Thursday, January 14, 2016

67th Anniversary of Evergreen's Memorial Gym is right around the corner

A few weeks ago, in my Sports Flashback feature, I included an item that described how about 300 fans watched Evergreen High School’s boys basketball team beat Lyeffion High School, 42-22, in Evergreen on Dec. 21, 1948. The article made mention that the game was played in “the new Evergreen High Gym” and that standout Evergreen players in that game included Gerry Moorer, Billy Mudge Lee, John Law Robinson and Dickey Bozeman.

This item caught the attention of a number of our readers and a few days later, former Evergreen High School coach and athlete John Law Robinson, swung by the office to fill me in on some details about that season. John Law said that he couldn’t specifically remember the Evergreen-Lyeffion game mentioned above, but, to the best of his memory, he didn’t think that they played the first game in the “new gym,” which most folks now call the Old Evergreen Junior High Gym, until after Christmas against Loretto High School, which is now called Montgomery Catholic Preparatory School. John Law, who was a senior during the 1948-49 season, said he was sure that the gym was dedicated during a game against Loretto.

As it turns out, John Law has a pretty good memory. Last Thursday, I made a quick trip to the library in Evergreen and looked through the old 1948-1949 newspapers on microfilm there. According to the Dec. 9, 1948 edition of The Evergreen Courant, Evergreen High School was scheduled played its first ever game in the “new gym” on Dec. 14 against Pensacola High School.

A record turnout was expected for the game, not only because Evergreen was playing Pensacola, but also because many local fans wanted to see the new gym, which was described in the newspaper as “a beauty.” The playing court was 84 feet by 50 feet and allowed five feet of space between the sidelines and the stands, which could seat up to 700 fans. The gym also featured an electric clock-scoreboard, and the court’s two backboards were designed, made and donated by Southern Coach Manufacturing Co. in Evergreen.

Pensacola High School’s team came to town on Tues., Dec. 14, and ended up beating Evergreen, 47-32. The Dec. 16, 1948 edition of The Courant pointed out that this game “was played in the new Evergreen High Gym before a crowd of 350.” Moorer led Evergreen with 12 points, and Lee followed with 10 points.

On the front page of its Feb. 3, 1949 edition, under the headline “Evergreen High’s Memorial Gym To Be Dedicated Next Tuesday Night,” Evergreen High School principal Jack Finklea announced that the new $90,000 gym at Evergreen High School was to be formally dedicated with “appropriate ceremonies” on Feb. 8, 1949. That announcement also proclaimed that the new gym was to be named “Memorial Gym” and “dedicated to the lives of the former students of Evergreen High School who made the supreme sacrifice in World War II.” The ceremony was scheduled to be held at 7:30 p.m., between Evergreen’s B-team and varsity games against the Loretto Saints.

That article also let readers know that Alabama High School Athletic Association Executive-Secretary J. Cliff Harper, who was also a former Evergreen High School principal, was going to be the guest speaker at the dedication. “Mr. Harper was very instrumental in bringing about the construction of the gym and it is most fitting that he should make this address,” Finklea said.

That article also made mention of the fact that, at a later date, a “plaque bearing the names of the former Evergreen High students to whom the gym will be dedicated is to be placed in the building.” The names to appear on the plaque included eight former Evergreen students who were killed in WWII – Laula M. Middleton, Winton McIntyre, Paul Wesley Tranum, William Bucy Stinson, Judson Cary Murphy, John Travis Aaron, James Freeman and Ely H. Cowart.

On Feb. 8, 1949, the dedication ceremony for the gym went forward as planned with Harper delivering the keynote address and with County Education Superintendent Harvey G. Pate acting as the master of ceremonies.

“This gymnasium is a memorial to the faith and courage of the young men who have exemplified courage by giving their lives for their country,” Harper told the assembled crowd. “It is also a mark of inspiration and encouragement for those who come after. It is also a challenge to those of us who are here now.

“They have paid the supreme price by giving their lives, not only for the cause of liberty in America, but that men might be free everywhere. We do here and now with the deepest sense of gratitude, devotion and reverence for the lives, courage and patriotism of these noble young men dedicate this gymnasium in their names and to their honor a sacred memorial.”

The Rev. Sam Granade, pastor of the Evergreen Baptist Church, gave the invocation. Others present at the event included members of the Conecuh County Board of Education, the high school’s trustees, Evergreen’s mayor and city council, members of the Conecuh County Commission and state legislators, Montgomery Advertiser Sports Editor Max Moseley, Mobile Press sports writer Howard Archer and Col. T.H. Williams of the Hurt School in Montgomery. Evergreen High School’s band, under the direction of Frank Wilkerson, played the National Anthem to end the dedication ceremony.

Last, but not least, just how John Law remembered it, Evergreen’s varsity boys, who were led by head coach Wendell Hart, went on to beat Loretto, 61-37. Moorer, “turning in his finest performance of the season,” led Evergreen with a team-high 22 points. John Greel Ralls followed with 15 points, and Bozeman scored eight.

In the end, my biggest question is what happened to the plaque that listed the school’s WWII dead? When was it finally put in place and what happened to it? I’ve been to the gym several times over the years, and while I haven’t searched every nook and cranny of the building, the plaque’s not anywhere in plain sight near the entrance to the building, that is, unless I’ve just overlooked it (which is possible). John Law had no recollection of the plaque either, so if anyone out there in the audience knows, please contact me at The Courant.

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