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Deacons' prayers answered with 1952 upset of Greenwave

Tanner Cook • May 27, 2020 at 4:00 PM

The 1940s could arguably be called the heyday for Southwest Virginia boys basketball.

Norton High School (now J.I. Burton) made three consecutive trips to the VHSL Group II title game (1947-49) and the Raiders won the first two.

Clintwood then embarked on a stellar run from 1949-52, emerging triumphant in the 1950 and 1951 title bouts.

The Greenwave also had the distinction of producing what was at the time the state’s longest winning streak. And their string of 66 straight wins bested rival Norton’s streak by one game.

START OF THE STREAK

The District 8 (later the Lonesome Pine District) tournament offered the best basketball of the year, and emerging with the district title was possibly even tougher than winning the state championship.

Clintwood stumbled through part of the 1949 season, getting blown out twice by two-time defending state champion Norton in the regular season.

Pound was also very good that year. The Wildcats were still riding the coattails of the dominant Christopher Gist and Flat Gap teams from a few years before.

On March 4, 1949, the Wildcats thumped the Greenwave 65-37 in the district tournament semifinals. Two weeks prior in the regular-season finale, Pound had ended Norton’s historic winning streak and was riding a huge wave of momentum.

After ending Clintwood’s state title hopes, however, the Wildcats lost to the Black Raiders in the district finals. Norton advanced to the state final a third straight time but lost to Radford 51-38.

Little did anyone know at the time, but the Greenwave were ready to go on a historic run of their own.

ROLLING OVER COMPETITION

Clintwood, under the direction of coach Howard Deel, captured the 1950 state championship with a 69-44 win over Graham and beat R.E. Lee-Staunton 39-37 for the 1951 title.

Led by players like Jimmy Stanley and Darrell Fleming, the Greenwave were poised for a run at a “three-peat” the following season.

Clintwood survived some close calls early in the 1951-52 season — especially against Norton and Pound — but managed to keep its winning streak going.

In the district tournament, however, Clintwood got its hardest test of them all: the final against St. Paul.

PRAYERS ANSWERED

The Deacons had a solid season going, led by 6-foot-3 center Bill Allen, Kyle Fletcher and “Red” Frazier, but many considered them no match for mighty Clintwood.

Three days shy of going three calendar years without a defeat, St. Paul pulled off a shocker inside Appalachia High School.

The “Praying” Deacons — behind Allen’s 19 points, 14 in the second half — edged Clintwood 42-41 to win the school’s first District 8 title and end Greenwave’s run of titles.

Going into the final period, St. Paul trailed 31-29, but Fletcher scored four quick points and put the Deacons ahead to stay.

Then-Times News correspondent Charles Harkins wrote, “St. Paul’s Praying Deacons hung up the most important victory in school history by upsetting Clintwood.”

Doug Mullins had 18 points for the Greenwave.

The game was won at the free-throw line. St. Paul went 14-for-21. Clintwood was only 5-for-9.

DEACONS MADE A RUN

St. Paul continued its Cinderella story by making a run to the state title game before losing to Harrisonburg, 36-35 in Blacksburg on March 8.

The Blue Streaks tied the game at 35 with two minutes to go, and Bobby Furr dropped in a free throw to set the final margin.

The Deacons were hurt when Allen fouled out of the game in the third quarter, scoring 12 points before exiting the court.

Guard Davy Gilmer was the high man for the winners, finishing with 14 points.

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