Glory Road: An Event that Changed America


By Randy McKelvey

Two players make a jump shot. Glory Road is based on a true story about the struggle of an integrated team's journey to the 1966 NCAA Basketball Championship Game.  Some critics believe that Glory Road is a rah-rah piece of inspired rationalism from Disney, and from producer Jerry Bruckheimer who obviously wants to go one better on his Remember the Titans. According to the New York Times film critic, A. O. Scott, "like Remember the Titans Glory Road finds its true story at a point where sports history intersects with the struggle for racial equality." The annals of postwar America are full of such moments, but few of them are as astonishing and consequential as the 1966 NCAA championship game. Glory Road displayed a glimpse of what it was like for city boys to come to the South and face racism head on, and how Coach Don Haskins motivated his team through adversity.

The movie included several known documented facts, but also presented Haskins in ways that were inaccurate.  Haskins said that "he agreed to be a part of Disney's Glory Road movie only because Hollywood would have made the movie without his permission anyway [and] he agreed to write this book because he wants everyone to know the truth. Marlen Garcia explains, "Coach Don Haskins has been hailed as visionary for becoming in 1966 the first coach to start five African-American players in an NCAA tournament championship game while coaching Texas Western [University, now University of] Texas at El Paso. Coach Haskins is the focal point because he seemed to be the most influential person in this historical event. The movie embroidered a few real events, and in this paper, I will discuss some of the discrepancies, some of the stories that co-relate, and also show how this key event in history changed basketball forever.

Glory Road is a movie that used several real life events to tell a story of perseverance, but there are aspects of the real story that were embellished.  The journey starts at Texas Western in El Paso, Texas.  Coach Haskins is portrayed as a former high school girls' basketball coach who was called for a job interview at Texas Western.  Starting in 1956, Haskins took a high school coaching job in Benjamin, Texas, with a population of three hundred citizens, and coached the football team as well as the boys' and girls' basketball teams.  After a year there, he moved on to similar jobs in Hedley and Dumas, Texas. He coached at Dumas for one year where his team won twenty-five games and lost only seven.  Three of his players went on to play college basketball.  Coach Don HaskinsThat same year, Texas Western's head coach resigned, and Coach Haskins went to El Paso to interview for that position. So Don Haskins was more than just a small time girls' basketball coach: he had become a legend in the small town where he coached. 

He did get the call of his life, but soon discovered that the Athletic Director, Dr. Ray, had other things in mind, In the book, Glory Road, which is Don Haskins' in-depth perspective, he explains, "the interview didn't take long.  We were all standing there quietly when Dr. Ray mentioned that they were having some problems with rowdy football players in the athletic dormitory. The AD then asked Haskins if he could take care of the dorm, to which he responded "yes"; and was hired on the spot. Dormitory life Coach Haskins was originally hired to live in the dormitory and manage athletes rather than head a basketball program.

The movie painted a picture of him bringing the first black basketball players to the school.  However, Haskins was hired by Texas Western in 1961.  Earlier in 1956, Texas Western had been the first college in a southern state to integrate its basketball team.  One of the inaccuracies of the movie shows Haskins and his staff scrambling for recruits in his first year and traveling with little money to places like New York and Indiana to pick-up seven black players to fill out the team roster.  According to Haskins, he recruited one of his best players from Houston. The player selected another school, but later transferred to Texas Western. Haskins recruited another player from a junior college who told him about two other players to whom he would give scholarships if they came to Texas Western. On the court  All of these players were part of the 1966 team, but their arrival at the school differed from the movie's screenplay. The film made it seem that the seven players all joined the team in 1965, taking everyone by surprise.  There were scenes in the movie that featured intense exchanges between white and black teammates that could have definitely happened, but the exact manner could be questioned in the championship season. However, Coach Haskins did confront hatred head on, and there were several scenes that correlated directly with Haskins' character in the film and his own perspective. 

In the movie, Glory Road, most locations were accurately portrayed and numerous other aspects of the film were true.  Coach Haskins was compared to the great Bear Bryant, who was known for being one of the toughest football coaches in history.  Nevid Shed, one of the starters in the championship game, said, "When I played for him, I hated him.  God knows, I hated the man.  I was his whipping dog.  I asked a lot of times, today and even yesterday, Why was he on me so much? I realize now that he knew I had the ability to be a good athlete.  He felt it was worth the effort to try to get the best out of me. Coach Haskins was known early in his career to be tough on his athletes.  While coaching in Benjamin, Texas, Haskins experienced a one point loss in both the boys' and girls' basketball games.  He hated losing so much that he kept the players at the gym, practicing until 3:00 a.m. before driving them home.

