 points and was voted Most Valuable Player of the tournament.
Altoona ran through all opponents in the county tournament in 1964, posting a 5-0 record and taking home two trophies – Class ‘A’ and Class ‘AA’ championships.
The 6’5 McAfee and 6’4 Hutchens signed football scholarships with Auburn University prior to the 1963-64 basketball season. McAfee also earned the Foots Skeen Award in 1964.
In the 1964 Etowah County basketball tournament, David slayed Goliath.