The 1964-65 Gibbs High School boys’ basketball team was having an exciting year. Since their win over Livingston Academy before Christmas, they played six more games in January. The team from the smallest school in the county was still undefeated. Bob Dagley, Coach of the Eagles, got another call from the Murfreesboro coach.
There were two undefeated girls’ teams and two undefeated boys’ teams (Murfreesboro and Gibbs) still left in the state. The Murfreesboro coach asked Dagley if the Eagles would consider coming back to Murfreesboro and play in another double header for charity, just as they had done in December. Dagley was not looking forward to asking Mr. Clendenen, the Gibbs principal, for permission to go back to Murfreesboro since Gibbs would have to pay the expenses again. The coach had other concerns about the trip, as well. His Eagles would be playing before a hostile crowd on Murfreesboro’s home court, which was actually in the Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) gym. Even so, Dagley still wanted the opportunity for his team to play the No. 1 team in the state. There was another reason the young coach wanted to go to Murfreesboro. “I knew the boys would never forgive me if they found out we had a chance to play the No. 1 team and didn’t do it,” Dagley said. Perhaps it was that statement that prompted “let’s go” from the man of few words, Max Clendenen.
It seemed simple enough to meet in Murfreesboro for another game, but certain details needed to be addressed. Dagley agreed to play in Murfreesboro on two conditions: (1) the game would not be announced until Gibbs had played their next two games—one with a strong team in the Knoxville Interscholastic League (KIL) “A” Division and the other with the top team in the KIL “AA” Division; and (2) Dagley needed to get the Friday night game moved back to Thursday night. Since it was the other school’s home game, they had to agree to move it, also.
Things started falling into place for the matchup in Murfreesboro. The other coach agreed to move the game to Thursday night, but to a larger gym. Dagley quickly agreed to the larger gym and notified the Murfreesboro coach that the Eagles would come to Murfreesboro on Saturday night. Coaches and players of the game can appreciate that Coach Dagley was asking a lot from the sixteen-, seventeen-, and eighteen-year-old ballplayers who had already exceeded their mild-mannered coach’s expectations. The shifting of schedules meant that the team representing Knox County would be playing three games that week (Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday). All of them were against good teams, and it was late in the season.
The Murfreesboro coach in Middle Tennessee kept his word and did not announce the matchup until after Gibbs played their game on Thursday night. Then, something strange happened. For no apparent reaason, the Associated Press (AP) and United Press International (UPI) polls moved Gibbs to No. 1 and dropped Murfreesboro to No. 2! “Now the tables had turned,” Dagley said. “Now Murfreesboro had the incentive to beat the No. 1 team in the state, and I’m sure the Murfreesboro team was not happy to be bumped from first place. I knew ‘I had been had,’ but there was nothing to do but try to defend our new No. 1 rating,” Coach Dagley added.
It was a bitter cold Saturday in January when the Eagles left Corryton headed halfway across the state to Murfreesboro. Word spread quickly through the Gibbs community that the bus had pulled out. Then, Murphy’s Law—if anything can go wrong, it will—took over. On the way to Murfreesboro, the heater went out on the bus; and for some reason, the bus arrived later than expected. Conditions were not any warmer in Middle Tennessee. After their meal, the Gibbs group went to the gym in hopes of finding a warm place to wait. When they got there, the girls’ game had already started—and Murphy’s Law took over again!
(This is the third in a series of columns about the 1964-65 Gibbs Eagles’ amazing year in basketball.)