Coach Haskins was always a tough coach, but he also helped his athletes understand life and the movie put some of the trials and tribulations to the forefront. In the film, Haskins' squad is greeted first with skepticism and condescension. Announcers sneer, opponents refuse post-game handshakes, and alumni boosters grumble. Championship Game As the Miners start winning, hostility grows, and their success opens an ugly seam of ignorance and hatred. Players are booed, cursed, and showered with garbage when they take the court.  One is beaten up in a restaurant men's room and their motel rooms are trashed and sprayed with racist graffiti. Racism was the main issue in the film and was depicted throughout the movie.  "Though little remarked upon at the time, the racial issues at stake were clear."  African-American players were still unofficially banned from the Southeast, Southwest, and Atlantic Coast Conferences.  It was the first time an all-black starting lineup had appeared in the championship game, shattering the myth that any squad lacking a white player would inevitably degenerate into chaos.  The statement was underscored by the fact that the Miners were acing Kentucky, a bastion of segregation whose coach, Adolph Rupp, had privately vowed never to recruit blacks, and who referred to the Texas Western men as "a bunch of coons" during a halftime speech to his players.

As mentioned above, the local community started as skeptics but grew more unified with each win.  Haskins remembers that "the fans were unbelievable when we first started winning and by 1965-66, their enthusiasm and support was out of control.  We would go on the road, win a big game, and when we landed at the airport, there would be two or three thousand people waiting on us.  Even after a little game there would be hundreds."El Paso was and still is home for Coach Haskins' legacy as well as for several players who played on that 1966 championship team and some would never leave that comfort zone. Bobby Joe Hill makes a shot.  Bobby Joe Hill, one of the most popular players, stayed in El Paso until he died of heart disease, and another star, Willie Cager, still lives in El Paso today. True, the man known as The Bear broke ground when he started five black players for Texas Western in the 1966 NCAA title game.  But social implications never entered his mind forty-two years ago.  Haskins was just trying to beat Kentucky. Haskins never felt the impact of his decision until years later, and that decision changed college basketball forever. 

Coach Haskins was a man whom many outside of El Paso did not like; he had gone against the unwritten rule of playing black players.  "The unwritten rule invoked in the movie held that a coach could play one black player at home, two on the road, and three if his team was losing." Haskins had started five black players on the biggest basketball stage of the times, and it would not take long before he felt the backlash from whites and blacks. Although the championship made Haskins an instant here in El Paso, the victory quickly became tinged with racial bitterness as hate letters from non-blacks arrived from across the country. But some blacks criticized Haskins, too. On the one hand, the black radical scholar, Harry Edwards, accused Haskins of exploiting African-American athletes, while on the other, the white author, James Michener attacked Haskins' team with racist harangue in his Sports in America newspaper column. "That next year was about the saddest and toughest of my life," Haskins later recalled. "A lot of days, I wished we had finished second.

The win could have been seen as a burden for Haskins, but eventually would be a stepping stone for future black athletes. Victory at the end of the game. One of his former players, Nolan Richardson, the first black coach to win a NCAA basketball championship was quoted saying, "With his actions, Haskins made a statement that African-American players could play and could be coached." Richardson also recalls Haskins telling him, "I didn't go in thinking it would be history-making.  I didn't know that much about history.  It was something I never dreamed I could make happen." The same could be said for some of his players who did not realize what they were doing at the time, but can reflect on how this event changed their lives. David "Big Daddy D" Lattin was a guy who was chosen in the NBA draft and expressed that when he understood the deeper, social significance of the victory: "10, 15, 20 years later…I began to realize how important the game really was, how it made possible for youngsters to be recruited by all universities across the country. Newspaper Headline  Not only that, it helped racial relationships in our country as well because it helped us learn to live together and understand who we really are and what the world is all about." Pat Riley, one of the stars on that Kentucky team, calls the game, "the Emancipation Proclamation of 1966."

Truth is, it would take a long time for people to appreciate what Coach Haskins did in 1966, but his passion to win made the controversial event possible.  In 1992, Robert Lipsyte wrote an article titled, "Blacks on the Court; Why Not on Campus?" In the article, he did a study that showed the average number of black players on court at any one time was eight, and of the average percentage of black students, at least half of them presumably female at the schools involved were 5.6. (Approximate percentages of the national population are 75% white and 12% black.) Black on college campuses is different story, but it is obvious that blacks can play basketball at a high level, and the opportunity was presented a lot faster at Texas Western.

Don Haskins was a man who loved basketball with a passion that burst through stereotypes. He was given a chance to make a difference at a small college in a West Texas town, and he not only made a difference, he made an impact that would be felt forever. Victory Poster "Haskins was famed as a teacher of young coaches, serving as mentor for such future coaches as Nolan Richardson and Tim Floyd, and is one of the foremost defensive coaches in the history of the college game." After 1966, college basketball integrated at light speed, and even Kentucky had an African-American player by 1969. Dozens of prominent basketball figures including Bob McAdoo, Rick Majerus, Tubby Smith, and Pat Riley have cited the 1966 championship game as an inspiration to the careers.

Glory Road is a movie that told a little publicized story, and gives credit to a coach who never really desired the credit or publicity.  Michael Booth describes Glory Road as a "perfect example of overdoing things in the name of a good cause. It will win more Civil Rights accolades than Academy Awards, but there are far worse movie fates than that." I believe the film shows why history is unique; there have been numerous people who are engraved in history unintentionally, and Don Haskins did just that by making the decision to play his best players to win the biggest game in college basketball.

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