The Graves County Boys
A Tale of Kentucky Basketball, Perseverance, and the Unlikely Championship of the Cuba Cubs
Publication Year: 2013
In 1952, a year when Coach Adolph Rupp's University of Kentucky Wildcats won their third national championship in four years, an unlikely high school basketball team from rural Graves County, Kentucky, stole the spotlight and the media's attention. Inspired by young coach Jack Story and by the Harlem Globetrotters, the Cuba Cubs grabbed headlines when they rose from relative obscurity to defeat the big-city favorite and win the state championship.
A classic underdog tale, The Graves County Boys chronicles how five boys from a tiny high school in southwestern Kentucky captured the hearts of basketball fans nationwide. Marianne Walker weaves together details about the players, their coach, and their relationships in a page-turning account of triumph over adversity. This inspiring David and Goliath story takes the reader on a journey from the team's heartbreaking defeat in the 1951 state championship to their triumphant victory over Louisville Manual the next year.
More than just a basketball narrative, the book explores a period in American life when indoor plumbing and electricity were still luxuries in some areas of the country and when hardship was a way of life. With no funded school programs or bus system, the Cubs's success was a testament to the sacrifices of family and neighbors who believed in their team. Featuring new photographs, a foreword by University of Kentucky coach Joe B. Hall, and a new epilogue detailing where the players are now, The Graves County Boys is an unforgettable story of how a community pulled together to make a dream come true.
Published by: The University Press of Kentucky
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The Graves County Boys is a great story from start to finish. It is about a small group of teenagers coming of age in a remote region of Kentucky, where values were passed down from one generation to another. Marianne Walker tells the boys’ story so engagingly that...
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The idea for this book came from my friend Pam Thomas who, years ago, suggested I write an article about her husband’s high school basketball team. Puzzled, I shook my head no, reminding her that I did not do sports. At that time, Pam was married to Howard Crittenden...
1. The Cuba Cubs
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One rainy afternoon in the fall of 1948, in an old rural Kentucky schoolhouse, Coach Jack Story took his eighth-grade basketball prodigies into the auditorium. He had set up a film projector, a screen, and some folding chairs there. As the boys sat down, he...
2. The Little Crossroads Team
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With their diligent daily practice and with the guidance of their coach, the Cubs—by the time they were juniors—had quite a wonderful reputation in western Kentucky and West Tennessee. Known as the Cuba Cubs from little Cuba, Kentucky, they were a popular...
3. The Clutch
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The next evening, Thursday, March 15, 1951, in the locker room just before the first game was to begin, Coach Story went over their plan. Although he had never seen Covington Holmes, their opponent, play before, he gave his boys what knowledge he had about...
4. The Coliseum Darlings
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Just hours before the final tournament game was to begin, the governor of Kentucky spoke at a Lexington Chamber of Commerce buffet party held for all the coaches, the board of control, and others involved with the tournament. In a startling announcement, Governor...
5. A Vision and an Oath
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Lexington, Kentucky—March 1951. It was near midnight when the bus returned the Cubs and their classmates to the Phoenix Hotel after the closing ceremony ended the 1951 tournament. A gusty wintry wind, whipping around the street corner, stung their faces as...
6. The Homecoming
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Early the next morning, silence hung heavily in the Kaiser as Coach Story led the motorcade of supporters home. But that silence was broken just outside of Lexington when much to their surprise people were standing along the roadside waving to them. When they...
7. The Land between Rivers
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The phenomenal support that Cuba, the Jackson Purchase, and all the rest of western Kentucky gave to Coach Story and the Cubs did not go unnoticed elsewhere in the state. Across the Commonwealth newspapers featured large photographs and articles about the coach,...
8. The Boys from Graves Cocunty
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When they were small children, the Cubs did not all know one another. None of them was born in Cuba, a hamlet with a population of one hundred or so, but all were from similar small communities in southern Graves County. These little farming communities...
9. Little Cuba, Hub of the Universe
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The closing of the Pilot Oak high school not only brought Howie and Doodle together with Jack Story and the other boys, it made the little place with the strange name Cuba the hub of their universe. The connection between the Spanish-held Caribbean island Cuba...
10. Doodle Floyd
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Pilot Oak, Kentucky—1932–1948. From the time he was six until he graduated from high school in Cuba in 1952, Doodle lived with his parents in a three-room unpainted house on a forty-five-acre farm. It was just off the Pilot Oak–Dukedom road, close to the Tennessee...
