Jerry Armstrong grew up on a farm near Eagleville, Mo. He excelled in sports and dreamed of playing college basketball as his ticket to an education. Armstrong was recruited by several top programs and chose to
attend Texas Western in El Paso.
Coach Don Haskins, in his second year at the helm, recruited several black players along with Armstrong during the 1960s when racial tensions were high. Despite the sometimes hostile climate the team encountered, they were tight.
Such camaraderie helped propel the talented squad to the NCAA championship in 1966. Armstrong started several games during the season and was an integral part of the road to the final four. However, in the championship game against the University of Kentucky, Haskins decided to start five black players and only play his black athletes for the rest of the game.
The move was likely in response to Kentucky coach Adolph Rupp’s disparaging comments about black athletes during a pre-game interview, Armstrong says. At the time, many colleges in the South, such as Kentucky, only recruited white athletes.
When the game clock ran out, Texas Western won 72-65. However, Armstrong’s team didn’t receive the praise of previous NCAA champions. “The winning team back then got to go to ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’ and meet the president at the White House,” he says. “We didn’t get to do either one.”
Forty years later, the historic event became the basis for the movie “Glory Road.” It wasn’t until the movie was released that Haskins visited with Armstrong about the championship game. Haskins admitted he should have played Armstrong and apologized for not doing so. In response, Armstrong said, “Coach, you know I wanted to play, but ‘Glory Road’ might not have been made if I had.”
Armstrong went on to raise a family and have a successful career as a school administrator and coach. I know because he was my coach at King City, Mo., high school.
“American Countryside” is heard each weekday on a network of 100 radio stations and frequently on “U.S. Farm Report” TV. To find the station nearest you, visit www.American Countryside.com