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Flat Gap win streak one of SW Virginia’s untouchable marks

Tanner Cook • Jun 10, 2020 at 10:00 AM

POUND — It’s hard to imagine that such a rich basketball heritage could come out of such a small place like Pound.

Most people know the Glenn Roberts story and his popularization of the jump shot in the early 1930s playing for the Christopher Gist Warriors.

However, Gist’s biggest rival on the hardwood was a tiny school less than 12 miles away in the community of Flat Gap.

From 1936-40, the Hurricanes strung together 100 consecutive victories and won the 1936-37 VHSL Class D championship.

The school existed only from 1928-42 before students were sent to Gist and the building became an elementary school.

Today, the building is used as the community center and — thanks to the efforts of some community leaders — the original spot of the dirt courts the players used to practice on is sealed with asphalt and the brief history of the school is preserved. The building is on the National Register of Historic Places and has stood since 1936.

Mostly under the direction of one of Pound’s founding fathers, William T. “Chid” Wright, Flat Gap had Gist’s number and dominated the Southwest Virginia hoops circuit.

Two other Wise County coaching legends, O.M. Morris and Lee Horne, were on the opposing sidelines for Gist during Flat Gap’s run and contributed greatly to the development of the game.

HOW THE STREAK BEGAN

Christopher Gist — under Horne — knocked out Flat Gap in the semifinals of the 1936 Wise County tournament, winning 23-15 and ending the Hurricanes’ season on Feb. 16.

Behind 14 points from Harry Roberts, Glenn’s younger brother, the Warriors rolled to the county title. They finished off the season with a 44-17 win over Craigsville in the Class D title game.

The quintet from Flat Gap must’ve taken the loss fairly hard.

TWO FAMILIES

The Roberts homestead in the area of Pound known as South Fork today sits about 5 miles from town and about the same distance from Flat Gap.

The younger Roberts brothers can be seen on rosters and in pictures of the Flat Gap teams, notably Ola and Darrell, who were on the state championship team. Some were on the Gist teams as well because they wanted to see who had the best team that season.

Another family name prominent on the dominant Flat Gap teams is Bolling. The most notable is Raleigh, who stood a towering 6-foot-4 and went on to play at Georgia Tech.

The Hurricanes dominated teams with their fast-paced offense. They could score upward of 60 points per game, which was a lot before the revision of the center-jump rule in 1937.

MAGICAL 1936-37 SEASON

The Hurricanes blistered through the Wise County and regular-season schedule, defeating Big Stone Gap handily in the county title game.

Flat Gap made it all the way to the state title game and demolished New Kent 28-10 to claim the championship.

Had there been a state tournament the following season, the Hurricanes might have repeated the feat after again winning the county title over Gist and finishing unblemished.

During the streak, Flat Gap had Gist’s number, and the Warriors under Horne lost eight straight times to the Hurricanes.

Horne’s overall record was just as good at 242-23, including four state championships from 1930-39.

STREAK BUSTERS

Morris took the Gist reins from Horne to begin the 1939-40 season and one of the biggest goals for his team was to beat Flat Gap.

Gist lost the first two times it met Flat Gap during the season, by two and four points. Shoemaker (now Gate City) had come within two points of ending the streak in early February.

In the Wise County tournament finals, with the Appalachia gym filled to capacity, Morris slowed the fleet-footed Flat Gap team and halted the streak with a 29-26 victory.

Led by Vergil Mullins’ 14 points and the brilliant ball-handling of captain Hubert Williams, Gist jumped out to a 14-12 lead at halftime. With the third quarter winding down, Flat Gap stormed ahead 24-19 behind the play of Glen Riddle and Raleigh Sturgill. Both players were held below their averages, though.

The Warriors then rolled in the final period, outscoring the Hurricanes 10-2. Gist ended up having five all-state players on the team: Vergil Mullins, Junior Mullins, Williams, Alfred Fleming and Douglas Bentley.

Gist went on to beat Rocky Mount 66-22 in the Class C championship game, starting the second “three-peat.” In a Kingsport News article that ran after Gist galloped to victory, Morris remarked that “beating Flat Gap was equally as satisfying.”

Flat Gap’s historic winning streak was recognized briefly by the VHSL and appears in the 2011 version of the record book. However, a number of factors — including playing some teams that were deemed unauthorized, such as college freshman and local YMCA teams — led to the Hurricanes’ streak being removed from the official books.

The current longest winning streak on the official VHSL books is R.E. Lee-Staunton’s 85-game stretch, which came under Paul Hatcher from 2003-06.

In one of Morris’ last games before Buddy Baker took over, his Pound team upended Norton in the 1949 Wise County tournament finals to snap the Black Raiders’ 65-game winning streak.

MORRIS’ LEGENDARY CAREER

Morris was the earliest fixture at both Gist and then Pound after the name change in 1953. He arrived in Wise County from his native Water Valley, Kentucky, which is about 2½ hours from his alma mater, Western Kentucky in Bowling Green.

While at then-Western Kentucky State Teachers College, Morris was an avid fan of Western Kentucky basketball and could be seen at games, according to an interview in a 1925 edition of the Park City Daily News when Morris coached at East Texas High near Springfield.

From the stands, Morris watched and learned from legendary coach Edgar Allen Diddle, who started his career in 1922. Diddle coached for 42 seasons and became the first head coach in collegiate basketball history to guide one team to 1,000 games.

Diddle is one of the pioneers of the fast-break offense, which explains why Morris’ teams were so far ahead of the curve in Virginia. 

With only dirt courts, practicing in all conditions and the closest indoor gymnasium being in Wise, Morris produced winners from the start of his career in 1928, fielding the first team the same year. Before going to Gist, Morris had a three-year stint at Dunbar, another Wise County school.

In a 1949 Bristol Herald Courier article, Morris said “I didn’t play a lick of basketball when I was at Western Kentucky. I haven’t done much coaching either. I’m just looking out for the boys.”

Under Morris and Horne, Gist reached the county final 17 times in 20 seasons, winning 12 times while capturing eight state championships. Gist is still the only team in Virginia high school basketball history to win three straight state titles twice.

In his administrative role, Morris served as principal from 1929-64 and retired before his death in 1972. His overall coaching record was 234-18 (from 1928-30 and later 1939-49 with no games from 1942-44 because of World War II). Morris had the distinction of the Pound gymnasium being named after him while it was still in use.

Pound did not have a losing season until 1960-61.

(Former Pound and Virginia-Wise athletic director and basketball coach Preston Mitchell contributed to this story.)

Sources: Big Stone Gap Post, Kingsport Times, Kingsport News, Pound Historical Society, Park City Daily News, Bristol Herald Courier

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