11. Howie Crittenden
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Howie and Helen, his twin sister, were born on March 13, 1933, in Pilot Oak, to Willie and Alta Ruth Crittenden. They were the youngest of ten children. Alta was forty-one years old—far too old, the other women said, to have another baby, much less two at one...
12. The Migration
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In late spring of 1943, Willie Crittenden moved to Detroit to find work. His plan was to save enough money to send for Alta Ruth and the twins. Before he left, he moved his family from Pilot Oak into the house his oldest daughter Emily and her husband had just...
13. The Tragedy
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The most important person in Doodle’s young life was his brother James, three years older. Doodle adored James, and James loved his little brother with all his heart. They worked and played together. As it always is, even with best friends, some bickering went on between...
14. Mischief Makers
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Around the age of thirteen, Howie and Doodle got to thinking that they were grown up. Doodle, especially, started thinking of himself as a big guy—chewing on a cigar, spitting tobacco, comparing the budding bodices of female peers, and expanding his colorful vocabulary...
15. Jack Story
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In the fall of 1947, the people in Cuba were thrilled to have Jack Story at their school again. When coaching there once before, during 1942–1943, he had brought the team closer than it had ever been to the state tournament. He led Cuba to the district runner-up position,...
16. Sowing the Seeds
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One afternoon in the fall of 1947, shortly after Jack Story started work at the Cuba School, he was in his office waiting for the lunch recess to end. It was a typical early October day, still too warm to wear a jacket. The windows were open wide, and the noise from the...
17. Preparing to Win
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All coaches have their own methods of motivating their players. They have favorite words they emphasize, and Coach Story’s was determination. He applied it to every human endeavor, believing that nobody ever achieves anything worthwhile unless he is determined...
18. Skull Sessions
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Coach Story expected his team to behave in a proper manner at all times. Although he well understood that boys will be boys, he let them know that they were to act right. He talked to them about what it means to be an athlete, stressing that an athlete plays fair....
19. Unforgettable Cayce
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In the summer of 1949 the state highway department blacktopped the gravel road, Highway 303, running from Mayfield to Cuba to Pilot Oak. Howie and Doodle were ecstatic. They finally had a hard surface on which to play ball when they could not play in the gym....
20. Different Encounters
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The Cubs entered their junior year slightly more subdued and matured, with the weight of great expectations upon them. They were not promising underclassmen anymore. They were the varsity now— the Cuba Cubs. When the school year started in the fall of 1950, the...
21. Pride before Another Fall
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The Cubs opened the 1950–1951 season with two big wins: one over Lowes, 81-48, and the other over Cayce (again), 75-36. As juniors with an enviable reputation, they were preening like rock stars the night they were scheduled to play at Lynn Grove, a nearby small,...
22. The Season of Joy and Sorrow
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Early in January 1951, the Cubs lost their second game of the season when Clark County, the number one team in the state rankings, beat them 62-61. The day the Cubs left for Winchester to play Clark County, snow was falling heavily in Kentucky. They left early...
23. Cubs Turning into Lions
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The Cubs kept their promise about building their endurance. They ran and practiced basketball hard all summer long. People in Cuba and in Pilot Oak watched with admiration as the boys streaked across fields chasing rabbits. By January 1952, they were actually catching...
24. Lexington, Here We Come!
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During their senior year, the Cubs paid little attention to their schoolwork. It was impossible to keep up with it, tutors or no tutors. Wanting the players to have all the experience they could, Coach Story completely revised their schedule, so that they played one...
25. The Little Comeback Team
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On Wednesday, March 19, 1952, the day the tournament was to begin, Lexington Herald-Leader sportswriter Larry Shropshire reminded readers in his column “Down in Front” of the criticism out-of-town teams and their fans and other visitors had heaped on...
26. A Memorable Year: 1952
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With no time for a much-needed rest after two overtimes, the Cubs prepared themselves for the championship game that evening against Louisville Manual, which had just survived a grueling semifinal game of its own to upset Clark County 54-53. Clark County...
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At the closing ceremony of the 1952 state tournament, Howie and Doodle, for the second straight year, were among the ten boys chosen for the All-State Tournament Team. Linville Puckett from Clark County was selected for the third straight year. The other Kentucky...
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This book is about real people and real events, and I could not have written it without the cooperation of those I wrote about. With kindness and patience, these people shared their memories, time, and resources. I am indebted to each of them...
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Page Count: 262
Publication Year: 2013