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A TRUE EYE-WITNESS ACCOUNT OF THE

HEART-WARMING AND INSPIRING STORY OF THE
1961-1962 BASKETBALL SEASON OF THE
HILLCREST JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL INDIANS
AND HOW THEY OVERCAME ADVERSITY AND INNATE LAZINESS
TO HAVE AN ALMOST PERFECT SEASON
WHILE HUMILIATING THE WOODLAND COWBOYS, INFLICTING PAIN ON THE
SPRINGDALE PLUCKERS, AND
LEARNING TO DESPISE THE
HARRISON GOBLINS (OR WHATEVER THEY WERE)

By Dan Durning, the eye witness

I don‟t remember most of the details of the 1961-62 basketball season, just that we had a very
good team. We lost only one game. And we lost it by only one point.

The star of the team was Robert Wilks, who was a head taller than the rest of us and had
speed, agility, and leaping ability. He was a talented athlete, the best natural athlete our age in
Fayetteville and probably the best for two or three years before and after him. He was the
center and led the team in scoring and rebounding.

Kenny Ramey was the point guard. A fine athlete and leader, he wasn‟t very big but was quick
and played smart.

Bill Crook, another starter, had good basketball skills. While most of us on the team had known
each other for years, Bill was new to the group. He wore funny goggle-type glasses and was a
bit volatile, but had a good jump shot, sharp basketball sense, and some height.

Four members of the team had attended Jefferson Elementary School together, and three of the
four had spent countless hours together playing various sports after school, on weekends, and
during the summer. I was one of the four, and Eugene Tucker, Phillip Snow, and Phillip Combs
were the others. Eugene lived a few block up College Avenue from me. Phillip was not much
further away. We spent lots of time together during the Jefferson years. Philip Combs lived a bit
further away, and was less of a regular for sandlot sports.

Three of the four former Jefferson inmates were regulars on the team. I was the fourth starter.
On occasion I could hit a jump shot and was reasonably tall (and wide) for my age. Phillip Snow
won the fifth starter spot and Eugene was the sixth guy who played a lot. Phillip was slim and
tall, worked diligently and was a good teammate. Eugene had a good shot and a better sense
of humor. He played well for the team and contributed much to its success.

Steve Halliday and Bob White, two very good athletes, were on the team. They played some,
but football was their better sport. Both Jerry Smith and Phillip Combs were still pretty short at
the time, but practiced hard and were good guys liked by all. Darryl Bullock was a very smart,

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serious student, but not very coordinated in the ninth grade. I really liked him even if he was still
learning his way around the basketball court. I don‟t remember much about David Jones, except
that he was pretty funny guy to have around.

Ronnie Keaton, the student manager, was an excellent bowler. He one of those guys who was
small for his age, but one day in high school caught up with the rest of us.

It was a good group. We had fun, and I don‟t remember any conflicts or feuds or such things.

Obviously some racial vibes were going on outside the team, but I don‟t remember much about
that either. As I recall, we were the only team in the area, other than our arch-enemy
Woodland, to have an African-American on the team. We were very glad that Robert was part
of our team (or we were part of his) because he was so good as a player and person. It
probably was not a lot of fun for him to go to play in such places as Springdale, Harrison, and
Berryville that were pretty much segregated cities -- and proud of it.

Here is a picture of the team:

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The coach of the team was Mack Harness. He also coached the Hillcrest football and track
team. Added to that, he was the physical education teacher, and was notorious for his paddling.
Not canoe paddling, but kid paddling. Just as every horse that sprains its ankle is summarily
shot, every male student who transgressed a long list of his rules got a few swats on the behind.
Rare was the male Hillcrest student who did not get some whacks from Harness‟s big paddle.

He could be a funny guy. I remember in football practice he yelled at one hapless player who
did something dumb on the field, “Put your brains in a butterfly and it would fly backwards.” He
told another football player (I think it was Ronnie Cole): “Son, I bet you have to squat to pee.”

