The Southwestern High School Lady Warriors almost became Pulaski County's latest state championships on the high school hardwood this past weekend.
But they certainly wouldn't have been the only ones.
In fact, one high school that no longer exists except in the memories of the remaining few who went there claimed a state basketball title 66 years ago.
And in the Somerwoods Nursing and Rehabilitation Center on Bourne Avenue in Somerset, a mini-reunion of that special team occurred recently -- a prelude to a special ceremony later this weekend.
The Somerset Dunbar School served African-American students in the community during the days of segregation. The school had been around in some form since the beginning of the 20th century, inhabiting three different buildings. Dunbar High School closed its doors in 1956, when black students finally started attending the Somerset Independent School System, while Dunbar's elementary school continued on through 1964. Students came to Somerset from Casey, Clinton, Cumberland, Laurel, Taylor and Wayne Counties to receive an education, as Dunbar was one of the only schools of its kind in the region.
Somerset Dunbar basketball was the hottest ticket in town in the early 1950s. Fans, both black and white, packed the bleachers of the old Dunbar gym. The Trojans reached their highest level of success in 1952-1953, when they finished the season undefeated and defeated Paris Western 51-50 in the final game of the Kentucky High School Athletic League State Tournament, which served African-American schools. That same Paris team would later claim the 1953 national championship for schools of that kind.
The next year, Somerset Dunbar would represent Kentucky and finish as the runner-up in the National Negro High School Championships. One of the stars of that team was Jackie Fitzpatrick, who played with the Harlem Globetrotters and was considered one of the best players in the state when he was at Dunbar.
Numerous others played on that championship team, however -- and on February 12, they happened upon a chance meeting at Somerwoods.
Craig Wesley, Admissions Director for the facility, noted that Eugene Mills, another of the team's star players, was there with his wife Lerline, who is a resident of the facility. Some of their children went to school with Wesley, and Mills remembered him, leading to the two catching up.
At one point during this interaction, Mills had another unexpected reunion.
"(Mills) looks down the hallways and said, 'Man, is that BJ Jamison down there?'" recalled Wesley. "He went down the hallway and they started talking. It was like two 16- or 17-year-old kids talking smack to each other. It was heartwarming and brought a tear to your eye, yet funny.
Jamison, no. 11 on the Trojans, is also a resident at Somerwoods, and let Mills know that one more was residing there -- no. 2, Bobby Newell.
"Eugene said, 'Whatever happened to ol' Bobby?' and B.J. said, 'He's down on the second floor!'" said Wesley. "I got tickled.
"So we go down to the second floor, and just like he always is, Bobby was in a chair in the common area, where residents gather and chit-chat," added Wesley. "Eugene spotted him right off the bat."
Mills (who wore no. 4) is an imposing length at 6-foot-5, and Wesley noted that Jamison and Newell "are doing good at 6-foot." So the meeting between Newell and Mills when they embraced was a sight to see.
"It took Bobby a second to realize who Eugene was," said Wesley. "Once he did, he reached up and gave him a big hug."
Wesley noted to the rest of the facility's staff how "huge" it was to have two members of that championship team residing there, along with the wife of a third, especially since near as they can tell, many others are no longer around.
Thus, on Friday, March 22, Somerwoods Nursing and Rehabilitation Center will be hosting a special "Dunbar Celebration" at 2 p.m. Coinciding with the basketball fever that is "March Madness," the public is invited to come and recognize the achievements of these championship athletes.
Wesley said that Somerwoods even went to JATS Screenprinting and Embroidery in Somerset and had jersey replicas made in the school's old navy blue-and-gold color scheme that will be presented to the Dunbar players.
Wesley hopes there will be a good turnout, to celebrate the lives of these men and their accomplishments in an era of the sport that is now something for the history books.
"Our logo (at Somerwoods) is 'living life to its fullest' and this is a prime example," said Wesley. "As time as gone on, these gentlemen are doing that.
"We looked at it as an opportunity to recognize history," he added, "and for if just one minute, to put a smile on their faces and give them their recognition."