I think he was a good coach, and he was overall a pretty reasonable guy. A couple of years
after we moved on to high school, he departed to study for a law degree. He practiced law for a
time in Fayetteville, but I lost track of him in the early „70s after I moved away.

Although he seemed pretty old at the time, you can see from the picture in the following clip that
he was a young guy when at Hillcrest.

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Like I said, I don‟t remember much at all about season, especially the individual games. But,
fortunately, I found some NW Arkansas Times clippings, so I can read about what happened
during year and I can imagine the rest. (I don‟t have clippings for many of the games in the
middle of the season.)

Here is a clipping for the first game. We won. We played Huntsville -- home town of Orval, the
incumbent governor at the time. I don‟t remember if we played there or at the Hillcrest Gym.
The clipping shows that Wilks scored half of our whopping 28 points.

The next game was at Rogers. I vaguely remember playing there. Mainly, I recall that they
were pretty easy to beat and we began to think we had a pretty good team. I don‟t have the
clipping for that game.

The third game was against the evil forces across town in the bright, newish junior high school
where everybody wore fancy clothes, was rich, and was stuck up. Not like good old Hillcrest!

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I don‟t remember anything about this game against Woodland, but I wish I did. We pretty much
humiliated the Cowboys, holding them to 13 points. It helps to have tall players! Crook and
Wilks both scored eleven points. Louis Bryant had 6 of Woodland‟s 13 (ha ha) points.

We won a game in Bentonville. I remember a ratty gym, but nothing else. With the largess of
the Waltons, Bentonville‟s gym now probably resembles the new Dallas Cowboy stadium.

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We beat Woodland again (they again scored only 13 points, so humiliating). Then we beat
Harrison at the Hillcrest Gym. (No clipping for those games.) At the Christmas break, we were
6-0.

Here is a picture of the Woodland team. Nice guys, but a little too short at the time.

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After the break, we thumped Berryville (we sophisticated Fedville players were not impressed
with the country rustics) and beat poor old Rogers without our star player. (I don‟t recall why
Wilks missed the game.) Eugene Tucker stepped into the breach, and was the leading scorer
with seven points.

After Rogers, we ran into some back luck. The scheduled game at Harrison was postponed due
to bad weather. Then, the game against poor Woodland (our third) was postponed because
several players caught the flu. I think this was the only time in my life that I got my name in the
newspaper because I got sick for a couple of days.

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The article above shows that Robert Wilks was averaging 14.5 points a game. Bill Crook was
the second leading scorer with 5.5 points per game. I was next with a staggering 4.2 points a
game. Our free throw shooting left much room for improvement.

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We won our ninth game when we played the postponed game against Woodland. I remember a
pretty large crowd at that one, but don‟t have the clipping and am not sure if the Cowboys
scored more than 13 points.

One thing I do remember about the game is that in the practice two days before the game I had
one of only three “peak experiences” that I ever had in sports. It was a day when I understood
shooting a basketball with the greatest clarity in my life. Every muscle in my body, every cell in
my brain lined up in perfect order. I simply could not miss from anywhere on the court and
everything was easy and natural. I astounded myself and Coach Harness. Basketball was such
an effortless game in that transcendental state.

With my new clarity and understanding of the greater forces of basketball‟s nature, I couldn‟t
wait for the game. Unfortunately, I lost the clarity somewhere before getting to the Woodland
gym. The main thing that I remember about the game was that I had, sadly, lost my special
powers and magic shot.

After Woodland, we played the Springdale chicken pluckers, who, of course, we disliked even
more than we disliked Woodland. I remember being nervous about this one because (1) I had a
bunch of cousins in Springdale and did not want to lose in front of them and (2) Springdale was
also undefeated.

We beat them handily. The NW Arkansas TImes concluded that one victory over Springdale
was worth ten over any other team. So in the newspaper headline (see next page), we jumped
from nine wins in a row to 19 wins.

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We then went far out into the wilds of north Arkansas to play Berryville at their rickety gym. We
mowed them down, with Wilks scoring an impressive 26 of our 40 points. We were 11- 0. One
game away from a perfect season.

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The last game was the make-up game with Harrison. We had beaten Harrison already earlier in
the year and expected to beat them again. But, alas, the mighty fell. Hubris was punished. The
pipsqueaks beat us. I don‟t remember how they pulled it off (I must have repressed these
traumatic memories). We lost by one measly point.

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We were devastated by the loss. All of Fayetteville was in mourning. Parents were murmuring
“losers” under their breath every time they saw us. School mates would not look us in the eye,
turning away when we tried to speak to them. The school bus would not stop for us. The birds
quit singing. Mr. Ramey quit joking with us. (I don‟t remember any of this, so I am just
assuming these things happened.)

So, we resolved to redeem ourselves, to put the universe back in order, by winning the NW
Arkansas Junior High Tournament. But it would be a tough row to hoe. Could we pull ourselves
together after the demoralizing loss? Only time would tell. [Note to self, use this phrase often
below to increase dramatic tension. Also, remove this note from final version.]
This article in the NW Arkansas Times set the stage:

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First up was Siloam Springs, whom we had not played during the regular season. (I wonder
why we did not play them. They were in the same conference.) We beat them handily. The
score was 25 to 8 at the end of the third quarter. All twelve players on the team got into the
game. We won by 29 to 18.

(As the byline in the NW Arkansas Times shows, it sent its first stringer, Mike Hill, the sports
editor, to cover the tournament. This tournament was obviously big time and lots of ink was
going to be spilled. Mike was an FHS grad along with his several of his brothers including Jim
and Rusty. Mike, of course, went on to become well known for covering the Razorbacks and
announcing their games on radio and television.)

Next up in the tournament: Harrison, the team that had spoiled our perfect season and inflicted
pain on us, our relatives, our town, and much of the Arkansas-Oklahoma-Missouri area.
Tension spread throughout the Ozarks. Could Harrison beat the suave university-town boys
again? Only time would tell.

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Revenge was sweet when we destroyed Harrison. We led by 28 to 8 at half, and won with a
score of 44 - 27. The suave university-town guys swatted backwoods rustics. The universe‟s
sense of order was restored. Our parents began to prepare meals for us again.

Only one team stood between us and our goal of a NW Arkansas championship. We resolved
to take no prisoners (we didn‟t have anywhere to keep them).

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We knew Springdale badly wanted revenge against us because we had ruined their perfect
season. They would be fired up, looking for blood. Our only chance for ultimate redemption for
the Harrison loss was to win the tournament. The stakes for both teams were huge. Who would
be pushed into the abyss? Who would climb Mount Olympus to join the gods? (Hint: Only time
would tell.)

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I remember that night well. There was a big, loud crowd filling Woodland‟s spiffy newish gym
(unlike the old barn that we had at Hillcrest). Lots of excitement and yelling. The press table was
full. The cheer leaders for both teams were energetic (and looking quite nice). The pressure
was intense. The basketball goal seemed a foot higher than usual. We were all a bit unnerved
by the hubbub. Could we prevail in such a hot house setting? Only time… well, you know.

Yes we could! It was a close game until the end. Robert Wilks played one of his best games,
scoring 23 of our 34 points. The mighty Hillcrest Indians had fought its way into the history
books that chronicle junior high school basketball in Northwest Arkansas (o.k., I still trying to
locate those history books; apparently they were checked out a few years ago and not returned.
If you have them, please get them to the library immediately.)

It is now nearly fifty years later, and on cold winter nights in the Ozarks when parents and kids
huddle around the radio listening to the latest news and entertainment beaming from studios in
New York, the parents often look off into the distance and, with small tears glistening in their
eyes, tell their children the story of the 1961-62 Hillcrest Indians and how they won a great
championship for the city of Fayetteville. How long will this legend be passed along from
parents to children in the gentle hills of Northwest Arkansas? Only time will tell.

The end.

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